Monday, August 31, 2009

What I'm Reading: Ice, Mouth, Song

This morning has been a true delight in the reading arena. I finally picked up Rachel Contreni Flynn's first book, Ice, Mouth, Song at AWP in Chicago. I say "finally" because for awhile this book was listed on Amazon on the Blood Almanac page under "Customers who bought this book also bought..." (It looks like they did away with that feature...or I just couldn't find it today.) So, there has been a connection for several years I think. I discovered another connection by way of Flynn's bio. Although she was born in Paris, she grew up in Indiana and lived at the time the book was published (2005) in northern Illinois. (Ice, Mouth, Song won the 2003 Dorset Prize and was published by Tupelo Press.)

In any case, after reading the book, I'm left in awe of Flynn's images and her ability to weave mystery into these lyrics that build into a haunting narrative. The book begins with a preface poem titled "Fine," which sets the mood for the entire book. Here are two excerpts:

"In the lake
there's an inch
between frozen

and not yet."


"This is childhood
in three pieces:
ice, mouth, song..."

Here's another favorite excerpt from "Poem on the Road to Depose."

"Purified by diesel
and the long gray bone
of the sky,

I am limb-caught and swallowed
by the monstrous laws of the dead."

Flynn is expert at one of my favorite poetic devices. She writes from the point of view of the first person, but she transforms what is biographical into amazing lyrics that never reveal too much. I've said this of other writers in posts similar to this, but Flynn does it exceptionally well. Here's an example from "Sleep."

"I'm sick in my sleep -- a curl of caulk in the sheets --
I sleep mercury, tarot cards, ginger ale.
Over again, I sleep

lavender, camphor, hands.
(Her yellow dress full of strawberries? I sleep them.)"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Good News Email and Notes Regarding This Post

Justin Evans over at Hobble Creek Review accepted a poem for future publication. Yay! If you haven't heard of this online journal yet, it is devoted to poems with a sense of place. Lots and lots of lovely work there. Thanks, Justin.

As I started to write this post, I was haunted by something I read recently on another poet's blog. Honestly, I can't even remember which blog it was, but the poet said something along the lines of this: "I don't usually post about acceptances..." In a vague way, I felt some criticism against those who do post about their acceptances on their blogs. (This could have been completely in my own mind, by the way.) I got that unnervy feeling of "Oh no, am I not supposed to be doing this?" So, I've been mulling it over. Here's where I am today.

Yes, I do like to celebrate my accomplishments, especially because the publishing side of the writing life can be so deflating. However, I post about my acceptances for more than just self-congratulatory reasons.

As an author with a book published by a small, independent press, much of the PR/Marketing of my work falls on me. I knew this would be the case no matter where my book landed, as this is even becoming common with larger presses. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, if we want an audience, we must engage in the business of poetry. So, I post my publications to contribute in some small way to the continued marketing of my work.

I also post for the sake of the journals themselves. Whenever anyone tries to tell me that poetry is dead, I gasp. Do you know how many journals there are out there? It's an immense number. Every month I discover presses and journals that were unknown to me until I read of another author's publications. I like the idea of helping spread the word about journals I admire, especially when many of them have shrinking PR budgets or no PR budgets at all.

I may yet change my mind about this topic, but for now, I'll continue to let you all in on any good news that comes my way.

Audio In/Audio Out

Also in the current issue of Poets & Writers is an article on audio recordings of contemporary poetry and the joys therein. So, I thought I'd give you all a chance to hear a few of mine.

Long: Here's a recording of my reading at The Warehouse in Tallahassee as part of Florida State's reading series in the fall of 2006. This was part of my Florida tour set up by Anhinga when Blood Almanac was newly released. I read with fiction writer Todd Pierce, whose story is awesome if you have time for the whole recording.

Short: Here's the recording I did of "On the Fabric of the Human Body" for The Dirty Napkin, an awesome online journal that incorporates audio files of poems as read by the authors.

Short: Here's a link to the Linebreak archive, where you can hear fellow poet Maureen Alsop read my poem "Honor Thy."


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Better World Books

Reading the new issue of Poets & Writers, I discovered an article about Better World Books, an online bookseller of used & new titles. Better World Books supports literacy movements in the US and abroad, and from what I've read on the website so far, they may become my number one choice for buying books. Here is a blurb from their site:

Better World Books collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than two million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.

They even have two copies of Blood Almanac!

Katrina: 4 Years

Alison Pelegrin
"Blue Roof Blues"

I'm a lost soul standing where my house used to be.
Said I'm lost--where the seafood place used to be
Is nothing--no dumpster, no pilings, no speck of debris.

No Spanish moss to be found in a chain-link fence--
Instead of moss, you find sea grass woven in the fence.
In broad day, the shape of things doesn't make no sense.

Floodwaters left a stain on my shutters and doors,
On curtains and Sheetrock and shutters and doors.
The lucky ones can live on the second floor.

There's a crop of blue roofs in some neighborhoods.
Rebuild or abandon--it depends on the neighborhood.
For a hint of the loss, drive the length of the flood.

The blue tarps blanket rooftops where holdouts waited.
Their attics weren't high enough, so they axed out, waited
For days, their names spelled with shoe polish just in case.

Yesterday I crossed the Mississippi to my mama's side.
Whole way over, blue roof blue in the corner of my eye.

from Big Muddy River of Stars, 2007, The University of Akron Press
Winner of the 2006 Akron Poetry Prize

Friday, August 28, 2009

In the Mail Today

New issues of Crab Orchard Review and The American Poetry Review. Combine these with diode and that's 3 new journals just in time for the weekend. Woo hoo!

Read Write Poem

I joined ReadWritePoem a few days ago. If you're already there, friend me. If not, check it out.

New Issue of Diode

volume 3, number 1


Craig Beaven
Mary Biddinger
Kara Candito
Bruce Cohen
Lewis Robert Colon Jr.
Juliet Cook
J.P. Dancing Bear
Neil de la Flor, Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass
Oliver de la Paz
Heather Derr-Smith
Alex Dimitrov
Susan Elbe
Roselyn Elliott
Brent Goodman
Bob Hicok
Sean Patrick Hill
Ada Limon
Sandy Longhorn
Sabrina Orah Mark
Nick Martinez
Clay Matthews
River Montijo
Amy Newman
John Pursely III
Patty Seyburn
Jay Snodgrass
Elisabeth Workman
Theodore Worozbyt

I am amazed and honored to be in such good company. I hope you'll check it out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

After the Fun and Games

So, after wearing themselves out with chasing each other and the subscription card balls, the cats settled into their sweet selves and I was able to draft a new poem.

As many of you know I tend to work with shorter lyrics and sometimes I have doubts about this. I wonder if I don't push myself far enough with my drafts, if there is more to say, if I am holding myself back or if I'm just lacking the creative stamina for the longer poem. Yet, as I was working this morning, the one thing I kept having to guard against was my tendency to over explain. I have long suffered from not trusting my audience, in both poetry and life, and this is a true failing on my part. Thankfully, in the last few years, I've become better at hearing the clunky parts of the poem that go too far. The danger of over explaining is that it removes the mystery that is necessary in poetry. Again, I've turned to the famous Keats' quote I have taped on the file cabinet to my left.

"I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." (John Keats, Dec. 1817)

In defense of the short lyric, if it needs defending, I do love it for its concision and compression. It reminds me of the amuse bouche, that bite-sized morsel of the chef's own invention not available on the menu. Sure, the analogy ends there because the whole meal would follow (and be the longer poems, I suppose). However, I'd suggest that one could make a meal of multiple amuse bouche offerings if they were tasty enough and plentiful, as I hope my poems are.

Subscription Card Ammunition

So, we have two cats now and one of them is only a year old. What does this have to do with poetry? Well, sometimes the cats believe they are more important than my writing time. They like to chase each other across my desk or try to knock pens and magazines to the floor or to just sit at my feet staring at me forlornly causing me to feel guilty for ignoring them.

A giant thank you to friend, James K., who taught me the secret of the subscription card cat toy. It's brilliant. Take all the unused subscription cards that flutter out of magazines all over the house. One card at a time, ball them up and toss them out onto the hardwood floors for the cats to chase. The one-year-old particularly loves this game.

At the moment, I've got my pockets stuffed with ammunition and am developing a rather nice throwing arm.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Batter Update

I've knocked out 20 submission packets, either for snail mail or online submission, with 10 or so left to go. I've been at the computer for more than a few hours and I can't go on with the process today. My eyes seem unable to focus and my neck & lower back are beginning to twinge. Nothing like computer fatigue to inspire one to do the laundry and the dishes.

Bon voyage, little poems.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Batter Up

This morning I've been organizing a new wave of submissions. I didn't keep up with this over the summer, so I've got quite a towering stack to send out. The organizing part is the hardest as I first check through the magazines to be sure they haven't changed their submission guidelines and then spend quite a bit of time matching up poems to journals. I really do try to heed the rule of reading back issues (or at least reading table of content lists) before sending in work.

Now, the poems are matched with the journals and I get to begin the labor-intensive act of actually sending the poems out into the world with both eagerness and anxiety.

Blogger Beware

Just read about a blog that Google/Blogger deleted without warning because it detected malware. Yesterday, I had a couple of weird comments pop up, which I promptly deleted permanently. Now, to protect myself, I just backed up this blog, and I also turned on comment moderation. For my faithful followers, please know I trust and look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Any Opinions Welcome

Ok, I've just been reading through the manuscript and pulling out phrases, ideas, etc. for the title, and I'm looking for reactions to the list. The book contains poems about the dead post-burial, poems about being alive in a mortal body, a brief section of more autobiographical poems that deal with the loss of something: trust/faith/etc. within the family, and poems that recognize we are all wounded in some way. Many of the poems are informed by my Midwestern roots, which result in silence surrounding these topics and a serious fascination with all things weather-related.

Here's the list:

Glacial Elegies (the current title)
Why the Wind
Prairie Requiem
A World Made of Such Weather as This
What We Learn to Bury

Please leave a comment if you have any opinion at all about these titles or alternate suggestions.


I'm thinking the now-not-so-new manuscript needs a different title.

I'm thinking Glacial Elegies might only apply to one section in the newly reorganized vision.

I'm thinking I ought to use section numbers instead of section titles.

I'm thinking what if I'm wrong and the collection won't hold together.

I'm thinking I don't have a clue and I'm trying to be invigorated by the opportunity rather than scared witless.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Yesterday, a draft of a new poem that feels promising.

Today, another new draft but unsure of the promise. Then, a revision session with a handful of poems that managed to emerge in June.

A new teaching schedule designed to allow a better balance with my writing world.

A squawking bird accompanies me and tortures our inside-only cats.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In the Mail Today

I got home from running errands this morning to find a poetry jackpot in my mailbox. First, a copy of The Real Warnings by Rhett Iseman Trull, editor of Cave Wall. Rhett is the winner of the 2008 Anhinga Prize, so we are birds of a feather. The book is fresh off the presses and, as always, the production is awesome. While I've only had a chance to read a few poems, this promises to be a delight! Reach out and support Rhett and Anhinga by buying this book.

Also, I received the four chapbooks I'd ordered from Cinematheque Press last week. The four books are: Little Visceral Carnival by Philip Jenks & Simone Muench, What Sucks Us In Will Surely Swallow Us Whole by Ada Limón, Until the Lantern's Shaky Song by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and In a World of Ideas, I Feel No Particular Loyalty by Adam Clay.

As some of you know, I went to grad school with Adam Clay and am a huge fan of his work. Ada Limón is a new favorite of mine, and I've loved Simone Muench since I read Lampblack & Ash. I'll be interested in the collaboration with Philip Jenks, someone I haven't read before. I've followed some of Joshua Marie Wilkinson's work online and am looking forward to reading a collection all at once. Cinematheque Press sells the books individually or as a package, and since this was such an awesome grouping, I went for the deal. I also received their "cool square button" and stickers of the book covers.

Looks like I'll be doing a bit of reading today. Woo Hoo!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Once More

I am returned from the abyss of July. We are back at school, preparing for classes to begin next week, and I'm feeling positive about my schedule and my resolve.

I am still searching for my next obsession. I've written all the elegies I have in me for the moment, and while Glacial Elegies did not get picked up in the last round of manuscript submissions, I still believe in its strengths as a collection. I do plan on resubmitting this year, after yet another round of tinkering. I wrote a handful of poems in June that feel like they might make it through the revision process and on to the submitting process, but no overwhelming need to write has swamped me of late. I am doing my best to keep coming to the page, to keep opening myself to the world. At the moment much of what I'm writing is forced, but I trust the process.