Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Work Behind the Reward

87º feels like 100º ~ dewpoint 78º ~ SCUBA weather to be sure, days and days of it with pop-up thunderstorms dancing around us in the afternoons and evenings and only occasionally providing any rain, any cooling temps ~ in other words "it's a wet heat" that sucks at the lungs


Most of you know that last week the Porter Fund Literary Prize committee announced that I would receive the 2016 prize. This blog is not meant as a continued brag of that success but as an unveiling of what went into that success.

The Porter Fund Literary Prize is a prize to support Arkansas writers. Like many awards for a body work rather than for an individual piece or book, there is no application process. That's what I want to talk about here, recognition / prizes given by organizations that don't take applications. Here, I think of the Whiting Awards as an example at the national level, although there are many others. If you are like me, when these types of awards are announced, be they local, regional, or national, you experience a twinge of jealousy and a "why not me?" moment. All perfectly natural. However, this is also frustrating because it appears that the author has no way of putting her work before the selection committee. So how do these things work?

Most non-application awards take nominations, either from within an organization or by soliciting suggestions from established writers, editors, agents, etc. So how does one go about being nominated, let alone winning?

First, as writers our primary focus must be on crafting the best writing we can. We may disagree with a selection committee's decision because we don't like another writer's work or we don't like that writer's personal behavior, but let's face it; for the most part, those who receive recognition have been putting in time at the desk. So, first, focus on the writing (which is a whole other blog post).

Next, if you are a writer who yearns for recognition, I'm afraid there is more to it than just producing the text. You also have to be a solid literary citizen. By this I mean that you have to be invested in the community of writers. Yes, every once in a while a hermit writer receives great accolades, but if you look at the winners' lists of most awards like these (those that do not take applications), you will see a list of names of people who are engaged in the conversation of writing. They may have a highly visible online presence on social media or they may write a popular blog (or for a larger online conglomerate). They may publish essays and interviews in Poets & Writers, The Writer's Chronicle, and other "industry" journals. They may run a reading series, edit a journal, or work for an indie publisher as well as publishing in their genre(s). In other words, when the selection committee is casting about for nominations, those people who are active literary citizens are most likely to come to mind.

And let's be clear, just because a nominator knows you and your work does not make it a schmoozy / slimy nomination. If you are an active writer in today's interconnected world, you are going to know other writers. You are going to know editors and publishers and agents. It's only when you play on those relationships, when you offer "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" that you cross the line to slimy. Check your own inner voice and you'll probably be okay. (Reality check: there will always be nepotism and a good ol' boys network. We can only be responsible for our own actions and try to be aware if we are participating in such behavior so we can change it.)

The fact is you won't be nominated if your work isn't already being read and talked about. Yes, there are many gatekeepers, and the deck is stacked against women and people of color, not to mention stacked against those of us who don't live in a major metropolitan area with a thriving literary scene (gatekeepers are yet another blog post entirely). So, what are you going to do about it? Here are some of the things I've done.

I've been persistent and stubborn and managed to publish widely in journals and with three full-length collections. Let me tell you, my rejection rates are above average, but I keep revising, I keep working on my poems / manuscripts, and I keep submitting. Sweat equity.

I've engaged with writers in my local community. I've made it a point to reach out to writers I learn about who live close by. In some cases, I've made good friends who are now part of my regular life. In other cases, I've made connections that have made me comfortable interacting at local readings and book festivals. In most of these cases, I've read wonderful books written at desks not all that far from my own.

I've found my comfort level in how I participate in the larger literary conversation. I started this blog and found my first online writing friends and colleagues. Then, though I was hesitant, I joined Facebook, where I enjoy a thriving sense of community with other writers, and even some close friendships. I'm not so deeply in love with Twitter, but I've figured out where I want to use it and how to do it. I attend AWP each year, not because I'm trying to collect "connections" like notches in my belt, but because I receive a huge emotional boost of support from getting to see so many of my virtual writing friends in real life. I've been an editor for several online journals, and I've read manuscripts for two of my publishers. I started a reading series at my previous institution, and I am active in nominating writers to appear at the established series at my new university. Finally, when offered the chance to help form a new writing conference for women, I jumped on board. Yes, all of this is time consuming, sometimes stressful, and for little or no pay (mostly no pay), but it also fills me up and gratifies me.

I've made a conscious effort to champion writers I admire, whether I know them or not. I've made a conscious effort to read widely and diversely to combat the gatekeepers. When I read a poem that blows me away, I Tweet/Facebook post about it. Often, I send private messages to a poet when I've read something that strikes me as extraordinary. Most importantly, I buy books of poetry, so many books of poetry that I don't have time to read them all. (Note: it's only recently, 10 years out of grad school, that I could afford to buy so many. In early years, I still bought what I could and I used the InterLibrary Loan system at the library all the time.) To me, part of this is a natural urge to be connected to the world of writers, but the other part is this: I don't feel comfortable sharing my own good news because I was raised to think that this was conceited bragging, and Midwesterners don't brag. To do so might call the wrath of hailstorms, floods, and drought down on our crops. So, when I do post about a success or share the news in other ways, I can silence my grandfather's haunting chastisement because I know that I'm also celebrating with other writers when their turn comes.

Finally, I've made it a practice to say "thank you" on every level, whenever it is appropriate. This world of writing is so often thankless and so often done for passion and love rather than fame or money. Saying "thank you" is the least we can do.

I'm not saying that doing what I've done ensured that I won the Porter Prize, and I'm not saying that if you copy me you will be recognized for your hard work. I am saying that putting your head down and doing the work of both writing and being involved with other writers in some way, shape, or form, gives you a fighting chance of receiving some recognition for your words.

Thank you for reading and for your support. As always, I'll be here with my BIC and my faith that doing the work is what matters.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Reaching for Joy in Times like These

92º feels like 101º ~ the world here is all sun, blue skies, small breezes, and heat heat heat, the neighborhood full of sounds of saws as folks continue to clean up after Thursday night's severe winds


This past two weeks have proven, again (as if we needed more proof), that we live in dangerous and difficult days. I've spent a lot of time thinking, thinking about what makes someone reach for hate and violence, and I've done a lot of reading, especially reading reactions from writers of color about race relations in the U.S., which led to more thinking, this time about my own white, upper-middle-class privilege and what is required of me to make positive change in this world.

Hard on the heels of police violence and domestic terror, came news from Nice, a beautiful city I was lucky to visit once upon a time. So many stories of people reaching for hate and violence. So many deaths that it all begins to feel unbearable and all I want to do is sleep and eat junk food and watch endless loops of Law & Order and Midsomer Murders because in those shows, I find an outlet for my own sense of injustice (even when Jack McCoy loses), but also because I know that these are stories, fictions that reflect the part of humanity that reaches for hatred and violence, but still fictions (MM especially, where the "bad guy" always gets caught). When I'm watching, I don't have to confront the real-life human stories being played out (and often exploited) on today's media outlets.

And so I come again to this question: how can I, in my privilege, continue to reach for joy in light of these terrible tragedies?

For me, this question is complicated by the fact that "to reach for joy" for me means to be a poet. Aside from family and friends, the thing that most fulfills me in this world is writing poetry, but who needs more poems of place and a white woman untangling how gender shapes and defines her, how she resists and embraces womanhood? And who needs to know my publications and accomplishments, which also bring me joy? And more importantly, what right do I have to pursue my joy when there are so many others without that right or with obstacles at every path?

Answering these questions is touch and go here. Some days I succumb to turning away from the world (one of my many privileges) and allow the small waves of mini-depression to win. Some days, like today, I approach the desk and draft a poem or create a collage, and I find joy in that. Some days, I take up a book from my never-ending supply of "to-read" material and I lose myself in the viewpoint of another, engaging in empathy with writers similar to me and as dissimilar as can be. And I know in my heart that this is "winning" against the terror forces. I know in my head that continuing to reach for joy and continuing to engage in the world is the right step forward, but sometimes knowing that and acting on that are two very different things. Sometimes I lose.

I will say that I'm thankful that I have this summer self-ekphrastic project going and that this project requires a Summary Report (official, official) to be turned in to the University Research Council at UCA, which graciously supported me with a summer stipend in support of creating these collages and writing these poems (privilege!). I fear that if I didn't have a firm deadline that I would have abandoned this project in favor of turning away and letting myself be borne on the drift of an unencumbered summer (uhm...even more privilege!).

Finally, I'll say that for me the word "privilege" in this context is closely tied to heavy feelings of guilt. Here the Midwestern curse of my birth follows me, telling me that no matter how much I do to be a better citizen in this world, no matter how many students and readers I reach, extending the work of empathy & citizenship, it will never be enough, especially in light of what the world suffers.

So, here's to the days when we manage to reach for joy, when we are able to celebrate our accomplishments, while always holding the knowledge in our hearts about the hurts of the world, and always trying to shine a light where terror, in all its forms, attempts to reign.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Draft Process: When Instinct Rules the Hand

79º ~ a massive storm cell shuffled by within a few miles of us and we got nothing but some strong winds and dark skies (yes, I feel punished and left out)


First, I want to share a full collage. Today, I got to start a new journal, which means a few days ago, I collaged a new cover. Here it is, a bit spare compared to most of my others.



The draft process is really unchanged in terms of working with the collages directly; however, since this is a planned project, I've noticed something new today about the connections within the drafts. I've never actually set out to write a series of poems in a project like this. While Alchemy is a project book, that came about on its own and surprised me each day that another poem arrived in the series. As I started this self-ekphrastic project last month, I wondered if the poems would be organic, would they be "forced" by the images. I still wonder this, but am learning to live in the wonder and not worry about it too much.

Today, I spent my time with the images, made my selection, and then sat and looked at it, turning to my journal to scrawl out whatever lines jumped out at me from the looking. And, here's the interesting thing: line breaks and form.

The first two poems I wrote based on collages are left aligned. One is in couplets and the other in stanzas of varying length. Then, I began using varied indention instead of left-aligned stanzas (think Charles Wright although mine never seem to sprawl all the way across the page). I've been using that broken form with lots of white space for pacing for the last six drafts. So today, as I began on the 9th new draft, I started trying to make the lines that were coming into my head fit that form. It was a habit, and perhaps a reflection of the fragmented nature of collage. Also, the way I do collage is not really in the tradition of either filling "all" the space on the page or using just a few fragments to make a bold statement. I'm more clutter with negative space throughout (negative space in collage = indention and white space in the poem?). But back to the draft. Only when I turned to the computer did I realize that this draft needed to be left aligned.

What I find interesting is that while I'm often working out loud even as I handwrite the beginning lines, it isn't until I get those lines onto the screen that the full impact of the form comes through. It's only when I see the lines in black and white (and continue to read out loud in fits and starts, no longer embarrassed from hearing my own voice and my own poetic missteps) that I know the form of the poem (that is when working in free verse, as I usually do).

Today's poem, "When Instinct Rules the Hand" begins:

With her back turned to harbor
and hearth, the girl born crossing
thresholds has taken a thread to time

I really wanted words like "turned" and "crossing" and "thread" to be spread across the page, but the poem didn't work that way. This draft is about a girl taking control and determining her own direction, so the more musing, chaotic sprawl didn't work. As I'm always telling my students: form marries content (sometimes whether we want it to or not).

As always, I'm not revealing the complete collage for the day's draft, just as I don't provide the full draft of the poem. Here's a detail, though.

4" x 4.5" detail

Today's count: 17 collages; 9 drafts. Getting closer!



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Process Notes: When the Border is a River Changing Course

85º feels like 94º ~ believe it or not, this is a "cool spell" to be replaced in coming days by 100+ ~ a good rain yesterday staved off the need to water ~ our yard is small, our water supply plentiful


With today's draft, I now have 15 collages and 7 drafts. Last week, I wrote about a "girl born at the edge / of a copper-colored river" but didn't have time to do process notes.

"Didn't have time to..." is a bit misleading as it is summer and I'm not teaching. However, I have spent a good deal of time in the past week working as the director of the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference (with a post to come soon on that). When not collaging, writing, or directing, I'm watching Cubs baseball. All y'all need to send up some good Cubbie vibes as we slumped over the last two weeks and are definitely limping into the All-Star break.

But, to poetry. Today, the "girl" grew up into the "woman born of wheat / and the brown thrasher's wing." Here's a problem. The bird in the collage is suggestive of a brown thrasher, but is probably a brown thrush. Still, I need it to be a thrasher for the sound and the rhythm, and for the implied verb, so a thrasher it is. I hope that if this project ever sees the light of day in publication that all my birding friends will forgive me.

3.5" x 6" detail
As I drafted, I was struck by the parallel between the collages and my usual word banks. Instead of having a collection of words rattling around on the page, I have images, but, unlike a word bank, there is a method to the images; they are not random, as I mean for the collages to also stand alone as art. However, as I scratched lines into my journal, I kept turning my head slightly back to the collage to let the images guide the poem's unfolding, in the same way I flip back to my word bank as a poem emerges.

In reading over today's draft, I was struck by its narrative nature. Don't get me wrong, it's a lyric narrative to be sure. I doubt anyone or anything could wring the lyric out of me, but there is definitely a "character" at the heart of the poem (the woman) and there is a clear setting and implied conflict.

So, I read over the other 6 drafts, and the lyric narrative is alive and well in each. There are two poems that do not feature girls or women, instead feature a part of the skeleton. But that piece of the skeleton takes on the role of the "character."

When I set out to do this project, I wanted the collages to guide the poems, and I wanted to create the collages on instinct and not on planned images. Now, however, with 15 collages of 20 done, and with only 2 that don't feature a girl or woman figure at the heart, I wonder how to remain in instinct as I create the last 5. Perhaps that is not possible, since I started drafting poems before I finished all 20 collages. This is a summer project and I wouldn't have had time to collage all 20 first and still draft 20 poems with the kind of time for mulling and ruminating that is required.

And that is an important note. It takes me 3 - 4 hours to create a 9" x 12" collage (not counting the hours and hours I spend clipping images), and I'm mulling and ruminating the entire time as I try out different images on the blank page. Then, on each day that there is drafting time, I flip through my portfolio and study each collage again. Those that aren't selected for the day's draft, continue to float around in my brain even when I'm not at the desk, so I'm mulling and ruminating, creating fodder for the next writing session. I do not believe that I could create a collage in the morning and draft a poem from it in the afternoon. The part of me that is able to generate poems, needs to sit and ponder.

And that's what this writing life is all about, giving our obsessions time and room to germinate, ready for the next writing session.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Process Notes: To Live in a House of Grief

83º ~ a brief respite from the heavy humidity, time enough to have mown the yard yesterday so the view is tidy, the sky nothing but blue all the way up


For those who have said the process notes help.

My summer goal is 20 collages and 20 drafts of ekphrastic poems based on those collages. The count stands at 12 collages completed and and 5 drafts written. I continue to struggle with letting go and trusting that the process will work, even though it is the letting go that works every time.

The collages are 9" x 12" and collected now in official-looking portfolio to protect them. When I sit down for BIC time (BIC = butt in chair), I flip through the portfolio and try to let intuition guide me in choosing a piece for the day. This is a bit difficult because I made each piece, so each has already spoken to me in some way (the disadvantage of self-ekphrasis). However, eventually, I choose and pull a collage from the portfolio. The size makes it easy for me to sit with the art, to run my fingers over the surface (the benefit of self-ekphrasis), to hold the image very close or prop it farther away. I sit in silence. I observe. I absorb.

And then, hopefully, a line strikes me.

Today's first 2 lines are:

A girl born reaching
                                 insists

3" x 5" detail

This is my fifth draft in the project and the second one in a row that uses one of the human images in the collage as subject (the earlier one I wrote process notes for did as well). These human images happen to all be girls. Three out of five drafts with "the girl" or some variation at the center. So now, because what would we be without our worries, I'm worried that I'm simply re-covering territory I already covered in The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths. However, there is little of the prairie in these, little of the agriculture that marks that book. So, maybe...maybe it will be okay.

I set myself this project because I wanted to discover, again, my obsessions, and I wanted to come at that discovery aslant (via images). It may turn out that my obsessions are what they have always been: what it means to view the world through female eyes and live in the world in a female body & mind. What if I'm a one-obsession poet? I do not want to be the kind of writer/artist who simply re-creates the same work over and over. I want to stretch and grow, and yet, I write/create what is in me to write/create.

For now, I will repeat to myself for as long as it takes: trust the process, trust the process, trust the process.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

92º feels like 98º  summer


I would love to continue to blog but I feel stymied. Is there anything you'd like to know that hasn't already been covered elsewhere?


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Draft Process for "Lesson Seventeen" ~ Once Again, the Only Way Through is Through

87º feels like 96º ~ grass creeping higher as a result of thunderstorms and rain, no incentive to mow in liquid air, four robin chicks on the front porch continue to flourish


A few weeks ago, I described my summer writing project of collaging and then writing self-ekphrastic poems. I've been creating collages without difficulty since then. I'm working on 9" x 12" Bristol paper, both on the vertical and horizontal. The idea being that I might publish the poems alongside the collages and I'm aiming for consistency of materials / size. I'm also not using any 3-D elements on the collages.

As I said, the collages have been non-stressful in terms of creation. I set out to work with the images on a purely instinctual basis, not trying to create any narrative, not going into a piece with a pre-set idea or mood. I sift through my large image drawers and grab onto the first few items that catch my eye. Then, I bang them together on the blank page and see what's what. Mostly, I'm able to stick with instinct. Once or twice, I've had to throw an image back and search again. Once the large images are in place, I move on to filling out the piece, again trying to go with my gut and always on alert for when I reach for the easy cliché. 

Now, as for the writing, well, that has not been such an easy, gut-level thing. I have stuttered and started for days. I've gazed and gazed at the images I've created and forced some really bad lines into my journal. Today, I approached the process again with the same results, and I started to get that niggle of a voice, that whisper, "This is a disaster. You have no more poems to write. Why did you think this would work?" etc. 

I stopped. I stopped for what I thought was the day, figuring I'd collage again and try the writing later. 

But then, I thought, "Maybe I just need a clearer prompt. Maybe I need to read a prompt on writing ekphrastic poems." Even as I thought this, I knew that I knew what an ekphrastic poem was and I knew what the prompt would say; after all, I've assigned the very thing to my students. Still, I Googled. I got this brief essay from the Academy of American Poets and read:

"And modern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects."

Yes, yes, yes. Of course I knew all of this, but something about reading those four verbs "interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to" gave me just enough of a jolt to hear a line coming through about the collage I'd just been staring at for 45 minutes. And then another line. And another.

Once again, the only way through was through. The only way to a draft was to keep my BIC (Butt In Chair) long enough to find my way through the doubt and the bad lines. I may have to relearn this every time I get to a period of silence, but perhaps I'm moving more quickly through the lesson these days.

Today's draft happens to be titled "Lesson Seventeen: Girl and Fox Consider the Nature of Time" ("Lesson Seventeen" is a scrap collaged at the bottom) and begins:

A girl gazes down a ruler's length.
A fox gazes up, noses a human scent.

I don't want to publish the complete collage now, but here's a little glimpse into a detail of the collage titled the same as the poem. This is 3.5 " x 5" from the upper right corner.


One of my goals for this project is to discover new source material for my poetry via these images. I'm hoping that letting my instinct guide me will reveal repeated images and new obsessions. Here's to the work and to the hope, in equal measure. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

On Poetry & Practicality

91º feels like 97º ~ not yet 10:30 a.m., needless to say we've entered SCUBA weather again, meaning to breathe outside is to breathe in liquid air and to wish for a SCUBA tank and respirator ~ on the plus side, the robins have 4 chicks in the nest on our front porch and we have taken to walking the long way round the house to avoid startling the adults away from feeding the wee ones


This morning, I finally had time to read "Why are so Many Poets also Artists?" a feature from yesterday's Literary Hub. In this interview-essay, Maggie Millner offers insight from a handful of poet-artists in their own words. As I've become more and more engrossed in collage, I am more and more interested/concerned/curious about how my visual work influences/detracts from/explodes my writing, so this gathering of voices was a must-read.

Cruising through the piece, nodding my head in affirmation, I came to Paige Taggart's contribution. A poet and jeweler, Taggart states, "The most practical thing is not to be an artist at all. The idea of practicality feels tied to capitalism. I don't like being practical and most practical people bore me because they make all their life decisions based on a certain set of principles that ties into 'the system.'" Then Taggart ties practicality to the patriarchy.

This brief passage brought me up short and lit a fire under all my insecurities as a poet and artist. I felt my non-hip, middle age severely, and my imposter syndrome kicked in full force.

Here is the key question: Are being creative and being practical mutually exclusive? (And the mirrors to that question: Have I been kidding myself this whole time? Am I too practical to be an artist? Must an artist live an impractical life on the outside in order to create?)

I mean, come on. I drive a 10-year old Honda Civic that still gets 35 - 40 mpg highway and 25 - 30 mpg in town because I keep diligent track of its maintenance (and routinely do the math on gas milage).

After years of college and grad school requiring some student loans and credit card debt, I spent the first decade of my working life paying it all down to 0.

I buy basic clothes that I wear for years and years, and I don't wear make up. Some of this has to do with feminist principles (if men can succeed without being prettified, why can't I?), but mostly, I'd rather not spend time trying to figure it all out, as I'm not naturally gifted at or interested in fashion and style.

The list could go on and on, but it will always add up to this: I am a practical person. I've worn this badge with pride and connected it to my Midwestern background as the daughter of the children of farmers. I've listed "efficient," "organized," and "able to meet a deadline" as positive traits when applying for jobs. And now, I'm re-evaluating it all.

Let me say here that I'm thankful for Taggart's words for giving me a chance to look again at the idea of practicality in the artistic life. I can see why she ties this descriptor to the patriarchy and "the system," but I resist the idea that practicality must be tied to capitalism and "the man."

I confess that my practicality might hinder me from taking my wildest leaps, and that worries me greatly; however, having grown up in a working-class family of unstable finances, my relationship to financial security is probably more conservative than some (others who have grown up in this situation lean the other way...to each their own). I know that I've done my best work as a poet as I've matured financially and have been able to put "paycheck-to-paycheck" behind me. I understand that for others, living a more precarious economic life isn't as stressful, but for me that unease is a block to creativity, not a sustainer of it.

I also see a clear benefit from my practical nature when working on sending my poems out into the world. Being organized comes naturally to me and makes me happy (when I'm most stressed I love to clean my file cabinet drawers and send loads of paper through the shredder to recycling). This skill set has helped me keep track of submissions and publications, and I think it helps me persevere after rejection as well.

In the end, I am probably a person who would bore Taggart; however, I'll make a claim here that my practical nature serves my art. I'm not going to be the one to downsize and put all my belongings in storage so I can go on a life-changing trek; I'm not going to be the one to leave my academic job and open a bookstore/art space; I'm not going to be the one to take the massive, visible leap. But, I'll feel secure enough physically and mentally to take those risks on the page.

Still, I'll keep Taggart's words in mind when my inner-voice reaches too quickly for practicality, especially during the great incubation period of inspiration.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Keeping On Keeping On (The Submission Slog Song)

74º ~ a morning of drizzle with the sun now trying to break through a heavy layer of white clouds, all is humid and soggy


Getting back into the swing of my writing life in earnest means getting back into the swing of submitting poems to journals for possible publication. While poetry receives the least attention and the least compensation from readers and editors across the board, there is a perk. We usually have tons of "pieces" to submit. A novelist may work on a book for years before getting to the process of finding an agent and publisher. A short story writer or essayist can only send one piece at a time to a journal or magazine. Not so the poet. Yes, we labor over our one- to two-page poems for hours, days, months, years, etc., but we build up a stockpile of work and we are able to submit 3 - 5 poems at a go.

Yay, us!

Well, a subdued yay, anyway because the flipside is thickening one's skin to a slew of rejections.

After being out of the habit of regularly submitting, I have quite the stockpile of unpublished poems. I've spent the last week or so combing through those poems and making final polishing tweaks. After polishing, I grouped the poems into batches of 3 - 5. Then, once the piles were ready to go, I had to go back to my time-worn Excel spreadsheet of journals and start looking for places to send the poems. No matter how much research I've done in the past, I still have to do more. That journal that has always read in the summer? Nope, they're taking this year off. That lit mag that used to refuse simultaneous submissions? Nope, now they take 'em, meaning I have to shift my stacks. And onward the process goes.

*This process only works because I've spent years being a reader of lit mags and learning which journals might be receptive to my style. There are no short cuts, not even submission-bombing all the currently open markets listed in Duotrope, which takes even more time, and I don't believe yields greater results.

After much work, I have submitted mini-manuscripts to 14 journals in the last week. Most of the packets were 4 poems each.

Here's a new observation for me about the process.

I have to be bright-eyed and energetic (read: first thing I do for the day) or the doubt seeps in through the slog of preparing files and I decide the poems aren't ready. It's a hard balancing act. I want to be as careful as I can to send poems that are "ready," but I started to notice that the later I went in the day, the more poems were labeled "not ready." Looking at them the next morning, I had a new confidence.

Now, only time will tell if the confidence is well placed. Such is the poet's life.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Directing the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference

81º ~ a day of hazy heat with pop-up thunderstorms probable, thick white overcast, birds & squirrels abound




In late January this year, I was invited to attend a meeting about the possibility of creating an annual women writers conference at UCA. You can read about that meeting and the creation of the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference on the homepage of our website. After that initial meeting, we began gathering twice a month to lay the foundation for our first conference, which we scheduled for November 3 - 4, 2017. At some point along the way, I leaned in and requested the position of "director," knowing that someone had to hold all the threads, knowing that most of my colleagues had been at UCA long enough to have major initiatives of their own going, and knowing that directing a project like this is often a part of one's tenure package. Yes, having the title "Director" is prestigious, but that prestige will have to be earned through a lot of woman hours behind the scenes. I know this.

I'm confident in helping create and lead this conference in large part because of the fabulous colleagues with whom I work, especially the Executive Committee: Nan Snow, Terry Wright, Dr. Gayle Seymour, Jennifer Deering, and Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice. From the beginning, our committee has done a great job of task-sharing, communicating, and working toward a common goal. It is a delight and a privilege to be called the director of this group of people.

Building a conference is about details large and small, and everyone on our committee has brought vital experience to the table. We picked our locations and dates first and secured those. It may seem early to anyone who has never done this before, but key rooms and buildings on a campus go quickly, let me assure you. We also had to choose our name, and we are ever thankful to Forrest Gander for allowing us to honor the late C.D. Wright in this way. Now we are working on getting the word out, fundraising, naming our Board of Directors, and creating our media kit. In the fall, we will work on logistics and put together our call for proposals, which will go out November 3, 2016.

While our Mission & Vision Statement page offers a good idea of what we are aiming for, I want to re-iterate here that this conference is for women writers of all genres, styles, fields, and experience levels. We want to bring together academics, professionals, & writers-at-large -- poets, novelists & short story writers, young adult & children's lit authors, dramatists, journalists, bloggers, technical writers, advertising & marketing writers, scientific writers, and more.

If you are a woman and you write, we want to provide a space for you to discuss your work and to build a community with other women of words.

After announcing the conference about a month ago and releasing our first newsletter a few weeks ago, I've received numerous emails of enthusiasm and support. Most people ask, "how can I help?" For anyone interested, here's how to get involved.

1. Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter.
2. Sign up for our newsletter on the website (scroll down) and be the first to know about our call for proposals and registration details.
3. Share the news with your writer friends. Feel free to share this post, our newsletter, or any of our social media posts.
4. Make a financial donation if you are able. Founding Members (those who donate before our first conference) will receive a special gift and recognition at each conference. While we are hosted at UCA with most of the staffing hours covered by our contracts and we may receive a small amount of money from the College of Fine Arts and Communication, budgets are tight in academia. Initiatives such as ours must rely first and foremost on fundraising and registration fees. Your contribution will be used to support our ability to offer scholarships to women without the means to attend the conference on their own, to create an emerging women writers prize, and to help us spread the word through advertising and the creation of a media kit.

As ever, I am thankful for the opportunities and the responsibilities that have come my way as a literary citizen, and I am looking forward to hosting many of you at UCA in late 2017!


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Home School and a Summer Poetry Project: Self-Ekphrasis

86º ~ dew point at 70º ~ getting swampy out there, mixed bag of clouds and sun, strong breezes, storms to the north and grass in need of mowing


Summer 2016: The Grand Adventure Awaits

In August, I will have the privilege of attending The Home School in Hudson, New York. No, I'm not going to be learning how to home school my non-existent children. The Home School is a week-long poetry workshop held in Hudson, NY, in August and in other locations in January, most recently in Miami. For a solid week, I will be studying with five of the following faculty members, although I haven't received my specific assignment yet.




Cynthia Cruz
Adam Fitzgerald
Douglas Kearney
Myung Mi Kim
Harryette Mullen
Dorothea Lasky
Geoffrey G. O'Brien
Ann Lauterbach
Rebecca Wolff
Kate Durbin
John Ashbery

At the start, I will be assigned to a workshop group, and that group will stay together for the entire week, with a new faculty member each day. Each evening, there will be readings by core and visiting faculty.

Uhm...somebody wake me up; I still don't quite believe this is happening.

I first heard about The Home School about a year ago, and I was drawn to it for its promise of bringing together an eclectic group of poets and artists to explore poetry's place alongside and among other arts. As many of you know, I also work in collage, so this workshop is a perfect fit. I must also say that this group doesn't pay lip service to being inclusive; it lives and breathes diversity, something I cherish and attempt to actively cultivate.

Needless to say, I am thrilled to be taking this journey, in part because I am still searching for whatever is coming next for my poetry. In fact, thinking about The Home School's focus on ekphrasis has led me to my Summer Poetry Project: Self-Exphrasis.

For the first time in my life, I've got a plan. In other words, I'm not simply sitting and writing and discovering. Instead, I'm going to sit, collage, write, and discover. My plan is to create at least 20 collages and at least 20 corresponding poems. Instead of approaching ekphrastic poems by looking at the art of others, I am going to look at art of my own. Instead of making collages inspired by poems, I'm going to make poems inspired by collages. While I've often felt that my writing and my collaging informed each other, I've never taken it to this level of direct involvement.

My hope is that by sifting through my huge backlog of clipped images and letting myself be drawn by instinct, without forethought, to certain groupings I will discover a new poetic obsession.

Hopes and plans. I take them with the proverbial grain of salt.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What I Learned During a Year of Leveling Up

76 º ~ gauzy sun, true spring temperatures finally arriving, privet blooms moving from white to brown on the way to seed


As most of you know, but for those who don't, after over a decade of teaching at a community college, I "leveled up" to a tenure-track job teaching creative writing to undergrads and graduate students at the University of Central Arkansas in August of 2015. Please note, I mean "leveling up" only in terms of now having different tasks and responsibilities. I do not mean that there is anything "less than" about teaching at the community college level. It has its own challenges and rewards.

That being said, this first academic year at a new level has been demanding, mostly in the best ways possible. At the community college, I taught Comp I and Intro to Creative Writing, almost exclusively. There are community colleges out there with broader ranges of creative writing classes; mine was not one of them, for the most part. This meant that, after 10 plus years, I knew the class material down in my muscles and bones, so I spent most of my time interacting with students. The biggest "shock" of this past year has been the shift to teaching many different creative writing classes and looking forward at the many different classes I'll be teaching in the future. This translates to hours and hours of prep time outside of the classroom as I attempt to organize and absorb all new materials. Of course, I'm well versed (hee hee) in poetry and in the rigors of creative writing in general; however, I've never had the time to get specific about transmitting my knowledge and experiences to others.

While conquering new class material has been the big challenge, it reminds me that I'm so thankful to all of my students and colleagues from the past. Spending my formative years as a college professor in the composition classroom taught me valuable lessons in classroom management that have served me well in my new environment. Those years taught me who I wanted to be as I interacted with students and colleagues. They gave me the chance to create and improve my professor persona. As one of my grad students put it last month, "You have a shtick; all good professors have a shtick."

Aside from the workload that stretches my mind and my stamina, there is one other big difference that I'm just now noting. I have a new relationship to my students. At the community college, we experienced "swirl and churn" in our student body. While I might have a few students follow me from Comp I to Comp II (when I taught it) or from Comp I to Intro to CW, these were rare exceptions. Mostly, I knew a student for one semester, often I knew a student intensely given the nature of writing classes, and then that student would swirl and churn away, either to other core classes or to transfer to a different institution. Now, I am in a program with a strong undergraduate major/minor in creative writing (that's stand-alone cw, not as part of an English major with emphasis) and I am part of the Arkansas Writer's MFA Program.

What this means is that I now have the opportunity to see a writer's work progress over several years rather than over several months. And while I've only just begun forming relationships with my students, there is a deeper level of engagement on my part, as I'm investing in longer-term goals with each writer. Again, this is not to say that deep levels of engagement don't go on at the community college level or in the first-year writing classroom. It means, that was not my strength in those classrooms.

Finally, I'll wrap up by saying that this year has been exhausting and sometimes frustrating, challenging and mind-expanding. It has been the most rewarding year of my teaching life and the worst year for my writing life (a whole other blog post). I am looking forward to gaining more sure-footedness in the coming year and to working toward a goal of more balance between teaching, writing, and homelife.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

From 60 to Zero

71º ~ bright sun, a few high lazy sheets of white, the cool/wet spring means all the trees are leafed and the privets blooming an allergy-inducing white, a mourning dove nest in the tree outside my window


At the beginning of the fall semester, things go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, in nothing flat, in the "name your cliche for speed." While there may be slight variations in intensity, things pretty much stay at 60 through spring graduation (with a slight lull at winter break just long enough to regain a bit of sleep). Now, I'm in that shifting period, trying to downgrade from 60 to zero. Zero is my creative sweet spot. Zero means long swathes of time uninterrupted when my mind can roam, when the words can tumble together, striking and sparking new images, new lines.

You would think that after a decade of not teaching in the summers, I'd have figured out how to make this transition smoothly. This is not the case. Every year, I am stunned by the amount of time it takes me to slow. Every year, I am faced again with finding the balance between "me" time and socializing with friends. Every year, I have to battle the desire to simply sit and stare at the TV for days and days.

Let me say that I am not against "down time." I'm all for taking a break and watching Law & Order reruns or the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory. I'm especially all for reading the latest J.D. Robb books in the In Death series. However, my personality  is one that will quickly turn watching one episode or reading for an hour into a binge that lasts four days. Even now, I'm resisting clicking on Season 2 of Frankie and Grace on Netflix because I can so quickly tumble down that rabbit hole. In other words, at 45, I still struggle to find my balance.

Side note: I didn't learn to ride a bike until first grade b/c physical balance eludes me as much as emotional balance seems to most days.

So, here is my goal: to practice balance.

Practical subgoals:

  • to write daily
  • to blog regularly...whether I've lost you all, dear readers, or not, you keep me balanced when I tell myself you are out there and reading me
  • to continue to meditate daily
  • to be kind to myself when I fail


Upcoming blog posts:

  • What I learned from my first year at UCA
  • The C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference
  • Reading full-length manuscripts for a contest
  • Self-Ekphrastic Poetry: or, my summer project
  • Reports on my progress

Until then.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Re-living AWP16

56º ~ spring has sprung, all the pollen abounds, all the leaves are greening

Re-living AWP16

This year for AWP, I was lucky charmed.

I got to fly out to LA with my new friend and colleague, Jennie Case. We are often so busy with work that we don’t have time to just sit with a cup of coffee and have a roaming conversation. While we didn’t talk the whole way to LA, we did have lots of time to let the talking topics wander here and there. What a great way to start the journey.

On the flight, I did find time to read the Spring 2016 issueof North American Review (thank you for being a slim-line mag, not taking up too much room in the backpack). Of note to me were the following poems: Mark Wagenaar’s “Denton Nocturne: Sciomancy,” Raphael Dagold’s “Born of What,” Christine Larusso’s “In order to crack the egg…,” and Scott Lawrence-Richards, an Iowa poet with whom I wasn’t familiar (the horror!). Of course, the best moment was turning the page and finding “Most Accidents Occur at Home” by friend and fabulous writer-woman, Molly Spencer.

I spent several enjoyable hours on Thursday and Friday staffing the Trio House Press table. Much thanks to editors Tayve Neese, Terry Lucas, and Dorinda Wegener for making me feel welcome. THP is a collective, so serving at the table fulfilled part of my contract for publishing The Alchemy of My Mortal Form with them; however, I have to say it was not any kind of imposition. I loved getting to talk with poets wandering the bookfair, and I loved having the chance to talk about my book along with the books of my pressmates. If you stopped by the table, you’ll know that THP has a proactive approach to the bookfair, with someone standing in front of the table most of the time, engaging passers-by. Also, if you have a poetry manuscript ready to go, remember that our two contests accept submissions until April 30th.

When not at the table, I did get to several key panels spread out over the conference. The one that rocked my world the most was “The Poetry of Comics” with Erica Trabold, Bianca Stone, Gabrielle Bates, Alexander Rothman, and Catherine Bresner.  Another awesome panel was on multimodal workshops with Raul Paima, Nick White, Silas Hansen, and Sonya Huber. Great information on using infographics, memes, podcasts, comics, Google maps, and more to engage the narrative skills in our students.

I also attending “Drawing Outside the Lines” with Lydia Conklin, Leslie, Salas, Nathan Holic, and Jarrod Rosello. Even more great information for my upcoming courses on the illustrated narrative, and I drew my first comic! I have gathered so many resources for this course that will be new to me. I have piles and piles to read and more books to order when I get home. Full up with ideas!

Thursday night meant a reunion with my University of Arkansas MFA best buddy, the poet Tara Bray, whose second book, Mothers of Small Fright, is just outfrom LSU Press. I consumed this book on the plane home. Do yourself a favor and order a copy today. Tara and I were able to fit in lots of catching up time in between events, as we roomed together, and that was one of the best gifts of this conference.

Friday night meant enjoying supper with great poet-friend Sally Rosen Kindred, who appeared on her first panel at AWP this year. Way to go, Sally! After supper, I was lucky enough to attend a reception and meet some of the key folks in AWP and in the new Creative Writing Studies Organization. It was way past my bedtime, but I’m happy I went and thankful for the new friends.

Saturday meant some open time and a more leisurely morning. It also meant me leaving my credit card at the hotel coffee shop and not realizing it until noon when I tried to buy lunch at the conference center. Much panic ensued. I sprinted back to the hotel, tore my room apart, and then saw the flashing light on the room phone. Hotel security had the card, and I was only 15 minutes late to the next panel because of the detour. Thanking the stars for good Samaritans!

I seem to be developing a trend that I need to have my final supper at AWP alone, my brain overflowing with words and images and people and hugs and emotions and “all the things.” I may look lonely to the outside viewer, but I promise that I’m perfectly content.


AWP is equal parts inspiration and exhaustion. This year was my 10th AWP, and I finally feel like I might understand a bit of how my own personality fits with this monumental filling up and overflowing, how to take care of myself and how to balance all the many options. So thanks to all the folks I saw in LA, I missed you to all those not able to attend, and looking forward to DC next year!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

AWP 2016: Where I'll Be

54º ~ bright sunshine, spring breezes, trees bursting into leaf-time


AWP 2016 Los Angeles is upon us. This year, a lot of my time will be spent in the bookfair or attending panels meant to help me prepare for fall classes. I don't have any readings, panels, or offsites, and for that, I'm actually grateful this year.

If you'll be at the conference and want to catch up, here's where you'll find me.

The University of Central Arkansas table is #955. I don't have scheduled time there but will most likely be there on and off when not occupied elsewhere.

The Alchemy of My Mortal Form will be available at table #1204
Blood Almanac a few copies will be available at table #625
The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths available from me directly

Thursday, 3/31
9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. staffing the Trio House Press table #1204

11:00 a.m. LUNCH on-site

12:00 noon attending a panel

3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. signing miniatures and all 3 books at the Gazing Grain Press (George Mason) table #708


Friday, 4/1
9 a.m.  - 11:00 a.m. staffing the Trio House Press table #1204

11:00 a.m. LUNCH on-site

12:00 noon - 2:00 p.m. staffing the Trio House Press table #1204

3:00 p.m. attending a panel

4:30 p.m. attending a panel

Saturday, 4/2
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon: bookfair

12:00 noon - 6:00 p.m. attending panels (an ambitious undertaking, but there are four consecutive panels in which I'm interested...y'all know the odds of me making it to them all)

I hope to see as many of you as possible in LA and will send back reports for those skipping the crazy this year.