Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yesterday

Drafts for two new poems. One I feel pretty confident about; the other could go either way. It feels a bit forced. Time always tells.

Also, in the mail, contributor copies from Zone 3, a journal out of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. Issue 47 contains two of my poems: "Choosing Not to Bear" and "Two Points in Need of an Argument." I read through the poetry yesterday, and it's a solid issue with quite a range of talent.

Today, a beautiful rain, light but consistent. No deck-sitting, but a general bluish tint to the world that suggests reading under a good lamp.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Disappointment

This morning I am going to refrain from naming the poet I've been reading because I've been disappointed in what I've read. Several weeks ago, I came across a poem on Poetry Daily or Verse Daily (not sure which) and fell in love with it. I was surprised to find that the author had published 4 books, but I'd never heard of her. I immediately requested all 4 books from my school's interlibrary loan program. (Thank the stars for libraries and librarians! I could have made the mistake of buying these books on the basis of that one poem.)

Now that I've sifted through the 4 volumes, I'm left feeling empty and disappointed. That one poem, which I found in the latest volume, really is a stand-out. The rest seem too easy, too much on the surface of things. I found myself identifying many of the techniques I caution my students against...abstractions, being glib for no reason, being clever with nothing substantial beneath the cleverness. Every once in a while a line or an image would leap from the page, but these occurrences were too few and far between to keep me hooked.

Still, the morning is beautiful and the joy of the laptop is to be writing this post from my deck, watching the sun make its steady progress across the fresh-mown lawn. There is wind in the trees and the wash of snippets of songs from car stereos passing out front. All the windows must be down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What I'm Reading: Crab Orchard Review 13.1

The weather here in Arkansas has been surprisingly beautiful for the middle of June. A run of days with low humidity means mornings spent on the deck listening to the cardinals establish their territories and reading. Today, I read through all the poems in Crab Orchard 13.1. My very favorite poet-friend Tara Bray has 2 outstanding poems there. Along the way, I discovered some names well-known to me with poems that lived up to the reputation (Michelle Boisseau, Andrea England, Paul Gibbons, & Susan Ludvigson), as well as finding some names unfamiliar to me with poems that drowned out the sounds around me (Amorak Huey, Lynne Potts, Lauren Rooker, Angela Rydell, & Maya Jewell Zeller).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Manual Labor

I have been absent from the blogging world for the past week while completing a home improvement project. This project left my body tired and aching, but more importantly, it left my mind rinsed clean. At this point, I need about 10 new poems to complete my manuscript, and I feel poised to launch myself into the particular writing mood of generating new work. This is sometimes a scary place to be...facing the white page. It's not always easy to remember to take up my journal (with slightly beige pages rather than scary, pristine white) and just scribble lines and words and doodles until something coalesces. For me, there is a thin line between letting topics, ideas, images develop on their own and plotting a purposeful theme. The first option is often seen as waiting for the muse/inspiration, while the second can seem forced. If I wait for the muse to inspire a poem, I could be waiting a LONG time; however, if I set out to write a specific poem about X, Y, or Z event, the poem often feels stiff and unnatural. There's something in between that involves a regular writing schedule and a willingness to be open to whatever's coming next. And that can be a very exciting place to be.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Twenty

The number of submissions to lit mags that I've sent out in the last 2 days.

The process is quite involved for me. I get out the stack of poems that I consider ready for submission and my stack of lit mags that are currently accepting work. Then, I go through each poem to make sure I'm happy with it and can't see any more revisions (usually, I find a line or two to tweak along the way). Once the poems are ready, the process of matching the right batch of poems to the right lit mag begins. As I go, I pull up the website of each lit mag and check out previous contributors and double check submission guidelines. Yesterday, I found four that had stopped accepting submissions during the summer. It's always good to check and re-check, in my opinion. I was pleased to find a growing number of mags accepting electronic submissions. It is such a savings on postage! Having completed all the preparation, I set up a mini-assembly line of folders, envelopes, computer, and printer and then set to work.

I fell behind in making submissions during the spring, so for now, I'm just happy to have gotten the work out there...even though the reality of rejection lurks on the horizon. Until then, I'll hope for the good news.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In the Mail

Yesterday, a good day for mail.

1. A copy of the new Indiana Review with my poem "Having Been Begotten." This is one of my favorite newish poems, and I've been submitting to IR for over 5 years, so it really is amazing to see my poem in there with Arielle Greenberg, Denise Duhamel, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Gary Soto, and others. The issue also contains a special feature of poems, fiction, and art with a funk aesthetic. I'd recommend it just for that, let alone my work...which, sadly, lacks the funk, being doused in a rural Midwestern sensibility. As always, the production of the journal is top notch.

2. A used copy of Larry Levis' Elegy. I have often remarked that there are some books/authors that come to us before we are ready for them. This happened to me first with Tolstoy and Anna Karenina. I tried to read this novel in high school and failed to get past page 50. In undergrad, I made it to page 100, but it wasn't until grad school that I actually finished the book and could see the mastery and mystery of it. Then, there was Charles Wright's Black Zodiac. My cousin gave it to me when I started grad school, and I couldn't get into it at all. Luckily, I kept it on my shelf, because two years later I plucked it up and fell head-long into Wright's meditative lines, which were a window to my own voice. All of that is a long way of saying, I've had the same experience with Levis. Only recently did I decide to try again with his work b/c I was looking at titles of poetry books with "elegy" in them. This time, the library copy wasn't enough. When I read the first few poems, I felt whatever barrier had existed before loosening and suddenly the poems blossomed on the page. Now I have a copy I can write in.

Happy Days!

Monday, June 9, 2008

What I'm Reading: Salvation Blues

Rodney Jones' Salvation Blues collects 100 of his poems from 1985 - 2005. I've spent the last couple of days reading the collection straight through, and I'm awash in the arc and scope of two decades of poems. The book leaves me with a clear sense of the progression of the poet, a progression that establishes a clarity of voice and a wisdom gained over years of being fully engaged in the world.

Here is a list of favorites:
A History of Speech
Two Girls at the Hartselle, Alabama, Municipal Swimming Pool
Pastoral for Derrida
The Work of Poets
The Bridge
The End of Communism
A Ride with the Commander
A Whisper Fight at the Peck Funeral Home
A Defense of Poetry
The Attitude
The Language of Love
Rain on Tin

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book Contests

Gearing up for submitting Glacial Elegies, I've spent the last couple of days researching book contests. Yes, I'll send queries to a few of the presses that don't use contests, but the majority of my attempts to place the manuscript will be through open competitions. Winnowing out all of the first book contests cuts the list down quite a bit.

It was interesting to be gathering this information again, as I haven't even really thought about the process in three years. During the time I was submitting Blood Almanac, foetry.com was at its height, exposing shady dealings in certain contests and railing against a perceived lack of ethics in how contests were judged. While I admit that some of the specific cases seemed to be unethical, the overriding sense that nearly all contests must be corrupt and fixed never sat well with me.

Now, as I've been reading the small print of contest guidelines again, I've been surprised to see so many presses printing promises of ethical judging or providing detailed explanations of their judging process. I like the openness of being able to see exactly how my manuscript will be handled, but I'm sad that it even has to be stated. The best statement that I read is over at Crab Orchard Review (such great people!). Jon Tribble, series editor for The Crab Orchard Series in Poetry says this, among other things:

The Crab Orchard Series in Poetry competitions DO NOT claim to be screened or judged blind since the manuscripts entered may include some or all previously published poems. We want the persons screening and judging our competitions to be avid readers of contemporary poetry and expect their experience as readers to be an integral part of their knowledge of poetry.

In the interest of fairness, I should say that I'm predisposed to Jon and Allison Joseph for their support over the years. However, I do think this statement gets it right. Of course, I would hope that screeners and judges would be well-read enough to recognize some of the work before them. After all, it was drilled into our heads during grad school that the way to get a book published was to first publish the poems in lit mags, thus garnering a readership and reputation. Most contests require the poet to strip his/her name from the manuscript, and some contests do not allow acknowledgments pages. The latter sometimes irks me because I feel that my journal publications should count for something; however, I do understand that the poems must stand on their own and the judge must pick the manuscript he/she believes is the strongest, whether he/she recognizes the poet or not. Finally, I do think a poet's close relationship with a judge should warrant a manuscript being eliminated from consideration, and I would happily withdraw mine if such a conflict occurred.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Megan Chapman: Evidence of the Disappearance

Today I'm off to Hot Springs to attend the opening of Evidence of the Disappearance: New Paintings by Megan Chapman, one of my most loyal commenters on this blog. If you live anywhere near one of the many galleries that show Megan's work, you should really check it out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Voice

A few weeks back, someone I consider a good friend, although we see each other too rarely, asked me about my "blog voice." She mentioned a personal struggle with blogging because of the issue of voice. I do not think I had an adequate answer at the time, and the conversation has lingered behind the scenes ever since.

Voice is a troubling construct for me. While I do think I made great strides in establishing a poetic voice over the last seven years or so (wow, that took a really long time!!), I also believe the voice within my poetry is still at the adolescent stage. There are still remnants of the voices of my mentors, echoes of those poets whose work I read obsessively. I wonder if they will ever truly be silent?

When teaching "voice" in my creative writing class, I'm sometimes at a loss, especially because many of the students are so new to writing that they haven't even learned the building blocks yet. I try to point out examples of particular authors and their choice of diction, syntax, formal elements, recurring themes/images, etc. and show how they build a voice, but it's murky waters at best.

As for a blog voice, I hadn't really thought about it much until this conversation occurred. As I told my friend that night, my only conscious decision was that the blog would be about my writing life, rather than about my personal life. Whatever voice I am now developing is a result of that choice for sure. The blog also reflects that voice I hear in my head when I'm thinking about the writing world, a version of my physical voice but muted, ghostly.

I was nervous about entering the blogging world, mostly because it's hard to erase something from the internet. I do not want to embarrass myself or others; however, to combat this, I approach this blog as a place of exploration and connection, rather than as a place to pronounce anything of import. I hope it is received as such.