Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Read This Hawk Poem

Linebreak's poem this week is awesome. "Devotion: Hawk" by Dennis Hinrichsen just blows me a way. I definitely plan on checking out more of Hinrichsen's work. As a treat, Stacy Kidd reads. It's always fun to hear a slightly different take on how I read the poem first for myself.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And the Universe Smiled

Sometimes good things happen just at the right moment. Today, I had a series of frustrating conversations with four different people. These are the kinds of conversations that make me wonder if I'm speaking English because the other person involved seems determined to misunderstand what I'm saying. These are the kinds of conversations that make me want to poke a pencil in my eye to stop the pain radiating from my brain.

And then, I received an email from Bethany Reisner, senior poetry editor at The Pinch. She accepted two poems for future publication. I'm always happy to receive this kind of email, but I'm doubly happy about this one because The Pinch is housed at the University of Memphis, which makes me feel like their neighbor. Thanks so much to Bethany and all of the other folks just down I-40.

Also of good fortune in the mail: contributor copies of Copper Nickel and Cave Wall. In Copper Nickel 12, you can read four of my poems: "The Interior Weather of Tree-Clinging Birds," "The Mortician's Wife," "The Mortician's Daughter," and "And Sweet Were the Uses." In Cave Wall 6, you can read the poem "Glacial Elegy I." These two journals couldn't look more different (CN is large and multi-genre: CW is petite and poetry-only); however, both are packed with AWESOME lineups. I can't wait to delve in there. Also very cool is that in Cave Wall, my poem is next to an amazing print of a frog by Deborah Mersky. Thanks to Jake Adam York and Anisetta Valdez at CN and to Rhett Iseman Trull and Jeff Trull at CW! Wonderful editors, all. Thanks also to the staffs at those journals, often unsung as well.

I'm basking in the good-fortune the universe bestowed upon me today.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grading Hiatus

FYI: I'll be "gone grading" for the next few days. Look for new posts by the middle of next week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


A draft! A draft! I wrote a new draft!

I gave myself one hour and vowed words would make it through the printer in some shape of a poem. (I'm trying for one new draft a week, despite papers to grade, meetings to attend, laundry to be done, and fevers.) It took 37 minutes...27 of those were hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, I can't do this, I want to be a dentist! minutes. Then, in desperation, I opened my "in progress" folder and found something I started last week that never breathed any real breath. I saw the turn that needed to be made and then...the lines poured forth from my Uni-ball Vision Elite in blue-black ink.

Praise be!

What I'm Re-reading: fabulae

A few weeks ago, I joined goodreads and cataloged all my books. As I was going through my poetry books, I pulled a half a dozen off the shelf that begged for me to look at them again. I'm down to my last one this morning and realized that some of these were read pre-blogging, and I didn't get a chance to write about them then.

Joy Katz' book fabulae was crucial to me in grad school. In fact, rereading it today, I see her influence in several of the poems that eventually appeared in Blood Almanac.

Here is the first poem from the book. It thrills me every time.

Women Must Put Off Their Rich Apparel

Women must put off their rich apparel;
at midday they must disrobe.

Apart from men are the folds of sleep,
daylight's frank remarks: the skin

of the eye, softening, softening.
Women must put on plainness,

the sweet set of the mouth's line;
the body must surface, the light,

the muscled indifference of deer.
A woman must let love recede,

the carved out ribs sleep,
the vessel marked in bird lines

empty as the sea empties her.
Say the sea, sound of leaves, the old

devotion, the call and response.
Reeds, caves, shoulders of cypress,

the woman who at this moment
does not need the world.

Joy Katz
Southern Illinois University Press, 2002

PS: Just realizing how many of the books on my shelf that I really admire are from SIU Press.

Gather Together Ye Poet-Friends of Mine

First, deep apologies to colleague and poet-friend, Antoinette Brim, who read from her new book Psalm of the Sunflower last night at PTC. The cold/flu of the weekend and then an 8 hour day at school wiped me out and I could not attend. I hope it was beautiful.

Second, congrats to colleague and poet-friend, Angie Macri, who has a new poem up at The Dirty Napkin, one of my favorite online journals. Give it a read.

Wow! Pulaski Tech poets rock!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Great Article on the Editor/Writer Relationship

Thanks to the Hayden's Ferry Review blog for linking to this great article by Don Lee discussing the sometimes contentious relationship between writers and the editors of literary magazines.

Lee states:
I will concede that there are some real asshole editors out there—rude, negligent, incompetent, narrow-minded, stupid narcissists who wouldn't know a good story or poem if it slapped them on the face—but they're a minority, I believe. I think most editors are dedicated, tireless, honorable people, and they’re woefully underappreciated.

Thank an editor today!

What I'm Reading: If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting

Back in December of 08, I linked to a poem by Anna Journey in 42opus, "Red-Haired Girl Wants You to Know." Since then, I've been waiting to read her first full-length collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting. This weekend, while I was felled by the first cold/flu of the school year, Journey's book arrived with free and carbon-neutral shipping from Better World Books (hint, hint). Unfortunately, I had to wait out the storm of the sickness before I could really delve into the book.

This morning, at about 75% recovered, I couldn't wait any longer and I'm glad I didn't. Even reading in the faint haze of the after-fever, these poems levitate off the page. I admit I have a dog-earring habit. Yes, I write in my books, underlining lines that strike a chord and adding checks and stars. However, I also dog-ear those poems that I pause to read and re-read. With most books, this is a handful of poems, with Journey's it's a little ridiculous, as the top right corner of the book now bulges with flipped down pages.

What I love about this work: the revelation of one woman's making in this world, nothing hidden, nothing too personal, yet not focused on the confessional. Here we have birds, gardens, dead relatives, the devil, sexual awakenings and sexual maturity, and the dark, sometimes bitter, roots of the south.

Some lines:

from "My Great-Grandparents Return to the World as Closed Magnolia Buds"

They're back
by the soybeans, edging the delta from the dead,

keeping their clammy petals pulled
shut, like Klan hoods. A language
they labored to forget--Swedish was Natchez silt,

loam in the throat
their children never spoke.

from "Night with Eros in the Story of Leather (1)"

... Desire begins here
in bondage, in bougainvillea and its blunt mists

of ammonia that cuff my burning
eyes like a bride. Devil, I feel your svelte double crossings

rise from the coral bell vine.

from "Dissecting the Automaton"

I'm nurse, nurturer, old // knife-girl drawing the moon like iron through the far skylight.

If this isn't to your taste, I'll understand, but do consider supporting poets and poetry by buying a book this month or subscribing to a journal you love!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Check Out this Book

Friend and fellow Arkansas grad, Bill Notter, has a new book out from SIU Press. Check out Holding Everything Down. Congrats, Bill! I'm putting this on my "to buy" list right now. Just waiting on a paycheck.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Read These Poems

I must have blog's disease today. Not getting much of my own work done, but I think this all contributes in some way to the process. So, stop what you are doing and go read these poems by Rachel Contreni Flynn over at The Collagist. Fantastic!

Lying to the Truth

Just read a great post over at readwritepoem by Ren Powell that discusses an important issue for me. Why do audiences often assume the stuff of poems is autobiographical? Blood Almanac was assigned for an undergraduate class one semester at my alma mater, and I got to discuss it with the students. (Very cool.) However, many of the students were distressed to learn that I have no children, even though the book contains poems in the first person where the speaker presents her troubling children. Powell raises some good points and adds a new voice to this not-so-recent debate.

My favorite quote:
Readings that begin with, “I wrote this for my grandmother who passed away last week,” frighten me. (Obviously, I have intimacy and trust issues.)

Poem in Hobble Creek Review

The new issue of Hobble Creek Review is now available, including my poem "Listening for the Dead." I received a surprise along with the email announcement about the publication of the issue. Justin Evans, the editor, has nominated this poem for a Pushcart. Many, many, thanks, Justin!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way...

So, remember several posts ago when I talked about taking the one line I'd managed to scribble down the day before and spinning it into a poem. Over the course of the past weeks of revision, that line ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. In other words, the line I had used to so carefully build the poem ended up not fitting the final version. I still liked the line, but I put it back in my journal for another time.

Today, I was messing with some lines I'd worked up last week. I finally had the lines going in the right direction, but I needed a title to pull it all together. As I sat and stared at the screen in silence, feeling the minutes ticking by, magic-presto, that amazing spark happened and I realized the discarded line worked perfectly as a title to what was happening in the new poem.

This is a prime example of creativity happening at its best. I couldn't force it. I simply had to be open. I had to be open to the fact that a line I loved and used as a springboard for a draft, didn't belong there. I had to be open to letting it drift and sift through the process. I had to be open to using it as a title rather than a true line.

It's a good lesson for me to remember: to be open, not to rush and push, but to let that unnameable thing happen.

Must Read

Today on Verse Daily, a poem by fellow Arkansas MFA grad, Stacy Kidd, "13 Arkansas." Beautiful and amazing. Please read.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Off You Go

Today was a day of "busy work," preparing the new manuscript, In a World Made of Such Weather as This, for submission to four different presses. Like submitting to journals, this is a bit time consuming, as I pause to re-read submission guidelines and re-think whether my work fits with the publisher.

On a positive note, the first hour or so was taken up with reviewing the complete manuscript one more time, and I made a few changes with the order of four poems that I think really strengthen the core of the book. Also, as I was taking a last look at any poems that I'd marked with a ? for deletion, I felt that snap-click in my brain as I saw the revision that would save one particular poem. It was a drastic surgery. I excised the entire first half of the poem and then exploded the lines of the second half. As the whole thing settled back into place during the aftermath, I felt my gut calm into a feeling of surety. Very satisfying.

So, off you go, oh binder-clipped manuscripts of mine. Behave yourselves and make a good first impression.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Read These Poems

Wow. I have poetry friends up at both Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. What are the odds?

Here's the link to Rhett Iseman Trull's po
em "Cosmonauts Have Nine Lives, Too" on Verse Daily.

Here's the link to Andrea Hollander Budy's poem "Ice Storm" on Poetry Daily.


How Do You Make a Book of Poetry?

I'm a few days behind the hoopla, but I saved Joel Brouwer's post on Harriet for this morning because I knew it was going to take some time to read and digest both the post and the comments. The post asks questions about how poets perceive the process of creating a book of poetry. Is it a project with a predetermined theme (and therefore with poems written directly for that theme), or is it a collection of what you've written recently and then an attempt to develop an arc by ordering? (Brouwer says it better than this.)

The post is definitely worth reading; however, it was this comment posted by Lydia that jumped out at me the most:
This question haunts my work. Or rather it aggravates and instigates it into feeling inadequate because it is not conceived of “as book” in the process. I am not someone who tends toward thematics. In fact, I deeply distrust them. When I’m writing my attention is singular and dedicated to what’s at hand. This feels to me like an honest reaction to the world. To force myself to consider a larger project feels false, distracting, and misguiding.

The only time it occurs me to do this is when I consider the publication of my manuscript and notice that a vast majority of work coming out today is explicitly thematicized. Others have written of this, but the first book as miscellani is dead which is to suggest that our singular perspectives and voices are not enough connective tissue to hold together a book, that it is necessary to wrap it in further “projecthood”.

Brouwer's question and Lydia's reply certainly resonate with me, especially as I examine the new manuscript with a reader's eye.


Before I allowed myself to read the various and sundry blogs I follow, I did dig into some really good revision work on current drafts. I'm now feeling like three new drafts are almost ready to go out into the world. Also, after re-reading Malinda Markham's Ninety-Five Nights of Listening (one of my favorite books), I realized that one of the things I like about her work is that she doesn't overuse her adjectives (a fault of which I'm sorely guilty). With that insight in mind, I went back to an older poem that has troubled me and I found oh-so-many adjectives. After a serious paring down, I'm MUCH happier with the poem. (If only I could convince my creative writing students that this is just one of the benefits of reading!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today's Work

Some reading: Loose Sugar, Brenda Hillman and Forth a Raven, Christina Davis

Some drafting: a handful of tangled lines that may (or may not) become something

Some revising: lots of work on the poem I started a week ago today, tinkering with a few older drafts from August -- like working out, even for a short time, revision makes me feel good

Monday, September 7, 2009

Slow Trudging

So, no real drafts accomplished this weekend. I'm struggling to be okay with that. I know that for me, I need a clear schedule of writing time; however, with the long weekend and a visit to my in-laws (which was a good time, btw), my schedule got tilted a bit. I've done lots of piddling work for my writing world: blogging, reading blogs, finishing up my library at goodreads, etc, but that's not the real work. On a happy note, the outlook for the rest of the week and next weekend looks good for quiet time, so I'm looking forward to what comes next.

Last week I read this on Victoria Chang's blog:
If a poet publishes a book every 3 years, how many poetry books are out there and who will buy these books, especially if even we aren't buying each other's books?

It's a really interesting post about why poets don't want to talk about sales numbers. Prior to this statement, I was feeling pretty good about myself because I had learned last month that Anhinga had effectively sold out of my first 500 books. They had 7 left in the warehouse. My first print run is 1,200, and I never imagined I'd get close to that. (Anhinga now wisely prints in batches, so that they don't have to store large quantities of books.) That's cool with me. I was proud of my number.

Then, I read that "3 years" statement above. I found out that Blood Almanac had won the Anhinga Prize in October of 2005, and the book appeared in summer 2006. Here it is 3+ years later no matter how you count it, and I'm slugging through the submission/rejection process of book 2. Apparently, I'm slower than average!

I was glad to read the post, but these are exactly the kind of things that I have to consciously strip from my mind when I'm trying to work. Once this is posted, I shall try to stave off any more thoughts on the subject.

Happy Labor Day...may yours be laborless.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

From Oliver de la Paz' blog:

Currently in the throes of putting together small manuscript packets to send out to journals. What I'm finding is I'm running out of stuff that holds my confidence. I suppose this is natural--a lot of the stuff that has my confidence is either picked up, out, or in limbo somewhere.

I'm feeling something along the same lines, and it's reassuring to know that someone I admire so much goes through the same process. If you have a minute, the rest of the post is very interesting, as de la Paz goes on to discuss how he views his individual poems in terms of book-length works and how that affects his submission process.

This Guideline Interests Me

Reading Justin Evan's blog, I learned of a new journal, a very new journal, starting up this fall: Sugar House Review. (Congrats to Justin on the acceptance!) As I'm always interested in collecting new journals, I'll definitely check this one out; however, it was something in their submission guidelines that interested me the most. After the usual information, they included this:

Send only original work. If you quote another poet or source, we expect that source to receive credit. We value the original creative endeavors of other writers and hope you do too. If we suspect your work to be plagiarized from another source, we will be mightily peeved and won't hesitate to contact the appropriate authorities.

The composition instructor in me cheers their integrity, as this reinforces what I teach on an everyday basis. The writer in me finds it interesting because from time to time I have used lines from other poets either as inspiration or as actual lines in my work. If you have read my poems in the most recent diode, you noticed a note on "Triolet with a Line by Jean Sénac." This seems a clear cut case to me of needing to acknowledge my source, as I copied word for word. However, I know that many poets find it acceptable to use lines from others within their work without acknowledging it, sometimes without even setting it off in italics or quotes.

To me, there seems to be a less-than-defined line between literary allusion and the necessity to acknowledge another's work. Blurring things further, I have a recent poem in which I used the phrase "So this must be a kind of __________" and its repetition from a poem by Doug Ramspeck, "Wooing," that I read in The Pinch. On my initial drafts, I included a note about the source, mostly for my own reference. Am I obligated to include the note when I submit the poem? Do I worry too much about this? Maybe, but I agree with the editors of Sugar House Review that it is important to acknowledge which mind created which lines and to give credit where credit is due.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Settings and Goodreads

Okay, so I'm slow at learning how to use the settings on Blogger. I finally figured out how to change the text size of my posts. Apologies to anyone who has had to squint in the past!

Also, I joined Goodreads and have an author page there. If you are already there, please friend me!

And So It Comes to September

September in the poetry world means more submissions of individual poems, of course, but it also means the new round of manuscript submissions. While there are a few publishers that accept submissions or host contests over the summer, I tend to organize my submissions by the academic school year. And so, I am trying to gather my courage about me like a shawl in order to begin the process again.

Frequent readers know that in August I struggled with the title of the manuscript. I think I've settled on using "In a World Made of Such Weather as This." Partly, I just love that line, which is from a poem called "And Sweet Were the Uses" (which is coming out in just a few weeks in the new Copper Nickel...yay!) . Partly, the old title "Glacial Elegies" really only fits the first section of the book in its new incarnation. I know the new title is lengthy, but I did find a few of my favorite books have longer titles, and I also know that if this manuscript ever finds a publisher, the publisher can help me tweak the title as well.

All this is to say that this morning, I've spent some of my writing time reading through the manuscript in one sitting. I am constantly surprised at how difficult it is for me to read the book through the eyes of "the reader." In the past week when I have tried to do this, I've found myself rushing through the poems, saying to myself "yes, yes, this is the one about the wind and the voice" and flipping the page. I work so hard on each individual poem that I become steeped in its nuances and feel it is as familiar as my own name, which makes it easy to skim. That's not good if you're trying to get a sense of how the whole thing hangs together.

Last week, I reordered some of the book, creating four sections instead of three and adding some of my newer work, removing a few poems that just kept rubbing me wrong. Today, I forced myself to slow down and really read every word from cover to cover (even if the covers are just the much-abused plastic covers of my three-ring binder). It was great. I've marked seven poems that either need a few tweaks of revision or need to be reviewed for removal. It feels like I've accomplished some real work on the book, which helps gather that courage, as I know I'm making the book as strong as it can be.

Next weekend will be the first round of working through the different submission guidelines of the different presses. I must forget the round of rejections from last year and remember that I have done the work of revision and am hopefully sending out a better book.

Forward motion is what it's all about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Yesterday: Last night I had to good fortune of being able to attend a talk by Francine Prose over at Hendrix College. The talk was titled "Word and Image" and centered around Prose's work writing about art. Many interesting ideas arose as she unpacked that old cliche: a picture is worth a thousand words. While most of the talk focused on the attempt to write essays and reviews about art, towards the end she flipped the cliche and addressed the things that language can do that image cannot. [As a bonus, I got to enjoy a great dinner with friends beforehand.]

Today: This morning during my writing time, I took the single line that I'd managed to scrawl in my notebook on Monday and spun it into a draft for a poem. Woo Hoo! Not sure if it will stick, but it feels good to do the spinning.

Tomorrow: Teaching, teaching, teaching. Rewarding in its own way.