Sunday, November 29, 2009


Yesterday: a read/write day. Read some and wrote some. "Finished" a new draft that I'd been stringing along last week. By finished, I mean simply that the poem now has something like a beginning, a middle, and an end, although it isn't narrative. Must now let it rest (like bread dough rising) before I poke and prod at it any more. I also made some major revisions to a piece I've been toying with since the summer. Breakthrough moment, possibly. Some drafts arrive fully formed and need modest shaping...others arrive in broken bits, leaving me to choose between the crazy glue, the twine, or the acetylene torch.

Today: submission day. I've been entirely neglectful of submitting poems this fall. Managed a round of submissions in August, only to realize I'd rushed the process on one whole set of poems. Then, I sent out a few in October. Today, I have two sets of 5 poems. Each set of 5 will go out to 5 simultaneous submission accepting journals. I like the balance in that.

Tomorrow: no post. I'm covering classes for a colleague and getting set to receive papers on Tuesday. Then, the onslaught of final grading begins. Last day of class is Thursday, with finals the next week. Is that speck I see ahead of me a light at the end of the tunnel?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Two Years Old

This blog is two years old today. I almost missed the anniversary/birthday/whatever you call it. I think it took me 20 months to figure out what to do with this space, but I'm happy with what I've been doing since August.

Dear Readers, if there is something more you'd like to see here, please leave a comment. If there is something you'd like to see less of here, please leave a comment, too.

In honor of turning two, I'm giving away two copies of Blood Almanac. First come, first serve. Email me with your mailing address if you'd like a copy. The first two emails win. I'll post a comment here when the two copies are gone.

All thanks to whoever reads this space, my faceless, ephemeral audience.

What I'm Reading: The Oxford American Issue 66

Well, I'm finally reading The Southern Lit issue of The Oxford American, which has been out for several months now. While the issue is fat with wonderful stories and poems steeped in the southern literary tradition, an essay by Rick Bragg titled "Upending the Muse" stands out to me the most. I can't help but quote from it here and recommend you read it (available online) as soon as possible. (Of course, I may be so far behind on my reading that this is old news. If so, consider a re-read.)

"Upending the Muse" is an exploration of not only regional issues in writing, but class issues as well. In essence, Bragg explores the Romantic idea of the muse, which in the South seems to mean writing on the veranda in riding boots while drunk in order to court that wispy beauty, muse. This is a muse that eludes Bragg, perhaps, he wonders, because he has not been "better bred." He writes, "The muse, it seems to me, is watered in juleps and fanned with old money." Later, he adds, "Or maybe, just maybe, it's all an invention by the rich folks--a kind of pink-buttoned-down plot--to keep this writing thing to themselves."

As for the legend of great Southern (male) writers writing while drunk, Bragg admits this: "And I don't write at all, drunk. I can fight drunk and fish drunk, but I have to be clearheaded to drive cars, explain myself to my wife, and move a semicolon." (This may be my favorite quote of the entire article.)

Bragg also talks about writing to support oneself, writing on a deadline in order to meet a contract in order to get paid in order to eat. The Romantic idea of the muse does not fit with this reality in any way shape or form. Bragg is also quick to point out that this kind of work, writing for a living, is nowhere near as physically demanding as "roofing, or toting cement blocks, or wiping tables at a Waffle House."

Finally, the piece ends with a vision of Bragg's muse, "not a fairy at all," but "a hairy, goatlike beast, something you pin down with a boot on its neck, just so you won't be so goddamn lonely during this hateful process. And at night, when you believe you are done with it, it bumps and growls from underneath your bed."

Thanks to Bragg and the OA for a great read on a sunny long weekend, alas I have no veranda on which to lounge while finishing the issue.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two Poems for Thanksgiving

Lucille Clifton

* * *

won't you celebrate with me
what I have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

The Book of Light
Lucille Clifton
Copper Canyon Press, 1993

A Blessing
James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Selected Poems
James Wright
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005

Monday, November 23, 2009


Today's writing time has been disrupted by a chipped tooth (a tiny pain...but a sharp edge) and a dentist appt this morning. Why does my tongue seem drawn to the sharp edge? I know the sharp edge is there and that it will scrape the tip of my tongue and yet I can't stop my tongue from going there.

Here are four new cards I made last night. I'm not sure they are authentic "soul cards" as I haven't really been searching my soul or trying consciously to portray my goals/hopes/dreams. Instead, I've taken a different direction. I'm looking for interesting juxtapositions of images and words that I hope will spark new drafts, and I may use these for my creative writing class next semester. If they inspire something in you, please email me the results!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Soul Cards

Several weeks ago, I read a post on Kelli Russell Agodon's blog about "Soul Cards." These are self-created collages to serve as inspiration or as meditation objects and can be used to generate new drafts. Completely enamored with the idea, I've spent the last week cutting images and text out of magazines (even buying a few art magazines to find more interesting color, composition, and texture). I've also deconstructed old calendars, newspapers, junk mail...just about anything on paper that passes through the house.

Today I made my first card. I LOVE it! Can't wait to build up a collection of these. Here is the link to Agodon's directions and a picture of my card. (Agodon suggests 4" X 6" cards, but I went slightly larger, using 5" X 8" index cards, which seem to work just fine with a limited amount of glue stick applied and are less expensive than card stock.)

Having always wanted to be an artist, but lacking much skill in eye-hand coordination, this project lets me flex another creative muscle without worrying about having to draw/paint for myself. I also noticed myself looking at images and color differently as I went'd be surprised what you can find in a grocery store magazine like O (Oprah's magazine). I found the silhouette image there.

Many thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon for this wonderful idea!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More Listing: Quotes to Inspire New Drafts

"There is no reason to write a book unless the process of imagining it changes one's life forever." -- Richard Manning

"Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top." -- Virginia Woolf

"Don't go through life with your eyes closed, even though you may have chosen photography as your vocation. The machine may see for you, but its eye is dead. Your eye should furnish it with life. But don't believe that all open eyes see. Seeing needs practice--just like photography itself." -- Alred Stieglitz

"The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all." -- Annie Dillard

Thanks to Kevin Brockmeier for these:

“Nearly every writer has been given the advice, ‘Write what you know.’ This seems to me to rely too heavily on the narrow, limited ego and conscious mind I've already slandered. I prefer another piece of advice I have heard, ‘Write what you need to know.’” ‒‒ Susan Power

“Writers don't write from experience, though many are resistant to admit that they don't. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy.” ‒‒ Nikki Giovanni

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“I've never been in charge of my stories, they've always been in charge of me. As each new one has called to me, ordering me to give it voice and form and life, I've followed the advice I've shared with other writers over the years: jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” ‒‒ Ray Bradbury

“Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat. Everything moves toward the end, when the outcome will be known. Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. (Who, still on a battlefield, wants monuments?) The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.” ‒‒ John Berger

Animated Poems

Check out this great post from Sandra Beasley on Chick's Dig Poetry about her making of a video for her poem "Vocation." Watch the video. Now!

If I can figure out iMovie, I may just try this for some of my poems over the Xmas break. Sean...beware, my Mac guru, I will surely be calling on you for help and probably James K as well. Either of you want to provide some instrumental guitar accompaniment?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Drafting Process Evolution

Like many writers I know, I am a pack rat when it comes to my work. I have boxes full of journals that go back to my teens and early twenties. I have the first booklets I made when I was around thirteen or fourteen, using my mom's electric typewriter. I copied poems I'd been given in school, "The Eagle" by Tennyson being one I remember...those talons described as "crooked hands," that last line, "And like a thunderbolt he falls"...ah...the drama! I loved the sound of the keys clacking that seemed to echo the sound of the words in the poems. I loved the precision required in the copying so I didn't have to start over or use the messy version of white out that existed in the early 80's. Then, after copying several of the masters, I included my own fledglings. I collected all of this in a school folder and titled my book, decorating it with unicorn stickers and magic markers.

In high school, I kept writing my own poems...about broken hearts mostly and full of horrific rhymes. I gathered these together in folders with three-hole tabs, again, making my own "books" out of my work. For the most part, I went through sheets and sheets of college-ruled loose-leaf paper in my drafts, even though I might not really be changing much. Each new word change required a new hand-written draft. Only when I felt the poem was "finished" did I type up my draft for my booklet.

When I started college as an undergrad the slow transition to personal computers had begun. St. Ben's installed its first computer labs around that time and we all carried around precious floppy disks and fought with the dot-matrix printers that seemed to jam constantly. While I still drafted poems on paper to begin, I moved to the computer for revision. This was when I first began saving each new draft with the title and a number, so that after several months I might have six or seven versions of the poem saved so that I could go back and revisit previous drafts if I took a wrong turn. Of course, I also printed each one out and kept it in a manila folder as well. That process stayed with me for well over a decade and took me into grad school and beyond.

I have always begun poems on paper (and still do), usually in a journal, most of which I have in boxes in the closet--heavy, heavy boxes. Once the poem takes on a shape and heft, I move to the computer. I cannot quantify what I mean by "shape and heft." It is different with every poem; it is an intuitive leap in my gut that says the poem is ready for the printer. Still, until the last year or so, I saved each new version as a new file in the poem's particular folder.

It dawned on me yesterday, that sometime in the last few years, I've jettisoned the saving of multiple versions on my hard drive. I still have the printed copies, which I date. However, I simply save over the original version on the computer now. I wonder if I do this because I now have a better grasp on my own voice and more confidence in my vision of the poem. I feel I take fewer "wrong turns" on the way to figuring out the poem's ultimate form. Do I eliminate some options by saving over the last version? Probably.

I wonder, too, how this shaping of poetry is different, if it is, from the the way writers of the pre-computer days shaped their work. I still print off my poems and hand-write many of my revisions on the page, although I know plenty of writers who do this on the computer. There is a visceral nature to the pen and ink that is lost for me on the keyboard. Wendell Berry wrote somewhere (and I apologize for not having the reference) about the physical link between the pencil in his hand and his imagination. For him, using any technology, even a manual typewriter, created a distance between the work and the creative center of his mind...a mind/body connection that was crucial to him, I guess. I've wondered about it myself ever since reading that in college. Now I wonder if this change in my drafting process results in stronger poems.

My drafting process exists in two technologies: blue-black rollerball gel ink scrawled in journals & black and white text in computer files. These technologies are symbiotic in my process, and I imagine that process will continue to evolve right alongside my evolution as a poet. While I used to worry about there being a correct way to do this drafting and revision, I think I may finally be in a place where I'm comfortable letting things develop in their own way and simply taking note from time to time about my process. I suppose if I ever take a drastic wrong turn, I will know I've run off the road by the heaping pile of rejection letters that will surely arrive in my mailbox, be it physical or virtual.


Two links for your Friday:

1. Kristin Berkey-Abbott's post Books with a Spine for Your Holiday Shopping Pleasure contains a list of awesome titles that might work well for gift-giving. Kristin inspires me to think about making my own list, perhaps over the Thanksgiving break.

2. Sarah J. Sloat's post Ghostbusters returns to the discussion of what poets call themselves when asked their profession. This contains a revealing (or not) statement about the Belgium prime minister.

If you haven't read their poems, I recommend both of these poets. Check their blogs for links to poems.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

List Mania

*The outbreak of lists of best books of 2009 is freaking me out. The sheer number of poetry books that people are recommending is staggering, not to mention all the fiction and non-fiction out there as well. I feel like I've finally made it to a place where I can buy books of poetry fairly regularly without going into serious credit card debt, and I'm also a huge advocate of borrowing from the library. However, there's no way I could read all of the books out there. Who said poetry/literature is dead?

*Given all the back and forth about women on the PW list, I just want to clarify one of my personal positions. I am not advocating any kind of a quota system, and if the editors at PW stand by their list, then that is their right. It is my right to ignore any other recommendations they might make because I've lost faith in their judgment. What I am most interested in is addressing the institutionalized sexism that appears to exist at the upper levels of decision making about publishing and awards. Also, I'm interested in the number of women who hold positions in the upper echelons and if there is an imbalance there.

*I know there are many men out there with great books who struggle just as hard as women writers do to break into the publishing world. I salute them.

*Two books I bought recently that are now on the to-read shelf:

Holding Everything Down
William Notter
Southern Illinois University Press, 2009

Beauty Breaks In
Mary Ann Samyn
New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2009

*Last week's acceptance was rapidly followed by two rejection envelopes. I'm cool with that. On my best days rejection letters are an inspiration to revision.

* A short poem by Emily Dickinson:


To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Weird Cookies and a Weyant Poem

Just had a weird error message about cookies pop up that took some time to unravel. I have trust issues with technology and believe that following Google's instructions probably caused some other problem somewhere of which I won't be aware for days or weeks to come.

I'm on my last day of grading binges to clear out my Comp I papers. I still have World Lit research papers to grade, but I have week left to get those done before the Tksgiving break (my goal). I find myself hoarding links to blogs I want to re-read with more time and stacking books in precarious piles on the to-read shelf.

It is great when life is full, but I struggle to learn the balancing act that will prevent burning out again.

I'll leave you with a poem from Karen Weyant's beautiful chapbook Stealing Dust, a book I read months ago and didn't have a chance to write about here.


The night after a three-point turn on a test
gave her a driver's license, my best friend
borrowed her mother's car, missed the turn
at Potter's Grove, plowed into a cornfield.
In the passenger's seat, I laughed
giving directions, back wheels spinning
through October mud and ears bent low,
silk brown and damp. That's how
it was like with us: two girls always threatening
to leave what we called a one-stoplight town,
when in fact there were three, often green,
short-circuited, a squirrel chewing through
a stray wire, a storm snapping a loose cable
in two. It should have been easy,
but there was always a check engine light,
a crack in the window, a rear tire worn raw.
It took us years to figure it all out --
all we needed to do was throw a suitcase
in the backseat, tilt the rearview window away,
so we couldn't see what fell behind us:
strings of stores sealed tight with plywood,
street lights dull, even in the darkest of dusks.

Support a Poet: Buy or Borrow this book today
Stealing Dust
Karen J. Weyant
Finishing Line Press, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Balance, Soliciting Editors, and Katha Pollitt

First up on my blog surfing adventures from today is Joshua Corey's post Nel messo del romanzo (That makes 3 poet Joshua's this week...weird). Corey's post is about the time suckage of writing and the differences in writing poetry and fiction. Topics I love to read about and mull over during my brief spare minutes. Here are a few quotes to whet the appetite:

The ancient hubris of poets produces this Faustian bargain: give up some portion of your life to writing, and immortality might be yours.

I am in the middle. Not I hope in that narcotic sense, but in a literal sense (I feel myself to be halfway through a first draft) and in Dante's sense, the middle of my way, in which I am necessarily lost, so that I may find it again.

I, too, become lost in the world of words, grammar, syntax, the OED, the crippling indecision of revision, and sometimes I find my way back to my other life only by stumbling from my office and being met by the reality of chores, grading, &etc.

I must say I am a lucky woman b/c I married a man who understands this wandering way...a man who doesn't mind the floors unswept, the dishes unwashed, and the shelves undusted. Now what to do about the papers ungraded?


Deborah Ager has posted a piece on the 32 Poems blog on the editor's responsibility if he/she solicits work from a writer. Is the editor required to accept something because he/she solicits work from a specific writer? My answer, no. I've actually been on both sides of this as a writer. I've had work solicited that was accepted and work solicited that was rejected with a nice note and a suggestion to send more later.

I admit, the ego-boost of having someone solicit my work was extraordinary, and I did feel more hopeful that the work would find a home. However, I didn't feel a deeper sting when the editor who solicited my work decided to pass. I knew the poems were a bit new and different from my previous work and might not fit. Also, this happened at a time when I was low on poems that were available to send out, which meant a smaller selection to begin with.


Finally, here is a link to Katha Pollitt's great post on She Writes in the continuing dialogue about the PW top 10 list. A long time ago when I was living in Columbia, MO, I had the great fortune of hearing Pollitt speak. She is the real deal. These two quotes hit home for me:

And yet, whenever a list comes out and it’s all men, or mostly men, the listmakers bristle at the suggestion that maybe gender affects the way they read and evaluate. “We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz,” writes PW’s Louisa Ermelino in preemptive-pugilistic fashion of the magazine’s all-male Top 10 list. That makes the editors of PW the only people on earth who are not only totally unaffected by the society in which they live, but who have no subconscious.

A wealth of studies show that gender affects just about every kind of evaluation people make, from grading papers (the same work gets a better grade if supposedly written by a boy rather than a girl) to getting elected.

As an English instructor, that last one actually scares me. I had a professor in grad school who had us create aliases for our midterm essay exams. A third party held the key that matched our names to our aliases. This was the professor's attempt to grade without bias. I've toyed around with doing this in my comp class from time to time, and Pollitt's statement nudges me closer to actually doing it (that and researching the studies she mentions).

And speaking of grading........

Friday, November 13, 2009


Two links that peaked my interest today.


Sandra Beasley's blog has long been a must-read for me. In yesterday's post, one of the topics she discusses is the interconnectedness of writers in the digital age. In her words:

It's a very human drive to surround oneself with kindred spirits, and in this internet age it's possible to maintain a constant chit-chat in poet mode. Your junkfood reading can consist entirely of poetry blogs. You can make a joke about villanelles in your Facebook status, and eight people will joke right back at you. With this kind of saturating access to fellow artists, the grandmother or boss or neighbor who doesn't "get" poetry becomes the outlier figure in our minds, the exception to an otherwise dominant community of readers and writers.

The outlier figure is very real to me, as most of my family doesn't "get" poetry. They are super supportive and proud of me and my work, but are not readers of poetry themselves. Beasley goes on to talk about how receiving praise from fellow writers is great, but hearing from an "outlier" that the work means something to them is even more amazing.

At the end of the post, she writes about the number of readings she attends each month, and I become ravenously jealous. This is a catch-22 for me. I am not built to live in a major metropolitan area such as D.C., and yet I crave the access to the arts that those cities provide. Alas, my small town nature holds me back.


On a completely separate note, Steve Fellner's blog is somewhat new to me, but I've found much there to dig into. His post yesterday on white space and the writer's emotion is a lovely and well-written essay. Here is an example of using the second person to great effect. There is dream-like feel to the writing. A few of my favorite quotes:

Through the white space, you were saying wake up. Wake up. The white space was the closest thing to sunlight you could let in.

In page layout, white space is often referred to as negative space. Negative space, negative capability. Where does the willingness to be "uncertain"--the location in-between uncertainty and limitless potential occur?


And now, I'm gone to ground to grade.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I'm Reading: Illustrating the Machine that Makes the World

Joshua Poteat will forever hold a special place in my poetry life. He won the Anhinga Prize the year before me and graciously welcomed me to the flock at AWP in 2006. If you haven't read Ornithologies...go read it now. I was thrilled when I learned that his second book was out from The VQR Poetry Series, published by The University of Georgia Press.

I spent much of Saturday morning with Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World. Couldn't put it down, in fact. Then, had to re-read much of it today. The book is a series of poems inspired by J. G. Heck's 1851 Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science, even including an appendix of plates from Heck's book. However, the poems are not representational; instead, they receive inspiration from Heck and then take flight into their own wild and amazing complexity.

Sections one through three contain what I consider classic Poteat poems--poems that spread across the page in swaths of words, lush as bolts of fine silk--highly imagined and intricately wrought with an exacting attention to language. Then, there are two appendices. The latter is the illustration of the plates. However, the first appendix is a fantastic exploration in the art of excision. Using the text of a selection of poems from the first three sections, Poteat then excises and erases words and some punctuation, leaving the form of the original intact. It is a stunning act of revision that forces the eye to trace a wandering path across the page and search carefully for punctuation (a period or a comma could be lost easily in the white space). Rather than being confounded by these new versions, I found myself awed by the changed nature of the poems and their intent. Very, very cool. (Others may already have done this, but since I don't often read widely in the experimental realm, this was my first exposure to such writing on this scale.)

As is the case with many of the poets that I absolutely love, most of the pages of this book are dog-eared. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Her is a random selection:

From "Illustrating the echo in arched rooms"

........................................... ... Remove the fox

..........and there is a quiet unlike any twilight you have heard.

Remove the crown of light above the fox's head, and nothing

..................will be the same again, not for you, for your family,

for your village and its one path to the river where spiders

............draw maps threefold in sand, there under the trees

where the foxes rest, deep inside the arched rooms of their dens.

It is so hard to choose, but here is another:

From "Illustrating the construction of railroads"

At the edge of all fields, there is a space

.........for disorder. Blackberry through the gowns

of black locust, doveweed, and spurge,
.............................the hardened vine of ailment digging in,

burrowed to the clay, to the railroad mound

.........where the ties lay unabridged, unraveled.

These margins exist. They are not meant contain us.

Support poetry today. Buy or borrow a copy of this book.
Illustrating the Machine That Makes the World
Joshua Poteat
The VQR Poetry Series
The University of Georgia Press, 2009

Two Mentions

1. Verse Daily has now posted three poems from the current Copper Nickel, including today's feature "Wedding PiƱata" by James Hoch.

2. Thanks to Rhett Iseman Trull of Cave Wall for posting a link on Facebook yesterday to Poems by Heart. This is a cool website that lets you record a favorite poem as an MP3 and post it for others. I love how many websites are capitalizing on audio features for poetry. One of my first professors in college insisted we read the poems aloud and it made all the difference.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Women Poets

Following up on recent news about the percentages of women included in prizes and lists, I've read two more blogs/articles that I think add to the conversation.

The first is a blog from She Writes creator Kammy Wicoff: I Guess Women Aren't That Good At Writing After All. The news of the exclusion of women from the PW top 10 list hit the air waves/ether waves just as She Writes topped 5,000 members. If you haven't checked out this online resource, please do so. Here is my favorite quote from Wicoff's post:

Try to imagine if they [Publisher's Weekly] had come out with a list of the Best Books of 2009 and it had included ZERO MEN. Try to imagine if Amazon had released its Best Books of 2009 and it had included only TWO men. I know it's hard. But just try.

And in case you think ALL men got the star treatment from PW, you should also know that only ONE of the men on the list isn't a white dude. Naturally he is the dude on the cover.


Next is an article from Politics Daily by Lizzie Skurnick: Same Old Story: Best-Books Lists Snub Women Writers. (I'm sure this was linked on someone else's blog last week, but I've forgotten where...apologies.) This article reminded me of a conversation I had with a female poet friend several years ago. My friend questioned whether her book would ever find a publisher because it was so "domestic." About the same time, I had received a rejection from a major literary journal, one I've been submitting to without success for years. The rejection included a handwritten note that said: "I enjoyed the opportunity to read your work. The domesticity and perspective were charming and startling simultaneously." The note was signed by a woman.

My heart sank as I read the following in Skurnick's article regarding what happened when she was one of a group of judges for a book award:

Our short list was pretty much split evenly along gender lines. But as we went through each category, a pattern emerged. Some books, it seemed, were "ambitious." Others were well-wrought, but somehow . . . "small." "Domestic." "Unam --" what's the word? "-- bititous."

and later

But, incredulous, again and again, I watched as we pushed aside works that everyone acknowledged were more finely wrought, were, in fact,
competently wrought, for books that had shot high but fallen short. And every time the book that won was a man's.

"I just want to say," I said as the meeting closed, "that we have sat here and consistently called books by women small and books by men large, by no quantifiable metric, and we are giving awards to books I think are actually kind of amateur and sloppy compared to others, and I think it's disgusting." (I wasn't built for the board room.) "But we can't be doing it because we're sexist," an estimable colleague replied huffily. "After all, we're both men and women here."

She goes on to talk about the complications of a sexism that is so ingrained in our lives that we often have trouble seeing it.

Lots to continue thinking about here.

Good Way to Start the Day

I opened my email this morning to find an acceptance from the Southern Women's Review. The poem that they accepted feels quiet, even for my poems, and I wasn't sure how it would go over. Many thanks to Alicia K. Clavell and the rest of the SWR staff. This is a new online journal. Issue one came out this past summer, available in PDF, and it is a beauty. My colleague, Antoinette Brim, has a poem there. She was one of several people who emailed me about the call for submissions for issue two. Thanks go to her as well.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Process for a Draft

I vowed to draft a new poem today. After a few weeks away from drafting, I thought it best to start with an exercise. I used the mad-lib/skeleton poem exercise. I've seen this in books and in blogs, so I'm not sure to whom it should be attributed. Also, I've used this in the past with great success. For me, the secret is not to get too bound to the rules. At its most basic, this exercise requires a text, which could be a poem or story, but is often better when not. (I used the instructions that came with my new dental appliance, a phrase that seems slightly dirty for some reason, which is supposed to stop me from clenching my teeth in my sleep.) Taking the text, you remove all the major nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. and then you fill them in with your own words. Sometimes I use another poet's work to launch the fill-ins. Then, you break the new text into lines. I play fast and loose with the original text and will drop or add a part of speech if the inspiration calls for it. Once I break the text into lines it's no holds barred and the poem usually revises itself fairly far away from the original syntax.

My new draft is titled "All the Mapmakers in the New World were once Illusionists."

I'm a little bit high from the rush of creating. Also, the sun is spilling onto my desk in an amazing show of force. Also, it's Saturday! Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Because Sometimes Counting Helps

I haven't written a draft in two full weeks, mostly because of the conference and then the hectic catching up on grading and prep work after said conference. My goal for the semester was a draft a week, and I have been beating myself up a bit for the lapse. So, I decided to count the poems I've drafted during the semester. (In the past, I have not written well during the teaching semester and have relied on the summer...this year everything got turned upside down and I rearranged my teaching schedule to find more balance with my writing schedule).

Drumroll please...After 12 weeks of school, I have 8 new poems. Here are the titles, in no particular order:
Late Aubade
The Penitent Boy Standing in the Family Plot
The Winged Saint
The Stone Saint
Crouching in the Body's Dusty Ruins
Our Hands Filling Up with All There is Left to Rescue
Naming the Storm
Stumbling Away from the Oracle

Even though I'm technically short 4 poems on my goal, this list pleases me. I'm starting today by patting myself on the back for finding at least some better balance.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What I'm Reading: Hunger All Inside

I did go ahead and start with Marie Gauthier's chapbook today: Hunger All Inside. Only recently have I grown to see how wonderful chapbooks can be. In a short sitting, I can fully immerse myself in one poet's work. The risk of interruption lessens and the ability to pause and re-read increases because of the limited number of poems.

Hunger All Inside is a poignant, yet unsentimental, collection of mother and lover poems. Many of the poems feature the speaker's interaction with her young son; others with her lover. Set in Massachusetts, the inclusion of the New England landscape provides a subtle subplot that comments on the main focus of human interactions.

One poem in particular stands out as more focused on the landscape than the humans in it: "Spring Pleiades." It is written in seven sections, of course. My favorite section is the second. Here it is in its entirety:


Manacles of ice broken,
mice nose about the clotted
meltwater, fields of early
meadow-rue and matted grass
moored by the bog. They dream a
memory of apples, wheat,
mulled heat of the late day sun.

Several of the poems deal with the fears that are born of mothering, the fears of what could happen to the child should the mother lose focus. "Gravity" is one of my favorites of these. It contains the following lines to describe the way a mother grabs on to her toddler's shirt, lest he fall: "Looping two fingers / around the collar of his shirt, / tether of tendon and bone... ." I love the image here of the extension of the body connection that is lost at birth.

Finally, I'll leave you with the ending of the last poem in the book "Summer, the air," which describes the toddler's blue popsicle-stained mouth as:

blue as the larkspur
flowering in long spikes

blue as the bucket
collecting rainwater

and rocks blue
as the sky leaching light

blue ice to salute
the end of winter's

long death to hail
the hot stalled days of summer.

(Apologies to Gauthier here. I couldn't get the lines to indent correctly. If anyone knows how to do that in HTML, please let me know. In essence, I need some tabs.)

Support Poetry! Buy or Borrow a Book Today
Hunger All Inside
Marie Gauthier
Finishing Line Press, 2009

Another Bucketful of Stuff

It seems fitting in the time of the harvest moon to find so much plenty in the world of poetry. If you'll hang with me through one more reaping from the blogs on my list, I think I'll be back to reading and writing new drafts next week. For today's trip to the grain elevator, I have three links about others and one horn-tooting for myself.


I've written about Rachel Contreni Flynn's work in the past, and linked most recently to her new work at The Collagist. The same journal posted an interview with RCF on Nov. 2nd. I was just able to read it today. If you have the time, I suggest following the link to the poems first. They are the kind of poems that feel like a punch in the solar plexus. All the air goes right out of me. I was surprised and humbled to find Blood Almanac listed in the last question. Thanks to Rachel for that!


I've been a huge fan of Mary Biddinger's blog The Word Cage for over a year. This week she has two "how to" posts about writing poems that are seriously wonderful in the highly imaginative way. I appreciate being able to look at the process in a new way. Check out How to defibrillate a poem (before it's too late) and How to kill a poem (before it even starts).


Thanks to the Hayden's Ferry Review blog for mention of PoetrySpeaks. I hadn't heard of this website before, a new addition to audio resources for poets and poetry. I plan to spend some time checking it out this weekend. I plan on using several of audio blogs/websites in my creative writing class in the spring.


Finally, to toot my own horn. (If you are averse to poet's spreading good news about themselves, please stop reading here.) I woke up today with emails from Jake Adam York, an editor at Copper Nickel, and Josh Robbins in my inbox alerting me to the fact that one of my poems from the most recent Copper Nickel is on Verse Daily today. Check out "The Interior Weather of Tree-Clinging Birds" and then consider subscribing to Copper Nickel if you like it. They are in the midst of a Great Internet Sale. (By the way, I couldn't toot my own horn without the journals, editors, and publishers that make sharing poetry possible. THANKS!)


Now, finally, I get to read a few of those books I mentioned buying a few posts ago. How will I decide where to start? Lou-Lou, cat #2, is currently chewing on the ribbon on Marie Gauthier's Hunger All Inside, so maybe she's trying to tell me something. (I love Finishing Line's production of their chapbooks, but the ribbons are irresistible to the cats! They use the ribbons to pull the books from my shelves. Chapbook and cat toy all in one!)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Is it

that when I have the most schoolwork to do (catching up on grading post-conference) there are amazing things going on in the poetry world, great books arriving in the mail, and drafts that need writing? Sigh.

So, today another brief run around the blogs and a few more comments before I'm off to teacherland.


The gracious and talented Kevin Brockmeier was our keynote speaker on Saturday at our conference. I must say Kevin, who is a Little Rock native and current resident, has always been quite generous with his time whenever I've invited him to a local event. I'm thankful for that. After his reading, Kevin handed out his list of top 50 books, which sparked a conversation between us about my top 10 books of fiction. I happened to mention that I'd recently placed Kevin's own The Brief History of the Dead up there in the top 10. So, here's my top 10 list for books of fiction:
1. Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
2. The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
5. The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
6. The Brief History of the Dead Kevin Brockmeier
7. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie
8. The Way that Water Enters Stone John Dufresne
9. The Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri
10. Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie

A couple of things I notice: Everything listed here is from the later half of the 20th century or from the 21st. I woke up worrying this fact around in my head. What does that say about me? Am I neglecting the classics? I admit I haven't read extensively in the classics for fiction, but I think I've read a considerable amount. Is it a bad thing if I don't list a 19th century novel in my top 10? Worry....worry....worry.


It seems that there's more "where are the women writers?" news going on. This time it is regarding Publisher Weekly's Best Books of 2009 list, its top 10 lacking any women at all. There are women in the genre specific categories. Here's the post from Victoria Chang with a press release from WILLA.

(By the way, why list 20 "best" fiction books and only 5 "best" poetry? I might be more disturbed by that than I am about the lack of women writers in the top 10! Booksellers and libraries use PW to determine what books they carry or buy for their shelves. No wonder people think no one reads poetry anymore!)


Two great poems to check out NOW! Linebreak has "Training" by Sarah J. Sloat, and Verse Daily has "Love is When a Boat is Built from All the Eyelashes in the Ocean" by Zachary Schomburg. Enjoy!


Finally, Kevin Brockmeier also talked about collecting quotes about writing and using them when he has taught creative writing in the past. His most recent addition is a quote by Antoine de Saint Exupery (of The Little Prince) that I used to have posted over my computer long ago. I'm glad Kevin reminded me of it. I found several translations on line, all of them unattributed. Will do more research here, but let me leave you with the essence of the quote:

"If you want to build a ship, don´t drum up people to collect wood and don´t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."


I'm off to grade and prep and hopefully will return to longing for the sea of poetry drafts on Friday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Mouthful

Belly up to the table friends. This post will be a mouthful. I've just been trying to catch up with my blog reading, and I missed four days, which means my google reader account was in the triple digits. So, gobble gobble, here are some highlights that jumped out at me.


First, two posts about the Whiting Awards and the demographic breakdown. Very interesting in a numbers kind of way. I haven't had time to sit and think on this, but I will. First, Victoria Chang offers her breakdown and thoughts. One thing I thought was particularly interesting was when she wrote: "My intuitition is that minorities will try to help other minorities and non-minorities gravitate towards each other in general, as people and their work. But this sounds so archaic to me. I hope I am wrong, but I do wonder how much of our world at large and our poetry world at large have really erased the glass ceiling towards women and minorities?" I have to say that I read widely and without borders. I hope that my own experience is a look toward the future of poetry and not an anomaly. Maybe after I've caught up with my post-conference work, I'll look at the numbers on my poetry shelf and see where I fall. Second, Steve Fellner offers his thoughts on the numbers. Here's a bit from his opening: "There’s more curious news. Look at the history of the award. In 2008, 3 out of 10 were women. In 2007, 3 out of 10 were women. In 2006, 4 out of ten were women. In 2004 and 2005, 5 out of ten were women. According to the anonymous panel, women’s writing must be declining in quality, and fairly quickly." Honestly, I don't think I would have thought to look at the history of prizes like this. I tend to try to insulate myself from these things in an attempt to ward off both jealousy and jinxing myself. Both of these writers have given me food for thought. I'll try to let you know how the digesting goes.


I've been reading Kelli Russell Agodon's posts about her recent winning of the White Pine Press award. She's been honest and open and offers great insight to all of us sending out manuscripts. Check out her latest answers to reader questions. If you haven't been following along, I highly recommend looking at the last several weeks of posts.


Charlotte Pence has a post about memorizing one poem from her lineup at a recent reading. This is something I've been meaning to do and meaning to do but never got around to it. Actually, since I read so much from Blood Almanac in the last three years, many of those poems are as familiar as well-worn jeans, but none of them are formally memorized. Ah...something new to aspire to. Love Charlotte's comments about how the one memorized poem changed the other poems as well.


How a Poem Happens features Anna Journey this week. I love this blog because I get to see just a tiny view inside a poet's creative process. Fascinating. Here's my favorite bit because she talks about couplets in a way that resonates with me: "I often choose to write in couplets; perhaps that’s because they’re about as far away as you can get from prose. There’s a cool restraint to couplets, a formal clarity, and a kind of—I don’t know—buoyancy that helps give my speedy, image-packed, lush language room to breathe. So, it’s about balance; it’s my recipe for staving off some sort of baroque implosion."


Finally, dessert. I went back through the daily poetry sites that I'd missed during the conference and found this stand out on Poetry Daily: How to Make Armor by Jennifer K. Sweeney. I love a good "how to" poem, but too often they go awry in their prescriptiveness. This one rocks it.


Urp. (Consider that my delicate, lady-poet burp.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009


A giant shout out to all of my TYCA-SW colleagues and friends who made the journey to Little Rock for this year's conference. It was great to see you all! While I'm glad the conference is over and that it appears to have been a success, I'm sad that we only have two days together each year. Looking forward to Laredo in '10.

Thanks especially to everyone who attended the literary reading session late on Friday afternoon. Thanks also to my fellow readers Nancy Herschap, David Charlson, and my PTC colleague, Antoinette Brim. You all were spectacular! And a double thanks to those who were able to buy my book. On this blog I advocate for supporting writers by attending readings and buying books/journals, and I was so fortunate to have such a great audience and such great support.

If you are a new reader of the blog, I usually post on MWF in the morning and sometimes on the weekend. My posts are almost exclusively about my poetry life rather than my teaching life. I hope you will find them useful.