Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Numbers Set Me Back on My Heels

56º ~ while luxuriating in these days of warmth & sun, a subtle sadness permeates as there is this evidence of climate change, note (the lack of leaves on the trees means the sun has unfettered access and swaths the desk & my body

As I've aged, I've come to realize that I'm not really a resolution person.  At one point, a therapist commented that I was one of the most self-aware people she had ever counseled.  I do not say this to brag.  For whatever reason, nature/nurture/astrology/etc., I'm the type of person who is almost constantly aware of my imperfections, and I've fought hard to loosen my grip on my attempts at perfection, which were more harmful than helpful. 

Still, there are goals I keep in front of me all year round.
1. To slow down and push back against this speed-hungry & product-driven world.
2. To be kind & patient with those I love and with those who are acquaintances or even strangers.  
3. To read & support my fellow poets by buying their books, subscribing to journals, or using the library.
4.  "To live deliberately...to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" a la H. D. Thoreau.

I do like the way the close of a year provides a chance to reflect and celebrate.  Here are my numbers.

42 poems drafted ~ This number set me back on my heels, in fact, almost set me spinning off my chair.  I am thrilled with this number, given the summer of troubles we had and the fact that I launched a reading series this year.  Thrilled!

1 reading series launched ~ Of course, I had lots of help from colleagues and friends, and I am thankful for each and every one. 

56 rejections ~ This number reflects the journals rather than individual poems.  I usually send 4 - 5 poems in a packet, and if even 1 poem is accepted, that's recorded as an acceptance, so the other 3 - 4 poems would have been rejected.  It's fuzzy math to be sure.  Doing the multiplication sets me back on my heels as well.

20 acceptances ~ Again, this number reflects journals.  All together, 33 poems were accepted as some journals accepted more than one poem at a time.  Again, I'm THRILLED with this number and so happy to know my poems are finding good homes out there in the world.  Thank you all for the support through the drafting stages and beyond.

10 hours per week ~ my average time (during the academic year) at the desk of the Kangaroo working on drafting, revising, manuscript ordering, submissions, reading, blogging, and recording acceptances/rejections.  Slightly higher in the summer.

~~~~~

As 2011 comes to a close, I hope you all are warm, happy, & well-fed.  May 2012 bring us all more victories than defeats, more laughter & love than tears & grief, and more time with poetry than with the dirty laundry gathering in piles around the house.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not a Lot of Poetry Going On Round Here

48º ~ gorgeous weather w/ highs in the low 60s, bright sun today, a little breeze

There hasn't been a whole lot of poetry going on around here over this holiday break.  As I've commented before, I do best with a set schedule, and that usually means a teaching schedule to "keep me honest" about my writing time.  Plus, after the semester is over, we often spend several days catching up on household tasks and lots of days visiting with friends and family.  I am learning not to beat myself up over these non-poetry days, and most importantly not to judge my own progress against that of others. 

I am content to have seen many family members and friends and am looking forward to seeing a few more on New Year's Eve.  I am content to play with the new cats and help them settle in here.  I am content to watch endless episodes of Law & Order (the original), which I am streaming while I play endless hands of spider solitaire.  My brain was in serious need of mush-time, apparently.

Mostly, I am content to learn that my dad's surgeries are complete and his hardware is now turned on, as of yesterday.  By all accounts, the Deep Brain Stimulation therapy is a modern miracle.  My mother described watching my dad's body "loosen up" by degree as the doctor activated and adjusted the signal now being provided to his brain by electricity rather than by dopamine.  The biggest amazement, apparently, was when they had him write his name before activation (a nearly illegible scrawl) and after activation (almost back to his pre-Parkinson's, legible, handwriting).  Dad was even able to snap his coat and buckle his seat belt without assistance.  This may not seem like much, but for us, it is a miracle.  Now, he begins the long journey to lowering the meds which have caused such lethargy & some confusion.  We are hopeful, hopeful, hopeful.  Here is an image of what's inside my father now.

Click for link


Still blown away by this.  Lots to process. 

~~~~~

Thanks for stopping by, even with sparse postings!




Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solstice Gratitude

45º ~ solid gray skies, a drizzling rain, no wind

Happy Solstice, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  I am a creature of the light, and I take heart that the days will slowly lengthen toward that other tipping point at the summer solstice. 

Having returned from Iowa earlier this week, I have to take a moment to comment that the upper Midwest finally treated me to an enjoyable weather trip in December.  In years past, when I've traveled this time of year, I've been met with snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.  This past weekend, we had bright sun and temps in the upper 40s.  Someone needed to pinch me to make me believe it.  Blessings.

Now, I'm reflecting on my gratitude for good news from the poetry world over the past week.

First, Jessica Goodfellow awarded the Kangaroo a Liebster Award while I was away!  Since I've done this a number of times, I'm going to skip the rigamarole and just say THANKS to Jessica.  If you haven't checked out her blog, Axis of Abraxas, please do!  Great insights about poetry and writing in general, as well as updates from the Pacific Rim.

Next, news of two acceptances.  The fine folks at Pebble Lake Review accepted "Fairy Tale for Girls who Gather Maps" and will also host an audio file for the poem, which I recorded yesterday.  I'll let y'all know when the new issue goes up and the poem is available to read/hear.  Just on the heels of that good news came an email from the folks at Sou'wester, who accepted two poems, "Inventing a Rain Spell" and "Cornfield, USA III" for the special weather issue, forthcoming in 2012.  This is my second appearance in Sou'wester, which is always a thrill, and I'm super psyched for this acceptance b/c this is the first of the three haibun to find a home.  Many, many thanks to the editors and readers of these two journals for showing my work some love.

Finally, tons of gratitude to those of you who chimed in on my manuscript blues, either in the comment section or by email.  I am so grateful to have you all in my life.  After my sojourn up home and my return to this, my southern home, I'm feeling a bit braver about returning to the manuscript and giving it a good re-reading.  You all ROCK!

Some rocks from Heber Springs, AR.  Solid!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Family Update

30 degrees with a chance of flurries ~ yep I'm in Iowa
After an all-day drive, I just wanted to give everyone who has been reading a quick update on my dad. He came home yesterday, having had no post-op troubles this time around. He spent most of today sleeping but was up and about by the time I got to the house this evening. Thanks to everyone who sent good thoughts. 14 days until they activate the hardware and begin the therapy. Exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Also, so many thanks to those who have offered wisdom about the book, both here and in emails. You all are wonderful, amazing poet-friends. I'm lucky to have you on my side!!!! (Yes, that is the overuse of the exclamation point. What can I say? I'm exhausted!)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Manuscript Blues: A Messy Mess

57º ~ oddly warm here for the past 48, moisture everywhere, leftover rain, cement seeping, light rain here and there through tomorrow, then the cold returns

This morning my father is having his second (and last) surgery to finish placing all of the hardware he needs for Deep Brain Stimulation therapy for Parkinson's Disease.  Tomorrow, I'll be on the road to Iowa to visit and see for myself how he is doing.  (C. will be home with the cats, recovering from his semester.)  Dad's hardware won't be activated until the very end of December, so we won't know how much improvement he will see until the first of the year, but I just need to check in and give everyone hugs.

from creativecommons.org, click for link

That being said, I'll be offline for a few days more.  You can see that I have been fairly quiet already this break, after Monday's draft.  I confess, Tuesday was a disaster in terms of poetry.  One of my goals for the break is to re-visit In a World Made of Such Weather as This, my 'second book.'  As most of you know, the manuscript has gotten lots of love in terms of semi-finalist status and a bit of love as a finalist; however, it has not made the final leap to publication, and I've been sending it out in what I consider its strongest form for two years (with a re-ordering between year one and year two).  In any case, I thought I was ready to take another look under the hood and see if I needed to tinker with it more.

It's hard for me to describe what happened on Tuesday when I opened up the binder and started reading the poems.  After the first poem, I started questioning everything.  I wondered what I had been thinking.  I beat myself up.  I felt sick.  I was tired of all the poems I was reading.  I half-heartedly shuffled a few poems around.  I told myself to stick with it and just keep reading.  I stopped reading and closed the binder in defeat.  I'm now wondering if it is even a book.  Most horrify thought:  it is not a book and I've wasted my time on it.  I feel sick again, now, just thinking about it.

On reflection, I suspect I know what is happening.  I've "broken up" with those poems.  Traci Brimhall writes about this transition at Her Circle Ezine.  The new series I'm working on is so exciting and full of energy that I've moved on to a new passion.  Since the sickly speaker poems are shaping up as a true series with an arc of a plot that the poems will follow, I'm caught up in that cohesiveness.  My weather book is definitely NOT a project book.  It is a 100% mix-tape book, with common themes and threads floating throughout, but no definitive arc that moves through time and place.  Connections that seemed natural and instinctive when I put those poems together have evaporated in the face of how easily the new project poems are sliding together.

Today, I sit here gathering questions.

If nearly every poem in the collection has been published individually, is that enough?  Is that too much?  Do I suffer from over-exposure?

Is the poetry world more apt to publish a project book over a mix-tape book?

What does it mean to collect these loosely connected poems in a book and send it out into the world?

Is it all about audience at this point, growing the audience for all of the poems together?

When does one decide to abandon a collection?

How does one deal with this abandonment?

One thought that is running through my head is that I need to go back to square one and pull the whole thing apart and find the poems that still sing to me and see what I have then.

Another thought is that I'm being too hard on the book and need to leave it be and see what happens with this round of submissions.  But how long do I keep putting the book out there without revision and can I continue to do so when my passions have moved on to other work?

While nothing about this work is physically taxing, the emotional exhaustion is real. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Draft Process: Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country

42 ~ 70% cloud cover with bright highlights where the sun breaks through, no sign of the territorial robin and the window now un-draped ~ winter inches closer & the heat runs on & off, on & off, on & off

Today's draft process requires that we 'go round by Laura's house' a bit.  (This is a saying in C.'s family for when his mother gets overly involved in telling a story and doesn't get straight to the point...I happen to love it when she does that, as I do it too, plus you get all kinds of bonus details.)

Yesterday, I sorted through the pile of loose papers that had grown and mutated over the course of the semester.  Many of them went to the recycling bin as I couldn't remember why on earth I'd saved them.  However, I found one print out of the rules for the Poetry Society of America awards.  I've been a member of the PSA for years and have never taken advantage of the waived fee for members submitting for these awards. 

While I still didn't enter any individual poems this year, I did decide to enter a group of the sickly speaker poems for the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award for a manuscript in process.  This led me to re-reading all 17 of the poems I've written so far, and to revise a few along the way.  As I sorted through the poems and tried to come up with an order, I realized several things. 

1) Writing these poems will require me to work more with a fiction writer's mind than I have done in the past, if I want to create a collection that tells the story of this speaker, which I think I do.  I also think I want to tell the story over the course of a year, with the dates that head the epistolary poems as markers of this.  Perhaps she will remain confined for the whole year or perhaps she will recover and return to her home and the poems will explore that as well.  I'm not sure yet. 

2) Most importantly, I need to work harder to distinguish the different women in her life.  It is easy to note the doctors and nurses, and then there are the 'mystics' who are non-medical but associated with the hospital in some way.  The two primary women are the mentor the speaker addresses in her letters and 'the woman [she] called mother by mistake.'  In looking at the group of poems, I realized that I couldn't include the two poems about the pseudo-mother in the sample I sent b/c the readers would not have enough information to distinguish the two characters and I didn't want any confusion to taint their reading of the work.

As I went through my morning rituals today, I toyed with the idea of drafting a poem.  It's 'break' time and I want to be productive, but I have to fight the inertia that tries to take over when I'm not on a schedule.  It helped when I realized that I didn't draft anything on Friday.  (How did that happen???)  So, I went back over what I described above as I set about reading Quan Barry's Water Puppets.  Since I haven't used the word banks much in the past few drafts, I didn't stop to write down words; I just let the poems wash over me.  About five or six pages in, I read a phrase about the speaker being 'born again' (in a non-religious sense), and I started to mull that over with my speaker's situation.  Pretty soon I had to put down the book and go to the page.

The draft begins:


When the fever shifts and loosens,
I understand absence, being born again
to solitude, the population of my hallucinations

elusive and in hiding.


What happens is that whenever the speaker 'wakes' from her fever, this is when she misses the mother figure in her life.  So the poem is a way to provide some history and backstory about their relationship.  As I scribbled in my journal the lines were all over the place and out of control.  When I went to the computer, the lines immediately suggested this tercet form with each line slightly longer than the one that proceeds it in the stanza.  It was weird how easily the poem drafted itself into this form.  Rarely do I figure that out so quickly. 

After I had the poem drafted, I went back to Barry's book for a suggestion of a title.  I flipped to the last poem in the book, "ode," and found this line, "Thus refuge here in the blasted moonscape."  When I first read it, I misread 'refuge' as 'refugee,' and I knew I'd found what I was looking for since my speaker is a bit of a refugee.  No one visits her, no friends, no family.  By the way, I figured this out because I had to write a paragraph of description when I entered the sample in the PSA contest. In any case, I rephrased the beginning of the sentence and came up with my title "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country."  This fits with the poem's focus on the pseudo-mother b/c she is the one who brought the speaker to the hospital.

From Science Photo Library, click for link
Well, my speaker refers to the doctors as 'whitecoats' not 'bluecoats,' but I love how these doctors seem to be peering down at the patient/specimen, which gets at the 'refugee' feeling.


I'm hopeful for more poems over the next three weeks and more time to read and be inspired. As ever, thanks for reading and keeping me company on this journey.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Break Dance, Break Out, Break Down, Break Through

41º ~ brilliant sun aimed directly at the desk for the moment, one window draped with a sheet on the outside to stop a territorial robin from hurling himself against it (this morning's wake up call)

Today's title is brought to you by the Holiday Break.  I turned in grades yesterday!  Wahoo!  Of course, I'll have things to do over the break, but I won't be "on" every single day as I am during the official semester.  Wahoo!  (Did I already say that?)

This morning was a morning for poetry business.  I received an acceptance this past week and three or four rejections to go along with it.  I was thrilled to the acceptance from Natural Bridge, the lit mag from the University of MO - St. Louis.  Natural Bridge published the very first poem I had accepted while I was in grad school.  While I can definitely tell I've come a long way from that poem, having it published at the national level provided an injection of confidence when it was sorely needed.  Also, NB accepted "Cautionary Tale for Girls Kept Underground in Summer."  After a long string of rejections for the fairy tale series, having blossombones pick up one two weeks ago, and now this acceptance, I feel more energy for that project.  I'm going back over the remaining poems with the fine-toothed comb of revision.  I already found several major changes needing to be made in some of the poems I felt really good about in August.  It just goes to show that I do need to take more time; however, I think the rejections play a huge part in giving me the sharper sight to see the flaws. 

On the heels of this revision and the recent rejections, I sent out some more poems this morning as well.  Along the way, I found this gem in the New Letters' submission guidelines:

d) We encourage writers to create emphasis through word choice, placement, syntax and sentence pacing, instead of overuse of exclamation marks.

Hee Hee.  I am definitely going to use this in my Creative Writing class in the spring, but I may also introduce it to my comp students as well.  Sometimes they have to hear this kind of thing from an outside authority before they really believe me.


In other news, we had our first sticking snow this past week as well.


Sadly for C., the roads were fine and there was no snow day for his school. He gives finals next week, and then we can both enjoy the break together with the new cats, George & Gracie.  Heaven!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Miscellany

34º ~ winter is inching its way in here, our lows are in the upper 20s this week, highs in the upper 40s/lower 50s, overcast and dreary after two days of solid rain

There's a lot going on here at the desk of the Kangaroo and little of it is poetry related, although I did manage to devote Sunday to submitting some of the new poems.

To follow up on my new attempt to be better about reacting to positive rejections and requests to send more, here's a little story.  In September I received a kind note from an editor at a journal I admire and in which I've appeared in the past.  The editor expressed regret at not taking (quickly enough) several of the poems that had been withdrawn due to publication elsewhere, and rejected the last poem they had under consideration.  She then asked me to send on something else.  I finally got around to doing so on Sunday morning.  At 8:18 p.m., I received a rejection for the group.  This time, no personal note from the specific editor, but a general "good rejection" (requesting that I submit again) signed by "The Editors."  So, it's three steps forward and two steps back.  Nonetheless, I persevere.

In the meantime, the papers have arrived like the first snowfall, and I'm about to embark on several days of non-stop fun.

On a more serious note, my dad had surgery yesterday, and while the surgery itself went very well, he is having a hard time shaking off the effects of the anesthesia.  We are hopeful that a few more hours will show more improvement.  This is the first of two surgeries to implant the mechanics needed for Deep Brain Stimulation, one of the most promising treatments for Parkinson's Disease to date.  Any healing thoughts will be appreciated.

In happier news, C. and I have returned to being cat people, adopting George and Gracie.  These two cats are not siblings and are about four years apart in age; however, they were abandoned together 13 months ago on the steps of a local animal rescue group.  They have been kept together at a foster home and needed to be adopted together, which may explain why they were still available a year later.  They are soooooooo sweet and playful, although fairly skittish yet.  We knew we wanted two cats, so this was perfect since they already knew each other and didn't have to go through that awkward period of cat adjustment.

I know, I know...this is NOT a cat blog, and not a family blog, but sometimes life interrupts poetry y'all and that is all there is to it.


George


Gracie


Friday, December 2, 2011

Draft Process: What Collects in the Dark Tunnels

52º ~ brilliant slanting sun, very little wind, a few robins left over from the flock

After the Thanksgiving break, I was a bit shy about returning to the drafting process this morning, but that's to be expected.  It's amazing to me how missing one week makes such a huge difference.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I've had an idea brewing about my sickly speaker.  She has a fever of unknown origins and a difficult to diagnose disease that relates to her blood in some way.  The procedure I wanted to include in a draft was a blood transfusion.  I also ended up thinking about the bone marrow biopsy our cat went through as we tried to diagnose her disease.  So, I kept playing with the ideas as I went through my morning routine.

Somewhere between the shower and breakfast, I remembered that I'd written about the coming winter in the last draft and the poem began to coalesce as the speaker commented on the ice on the window and the ache in her hip from where they collected a bone marrow sample.

The poem begins:


The cold has settled in, the window wreathed
in crystals sharp as the ache in the bone of my hip

where the whitecoat scooped the marrow.

It progresses to the fact that the transfusion is set to begin and the speaker speculates about how her health might improve based on this new development.

It alternates between couplets and single lines, and uses only a few words I gathered from Quan Barry's new book Water Puppets, which I just bought a few weeks ago.  It turns out, again, that the poem was already percolating away and I didn't have to rely on the word bank for much.  I suppose I am moving away from the process, which is fine.  I'll take the poems any way they come.  For the title, I did fish around in the book for some line that might work and came up empty.  I did come across the phrase about a "dark trap where things collect" in the poem "de natura vincularum."  That sparked what became the title of the draft as I thought about the veins and tubes associated with a blood transfusion: "What Collects in the Dark Tunnels."

This picture is from Science Photo Library (click image for link).  It shows a woman getting a transfusion of goat's blood to treat tuberculosis.  Here is the info:

Tuberculosis goat blood transfusion. This procedure was carried out by the French doctor Samuel Bernheim (1855-1915) and involved transfusing 150 to 200 grams of blood from the goat to the female patient. It was hoped that this would cure the tuberculosis, but transfusing animal blood into humans had been banned since the 17th century due to the procedures killing the patients. This is because the blood would not have been compatible. This scene was later the subject of a painting by Jules Adler. Artwork from the seventh volume (first period of 1891) of the French popular science weekly 'La Science Illustree'.

Uhm, yeah, my speaker gets human blood, no worries, but I love this image so I'm using it.