Monday, October 26, 2009

Finally, Just a Few Links to Think About

No drafting this week, since as soon as I post this, I'm off to school for conference duties. The conference ends on Saturday afternoon, and I plan to sleep all day Sunday. Will be back to drafting next week.

Until then, here are just a few links to continue the conversation:

Joshua Corey contemplates the differences between writing poetry and writing a novel. Here's what hooked me: "The pleasures of poetry are the pleasures of simultaneity. I read a line of verse, and it's like a chain reaction of little detonations: the sound play, the layers of reference (in the line's structure, diction, proper names, etc.), the manifestation of images, and the instantaneous revisions of the preceding lines created by the double-jointed syntax made possible by line breaks."

The blog from 32 Poems has a great interview with Ann Fisher-Wirth. I attended a reading last year at the Arkansas Literary Festival where Fisher-Wirth read from Carta Marina. Fantastic. Her answer to a question on accessibility and the poet's responsibility contains this: "However, as a professor I take very seriously my opportunity to open poetry to students, and open students to poetry. All infants and children love poetry; it is bred in the bone. It is a great wrong that so many aspects of our culture stifle children’s appreciation of poetry as they get older. So I look upon my teaching as excavation. The love of poetry, the understanding of poetry—they’re down there, somewhere. The evidence is that even people who never read poems turn to poems to help them affirm and commemorate life’s great passages: birth, marriage, a society’s great tragedies, death."

Time to put on my other hat and tip it toward those strategic duties.

Bookaholics Anonymous

Hello, my name is Sandy and I'm a bookaholic.

You know those women who talk about shoes and how they can't stop buying them? You know those men who talk about techno-gadgets and how they can't stop buying them? I used to think I had nothing in common with these people. Until today...when I finally had to admit to myself that I am a bookaholic/journalaholic.

Over the past few months, I kept getting "surprised" by my credit card bill, somehow erasing from my memory all of the book and journal purchases I'd made that month. In some ways, I blame the internet, although I know that blame is not part of the 12-step process. It's so easy to click and buy, and I'm doing it for a "worthy cause"...supporting my fellow it must be okay. Well, I decided to keep a list on a scrap sheet of paper that sits under my computer screen. I record each transaction as I make it. Last month, I did great. Only subscribed to one journal as part of a contest entry fee. Four weeks went by without a charge and then WHAMMMO! I suddenly have four charges of about $20 a piece, give or take. Someone cut me off!

So, what did I buy? Here's the list:

Going Blind
Mara Faulkner, OSB
excelsior editions, SUNY Press, 2009

(My first collegiate writing instructor. I am indebted to this amazing writer in more ways that she will ever know.)

Hunger All Inside
Marie Gauthier
Finishing Line Press, 2009

(A new blogging acquaintance. Can't wait to read!)

Oxford American
Journal Subscription renewal
(Well, if we don't support local journals, who will?)

Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World
Joshua Poteat
University of Georgia Press, 2009

(Joshua Poteat won the Anhinga Prize the year before me, and his first book Ornithologies is a must-read. I am thrilled for him about this new book!)

The good news is that I can just make my monthly budget with these purchases. Watch for postings about these new reads in the coming weeks.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Couple of Quick Links

Conference planning is in full swing, with the conference itself one week away. My appearances here may be hit or miss until Nov. 1, but I will try to pop in from time to time. Before I submerge myself in generating receipts, tallying lunch counts, putting together name badges, and so on, I wanted to post these two things.

One. Josh Robbins has some great poems up over at Still: Literature of the Mountain South. I was unfamiliar with this journal until I read about it on Josh's blog. It's always great to find a new journal of place, even if it isn't my place exactly. Josh also shares the great news of being in Best New Poets 2009. Check out his work for a fine time on the web.

Two. Charlotte Pence has a post up that extends the conversation about the poet's relationship to the reader. She breaks down M.H. Abrams' The Mirror and the Lamp, a book that is now on my list to read. I also like her opening, which discusses returning to her book manuscript and "tak[ing] a bomb to" it in order to see "where the pieces fall." Lovely.

Oddly, and without me thinking about the connection until just now, both Charlotte and Josh are doctoral students at the University of Tennessee, and they both work as editors for GRIST, another great journal that once saw fit to publish a poem of mine. (Everyone should now break into "It's a small world after all.")

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry and the Other

Also of interest to me this morning is Ren Powell's post up over at ReadWritePoem. In the post she talks about her experience using an Arabic form of poetry while writing in English and some of the criticism she's received for using it. Interestingly, she brings up the fact that the haiku is used in English poetry all the time without comment (along with many other forms borrowed from other cultures). I hadn't consciously thought about the "borrowing" of this Japanese form before.

Her questions about the intercultural dialogue in poetry have long intrigued me. In fact, when I was a beginning poet as an undergraduate, I was heavily influenced by Native American writers like Wendy Rose, Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Paula Gunn Allen. I have poems from that time period, highly confessional, that explore my connection to their work but also my unease at being a white woman of the privileged class. I left that work behind as I came into my own voice in my own time, but I also wonder if I left it behind because I wasn't comfortable "borrowing" certain rhythms and themes.

Here's the opening of Powell's post:
I have always found it difficult to locate a comfortable place to position myself between respect and reverence when it comes to the “other.”

And here's the closing:
Do we seek out the influence of poets from other cultures? Allow ourselves to be influenced? Allow it and admit it and risk being accused of cultural stereotyping or colonialist tendencies? Allow it but keep it a secret and risk being accused of trying to pass off the ideas of another culture as one’s own?

Sometimes I feel the bigger my world gets, the more difficult it is to negotiate comfortably within it.

The conversation continues in the comments of Powell's post.

Letting Chaos Become Part of the Process

Chaos is what we got when we adopted our second cat (I know, I know...crazy cat lady poet promised not to talk about non-poetry stuff and here she is talking about the darned cats again...hold on, it does relate). Our second cat is young and we adopted her to be a companion for our first cat and to get me some breathing space at the writing desk, as our first cat imprinted quite firmly on me. Well, second cat is as awesome as first cat, but with more energy, which results in escapades at 2:00 a.m. that wake us up. Long story short, after getting up to remove the waste basket from our bathroom this morning at 2:00 a.m. so that the cat would stop tipping it repeatedly (metal bottom on tile floor = loud clang), I found myself back in bed thinking about the draft of a poem I'd begun on Monday.

I wasn't happy about the draft on Monday. It felt bulky and clumsy and ill-formed. Suddenly, in the middle of the night I thought of a new set of lines, a new way into the poem, in a slightly different form and had to get up and write them down. Despite what many poets say about keeping a notepad and pen next to their beds, this doesn't happen to me very often. But it seems that letting the cat's chaos become part of the process was helpful after all. I woke up this morning and jumped right into a new version of the poem that seems more promising.


On a similar note, Carolyn Guinzio has a great post up at Linebreak's blog, Unstressed, today. She's been writing about memorable poetry, and today she touched on one of my big fears that I've written about here before...over-controlling a poem, squeezing the mystery out of it. Here's the quote that struck me:

There is a tendency to revise the memorable qualities out of a poem, out of fear, timidity, a desire to control. We want to use our minds to write; we don’t want our minds using us to write. The danger is in ending up with something controlled, beautifully structured, smart, and completely forgettable.

I love those intuitive leaps that happen as the words strike against each other in new and interesting ways, but I must admit to often losing those leaps in revision and worrying about the reader. This seems to be another tangent on the "letting chaos into the process" thread.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Help Wanted

Help! I'm working on a revised CV. (No, I'm not on the job market. I need to include it with a proposal.) I think I once heard that after a certain amount of time, you shouldn't lead with your degrees but with either your teaching or your publications. Does anyone have any good advice on this? Anyone willing to forward a sample?

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I'm Reading: City of Regret

For the past six months or so, I've been intrigued by individual poems written by Andrew Kozma and appearing in different journals. Most recently, I found two poems in Copper Nickel 12 that moved me to ask the library to ILL Kozma's book City of Regret. (I'm still trying to buy several books of poetry each month, but recently the budget monster reared its ugly head!)

I think I'm drawn to Kozma's work because his poems seem steeped in elegy and the kind of images that surprise without showing off. City of Regret is certainly a book about mourning but it is also a reconciliation with what it means to be alive in this amazing, conflicted world. The main mourning of the book centers around the loss of the speaker's father, but there are also hints of mourning for a lost lover and an opening toward hope in the end.

Here's a short poem in example:

The Transplant Ward

Even the most sincere in need
wait months or years, eyes fixed

to the walls like water stains.

They practice feeling hollow

with hands on their chests,

caging those small moments of space

they won't remember
when surgeons unhook the heart

and hold the body open
as it rushes to fill itself.

Some lines from "Dedicatory Letter"

... Now the silkworms
are wrapped tight in their own madness.

Will you hear their cries? Their demands lack teeth.

Their hold on you is an emptied leaf.

God, your eyes are closed, and though your breathing is even

this means nothing. Crops are as easily destroyed

by an apathetic rain as a broken dam.

And the closing lines from "Elegy for the End of the Day"

When the shadows devour the leaves

I remember your skin, perfect
for vanishing against unlit wood.

Bless this ending, this empty husk

that does not need to be saved.

City of Regret
Andrew Kozma
Zone 3 Press, 2007

Friday, October 16, 2009

Head Full of Hornets

I was going to say "head full of bees," but I think it's more than that, more "hornety." Today, I have some breathing room, and I came to the desk so full of hope. However, it appears that I can't settle down. I keep jumping up and jumping around in my brain. I fiddled with some household mini-chores in the hopes I would work off whatever excess energy this is, but now, I pick up one book and read a bit and fail to be sucked in, so I pick up another one, only to have the same thing happen there. As frustrating as swatting hornets, which I know is never a good idea.

Tomorrow I plan on checking over the manuscript one more time and sending it out to one contest this month. There is one last poem that still feels like a thorn in my side. I will most likely excise it tomorrow. I also have a few newer poems that I want to check on. They may or may not fit in this project. I know some poets see their manuscripts with clear edges and boundaries, mine are so often blurred.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alas, A Lack of Time

Today's another loss to grading, but I'm finding the grading a reward of its own kind this year. I switched back to Comp I and the change had been good for me. Also, a colleague and I have been swamped with organizing a conference we are hosting at the end of the month. After Nov. 1, the time management should get a bit easier!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Kind Editor,

I humbly beg your pardon. You are one of a small and select group who received a particular submission packet from me in August. In my rush to return to the world of poetry, I fear I spoke too soon. I sent forth these few half-formed darlings in a less than beautiful state. It is only now, upon quiet reflection as the rejections arrive one by one that I have realized my mistake. My only hope is that you erase this episode from your memory. I've heard tell of the mountains of poems that you receive each day, each month, each year, & Etc. May you find it in your heart to lose all knowledge of this one particular lapse in my judgment and not hold it against me (or my now more darling poems) upon future attempts at pleasing you enough to guarantee my words are published.

May it be so.

I am resigned,
Your Reckless Submitter


This subject has been on my mind for the last two weeks. The poems in question I felt quite strongly about in August. So strongly that I disregarded the very smart comments of my faithful friend, Tara Bray. I shrugged her off, when I know better. (T., I'm so sorry!) You see, the poems were too new, and I made the same mistake I've made in the past (although not too recently). I rushed the poems out into the world before they were old enough for me to see them clearly. Today, I did not start a new draft as I had intended. Instead, I was recording rejections, and as they often do, they sparked revisions. Finally, finally, I saw what Tara meant about the ending of one poem. I began to tinker with one line and low and behold, I rewrote the last five lines of the poem. It seems that however long I've been working and reworking this process, it's never long enough. I stumble at the same points. Yet, I am heartened by the fact that I seem to stumble less often now.

Along the same lines, Victoria Chang has a post up about the errors she sees in manuscripts submitted for book contests. It's one of those dangerous posts that sends me back to my binder, scouring The World Made of Such Weather as This for any transgressions named in the article or post. Still, I think it is a valuable reminder. And some of the things she describes, I've never done, so I do get to feel a little reassured by that.

Now out into another gray and drizzly day here in central Arkansas. (For the love of God, where is the sun?)

Weekend Update: Sappho and Sedaris

I love the juxtaposition of the two events I attended this weekend. In fact, my brain is overflowing with very different stimuli.

Thanks to Josh for asking about the Sappho event. I had planned to blog about it Saturday when I returned home, but, alas, I became sidetracked. First, let me reiterate that the translator is my very good friend Rebecca Resinski, a classics professor at Hendrix College.

The word that came to mind after viewing and hearing the performance of Fragments from Sappho was "enchanting." On stage, twenty dancers (16 women and 4 men) performed, sometimes as a whole, sometimes in pairs or larger numbered groups but still all together, and sometimes as pairs or solos while the rest of the group posed in interesting configurations and "attended." (Let me just say that commenting on this type of work is way outside my realm of expertise, so I'm sure I'm missing some of the lingo.) Also on stage were two local soprano vocalists, Suzanne Banister and Joanne McDade. The music had been pre-recorded, but with the quality of technology today, it felt seamless with the whole. So, from time to time, the sopranos sang from the translation while the dancers created the most amazing forms on stage. From time to time, the dancers recited (sometimes still and sometimes moving) from the translations, forming a Greek chorus effect.

Rebecca gave me a little backstory into how this all came together, and I hope she won't mind me sharing a bit for the curious writers out there. Several years ago, she was working on a translation project of Sappho fragments. She translated the fragments and then "re-envisioned" them into a larger whole. Her piece contains 17 sections. Each section draws on words and clauses from different fragments, reformed into a whole. At the top of each section, she labels from which fragments the words are drawn, but does not break it down any further than that.

Rebecca showed her piece to some folks in the arts department and they wanted to collaborate on a performance piece. The translation was given to Karen Griebling, who composed the music and decided what would be sung and what would be recited. This was given to Brigitte Rogers, who choreographed the performance. Finally, the student dancers and the sopranos were brought in to rehearse and perform.

As I watched the piece, it struck me that I rarely see true performance pieces such as this. It was performed four times over the weekend, and now it is done. Poof, as they say. I'm sure this is a common occurrence in larger cities, and maybe even here in Little Rock and I'm just unaware of such things. However, most of the events I attend here are readings and performances of plays and such that are already in the canon. Of course, there is a chance that somebody might hear of this and want to perform/reproduce it elsewhere, but it would not be quite the same, I think. I feel fortunate to have been there.


Shifting gears to David Sedaris, there isn't nearly as much to say, mostly because he's so well known. His reading was amazing and hilarious and touching in small moments and just what I needed at this point in the semester. On the walk back to the car, my chest ached from laughing so hard. It was great to hear that 1,300 people attended because the whole show was a fundraiser for the Arkansas Literary Festival. Unfortunately, I won't be at the Lit Festival this year because it is the same weekend as AWP, but I'm glad I was able to chip in last night and get such a great return. on my contribution. "Laugh kookaburra, Laugh kookaburra, Gay your life must be!"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Events This Weekend

I've got an action-packed weekend of great events to attend.

On Saturday, I'm traveling down the road to Conway, AR for this:

Fragments from Sappho
Fri.-Sat., Oct. 9-10, 2009, Fri., Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 10, 2:00 p.m., Reves Recital Hall, Hendrix College
This collage of poetry, movement, and music will invite audience members to make their own connections among and within the arranged pieces. Text arranged and translated by Rebecca Resinski. Brigitte Rogers, director. Karen Griebling, musical composer.
For more information contact Henryetta Vanaman at 501-450-4597 or

Rebecca is a good friend of mine, and I can't wait to take in this performance!

On Sunday, I'm heading to west Little Rock for this:

An Evening with David Sedaris

Best-selling author David Sedaris will appear at a one-night event to benefit the Arkansas Literary Festival at 7 p.m. Sunday, October 11, 2009. Sedaris is the author of Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice, as well as collections of personal essays, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You are Engulfed in Flames, each of which became immediate bestsellers.



Because I just read another blog about a poet's distaste for other poets blogging about their acceptances, I give you this. My rejection count for this week is 3. That means that roughly 15 poems were rejected, since my average submission packet is composed of 5 individual poems and when I receive a rejection it is for the entire packet.

Perhaps news of these rejections will outweigh those pesky acceptance posts.

Perhaps this flood of rain we can't seem to shake is making me snarky.

Wow, Makes Me Sad

John S. O'Connor has a short blog up at Harriet today that made me say "Wow" and then made me sad. It's about talking to "classroom teachers" (I think this means K-12) about poetry. Here's the clip that got me:

Novels and plays are the serious works, she suggested — actual books that serve a vital function, substantial texts that might really require some heavy lifting. Poetry, by implication, is regarded as wall art, something exotic rather than essential — not something to plan a room (or a unit) around.

At the end, he mentions a teacher who starts every class with a poem. When I first started teaching freshman comp, I used to end every class with a poem. I think I might go back to doing that! It's never too late to introduce poetry to the world. If you have a captive audience, please consider sharing some of your favorites. You'll be surprised how many people will appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Linebreak Poem Worth Reading

This week's poem over at Linebreak intrigues me. Amy McNamara's "unnamable fororce in reserve" is seductive in its sounds and there is a deeper "something" lurking beneath the beauty of the words. There is a mystery here that I hope for in my own work.


Monday, October 5, 2009

New Draft and Process

Sluggish morning. One of the cats sabotaged my alarm, knocking the tuner from NPR to silence sometime in the night. I woke up 30 minutes late, befuddled by the silence. It's still gray, but at least the rain has stopped for now.

Today, I wrote a draft, so I'm ahead for the week. Yay! It was an interesting process, and I thought I'd give a few details. I usually begin any writing time by reading a few blogs and then picking up a book of poetry or a journal. I'm the kind of writer who needs transition time to move from the world of doctor's appointments and cats that need feeding to the world of words. Many people recommend that one not read the blogs before writing, but for me, it settles me into "poet space." Then, I read poems by others to get the words percolating in my morning-dense mind. Finally, my own words will come, or not, at no predictable interval.

I always begin in ink in my journal...a true mess of bad handwriting and scrawling attempts to bring something out of nothing. After I have a few lines or a stanza, I switch to the computer and finish the draft there.

For some reason, I had Neruda's Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon (translated by Stephen Mitchell) out on my desk. I started going through it and right away decided I would collect words from the book to use in a draft today. I think I hit on this technique because I used to use Neruda when I participated in Writers in the Schools at the U of Arkansas, and I'd have the students do word banks from these poems. So, I read the poems and captured strong nouns, verbs, and adjective on one page of my journal. When I had 60 of them, I decided to throw in another technique I've read about. I numbered the words and then used a random number generator on the internet to form pairs of words. Some of the pairs were awful and uninspiring, but when I'd done this about a dozen times, three sets stood out to me. And they became the first lines of my new draft. I continued to refer to my word bank as I drafted, but I didn't rely on the pairs or the generator after that. After the poem felt somewhat formed I went back and re-read with a clearer eye. I noticed I'd overdosed on adjectives again. I love Neruda for his lush descriptions, but I'd taken too much here and there and had to trim. The draft is 10 lines right now and titled "Late Aubade." Late as in autumn and late as in 9:30 a.m. when I drafted it but the light today is very "dawn-ish" since the sun can't quite make it through the cloud layers.

All in all, I'm thrilled with today's work. Happy Monday to all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rain, Rain, Rain

Some would argue that this persistent gray drizzle is perfect for a Sunday...some would be wrong. Central Arkansas has had its share of rain already. Move along!

I had a hard time getting going due to said rain, but I did manage to read a bit and then tackle one of my "to-do's" for the day. I just finished sending out six submission packets. I sent out a good number in August, and then September passed by with nary a cast into the slush pile pool. Mostly, this is because I experienced such a silent summer that I'd run out of things to send. I'm happy to say that I've built up one packet's worth of material (sent simultaneously to six journals). Woo Hoo!

So, now I must find something to eat and then read for my classes this week. At least the rain is good for staying in doors.

Bonne chance, mes petits poèmes.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What I'm Reading: Time and Materials

It's been out for quite a while, but I just now borrowed the library's copy of Time and Materials by Robert Hass. I read the first poem in the collection in the American Poetry Review two years ago, and I still love it. Here it is in its entirety:

Iowa, January

In the long winter nights, a farmer's dreams are narrow.
Over and over, he enters the furrow.

So much happens in those two lines, and the feel of the words on the tongue is sublime. I like Hass' shorter, lyric poems the best. The book is a mix of those and longer, more narrative works, which did not hold my interest as well. This is probably a failing of mine, as I can admire the fine craftsmanship of all of Hass' work.

Here are some other favorites:

from The Problem of Describing Color

If she tells a fortune with a deck of fallen leaves

Until it comes out right--

Rouged nipple, mouth--

(How could you not love a woman

Who cheats at the Tarot?)

Red, I said. Sudden, red.

from Breach and Orison: 3. Habits of Paradise

If I saw the sleek stroke of moving darkness

was a hawk, high up, nesting

in the mountain's face, and if,
for once, I didn't want to be the hawk,

would that help? Token of earnest,

spent coin of summer, would the wind
court me then, and would that be of assistance?

from Time and Materials

Or to render time and stand outside
The horizontal rush of it, for a moment
To have the sensation of standing outside

The greenish rush of it.

from "...White of Forgetfulness, White of Safety"

Ticking heat, the scent of sage,

Of pennyroyal. The structure of every living thing
Was praying for rain.

Support Poetry! Buy or Borrow a Book of Poems Today
Time and Materials
Robert Hass
ecco: An Imprint of HarperCollins, 2007

PS: This book is definitely in the running for best cover art and design I've seen this year.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New Draft, Just Under the Wire

I was a little worried if I would be able to draft a new poem this week, given all the grading and school tasks I had to do. I missed my writing time on Monday and Wednesday, and so that left today. My usual process is to begin to settle my mind by reading someone else's work and then see where that takes me. Lately I've noticed that the first few poems I read might be getting the short end of the stick. It takes me a while to shift from the world of my to do list to the world of reading and writing. In any case, I hadn't even begun to think about drafting this morning, and I'd barely settled into Lynne Thompson's book Beg No Pardon, when all of a sudden, I knew what I wanted to draft today. Strangely, the poem turned into a prose poem, I think. Those familiar with my work will know that this is not my typical form and so I'm quite unsure of it at the moment. Still, it was good to get the words going again. Hopefully, I'll do a better balancing act with my teaching load so as not to miss many more writing hours.

The Universe Smiles On

Adding sunshine to plentiful sunshine, after withdrawing the poems that were accepted earlier this week, I received an email from Allison Joseph of Crab Orchard Review accepting the last poem still available. The submission packet originally included four poems, and all of them have been taken, which is an amazing and wonderful thing. As most of you know, I have nothing but love for Allison and Jon Tribble and the great journal they produce. I'm thrilled to say that this will be my third appearance there. Wow. I'm humbled by their support (and that of the students who work on the journal) and eternally grateful. On a side note, it looks like their website has been redesigned. Check it out.

Also, because the universe knows the ego must remain in check, there was a rejection in my inbox as well. And so it goes.