Monday, November 29, 2010

In Need of a Minor, Minor Miracle

51º ~ iron gray, on and off rain, a chilly set of 60's for the highs

Dear Reader, last month I boasted about receiving acceptances in every month of 2010 except July, and even as I wrote it my Midwestern fear of celebrating too loudly kicked in and I told myself to delete it.  Perhaps I should have listened as it now appears, short of a minor miracle today or tomorrow, that November will pass without any good news to share.

Short a miracle, November will be known as the month of rejections big and small.  This morning I recorded two journal rejections before turning to submit.  I've been working with a stack of haphazard folders for the last couple of weeks, since I decided to make Mondays submission days.  Turns out not to be such a good scheme for me.  I checked my spreadsheet and picked a couple of journals that accept online submissions.  I got the documents ready on the computer, and only then did I click on the websites, all ready to submit.  Well, the first journal turned out to be only accepting poems for a themed issue.  There is nothing on my spreadsheet about this journal and themed issues...alas.  So, I went for journal number two.  Revised the document to fit and went to their website to submit.  Guess what?  They've changed their reading periods.

In the past, when I've done submissions, I've tried to do them twice a month, and I spent a good part of the weekend doing them.  I stack up all the poems that are available and I print out my spreadsheet.  Then I highlight all the journals for which I think the poems will work.  At that point, I actually go to each journal's website and see if they've made any changes (updating my spreadsheet at the same time).  I usually have to set aside a handful of journals that have made changes, but I have a whole pile of others, so it's actually a relief.  This seems to be a better system for me, but I'm glad I tried the Mondays as well.

Finally, I've written about Better World Books before, but I'd like to give them another shout-out today.  I recently ordered some books and this time when the books arrived, they came with a surprise...FREE CHOCOLATE from Divine Chocolate...a fair trade chocolate company from Ghana.  How cool is that?  And the chocolate really was divine.  So...for those who aren't aware, Better World Books is an online bookstore with a global mission to promote literacy far and wide.  They sell new books, but they also buy and sell used books as well, including college textbooks!  A portion of all profits go literacy projects worldwide.  Oh, and they have free shipping or a carbon-offset option for shipping.  Seriously, why are you still giving your money to either of the BIG BOX BOOKSTORES ONLINE, which is used for the lining of wealthy pockets instead of helping people out?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blustery Day of Pre-Thanksgiving

76º ~ on our way up to 79 this afternoon, rough winds, sun and clouds fighting for sky rights, tomorrow the cold front inches southward through the state sending temps "plummeting" according to the wise weather people

This is just a quick note to say Thank You, Dear Reader for being a part of my wonderful life.  This past year has been one of general satisfaction about where I stand in the midst of this crazy, mixed up world.  For many years I wondered if I would ever feel comfortable in my own writing skin.  Finally, finally, I'm feeling almost there.  I'm so glad you all have been here to bear witness to this often solitary work we writers do and this coming to terms with the world.

Tomorrow there will be family, friends, football, food, and fun.  All of this will stretch through the weekend, so I shall return next week, perhaps a bit more plump about the middle, but hey, that's what the holiday is all about...the thanks for a bountiful year and the food.

Mums from my trip to the St. Louis Botanical Garden (10/10)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Gray Sky

66º ~ nope, not a typo, it's 9:00 a.m. and 66º on 11/22.  We are having a weird warmup for a few days before Thanksgiving, then temps plummet to the 40's ~ trees, sky, yard,  all a mess of gray & brown

Today, I have a list as long as my arm of things that need to be done, errands to run, work that awaits, etc.  However, I did make sure that I put my butt in the chair, as many of my past instructors admonished me to do.  As I've set a goal of submitting poems one way or another on Mondays, that's what I did while in the chair.  The sky is not helping in any inspirational sense.
The view from my window today.
With every ounce of will I have in my reserves at this point in the semester, I resisted the urge to curl up in bed with a book and the cats and wait for the forecasted rain (the humidity is insane!).  Instead, I did submit a group of five poems to three journals, all with online submission formats, one which charged $1.50, a charge I was more than willing to pay.  I must confess, Dear Reader, that I had also planned to submit to one more journal but upon discovering that they still use snail mail, I put it aside for now.  No time today.  I know that this means one less chance of an acceptance, but sometimes that's the trade off.

As for curling up in bed, I must thank my former student, L. C., who sent around the 15 authors meme on Facebook last week.  I'd pretty much escaped it until then, but finally used it to avoid grading.  My list is less important than L. C.'s.  L.C. is a fiction writer so her list was mostly novelists, but she was missing Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, so I urged her to read it and see if it didn't land in the top somewhere.  With that urging, I pulled out my copy and have spent my last hour before sleep re-reading this true masterpiece.  Such a delight.  Reminding me that most of what's on TV is crap, and most of what's in the books on my shelves is amazing & awesome.  Thanks, L. C.  I hope you come to love Ruth and her story as much as I do.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Draft: Cascading Lines

44º ~ a bit gray and overcast, some weak light budging through, leaves once bright and flaming, now dulled by damp

Well, Dear Reader, who would have guessed it?  Today's draft materialized with a kind of ease that always awes me.  I started the morning by spending some time with "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart."  If you've been following along at home, you know that I drafted this poem back in June, but on returning to it this fall, I found it wanting.  In the last couple of weeks, I completely gutted the poem and rebuilt it from the inside out.  I have to admit that I'm so much happier with it now!

I quickly read through all of the drafts I've written over the past few months, and I was doing so, I remembered a line I'd thought of while making my coffee, "The devil sends his demons in the form of this disease..."  Here's the thing, last week's draft, "The Making of a Pious Man," is a character sketch poem that ends with a man on his deathbed not sure if he'll see angels or demons when he passes over.  I guess that idea is still lingering.  Of course the disease I seem to gravitate to the most is Parkinson's, as my father struggles with this daily.

And here is an aside.  While I was raised a Christian, I was not raised on demons and angels, but on the more practical aspects of trying to live a just and loving life in the spirit of Christ.  At this point in my life, I'm more spiritual than religious, and yet, these images keep coming up in my poems.  I suppose this results from a mix of my childhood and now living in an overtly Christian area and teaching students who tend to be either evangelical or Baptist, when they choose to reveal their ideology. 

But, back to the draft.  So, I'd jotted down my line and then finished up with the older drafts.  On Wednesday, I linked to the prompt at Big Tent Poetry for the week, to write a poem in a cascading form.  Outlined here.   Part of the reason this appealed to me is that I had invented a form during an exercise exchange with a poet-friend that was quite similar.  In my form, I wrote five, five-line stanzas, where my first line in stanza one became line two in stanza two, line three in stanza three, line four in stanza four, and line five in stanza five (with variation, of course).  This all resulted in "Glacial Elegy I," which appeared in Cave Wall awhile back and will be in the new book, if/when it ever materializes.  So, this form, proposed on Big Tent felt non-threatening and a bit whimsical.

Non-threatening and whimsical: not two words that would describe the result.  I started with my line and broke it in half to form lines one and two, then I added two more lines to come up with a quatrain.  So, the resulting draft is five quatrains, where lines one - four are used as the last lines of stanzas two - five.  I tend to incorporate variations when I repeat lines, although I know that traditional formalists tend to avoid this.  Somehow, I've never made the direct repetition blend smoothly to the poem...a reason I'm not a formalist, perhaps.

In any case, the result of today's work is: "Reinterpreting 'An Essay on the Shaking Palsy' by English Apothecary James Parkinson, 1817."  Again, I'd begun with some real life material, my dad's experience with Parkinson's, but as I drafted the poem, the character sketch of this man suffering from this disease mutated into "not-my-dad," so I wanted to capture a title that would make this clear.  It struck me that in all my research about Parkinson's, I didn't know for whom the disease is named.  It turns out that James Parkinson didn't actually suffer from it, but I was sure he must have.  Weird brain!  He was the "doctor" who first described it.  Makes sense. 
http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/Visualiseur?Destination=Gallica&O=NUMM-98765
 As I said at the beginning of the post, this draft poured out of me and into the form with very little of the usual fits and starts.  I'm intrigued by this, always trying to capture what makes a draft go well and what makes it difficult.  I suppose I'm foolish enough to believe, if I can pinpoint the "why," then I can recreate the situation.  Foolish, foolish me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Links, An Accounting, and a Health Report

42º ~ bright sun today after soggy gray yesterday, cold winds blowing the leaves off the branches

Dear Reader, I do not know what magic this is, but I'd say that I'm about 80% improved from Monday's health conditions.  I do admit that I slept for three and a half hours on Monday afternoon, coming home from work early and tumbling directly to the bed.  Then, slept 11 hours Monday night, and about 9 hours last night.  Lots of OJ while awake.  Perhaps this "rest & fluids" prescription is true?  I'm trying to do better about listening to my body.  So far so good, today.

~~~~~

As for the accounting, I took care of submitting the manuscript to two more book contests this morning, since Monday's work was postponed.  This makes a total of nine submissions so far this fall.  I'm being a bit more selective about where I send, and I wonder if I'm being too selective; however, the checkbook does play a certain role in this.  I do not begrudge the $25 reading fee.  I know I profited from it when I won the Anhinga, and I know most poetry presses are living right at the edge of the red-line that signals operating at a loss.  So, once again, I send my re-strengthened manuscript out into the wilds of first readers and hope for the best.  Oh, and the book is still called In a World Made of Such Weather as This for anyone keeping track.  Surely there must be some charm or spell I should chant for protection and positive results.  If you know it, please share!

~~~~~

Links!

I love the prompt this week at Big Tent Poetry and plan to try it soon.  A cascade poem. 

I confess that I've been listening to Nic Sebastian's poetic stylings over at Whale Sound from the beginning and have failed to pass along the link.  Selfish me.  The project has now branched out to include Voice Alpha, a repository of discussions about the reading of poems aloud.  Lovely, lovely work being done here for no reward other than the work itself.  Amazing people!

Yesterday, I heard the beginning of an interview with Reza Aslan on the Diane Rehm show and haven't had time to finish listening online, but I will this weekend.  The interview was about Aslan's new anthology, Tablet and Pen, which collects and translates poetry from the Middle East from 1910 - 2010.  I am all for this project and will probably buy the book soon; however, two things struck me from the part of the interview I heard.

One was the recognition of the difficult job of translation.  Aslan did a great job, as far as I'm concerned, pointing out that translating poetry is a delicate thing, especially when moving between such different languages as Persian or Arabic and English.  For example, he pointed out that in Persian the verb always comes at the end of the sentence.  WOW!  That tripped my brain a bit. 

The second thing that struck me was Aslan's story about the last poem in the book.  I didn't write down the title or poet b/c I was driving, but it will be on the interview if you listen.  Aslan talked about being so happy to discover this Iranian author's work online because it is so hard to find contemporary Iranian poetry in the West.  Then, Aslan talked about having the poem translated and why he included it as the final poem, which all made perfect sense to me.  But then, and here's the part that blew me away, he talked about getting an email from this poet who had just found out that his work was included.  Aslan said the poet was excited about his work being shared with so many people in translation, so it all seemed cool.  Except that earlier in the interview Aslan talked about the process of putting together an anthology and said that he had found the poems, bought the rights, and then had them translated and included.  That's how it is supposed to be done, but his story about the Iranian poet made it sound like he just took the man's poem off the internet and had it translated without contacting the author; otherwise, the author wouldn't have been surprised to find out he'd been included, right?  This scares me a bit.  There have been too many cases recently of people misinterpreting rights and the internet.  Yes, I would probably give permission if someone asked to use my poems in translation, but I'd want to know about it and have a say.  That's my right, right?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Out Sick

42º ~ the morning sun seems pretty bright today

No, I don't feel quite as bad as this little girl seems to feel, but I'm having my first serious head cold / sinus ick of the season.  Hopefully if I baby myself now it won't get worse.  See you all on the flip side.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Draft: This One's Going to Be Messy

49º ~ bright slanting sun, one more day near 80 and then back to more reasonable November temps, perhaps a bit of rain as the front rolls through, a girl can dream, must admit that some of the neighborhood trees have lovely autumn colors, many dropping now

Well, Dear Reader, I did get my draft done this morning (and much praise to all of you who are joining the November-Poem-a-Day response to National Novel Writing Month...I can never keep the acronyms straight).  Today was definitely a bit of a mess in more ways than one.  Let me try to give a faithful account of how this draft, "The Making of a Pious Man," came about.

Twice this week, fellow poet-friends said "there's a poem in that!" to something I said.  Many of you may know that I'm not really the kind of poet who works this way.  I don't carry a notebook with me to write down my observations and phrases.  I've tried that method a lot, but failed.  In fact, one of my first poetry instructors, S. Eva Hooker, taught us this technique because she only had a half day on Fridays to work on poetry.  She called these written notes her 'poem seeds.'  I love the idea of this and wish I could work this way.  Instead, I rely on another method taught to me by an art instructor, a monk whose name I've forgotten (poor sieve-brain!), as I only took the one art class in college.  In any case, he told us that artists of all genres have these extra antennae attached to our heads, like those deely-bopper headbands that kids wear when they are playing bugs in the school recital.  Anyway, these antennae serve to collect images, colors, phrases, impressions all day long and these go into a type of holding cell to be called up when we need them.  This ties in with Natalie Goldberg's idea of the compost heap of words and images that she describes in Writing Down the Bones.

Whew, slight tangent there...I warned you it would be messy.  Okay, so here are the two things I said.
1.  On Monday, I saw a student on campus who was quite far along in a pregnancy, to the point where her belly button was showing through her sweater.  (I love this!)  This led me to think about umbilical cords and how the first evolving humans figured out that they needed to be cut.  When I got back to the office, I asked one of my mother-colleagues about the procedure surrounding the umbilical cord at birth and then told her why I was asking.  At one point she speculated about early humans watching animals gnaw through the umbilical cord.  Who know if we came to a correct anthropological conclusion?  Then she said, "there's a poem in that Sandy.  Go write it!"

2.  Yesterday, I was talking with another colleague and poet about my grandfather who died a few years ago and I said, "He was a pious man, if not always kind."  She said, "that sounds like a line for a poem."  Then we both realized at the same moment that it scanned.  The line I've written here is not exact, because the line we scanned was perfect iambic pentameter, and this one isn't.  I should have listened to her and written it down right then.

To add more to the mess, y'all know I went to hear C.D. Wright read on Tuesday night.  Her book is about a horrible time in history for Arkansas, attempts at integration in the 60's. At the same time, the book also talks about the death of her friend who fought this righteous battle against racial discrimination and some of the poems spoke about the woman's dying (which happened about six years ago, if I'm remembering correctly).  Somehow, this triggered a memory of my grandfather's deathbed and the minister coming in to recite The Lord's Prayer with us and I wrote a little note in my journal alongside my impressions of Wright's poems.  My note says "Grpa - death priest umbilical cord C. gnawing it."  (By the way, most of my family call their clergy 'minister.'  I know I revert to 'priest' b/c it seems to hold more weight and for me does not necessarily mean Catholic or any other denomination of Christianity, but the holy person of the community.)

So, when I woke up this morning all happy and shiny because it was drafting day, I thought, no sweat, I've already got the idea for a poem.  Let me tell you, it was not that easy.  I had to wrestle this one to the ground.  I went off on tangents.  I scribbled horrible lines.  Then two things happened: 1) I let go of trying to worry about the early women giving birth and the mess of the umbilical cord and 2) I let go of the facts about my own grandfather and just imagined an incredibly pious man and what might have made him this way.

Magically, the poem grew from there.  It begins and ends with images of the umbilical cord as it follows this pious man from birth to death, but it does this in 22 lines.  I'm nothing if not concise.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Explanation Promised and Delivered

74º ~ yup, you read that right, 74º at 5 p.m. on Nov. 10.  You gotta love the south!

About a month ago, Kristin asked me to explain how my trip to Columbia, MO, to visit Steph K's Intro to Poetry class and read for Hearing Voices came about.  I'll do just about anything to avoid grading right now, so here's the promised explanation, delivered.

It goes back to last spring or early summer and involves a bit of luck and a bit of bravery.  I happened to be on Facebook at the exact moment that Steph posted a status update asking for title suggestions for her Intro to Poetry class.  Now, I'm a hit or miss FB participant, so it was sheer luck that I saw this update.  Then came the bravery.  I'd known Steph through FB and had met her very briefly at AWP in Denver in April.  I took a deep breath and wrote her an email offering her a free exam copy of Blood Almanac and the incentive that if she adopted it I would be glad to drive up and meet her class for free.  Columbia, MO is about a six and a half hour drive, fitting into a trip I could work into my teaching schedule with missing only one day of class and not having to buy a plane ticket.  The book adoption is a huge boost even if the class isn't large, so I wasn't too worried about not getting paid, and I knew I could crash on someone's couch and not have to pay for a hotel either.  

This really did take an amazing amount of bravery on my part.  I'd never put myself out there like that before and I wasn't sure how my offer would be received.  Luckily, Steph zipped an email back with her postal address and off I sent the book.  A few weeks later Steph emailed to let me know she wanted to use the book and she'd love for me to come visit.  In early August we took a look at our calendars and settled on a date.  This is when Steph proposed trying to get me on the calendar for Hearing Voices.  She did this on her own because she is just about the most awesome poet person I know and wants to champion other poets all day long.  So, through her contact at Hearing Voices, we set up the reading as well.

Luck and bravery won out.  I know I need to be more of my own advocate in arranging events like this and I am trying.  I'd encourage anyone else to make offers like mine to friends in academia or who run a reading series.  The kicker is usually money, so if you're a cheap date like me, you might have better luck.  The worst anyone can say is no, which is true for so many opportunities in this world.

C.D. Wright in Conway, AR, and Rita Dove in Dreamland

54º ~ the sky a strange mix of gray and light, stormy weather?

Last night, I had the great pleasure of traveling the 30 miles or so down I-40 with my poet-friend and PTC colleague Angie Macri to go hear C.D. Wright read at the University of Central Arkansas.  Wright's name has been part of my poetry mythos since I arrived in Fayetteville, AR in the fall of 1999 to begin my MFA.  Wright's name hung in the air there alongside Frank Stanford's.  I've read bits and pieces of both of their works, so I was excited to be able to attend Wright's reading from her new book One With Others, just out from Copper Canyon and recently shortlisted for the National Book Award. 

C.D. Wright (photo from Brown's website)
Here's how Copper Canyon describes the book:
...Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident from the civil rights movement. Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, newspaper accounts, and personal memories—especially  those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vititow—with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and black students who were rounded up and detained in an empty public swimming pool. This history leaps howling off the page.

I admit that the semester has gotten the best of me and I hadn't had time to buy the book or investigate it, so I came to the reading cold.  Unlike other authors I've heard read in the past, Wright didn't read from any previous works, preferring instead to focus on the new book.  She admitted at the beginning that the book is so new that the reading would be a bit of an experiment.  Then, she read the introductory poem that sets the scene of "a town, a time, and a woman who lived there."  Once we had a sense of this small town in eastern Arkansas in the late 60's ("the king lay mouldering in the grave" (or ground, I didn't write the quote down) experiencing the racial strife typical of the time, Wright dipped in and out of the rest of the book offering us glimpses of the story.  While the book is one long narrative, it is not told sequentially, as Wright's goal is to "sublimate" narrative, to "distill it, to crystallize it," and for her "narrative is mutable."  (All quotes, except for the attempt at the king line earlier, come from the Q&A session.) 

One of the things I came away admiring was Wright's ability to incorporate social justice into her poems without appearing heavy-handed.  I've never been comfortable writing a political poem, and last night I was able to see and hear a master of that form at work.

When asked about her writing process, Wright confessed that she doesn't actually enjoy writing, but it is what she is good at.  She said that she "likes to articulate what she sees, but a lot of that is grunt work, dread, dross, practice, stalling out, and all of that is unpleasant."  I loved the honesty of that.

When asked how she knew she was going to be a poet and not some other type of writer she said it was when she realized that "the words were more important than...the music of the words was more important than..." anything else.  She called poetry a "strange vein" of writing.  I liked that too.

Again, while our styles are not necessarily similar, I'm glad I went to the event, and I'm thankful to everyone in Central Arkansas who works so hard to bring poets and writers to our auditoriums, our stages, our barrooms, and living rooms.  Especially a poet as charming as C.D. Wright!

~~~~~

Dreamland

Dear Reader, I confess, I don't usually have blatantly po-biz related dreams, but last night's was too blatant to ignore.  I was working in a shared office with another poet, possibly in a teaching environment.  The phone on my desk rang.  It was Rita Dove.  She told me that Blood Almanac had been chosen for the prestigious Matthew Chase Award (one of my real-world colleagues is a man named Matt Chase...he is into writing fiction and teaching composition), but I had to answer twenty questions correctly to win the $10,000 prize.  I was incredibly excited but didn't want the other poet in my office to know what was going on.  I felt guilty about this.  Rita Dove proceeded to recite one of her poems over the phone.  (I've read a lot of Rita Dove in the real world, but in the dream world, I was not familiar with this poem.)  It was a long poem with an intricate rhyme scheme.  I guessed that the first question was going to be about the form, so while she was still reading, I googled the poem.  I felt guilty about this.  The rhyme scheme was something like ABAB AABCB CDCD CCDEC, etc.  In other words, I could see the rhymes but I didn't understand the form, so I got out my Princeton Poetics and tried to find it.  You guessed it, Dear Reader, I felt guilty about this.   The form was something like an Endulsian or and Englashiatt.  I didn't recognize any of the forms in my Princeton reference and I was panicking.  Needless to say, Rita Dove hung up after reading the poem because I took too much time to answer the expected question: What is the form of this poem?

Rita Dove (photo from UVA's website)
Conclusions: 
I've been waiting to hear good news about my new manuscript and the stress is starting to show.
The NEA rejection still haunts.
I have some buried guilt that needs to be excised.
Rita Dove is making up new forms and not telling anyone what they are. :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Accounting

44º ~ bright November sun, highs in the low 70's all week, sweet Southern autumn

This morning I only submitted one thing, but rather than a pack of poems, it was the manuscript.  That's an easy submission as I don't re-read the whole book before sending it out.  I'd go crazy that way.  I'd say I've read it through about a half a dozen times since the great manuscript exchange/revision of August/September 2010.  Read all about it here.  Eventually, I have to stop the tinkering, as I've been known to over-work my work.

I was a bit surprised by the guidelines for this press.  Everything was fairly standard until I read the line: "early submission is strongly recommended."  Hmmmm.  This is something that has always worried me.  I was recently told that for contests, submitting early wasn't necessary b/c the press is obligated to treat all the manuscripts the same as long as they fall within the submission dates.  The same poet guru told me that in open reading periods not associated with contests it is best to send at the beginning because once the editors find the manuscripts they like, they stop looking as hard, being under no real obligations as no money has changed hands.  That all sounds completely sane, rational, and ethical to me.

I'm hoping that the press I sent to today (not early on my behalf), simply encouraged early submissions so that the office staff wouldn't be inundated next week when the postmark deadline happens.  I'm hoping.

~~~~~~

In other news, check out Diane Lockward's great post on Blogalicious.  She details the process of writing an anagram poem.  Sounds like the kind of process I enjoy, getting words to bounce around on the page and letting the poem spring up out of myself and the words.

~~~~~

Finally, thank you to those who comforted me on Facebook over the weekend about the NEA rejection letter.  For some reason, I forgot that there would be 1,000 other poets (many, many friends of mine) receiving the same thin envelope.  The magic number this year is 42 winners, and I'm crossing my fingers that a large number of those will be friends of mine.

I don't know why I took the news so hard this year.  I know the long shot that it is, and a fellow poet reminded me that she had applied 13 times before being rewarded.  I know how much of the game is subjective and relies on which reader gets my randomly assigned packet of goods.  Still, I was the most confident I've ever been about the manuscript I submitted this year. 

I think, too, that I also realized that the odds of winning an NEA are better than the odds of winning a book contest and that really got me down.  The NEA awarded 42 fellowships out of just over 1,000 applicants.  When I get rejection letters from presses, I often find out that anywhere from 500 - 800 manuscripts were received and one, ONE, book was chosen.  I'm not a math major, but I think I can see the odds without having to use the calculator on this one.

Seriously, persistence MUST be the poet's mantra.  Try, try, and try again. 

And as a good, good poet friend reminds me, the best we can do is focus on the work and leave the rest to chance.  Onward with ever-thickening skins.
Elephant baby and mama at the St. Louis Zoo...persevering!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Already? Oh Dear

42º ~ our lows are dipping down into the low 30's, the rain has gone, the world looks the brighter for the cold, but no less green, brisk winds, the little heater put to use

Dear Reader, I cannot believe we've reached another Friday so quickly.  Time speeds up this time of year as the semester spins nearly out of control with less than a month to go before finals.  I've got 80 or so papers to grade; nonetheless, I went to bed last night reciting this: "tomorrow I will write a new draft, tomorrow I will write a new draft."  While I wasn't as lucky as last week, I did get something new on the page.

First, I went back to an older draft, "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart."  This was a poem I drafted back in June.  I love the title, but the poem wasn't holding up with age.  It was too stark, too literal-minded.  As I sat down to write this morning, I glanced at that old draft and saw that I could keep the first stanza and the last, but the stuff in the middle had to go.  Yup, I deleted four and a half stanzas and rewrote the guts of the poem.  For now, it seems to be singing a smoother song with a bit more magic, a bit more lyricism.  Time will tell if this revision will stand.

Next, I was ready for something new.  I started by jotting down a few lines from Big Tent Poetry's weekly prompt.  I shared this on Monday.  Participants left a single line in the comment field for someone else to use in a poem or story.  I found three or four lines that seemed to spark and copied them into my journal.  Alas, Dear Reader, nothing doing.  I tried a few on for size.  I mixed and matched and eked out some new additions.  Nothing coalesced.

Then, I went for my folder of inspiration cards.  This one grabbed hold of me, and the lines on the card worked their magic, with a few of the images thrown in.


This image is in reverse b/c I used my computer's camera to take the picture.  The words say, "Shrines dedicated to...the glancing flash of moonlight...illuminating...splintered ruins."  The fishing lures and the statue's umbrella made their way into the poem as well.    The lines on the card do not begin the poem, and I amended them a bit for rhythm and line length.  Still, the lines were the spark and I built a speaker around them.  For some reason, I'm fixated on romantic relationships again this week, and the draft is titled, "The Wife Who Wanders Explains Her Actions."  While I don't often draw directly from my life with C., there's a bit of it in this poem.  The wife in the poem is a worrier and so am I.  I had to explain to C. that worrying about him was my right, and the wife in the poem does some of this same explaining. 

Who knows if she and this draft will survive, but for now, I can begin my grading marathon of the weekend feeling good that I persevered and drafted!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I'm Reading: Subject to Change

51º ~ the gentle rain does rain down, all gray and gloomy light, November

Dear Reader, I confess, I am humbled by the notice I received lately at Eduardo C. Corral's blog, Lorcaloca.  On, Sunday, Eduardo praised the Kangaroo and then Jeannine Hall Gailey and Matthew Thorburn joined in with comments of support as well.

I confess as well, that I've had Matthew's book, Subject to Change, on my desk for months, after he graciously offered an exchange last May.  My lack of responding to this wonderful book and others is more proof that my summer was derailed by illness.  However, after dipping into the book here and there in the past, I've been making my way through Subject to Change as a whole since Sunday, and I have to say that I am delighted to return Matthew's compliment.  (At the moment, I don't own any of Jeannine's books, but I'll remedy that soon!)

Let me pause to say that I don't believe in promoting someone else's work just for the sake of networking or gaining favor.  I long ago made a pact with myself about this blog that I wouldn't write about any books I didn't like and I wouldn't inflate my responses.  I do, however, love this growing sense of community that I've found online, and for the most part, I've not been let down by the poetry I've come to know via this medium.  I hope you'll trust in my earnestness, Dear Reader.

Now, to Matthew's book.  Subject to Change is a fluid collection, each poem flowing into the next with ease and yet each poem offering something new.  It is a winding river through changing landscapes of a book.  As some of you may know, I do not read the blurbs until after I'm finished with a book, preferring to come to the poems with fresh eyes.  Here are the notes I made on the empty page at the back of the book (my favorite note-taking page) as I read through the poems: 
nostalgia at war with modernity and the future
speakers in need of love? of acceptance? of comfort? of familiarity?
the use of voices, especially " "
art, painters, musicians,
Modernist tendencies in embedded quotes and allusions
struggling with Romantic ancestry
refrain and coda

I wreak havoc on the books I enjoy.  Bent-over pages, underlines, marginalia, notes in blank pages, and so, one might tell just from glancing at my bookshelves which are the most beloved books by their battered nature.  Matthew's book has been battered and then some.

I have to say that I wasn't sure these poems would resonate with me because of their clear relationship to the Modernists, a group I can admire if not enjoy.  However, the tension between those Modernist influences and the Romantic history of English poetry intrigued me and led me on through the book, and I am glad of it. 

Often, the sense of the poems is one of conversations transcribed, the reader overhears, listens in.  For example, the poem "For Friends Who are Married and Expecting More Babies," begins with advice for making cucumber soup.  Then, in line two, a second voice joins that of the speaker, this second voice set off in quotation marks, a refrain, a questioner, a commenter.  The poem ends this way:

What is it with me and this small stuff
anyway?  I staple in quotes anything
you say, so it will stay. "What about those
for-instances?"  I count them off
on my fingers.  For instance, "Sometimes
things fall into place just so you can hear them
click."  For instance, when I say "you"
I mean you.  For instance, the dark 
taste of fennel on the wet
....................little heart of your tongue.

I love how the poem begins with the taste of cucumber soup and ends with it, but so much transpires in between (Matthew's poems tend to wander onto a second page and to benefit from the wandering.)  This poem, as with others, features a questioning speaker searching for some security, something that will last in this ever-changing, chaotic world.  Sometimes there is comfort; sometimes there is a void.

Let me also give praise to the use of formal structures that add to the tension reverberating just beneath the surface of this book.  There are wonderfully crafted sonnets and one spectacular sestina, "Just You, Just Me," that features the word 'justice' as one of the repeated end words.  Amazingly, Matthew tweaks that into 'Donald Justice' in stanza four as the speaker's mother says, "Donald Justice / wouldn't write a poem like this."  Kudos for the humor and the deft weaving of this poem.  There are allusions to other great writers, artists, and musicians throughout the book, but these are not heavy-handed and seem always to contribute to the poems rather than distract.

I'll end with a bit from an industrial, Midwestern poem, because I feel akin to it.  While too long to quote in its entirety, here is the beginning of "In Lansing."

Black coffee, for starters, and sun
sneaking through a scribble 
of cloud.  Holidays over and still
in from out east: you and me,
Kay, and cold day-old light--
dishwater or thereabouts.  And pale,
the sky through these trees, blue
that's almost not blue; a bird's egg
or as if colors were verbs--

oranging, bluing--and you hadn't
said blue.  Who loves January?
You see the steeple but the bell's
still broken, half-shined with ice.
And someone has to unplug
and take down these tangled strings
of lights, get the hose to spray
the salt off the Buick.

Support a Poet/Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Subject to Change
Matthew Thorburn
New Issues Press, 2004

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Prompts and Submissions

50º ~ bright sun, gentle breezes barely moving the remaining leaves, a heat up today, then storms on the horizon to cool us down

This morning, I was struck by two online prompts:

1) Big Tent Poetry: If you haven't checked out this great online resource, I hope you will.  This week, the prompt is for people to leave a line in the comments and then choose a line from someone else to prompt a draft.  Sounds great to me.  Free lines of poetry!

2) Her Circle Ezine: A new favorite of mine, provides a character-driven prompt for this week.  Reminds me of one I use with my creative writing students.

Dead Letter from Hawaii http://www.hawaiianstamps.com/upudl.html
Also, if you recall, Dear Reader, last Monday, I decided to try and send out a poetry submission or two on Mondays.  Woo Hoo!  I completed two packets and sent them off via online submission forms.  Let me just say again how much I love online submissions.  They save me money & time, especially b/c I have no need to make a detour to the post office on my way to work.