Thursday, March 29, 2012

Draft Process: Leering at My Lessened State

65º ~ sun rising over my left shoulder, filtering through the new leaves, all is liquid green and shaded, a wee-tiny breeze, birdsong, morning in late March, central Arkansas, perfection


Dear Reader, I'm doing a little happy dance at the desk of the Kangaroo this morning.  I DRAFTED A POEM TODAY!!!  Yep, all caps, three exclamation points, and shouting.  It had been so long, so very long (last draft 2/9/12), I was sure the sickly speaker must have abandoned me by now, must have given up on my power to tell her story.  BUT NO!  She was there, all along, under the surface, waiting.

Prudence, Digges Memorial, Chilham church

I began this morning by re-reading all 25 sickly speaker poems in the rough order I've settled on.  In some sense, this follows the order of composition, as I've been following her narrative in my head, although a few poems here and there needed to be shifted.  Still, I found myself making small notes for possible revision but I didn't let myself get sucked into any one poem.  I wanted the speaker's voice to waft over me in one long song of sickness & possible health. 

As I read, I kept mulling over where she might go from where I'd left her: possibly healing after the transfusion/transplant.  In the last few poems I'd drafted, she was seeing the beginning of a healing.  What would happen next?  Quickly, I knew that she was still healing and that I'll need to write some poems to describe that process, but I also knew she really wanted to write a letter to her mentor (the Dear Madame letters).  At some point this morning, and I've lost track of whether it was during my routine of making ready or during the reading, one phrase drifted through me, "They've brought a mirror in."  I let it slip by me but the echo lingered.

After reading the poems, I knew I wanted to start an epistolary poem but I was still feeling a bit wobbly, so I grabbed one of the books I brought home from AWP, Emily Rosko's Prop Rockery and started gathering words.  This book is a goldmine!  Can't wait to read it for real.  Hopefully very soon!  In any case, I got a group of words on the page and even started drawing my arrows and circles as I saw interesting combinations and hints of how they would fit my speaker.  However, that line from earlier interrupted me -- "They brought a mirror in."  She was insistent. 

So, I flipped the page in the journal and started in on the mirror.  With this I realized a few things.  1) The speaker had been cut off from her own image for eight months, as the poems began in August and seem to be following the same calendar as I am in real life.  What must it do to someone to not see their own reflection for this long?  2) The speaker's body would have changed greatly, as anyone's does when they are bed-ridden or sick for this long.  3) I didn't have a clear idea of what the speaker had looked like "before the fevers" (as she says).  Don't worry; she clued me in.  The poem raced off from there.  Sadly, I didn't use any of the Rosko words; however, I plan to use them soon on some of the healing poems I need to write to get from the last draft from February up to this letter.

And so, the new poem begins:


The nurses brought a mirror in,
deemed me fit to face the image

of a new body whittled from


The rest of the description here fills in what the speaker's body looked like "before the fevers" and then goes on to describe what's happened to it in the intervening months, including being "invaded" by the donor. 

When I'd gotten down what I think will be the main body of the poem, I flipped back to Prop Rockery for help with the title.  In "Monarchy," I found this:  "the stars took to jeering, leering / at our lessened state."  In Rosko's poem, the "lessened state" has to do with being oppressed and having had wealth stolen; yet, I found the phrase fit well with how my speaker felt in looking at her own body, so I did a tiny tweak and ended with "Leering at My Lessened State."  This may hint at the fact that I discovered that the speaker carried a few extra pounds around "before the fevers," and has now wasted away a bit.

It's a shorter poem than this speaker's usual, but I'm just thrilled to have the words down on the paper at all.  Here's to some calmer weeks and a return to my routine of drafting once a week.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quick Post, Quick Interview

60º ~ beautiful slanting morning sun, near calm in the leaves


Here's a quick link to an interview I have up at The Collagist.  Many thanks to Elizabeth Deanna Morris for her insightful questions about "Autobiography as Cartography" and "Autobiography as Cartography II."

from infoplease.com  click for link

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reading at UNI: Spring Break Wrap-Up


64º ~ on the way up to a sunny 77º, amazing Spring Break weather, trees in the act of leafing out, still able to see some sky, soon to be obscured by green


I am returned home from my Midwestern travels.  It was a wonderful trip that culminated in my reading at the University of Northern Iowa.  I’ve said it before but I’m happy to repeat: THANK YOU to Vince Gotera and Jeremy Schraffenberger both of UNI and North American Review for hosting me.

We began with dinner with a few students and colleagues at Sakura, Cedar Falls’ Japanese hibachi grill and sushi place.  Stunning.  When I lived in Waterloo/Cedar Falls there was one Chinese restaurant, an excellent Italian place, and the regular chains.  Now this!  Plus, news of a good Thai restaurant in downtown Waterloo and an Indian restaurant on the horizon.  Seriously Uptown these days for the Cedar Valley.  The food was excellent, by the way, as was the company.  I felt completely at home as I regaled these new friends with tales of cruising University Avenue, the main drag in Cedar Falls, and the road that took us to the restaurant.  When I mentioned that someone from Cedar Falls had written a hit song in the 1980s about the activity, there was a bit of disbelief.  Here, in fact is a YouTube vid of the song with the songwriter’s notes on why and how he wrote the song.

After dinner, there was fro-yo and more reminiscing about music and movies before we headed up to UNI for the reading.  What a huge delight when I rounded the corner of the stairwell and ran headlong into one of my dearest jr. high/high school friends, Kelly Young Delveau.  She was sporting her UNI colors as was my best friend from the age of five, Deanna Wright Brasch, also wearing her purple and gold.  There was much hugging and laughing and some gentle chastisement about my lapses in visiting.  My folks were there, too, and some of my extended family as well.

L to R: Deanna, me, Kelly

Dear Reader, I can’t tell you how emotional it was to be surrounded by these friends and family.  My mom and dad had heard me read from Blood Almanac twice before but never at an official reading hosted by a third party.  I was already emotional because my mom had gotten to help me bake and ice the Earnestine cookies for party favors for the audience.  Usually she hears about my preparations via a phone call, but this time we got to work together on such a fun project.  With Mom & Dad, came my sister and her two kids, plus one spouse.  They left the great-nephew and great-niece at home as a 2- and 6-year-old might not have lasted through the reading without causing some commotion.  Still, it was amazing to have everyone there, especially when I read some of the poems in Blood Almanac that had to do with my childhood.

Earnestine cookies!

Perhaps most amazing of all was the change in my dad.  As many of you know, he lives with Parkinson’s Disease as his constant companion and in December underwent brainsurgery in order to use Deep Brain Stimulation to help alleviate some of his symptoms.  I visited him right after the surgery but before the electronic gear inside his brain and chest had been “activated.”  Mom described the dramatic improvements that occurred the instant that electricity began flowing to his brain, but I hadn’t seen it much in person (aside from my quick visit for Grandma Longhorn’s funeral in February).  Let me just tell you, I was stunned!  Dad was climbing 12 foot extension ladders and using power tools (uhm, gulp, including a circular saw and a table saw) during this visit.  When I saw him in December, his Parkinson’s had so immobilized him that he had a hard time getting in and out of a chair.  Now this!  Along with the renewed muscle activity, his voice has returned.  He made jokes and laughed and was fully engaged in our activities, including the reading.  I will be forever indebted to the doctors and scientists who made this miracle possible.

Lest I give the impression that the audience was made up entirely of my family and friends, I want to give a shout out to all of the UNI faculty, staff, and students who showed up as well.  Mom’s basket of cookies was well-depleted by the time we finished.  The non-family audience members were super attentive and locked in with me.  I was able to read in a small room with couches and comfy chairs, supplemented by a few of the regular multi-purpose event chairs.  It was a wonderful, intimate space that allowed me to connect with nearly everyone in the audience. 

All in all, I can’t say enough about the reading and the people I spent time with while visiting UNI.  I am refueled and re-invigorated to get back to the sickly speaker poems, as I was able to read a handful of those poems for the first time ever.  I stumbled a bit here and there and learned something more about the speaker’s voice, which is an invaluable benefit to reading live for me.  

Now, as I live on University Avenue in Little Rock, I'm thinking it might be a good day to do some cruising of my own!  Wahoooo!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where I've Been: Where I'll Be: University of Northern Iowa

62 deg ~ Gilbertville, IA, gray skies, scattered showers, amazing Spring Break temperatures in the 60s and 70s


My Spring Break this year began with visits to friends and family in Illinois and Iowa, and now I'm on day two of my visit to the University of Northern Iowa.

Yesterday, I had the great good fortune to sit in on Vince Gotera's poetry workshop at UNI.  The students were bright, engaged, and clearly well-nurtured by the creative writing faculty and especially Vince.  I met Evan, John, Sean, Peggy, Tiffany, Sara, Jenna, Danielle, Brian, and Jason (who I'd met at AWP in Chicago!).  This group of students embodied the best of what a workshop can be.  We started by workshopping two poems, both of which showed enormous skill and promise.  It was fun for me to see a group of students not my own grappling with the same issues.  Not only does writing often feel like a solitary task, so too does teaching sometimes.

After workshopping, we moved on to discussing Blood Almanac, which the students had read earlier in the semester.  It was a joy to talk about individual poems with the students and answer such perceptive questions.  The conversation eventually wound its way around to publishing and advice on submissions, rejections, and the business side of things.  These students are truly lucky as UNI houses North American Review, and each semester several students work on the issue with the editors.  They were already quite savvy to the publishing world but seemed interested in my take on things. 

After class, I hung around a bit to sign books.  Tiffany brought her book up and revealed that it had already been signed.  This was a first for me; however, based on the date next to my name, I was able to piece together which school visit had resulted in the occurrence.  We had a good laugh over the fact that this previous student had sold my book back after taking the time to have me sign it, and Tiffany promised to keep hers forever and ever.  I hope so.  My handwriting is a bit big and that page is filling up fast.  (No ill will to the previous student.  I was once a starving student myself and often sold books back that I would have preferred to keep...never poetry though.)

Finally, the afternoon closed with a nice chat with Vince and Jeremy Schraffenberger in anticipation of tonight's reading.  If you are in the area, I'm on at 7:00 p.m. in Baker Hall 161. I'm thrilled that my family will be on hand for this reading; even my niece and nephew want to be there!  Usually, I relate how things go the next day with a phone call to Mom.  How cool that they will be able to see exactly what I do at these things for themselves.

And that leads me to the latest project with Mom.  We have been preparing the party favors for tonight's event:  Earnestine cookies.  Everybody gets one!  Here's a photo essay of the process (minus the finished product as the icing is still in the process of setting before we package them for guests tonight).

cookies cut

baked and cooling

nested for a night in the fridge

iced and drying

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No More Leaping Forward, Please!

67º ~ the humidity returned this week with a wallop, still, the temperatures are lovely and the sun bright ~ these are the days to hoard and cherish before the suffocating heat of summer


Dear Reader, I couldn't stop it again this year; we went leaping forward and lost another hour (which will be returned but at what cost?).  I simply cannot understand how I've become so busy.  I am stunned to learn that I am busy with things I love to do: teaching, running the reading series, editing the school's academic journal, serving my department as we plan for a bigger & brighter future.  Yet, I'm so sad that I've been away from the blog and away from drafting for so long!

Sadly, there is no draft today either...hopefully next week? Maybe?  Gulp.

Above the entrance to the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.  My photo. Click for link to info about this amazing building.


Instead, this morning, I've spent what precious time I've carved away from the rest of the day working on answering interview questions for The Collagist.  Again, this is a delight, so I'm not complaining.  I've done several of these interviews with different journals now and I'm always humbled by how closely and carefully the editors have read my work.  This time is no different.  The interviewer asked three questions that made me look at the poems in a new way, questions that allowed me to expand on my process notes and allowed me to see a theme I hadn't even been aware of in my own work.  Kudos to all the editors and interviewers out there for doing what you do. 

In other news, if you follow me on Facebook, you've seen this, but for those who don't, I cracked one of my toughest publication nuts this week.  After 11 years of submitting (13 submissions total), I received an acceptance from CrazyhorseCrazyhorse is one of my all-time favorite journals.  It has roots in Little Rock, although it had left the state long before I arrived and is now published out of the College of Charleston.  When I was in graduate school, I took a class from fiction writer Molly Giles.  The class was on lit mags.  We read the big names as our text, along with whatever the latest Pushcart anthology was that year.  Then, each student had to research two journals by reading at least two issues, and then write a paper on their details (submission guidelines, history, university-run or independent, etc.) and their aesthetic.  We each gave presentations throughout the semester.  This was one of my favorite classes and so valuable, as I received the benefit of learning about many, many journals.  Someday, I'd love to teach a class or run a workshop along these lines.  (Thank you, Molly!)  In any case, one of my two journals was Crazyhorse.  I'd known about it before that class, but I really fell in love with it then and began submitting in 2001.  All this time later, voila! 

Next week is Spring Break and I'll be traveling up home, not only to see my family, but also to read for the "Writers Talk" series at the University of Northern Iowa.  I'm so thankful to Jeremy Schraffenberger and Vince Gotera for making this happen.  I'm already a bit weepy thinking about the reading as my family will be there and my best friend from childhood, whom I see far too rarely.

Tonight, I'll be on campus late again, celebrating the arts.  This is our annual fundraiser for our Business of Art Scholarship.  This program awards one scholarship to a student in the business program and one to a student enrolled in the arts.  It is both need and performance driven, and in the past I had two creative writing students who were so impressive that the committee voted to award extra funds that year so that they both could "win."  Wahoo.  There will be a silent auction of some awesome art donated by generous artists, so I hope to come home with something new to hang on the wall as well.  Oh, and did I mention that the event is catered by our culinary school...uhm, delicious!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some New Poems

55º ~ idyllic spring day, all the low bushes and soft trees are busting out in blooms, oh pollen-filled air


Finally, I'm feeling like I might have come back to center after AWP.  This morning, I filed our tax returns and got that off the desk.  I'm taking the weekend off to some extent, although there will be laundry and dishes and whatnot and a light bit of grading. I'm hoping to return to poetry on Monday.

Until then, here's some news.

The editors of The Cincinnati Review have highlighted my poem "Litany for an Insomniac" in their "Why We Like It" feature on their blog.  The poem is in their new issue (print).  I'm humbled by Garrett Cummins' close reading of the poem and his kind words.  The picture of Justin Bieber is a nice touch, too!

I've got a new poem out in the online journal Blossombones, edited by Susan Slaviero.  "The Content of Our Tales" is the prelude poem for the fairy tale poem chapbook I'm still working on, so I'm doubly happy to see it here.

Always keeping things in balance, the rejections are rolling in as well.  I think I have five stacked up on the desk waiting to be recorded.  Whatever it takes to keep the writer ego in check, no?

Tomorrow promises a deluge of rain with thunderstorms to add some spice to the gray.  For now, I'm headed out into the sunshine.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Back at the Desk of the Kangaroo: an AWP Review

66º ~ light showers come and go, gray skies, no wind


Dear Readers, I began to despair of ever making it back to the desk of the Kangaroo.  Arriving home from AWP on Sunday, I was immediately swept up with school work and had two major events this week.  One was our Big Rock Reading Series event with Chris James (aka Scorpio), a performance poet, on Tuesday night.  That event was knock-down, no holds barred FANTASTIC!  There's a video up on our Facebook page if anyone is interested in checking out a sample of what we enjoyed.  Then, last night I was on campus late again, but this time for meetings regarding a new building for our division.  Plans are underway and there is much excitement in the air; however, yesterday was all about confronting the cold, hard truth about the budget.  We all had to downsize our dreams a bit, but in the end, this building is going to let the humanities and arts shine on our campus in a way they've never been allowed to shine before.  Wahooo!

This morning, I spent a considerable time shoveling papers off my desk, checking in on online classes, and taking care of urgent tasks (i.e. personal accounting).  Now, I'm ready to give an account of my time in Chicago at the annual conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon and did some networking over drinks and dinner with some of my fellow writer-professors.  One of the best parts of this conference is learning new tricks to filling these dual roles.  How do we balance our writing lives with our teaching lives?  One comment I heard over and over again was that writers who teach creative writing often give their students writing prompts (as do I) and multitask by doing those prompts alongside their students.  In this way they model the assignments and get a bit of writing done during the teaching day.  Wahoo. 

Thursday began the conference proper and I attended two panels before doing an off-site "shotgun" reading (more on that in a minute).  The first panel I attended was on sentimentality in undergraduate  creative writing and how to teach students to avoid it.  Much of this I already do: encouraging specific images over vague language/abstractions, but some of it was new to me.  In particular, I enjoyed Adrian Gibbons Koesters' presentation which called into question how writing professors use their authority in the classroom. Her point was that when an instructor allows his/her "sentimentality issues" to override the work of the student, it shuts down the student.  Rather, we need to be aware of how we present ourselves as authorities and guide our students through the murky waters of sentimentality and illustrate why we want them to avoid it.  As Koesters stated, it is easier for us to be the unquestioned authority at the front of the classroom and simply say "NO" to a poem that isn't working, but that doesn't necessarily encourage the student to move forward and make progress.

Later that day, I attended the panel on the anthology A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry.  Frequent readers will know that I have a poem in the anthology, along with 203 other poets.  It's an awesome resource and I was happy to attend the panel in support of editors Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz.  However, the panel went way beyond any expectation I had as contributors Patricia Smith, Jake Adam York, Eduardo C. Corral, and Cornelius Eady spoke candidly (sometimes painfully) about race and the persona poem.  Smith, an African American, spoke about the awkwardness of writing in the voice of a white skinhead until she opened the door and allowed that person into her head and her heart.  She made the point that to write about another person is a distant kind of writing, but to write as another person is all about letting that person inside your self.  Wow!  York spoke about his subject matter (the Civil Rights Martyrs) chose him and how he tries to allow those silenced voices an space to be heard in order to shed himself of the "George Wallace representation of Southern white males."  Uhm...Wow!  Then, Corral got up and made me cry.  He talked about how persona poetry, for him, attempts to give voice to the voices that have been erased through the oppression of both legal and illegal immigrants in the Hispanic communities in the U.S.  He went on to point out that as the poet he had to erase his own personal experiences to focus on the voices of others and noted that the more autobiographical one of his poems appears to be, the more fiction it contains.  Finally, Eady touched on African American male poets over the last hundred years and the question they have all had to answer: Am I a black poet or a poet?  As he talked about the incredible influence of white teaching on black writers, I couldn't help but correlate this to the incredible influence of male teaching on my writing as a female.  So much to think about here.  So many ideas I can bring into the classroom regarding persona poems in both creative writing and lit classes.  Wow!

Finally, I moved on to contribute my five minutes to the amazing and wonderful off-site reading hosted by Connotation Press.  Ken Robidoux is one of the most energetic people I've ever met and a gracious host/supporter of writers.  I was so sad not to meet Kaite Hillenbrand but delighted to get to say hello to Nicelle Davis in person, along with the many writers in the room!  I heard someone call these "shotgun readings" because each person jumps up to the mic and has about five minutes to woo the audience.  It's a completely different experience from the more formal readings that allow the audience to sink into one specific person's work for a longer time, but I think both formats have a lot to offer.

On Friday morning, I read on the panel "Redefining Lyricism" led by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, who runs the Poem of the Week website.  I was honored to read with Tim Seibles, Daniel Khalastchi, Nicole Cooley, and Robert Wrigley.  It was a diverse panel and each reader offered his or her take on incorporating lyric elements in narrative work by reading from poems rather than presenting lectures.  It was lesson by immersion, and it was stunning to be included.

I spent some good part of Friday in the basement of the Hilton exploring the four corners of the bookfair.  I was thankful that I attended AWP Chicago in 2009 so I was prepared for how broken up the travel pattern would be down there.  Over the three days of the conference, I was able to meet and speak with many editors and writer-friends, but still there were those I missed.  It's a bit overwhelming to be navigating those tables alongside the other 9,300 registered participants.  One of the repeated questions when meeting new folks or connecting with editors was "where are you at?" meaning where do you live/teach.  My response of Little Rock, AR and Pulaski Technical College was said with pride as I consider myself an ambassador for the literary arts in Central Arkansas and for teaching at the community college level.  I hope I opened a few eyes along the way.

Later, on Friday, I was able to attend the panel that featured the winners of the 2010 AWP Award Series in four genres: Quan Barry, Danielle Cadena Deulen, Mandy Keifetz, and Douglas Light.  Frequent readers will know that I was there to hear Quan Barry.  She read three poems from Water Puppets and then one new poem, the ending of which had me crying again.  While the crush of people was too deep to get to meet Barry in person, I know carry her voice inside my head, so when I read her poems, I'll have that musical sound to guide me. 

Friday night, I did another shotgun reading, this time with folks from Barn Owl Review/diode.  The lineup for this was stellar: Jason Bredle, Traci Brimhall, John Gallaher, Brent Goodman, Matthew Guenette, Rebecca Hazelton, me, Erika Meitner, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Alison Pelegrin, and Emily Rosko.  Many of the writers deal with contemporary culture and often include humor in their work.  I came home with some new ideas for future poems just from listening to their amazing work and with a renewed pride in my more quiet/contemplative/pastoral poems.  Huge hats off to the editors of both journals for all of the work they put into this event.

By Saturday, I was running out of voice and energy.  I spent more time in the bookfair gathering up free copies of lit mags (hint, most journals give away copies on Saturday or sell them for $5 b/c they don't want to have to ship the extras home).  I had to ship my armfuls home as there was no way they would fit into my luggage.  I do this scavenging because I teach at a community college.  Most of my students have never seen a national lit mag.  They may have had one at their high school, or they may have been out of school for a decade or more and have no exposure to published work.  I love being able to give them copies of journals and set them off on their journey.  Often, they come back and show me some poem or story and say, "I didn't know you could do that in a poem/story."  This is what it's all about.  I also do this because a certain segment of the students can't afford to go to Barnes & Noble and buy the lit mags they offer there.  I do try to read as many of the copies as I can before passing them on, and I'm not above tearing out a page here and there if I feel like I absolutely HAVE to have the poem. 

I also had several conversations that gave me new ideas for expanding the Big Rock Reading Series and for getting poetry into the community; however, those are big issues and I'm running out of steam for this post.  I'll give you one hint:  Broadsides!

The conference wrapped up for me with the reception for the inaugural issue of Adanna, a journal for and about women.  I was happy to read my poems from the issue alongside the other women who were able to attend.  With all of the talk about the disparity of women's voices in literature, it was moving to look out at the audience and see all women in the audience (not the men were excluded from attending...two did walk in at the conclusion but just to eat up the remaining chips and dip).

No, I did not make it to the keynote.  I've learned over the years that I must pace myself and I can't do everything.  In the past, when I have tried, I've ended up not eating well and not sleeping much over the course of the conference. This insures both a mental and physical breakdown by Saturday.  So, this year, I was much better about making hard choices and prioritizing the events I attended.

One of my friends mentioned cutting it close to arriving for an event because she had tried to get a bite to eat and the food had arrived at her table 10 minutes before the event.  She had to scarf down the food and handle the check and still sprint for an elevator in that 10 minutes.  That pretty much sums up AWP.  Constant movement; near exhaustion; pressing on.

Call me crazy but I can't wait for AWP 2013 in Boston!