Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Arrivals

Today in the mail: new issues of Meridian and The Normal School.

The Meridian is issue 22, which contains two of my new poems, "The Museum of My Childhood" and "River Years." I've been a big fan of this journal for quite a while and was first published by them in issue 16. The editors are fantastic and the production is top-notch. Also, I'm awed by the other writers who share the space with my poems. The poets are: Carl Phillips, Donald Revell, Jeff Hardin, Brendan Galvin, John Poch, Bob Hicok, Barbara Hamby, Karen Rigby, and Carl Dennis. I read with Jeff Hardin back in October of 2006 at the Southern Festival of Books, so it was great to see his poem there. The issue also contains several Ginsberg letters and an interview with my fellow Little Rock writer, Kevin Brockmeier. Lovely, lovely.

A few weeks ago, I subscribed to a new journal, The Normal School, and today I received the inaugural issue. If you haven't checked this out yet, please do. This is a glossy, full-sized creation with plenty of whimsy, imagination and great reads. I was delighted to find a fabulous piece by Scott Diel, a fellow U of Arkansas MFA-holder. You also need to read Steve Almond's "Jenna Bush: Off the Grid (The Unofficial Book Tour Diary)" and Dinty W. Moore's "Forty-Four Reasons Why You Absolutely, Positively Should Never Write that Book." ~~I haven't finished reading the whole issue, so I'm sure I'll find more to recommend!

Yay for good mail days!

Friday, January 30, 2009


A spirited debate with a colleague sent me to my overstuffed bookshelves in search of the publications from my college years. Yes, it's been 15 years and I still have the lit mags from my undergrad days. Within these journals are sterling samples of the kind of poetry I was writing then. (My colleague and I were discussing one of our current student's work.) It was a strange trip to flip through and see the names and writing of people I haven't spoken to in so long. As soon as I saw their names, faces and voices and memories flooded in. In some cases I didn't even have to re-read the poems to remember the gist of them.

Then, I found my own poems. Two of them were centered and most of them contained lines that made me shake my head and sigh. However, every now and then, I would read a line that resonated with what I'm writing today. There was some evidence then of the writer I've become. That fascinates me...especially b/c I stopped writing all together for about 3-4 years before I went back to grad school. Somehow, some kernel of that beginning voice survived, and that makes me very happy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In the Thick of It

The semester is well under way, and we are in the thick of it...complete with a snow day yesterday that has thrown off my Comp II schedule already. I'm still intent on finding the writing time, and I feel pretty good about what I've accomplished. I have drafts of two new poems, which is already two more than I wrote during the fall semester entirely, and I started some new lines yesterday that may turn into something (or not?).

I've been thinking about what I want my poems to do lately, as I've been rereading Glacial Elegies, my new manuscript, and preparing it to go out to possible publishers. As a consequence, I've also been comparing it to some of my favorite recent books of poetry. There are all of these questions swimming around in that fragile part of my brain that makes up "poetry." Here are some:

What is my voice? (a question I thought I'd figured out in Blood Almanac)
Is my voice boring? (yikes!) Is my voice evolving or is it becoming imitative?
Where do lyricism and narrative intersect for me? Should I be going for more of one and less of the other?
Is my language fresh/new/not boring? If I go too far towards the language, do I lose the meaning?
Since I almost always write short poems, should I be writing longer ones?
Should I be taking more risks?

For now, I'm trying to live with the questions and to write through them; after all, there really isn't any other way.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Another Great Virginia Woolf Essay

Thanks to the Hayden's Ferry Review blog for posting a link to this fabulous essay by Virginia Woolf on the act of reading. Woolf poses the question "what is the pleasure I get, or the good I create" from reading? Her essay discusses the reader in relation to the writer (both author and critic) and contains more quotes for my collection. Among them:

"One should be an accomplice with the writer in his act, whether good or bad, of creation. For each of these books, however it may differ in kind and quality, is an attempt to make something."

"And the writers who have most to give us often do most violence to our prejudices, particularly if they are our own contemporaries."

And about criticism:
"It is after one has made up one's own opinion that the opinions of others are most illuminating."

And finally:
That readers "are fulfilling our share of the creative task - we are stimulating, encouraging, rejecting, making our approval and disapproval felt; and are thus acting as a check and a spur upon the writer."

As always, Woolf's style and syntax remain her own, her sentences singing in just that voice that can only be hers.

First 100 Days of Poetry

If you haven't already found this blog yourself, please check it out. Starting Today: poems for the first 100 days is created by Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker, two awesome poets themselves. These are poems that are being written for and during President Obama's first 100 days in office.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Resolution

The test is at hand for one of my resolutions: to create and stick to a writing schedule during the semester while I teach. Today, I succeeded. I actually added "Write" to my "to do" list for the day, and I made myself sit in the chair until something crawled onto the page. At first it was an ugly mess. I had a bunch of phrases scattered in my journal, but nothing was coming together. It was painful, yet I stayed in the chair. Then, SHAZAM, it coalesced before my eyes. Who knows what will come of it, but there are ten lines that weren't there before.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sometimes I Need Reminding

When I opened the curtains in my office today, one of the many little notecards I have taped up around my desk gave up on its tape and fluttered down. After struggling with a new poem yesterday, I needed this reminder from Keats:

"I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."

Sometimes I need reminding that the poem should be allowed to make what leaps are in it to be made and that I might beat the beauty from it if I lean too hard towards reason.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Adding to the Rain

One more piece of good poetry news to add to this week's party. Brian Leary, Caroline Klocksiem, and Sarah Vap, editors at 42opus, have accepted two poems for upcoming publication: "If Given the Chance" and "June Meditations." 42opus is one of my many favorites of online journals, and they published another poem of mine several years ago, so it's nice to be working with them again.

Today, I'm drafting a new poem, which is always exciting and scary at the same time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What I'm Reading: Red Summer

It's the coldest day of the year here in Little Rock, and I'm poised in front of the space heater with the cat. Yesterday, the copy of Amaud Jamaul Johnson's Red Summer that I'd requested from the library came in. I just read it cover to cover and may now have to buy it. The number of sticky tags marking poems I want to go back to are overwhelming.

Some of you may remember that I blogged about a few of Johnson's poems in December, when I was reading the latest Indiana Review. The book lives up to the new poems Johnson is publishing now. The poems in this book contain images of love and violence, despair and hope, and all of the other pairing of opposites that go with living. Many of the poems are based in the history of racial discord in America (hence the title, referring to the race riots across America in 1919), while others feel intensely personal. Johnson's voice ranges from lyric to narrative and everything in between and projects a confident steadiness. I knew I was in good hands from the first page.

Here are some of my favorites.

From "Chicago Citizen Testifies in His Defense"
"The fate of the rock, like that of the boy,
falls somewhere between gravity and god."

From "On This Side of Mercy" (after Mississippi John Hart)
"When I close my eyes and palm the soundboard,
My fingers make a constellation, and my mind is all about
The last time with my woman; her nails strumming
My ribcage, how her name tastes, hovering in my mouth
Like a circle of smoke. Then the cry I let go, like a bird
Perched on my tongue. Then each chord, a new vein opening.
And then I don't give a damn about nothing anymore."

From "A Fear of Thunder"
"And that cry seemed to claw
From her body, not her throat,
Nor anyplace ever made for singing.


Of this pain, what women
Know, her cry seemed carved
Of muscle and soft bone."

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Just to keep the universe in balance, I received two rejections today. Still, they were much easier to take given the last few days of success.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When It Rains

Sometimes putting in the hard work of drafting, drafting, drafting pays off. Two acceptances came my way in two days. Yippee!

Thanks to Tom Holmes and the other editors over at Redactions for taking "Voice Box," which should be out in Issue 12, Fall '09.

Also, thanks to Jon Thompson, the editor of Free Verse, for accepting "Myth Born" for the Fall '09 issue.

One older acceptance to report. Two weeks ago, Rhett Iseman Trull, the editor of Cave Wall, accepted "Glacial Elegy I" for the Summer/Fall '09 issue. This one is also special because the manuscript title comes from this three-poem series, and this is the first individual poem of the three to be accepted for publication. Yay!

Thanks for all of the support!

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Forms of Rejection

This post is for anyone who has tried to reach out to me on Facebook.

A few days ago, a good friend sent me a nudge to get signed up on Facebook. It's something I've been meaning to do for quite a while and just never got around to. Within minutes, many of you began adding me as a friend (or trying to). So, I clicked on the link to join Facebook and filled out the form. Then, I got rejected. Well, not me so much as my name. Bizarre.

I'm in a holding pattern at the moment, having filed a report with the help desk at Facebook. For those of you who've added me, I'm flattered and will follow up if/when the situation is resolved.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

An Arrrrrgh Moment

Like many other writers I know, I tend to be a pack rat when it comes to books and magazines. Books are easy. Once they are on the shelf, I can scan the spines and fairly easily recall the story, the premise, or the more difficult to name cohesion of a poetry collection.

However, I have a problem with literary journals and trade magazines. In order to keep current with the writing world, I subscribe to several of these, including Poets & Writers, American Poetry Review, and The Writer's Chronicle (as a member of AWP). Since I find value in what I read within these volumes, I keep them. I line them up on the shelf or in the storage bin under the futon in my office. From time to time, as I shelve a new issue, I wonder why I keep them. I've never gone back and leafed through issues I've already read, as I do with books.

Then, today, it happened. I was reading a blog that referenced an article I thought I might be interested in. I googled the article and discovered that it had been published in The Writer's Chronicle in Oct/Nov of 2003. I recieved my MFA in May 2003 and became a member of AWP sometime before that. A surge of geaky excitement pulsed within. I finally had a reason to delve into the backissues under the futon.

Heady with excitement, or at least just eager to read the article, I pushed my desk chair aside and dragged the plastic storage bin into the light of day. I wiped another month's worth of dust from the cover and popped the handles loose. I dug through the stack, found 2004 towards the bottom, and got a bit nervous. There didn't seem to be enough copies to get me into 2003. My fingers swept across the bottom of the bin and fished up the last copy I had (the first copy I'd thought to keep): December 2003.


**Two hours later it struck me that the Chronicle might archive the articles online. Sure enough, there it was. Now I seriously question this desire to keep the physical object when the content is preserved for all time online.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Better (e)Mail

Today the new (and, sadly, final) volume of the Arkansas Literary Forum came out. Published by Marck Beggs over at Henderson State University for the past 10 years, this online journal is a great highlight of writers with Arkansas connections. I'm honored to be included in this publication.

Good luck, Marck!


In the mail today...two rejections from lit mags and a dismal statement from my 403(b).

Also, the sun we had for two days seems to have given itself up to gray.

Feeling petulant.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


When I received and read the January 2009 issue of Poetry, I loved the letter to the editor from Alice Pillsbury of Houston, Texas. Pillsbury wrote in representation of a poetry study group at Treemont Retirement Community. Their group had been reading and discussing poetry for four years when they decided to subscribe to Poetry. The letter expresses their disappointment with the magazine. To quote: "We cannot make head or tail out of your selected 'poems.' We agree that there is no rhyme and very little reason -- only phrases, snatches of words or thoughts in random order, with very little cohesion."

Now, there is a podcast available where Christian Wiman (Editor) and Don Share (Senior Editor) discuss the poems in the January issue, with Alice Pillsbury reporting on what her group thought of them. (This discussion begins at roughly 15:30 within the podcast.)

I like this discussion because everyone involved seems willing to be open and honest about his/her reaction to the poems.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Office Work

Over the last few days, I've spent several hours doing the "office work" of being a writer. I prepared a dozen submissions for literary magazines and then three submissions for book contests.

I spent a couple of days tinkering with Glacial Elegies -- took out two poems, added four. It's gotten to the point where I've lived with the manuscript for so long that it's hard to adjust it without feeling like a house of cards is about to come tumbling down. Pick the wrong thread to pluck and the whole sweater vest comes unraveled. Etc. Still, it's nice to feel the poems becoming something more than their individual selves. On rereading the manuscript, I'm sometimes taken by surprise when I find another link between two poems that I hadn't seen before.

New book on the reading table: House Held Together by Winds by Sabra Loomis.


The following excerpt is from an article in the AWP Job Listing online. You have to be a member to read the article, so I'm not sure if the link will work for everyone.

The article is "Economic Crisis Affects Academic Job Market" by Emily Lu (November 2008).

"The number of academic jobs announced in the AWP Job List declined 54% from 586 in 2006-07 to 316 in 2007-08. Tenure-track job ads declined by about 57% in 2007-08 from 2006-07, although 68 ads listed in 2007-08 did not specify whether they were tenure-track appointments. In 2006-07, 327 announcements were tagged as non-tenure track, compared to 241 in 2007-08. The total number of job ads in the AWP Job List decreased by 56% in 2007-08. (See Tables 1 and 2.)

In addition to the erosion of tenure-stream jobs, English faculty face additional challenges. Faculty salaries in English still lag behind other fields. Data compiled by the CHE places English language and literature faculty salaries are at the bottom of the pay scale at 4-year institutions. The average English instructor’s salary is $39,834 compared with the $55,364 average salary of Engineering instructors or the $42,420 average salary of instructors in Communications, Journalism, and related studies. The economic disparity continues at all levels of employment. Full-time Assistant Professors in English earn $6,743 less on average than Assistant Professors in Area, Ethnic, Cultural, and Gender Studies. At the top levels of employment, English Professors make $4,671 less than Philosophy and Religious Studies Professors.11 (See Table 4.)"

Lu goes on to talk about the disturbing trend of tenure-track jobs being lost through attrition as the older generation retires, and she states that one tenured professor can be replaced with eight adjuncts.


Friday, January 2, 2009

A Few Small Things

A few days ago, I heard an interview on NPR with Steve Earle and his son Justin Townes Earle, who has also gone into the music business. It's a great interview about children following (or rebelling against) the family tradition. Here are two things that stick:

Justin Townes Earle mentions that when he first tried to write songs as a young man, he realized that he didn't have anything to say. When he asked his father what to do about it, Steve Earle simply said, "Read." The younger Earle reports that this made all the difference. As an English comp teacher at a community college, I love this. Too many of my students idolize popular musicians without knowing what goes on behind the music/video.

At the end of the interview, as the NPR commentator is signing off, you hear Steve Earle say "Justin, call your grandmother, please." It's a very parental moment. Then, Justin Townes Earle responds, "I will. I'll call her this afternoon," with just a hint of the child scolded in his voice.


The trouble with a break from my school work:

I have time to catch up on everything on my desk at home, which means lots of slips of paper with titles and authors listed. While I'm reading through all the books & journals that have piled up over the last four months, I end up ordering more!