Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Comes Early This Year

42º ~ a cold rain does rain down, nothing but gray skies all around

Those folks in that picture can't understand why I've ordered an early drop of the ball.  Due to some travel issues, we'll be celebrating New Year's Eve a bit early this year at the house of the Kangaroo.  We normally celebrate at the usual time with three other couples (and one toddler), plus whoever else happens to drift by.  Sometimes, if we're lucky in football, the celebration might last several days.  This year, the plans got a bit sticky and the Razorbacks don't play until the 4th, so we suggested doing the champagne pop a bit early...after all, it's the spirit of the thing, right?

All in all, I've been more social this year than in past holiday breaks, and I've still got a few more things lined up before heading back to the office/classroom on the 3rd.  This does not bode well for poetry.  As faithful readers know, I love my habits, my schedule, and my routine.  The summer break is great for this, long unplanned days when I can read/write/imagine every day.  The winter break, not so much this year.  I'm resigned to this and plan to pick up my regular rhythm after the turn of the year.

I am thankful for all of my friends and family, both far and near, and I am not complaining about the socializing.  It's just a fact of life that my writing thermostat is a temperamental, twitchy piece of machinery.

So be it, and Happy New Year's a wee bit early!

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Poems

37º ~ bright sun, although a few clouds clutter the sky, a cold, cold night behind us

Just a quick note that I have two new poems available for your reading pleasure.

The first is "What Devours Us Is Worth Devouring," which appears in the latest issue of Spillway (#15).  This is the "All in the Family" issue.  My poem appears alongside my cousin Marta Ferguson's poem "And Baby Makes Three."  If you get a chance to pick up this issue, I highly recommend.  No text available online, so get yourself a copy, pronto!

The second poem is "When the Weather Forms a Holding Pattern," which appears online in the latest issue of The Dirty Napkin (4.1).  This lovely journal features one of the poems from the issue presented in handwriting (as well as in print) on a napkin as written by the author.  Another great feature is that the poems are all available in audio form, some for free and some with a subscription.

As always, thanks so much for your support, Dear Readers.  I'd be doing this without you, but I wouldn't be having nearly as much fun.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Morning of Reading, Morning of Revision

38º ~ finally back to some normal winter temps, a bright sun pushing through filtering clouds

These long, unplanned days are such a delight.  It always takes me a wile to get used to them again, but when I do, I revel.  However, I still know myself well enough to know that I need to start the day at my desk or any writing/reading work will remain undone.

Today, I started by reading the manuscript of a poetry friend.  She emailed last week, knowing I'd been struggling with mine, and suggested a swap.  Woo Hoo!  With Blood Almanac, I had my thesis comments, but the book grew and changed in the year or two after that, and I never thought to ask anyone else to read it.  Now that I've grown to know more poets and have grown in my own confidence, it seems a natural thing to share.

So, this morning began immersed in someone else's writing.  This manuscript is powerful and brave and will soon find a home so I can brag on it.  The poet is a poet of place, so we have that in common; however, her place is vastly different than mine.  It was amazing to sink into someone else's roots and now to have the chance to offer comments on strengthening the book.  How lucky am I?
After that, I returned to my drafts from the past two months with more vim and vigor.  Just reading my friend's poems made me want to return to my own and make them better.  I love this about having a writing community that is non-threatening and as non-competitive as possible (of course, we're all sending our books to the same general group of publishers, so there's no way around that).

I was able to see several poems in ways I hadn't seen them before.  I found new subtleties to exploit, new weaknesses to cull.  I have to confess, Dear Reader, the last few visits with these drafts have been dreary.  I've been afraid that they were all rotten to the core and had no hope of recovery.  Today, while I could see the changes I wanted to make, I didn't feel so badly about the poems.  That was a good feeling.  I've learned, a bit, to simply close the folder when the negative voices encroach too far.  I'm glad I was able to stifle them today.


And now, I'll wish you all a Happy Holiday!  C. and I will be spending time with family and friends for the next bit of time.  I hope you all are safe and sound and surrounded by love.  As ever, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Three Quotes

54º ~ bright sun, clear skies, the nearly full moon woke me up at 2:00 a.m....where's the justice in that happening 24 hours too late to see the eclipse?

Three quotes have been haunting me these last few days.

~ "Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

(Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day")

~ "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open."

(Muriel Rukeyser, Houdini)

~ "To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes."

(Akira Kurosawa, The Films of Akira Kurosawa)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcoming the Winter Solstice and a Return to Light

60º ~ yep, 60º on the Winter Solstice, still the sky is nothing but clouds, clouds that prevented any view of the lunar eclipse last night ~ Booooooo to the clouds

With the cloud cover a sure thing, there was no need to set the alarm for a 2 a.m. viewing of the eclipse.  Because we couldn't view it here, I give you this picture from Matthew Hinton at the Times Picayune in NOLA.  (Click on the image for the full story.)

Also, here's a diagram of how a full lunar eclipse happens.  I'm glad to say that my high school science facts are still intact and I had figured it all out in my head before looking up the image.  Granted, I'd forgotten the words 'umbra' and 'penumbra' but wow! what cool words.

The eclipse is amazing of course, and this one a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence on the winter solstice, but I'm really celebrating the solstice as it means an end to shortening days and a beginning of lengthening ones.  As I've said before, I am a creature of light, easily brought low by too many cloudy/rainy/dim days.  This is perhaps one reason I could not remain in the Midwest, which seems to have drearier winter skies than the South.  So, I'm cheering today that with the return of more light there will also be a return of energy and wakefulness in body and mind.

Now, back to poetry.  This blog turned three with little notice on my part, back at the end of November, I think.  Given that milestone and the fact that this is the time of year when people tend to reflect, here's my two cents worth.

I had an even 20 poems accepted in 2010.  Woo Hoo, that averages out to more than one per month, although some were accepted in groups.  Many thanks to those of you who read the poems in drafts, to those of you who edit the journals that accepted the poems, and to those of you who read and support my work.  Because balance is a necessity in my life and because I hope this blog will help emerging writers, I also want to stress that for every acceptance, there were at least, at least, five rejections.   This is a subjective game we play and often even the strongest poems don't make it through the goal posts for any number of reasons.  So, to keep the odds in my favor, I tend to have poems out to at least 20 different journals at any given time (not the same poems, of course!).

In a World Made of Such Weather as This continues to make the rounds of book contests and open reading periods.  It's been a semi-finalist about a half a dozen times and a finalist a few times.  As ever, I'm hopeful and despondent both at the same time.  Here I must give major, major thanks to a few named people:  Stephanie Kartalopoulos for her wonderful reading and suggestion for reordering of the book.  Angie Macri, Charlotte Pence, and Tara Bray for reading BOTH versions and making their suggestions.  THANK YOU!!!

As for books I've read and enjoyed this year, there were many.  I encourage anyone interested in the titles and my thoughts to use the search box above and enter 'What I'm Reading.'  It's wonderful to be surrounded by so many talented writers and to be able to return to their books whenever I need a bit of inspiration.

Last bit of thanks but certainly not the least:  for my mother and my husband, I am most grateful.  Their support is unconditional and unwavering.  I could not do what I do without their strong shoulders to lean on.

Looking to 2011, my resolutions are simple: to keep doing what I'm doing.

I want to write a draft a week.
I want to read a book a week and post a review of it.
I want to read as many journals as possible and contact each poet who moves me.
I want to submit my work to the journals I love.
I want to submit the book to publishers I love.

This is the work of a writer, and I am blessed to be able to do it.

So be it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Derailed, Upended, Tumped Over

49º ~ gloomy gray skies, a brisk wind, warm temps all week

Well, Dear Reader, today's post will have nothing to do with poetry as the day was derailed, upended, and tumped over almost from the start.

Because C. fed the cats, who are usually sure they might starve to death by 6:30 a.m., I was able to sleep in.  The sleeping in was nice, but the day started a bit later than usual as a result.  After a shower and breakfast, I realized I needed to get to the grocery store before the crowds swarmed in (I hate to go to the grocery store, hate is not too strong a word here...if the food could just magically appear in my kitchen, I'd be overjoyed forever).  Back home I finally got my coffee and settled in to read some blogs before reading some poetry and maybe tinkering with some newish drafts.  This was the pattern of my weekend and I hoped to repeat it today.

Alas!  I had only read three blogs when I managed to tip over my nearly full cup of coffee.  Luckily, the iPhone, wallet, and mouse were spared.  Sadly, most of the coffee went into my keyboard.  So much so that saving it was a lost cause.  I sopped up and mopped up the sticky delicious swamp (I take my coffee with milk and honey both), tossed out the keyboard and grabbed my keys.  One trip to West Little Rock's Best Buy at this time of year is enough to try a woman's soul.  As always I'm surprised by the lines and lines of people in the stores on a weekday morning.  I fought my way through the throngs and swept up a new keyboard.  Finally after swiping my debit card and winding my way back through WLR traffic, I arrived safely home.

Sadly, during my outing I learned that my plans to meet with a poet friend later today were also derailed as her car demanded a trip to the shop instead of the restaurant.

I did finish reading the blogs and thought I might salvage my day, given that we're on break and my afternoon plans were canceled; however, I am a creature of habit, of form, of ritual, and I know this sounds hokey, but I just can't get back in the groove.

I believe I will now go sink my nose into a mystery novel.  The day is gray and cool, so burrowing until the blankets on the couch with my wonderful hot water bottle at my feet will not be a complete burden. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Drafting Friday: The Apocaplypse and a Love Poem

35º ~ high, soft brushes of clouds, the sun still sparkling through, changing moment to moment

Today I'm posting about two drafts, although one was begun earlier this week. 

Let's start with the apocalypse.  I stopped watching most news broadcasts this past summer around day 27 of the BP oil spill.  For some reason, I can read about horrible things in the paper and listen to accounts of disasters on NPR, but watching video news just sends me into a tailspin.  Recently, I decided I should probably try to watch the news again as I was feeling a bit out of touch, even with reading the paper, the online headlines, and listening to NPR.  My reward?  The report last night on the federal governments' new emergency plans for nuclear attacks.  The answer: shelter in place saves more lives than trying to evacuate.

While the reporters went above and beyond to assure us all that there was no imminent threat and that this was just the result of a government study, I couldn't help but have flashbacks to my childhood in the 80's.  In particular, I found the movie, The Day After, playing itself out in my head.  I was 12 when it aired on TV for the first time, and it put the fear of nuclear war in me, a fear that has never really left.  In part, the movie made such an impact because the setting is Kansas City and a small town/farming community in Missouri, and wouldn't you know it, I knew that Kansas City wasn't all that far from where I lived, and that small town in Missouri sure looked a lot like my small town in Iowa.  The characters in the movie were recognizable to me in ways that characters in most movies at the time weren't. 

Schools had stopped having nuclear war drills by this time, although my parents recounted their experiences of crawling under their desks and covering their eyes, but my school was one of the oldest in town, and it still had a fallout shelter in the basement, a place we were allowed to visit on one or two occasions, although I can't remember why.  I do remember the large yellow and black pie sign either on the door or in the room somewhere.  Chilling to a child with an imagination as large and threat-prone as mine.

All of this is a long introduction to the fact that I found myself writing an unusual poem this morning, one I titled "Shelter in Place."  So obvious.  What's unusual is that I don't tend to write political poems or poems based on current events/news reports, and yet, here I was doing just that.  It felt uncomfortable, but I couldn't stop.  I had to get it all out there.  There are two healthy stanzas, a rare form for me these days.  In the first, I deal with the memories of the movie and the cold war.  In the second, I deal with the idea of trying to shelter in place when the air itself would be poison, when I have no basement in which to seek refuge.  I'm not sure the poem is done yet.  If I choose to return to it, I'll need to address the added fear of a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists.  It's one thing to see the ICBM's coming from a long way off and launching the counter attack and obliterating everything, but it's another thing entirely when there is no enemy country, no escalation of hostilities and thus no chance for negotiations, no working toward detente.

On to brighter things, I also worked on a poem I started earlier this week, but today was the first time I put it in the computer and thus call it 'drafted.'  This is the opposite of the above, a love poem called "Waiting for You to Return from the Mountain."  C. is done with school today, and as has become their practice, he and his best teacher friends will drive up to a cabin in the mountains northwest of here to blow off their pent up steam and unwind.  It works out well for us all, since they are mostly fit to be tied at this point in the semester.  However, I still miss him when he's gone.  The first lines of this poem came to me while I was out to lunch by myself and reading lit mags.  I didn't have my journal with me, so I had to tear off the back cover of the lit mag and draft the lines there.  I know the editors will forgive me for the ruination. 

Of course I'm happy to have these two new poem-lings, but I must confess, Dear Reader, I am still swamped with a feeling of doubt about all my work right now.  I know, I know, I've had a great year of publications and I'm not discounting that.  However, at the moment, I can't seem to see my own work clearly.  I'm hearing critics with the turn of every page.  I shall now attempt to silence those critics.  I've heard that duct tape works wonders on most household problems, perhaps it will work for silencing critics as well as when the time comes to shelter in place.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I'm Reading: Third Coast Fall 2010

47º ~ close, hovering gray skies, the barest misting rain comes and goes, and still the wind ~ a day when the difference between the high and low will be 3 degrees, something that always startles me -- this lack of heating or cooling, stasis

To be specific, while I did read / skim the rest of the issue, what I want to write about here is Third Coast's Symposium on Writing and the Midwest, which appears in the Fall 2010 issue.  I've long admired the poetry in Third Coast, as the editors manage to publish a variety of voices and styles, but always with near-perfect pitch.  However, when I got the new issue and saw the announcement of the symposium on the cover, I knew that would be my target this time around.

One overarching idea that sticks with me is that there is a lot of negative description in terms of region here; in other words, we Midwesterners seem to identify ourselves as writers by what we are not and also by a certain blankness of canvass.  For example, Marianne Boruch writes in "Doubt, Shrug, Shadow":

"never really a regional voice, like the South's haunted, wily O'Connor or Welty or Faulkner.  Never the self-congratulating East with its historical weight such a burden, or -- in reverse -- the blow-it-off-don't-look-back (yahoo!) of the West.  But an ache, a doubt -- too many doubts -- a shadow a shrug, a feel for hope and desperation in equal amounts.  So we apologize without reason, or because we're prophets, or because we're bored, or because we really are sorry about everything and haven't a clue what to say.  Or because we're just curious and that might open up a new trapdoor to yet another cellar of pain or discovery.  We're never that far from the dark."


In "Not Much Will Have Happened," Nancy Eimers adds:

"Anywhere place doesn't get in the way, or, to say it another way, place lends itself out ... to thought, to association, OK, frankly to absent-mindedness."  And of Midwestern landscapes, she writes, "They leave ... more room than, say, the Rocky Mountains.  Or the ocean.  Perhaps I mean that I like living in a place where 'not much will have happened.'"

Finally, Michael Levan includes this bit in his essay "The Midwest, A Found Text":

"Lacking the antiquity of the East, the tragedy of the South, or the destiny of the West, the Midwest is most often conceived of as an enduringly average region in the American imagination: a vast flat land to fly over where, despite rusty factories and troubled farms, small towns and neighborhoods persist and family values remain intact."  And later, Levan adds this: "The Midwest is hidden in plain sight."

All of this resonates with me and helps to crystallize the difficulty of defining this region, a region where many people, in fact, dispute boundaries on all sides. 

Other wonderful notes from this collection of mini-essays:

David Baker, "Native Colors"
"And I also tire of a regional poetry that is content to valorize place, that feels akin to the school-spiritedness that makes me cringe just as I cringe at much of the hip new crowd's work."
(ahem...I may have been a bit guilty of this myself but agree anyway)

Monica Berlin, "Your Slow Pulse"
"You think of the Midwest as this landscape that says, Stay.  A geography of Stay.  A topographical map that roots you here.  The horizon, that line, stretching out and again, just so, convinces you to stay because it asks that little of you."
(Although I did not stay, I love this version of the horizon line.)

Lee Martin, "Gravel Roads"
"...the soybeans and cornstalks cast green skeins across the fields, growing in straight rows, the straighter the better because a man who sowed a crooked row was suspect."
"We lived on ground that was right and true, and if I was to be any kind of man at all, I'd be the same."
"Straight talk in a straight land.  Say it plain.  Put your head down and go.  Tell a story that runs true."
(I grew up on those ruler-straight gravel roads, watching those row crops out of car windows and from a bicycle seat, mesmerized by the way they measured the distance to the horizon without swerving.  The dust is still in my mouth.  The unending straightness embedded in my spine.)

Eula Bass, "Short Talks on the Midwest"
"If you think the Midwest is flat, push a baby carriage up the bluffs in Dubuque.  You will reach a pitch at which the baby is looking directly into your eyes.  At that point, tell the baby the Midwest is flat and continue telling him this until he grows up or leaves or looks away or believes you despite everything."
(don't even get me started about 'flat')

Support a Poet/Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Journal Today
Third Coast
Fall 2010 
Western Michigan University

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ghost of John Cheever Beats The Ghost of Richard Wright

31º ~ sky 3/4 clouds, 1/4 blue, brisk winds continue...snow, gasp, in the forecast for tomorrow, but the temps will rise, so nothing sticking, praise be

First, I love and admire the work of both Cheever and Wright.

The title of this post and the contents are inspired by a series of links and blogs I came across in my reading this morning.  First, I read Julianna Baggott's post "Why We Write. What We Read." on her Bridget Asher blog (Baggott writes under three different names).   Baggott's post whetted my appetite for this discussion of race (a difficult word) in the 2010 Best American Short Stories collection.

From Baggott's blog, I linked to both Roxane Gay's "A Profound Sense of Absence" over at HTMLGIANT and Tayari Jones' "Letter to Vanessa," which links to Gay as well.  (I love the web of the blog world!)

Please follow the links to read these wonderful explorations of race in today's fiction. According to Gay, within the BASS 2010 "Almost every story in the anthology was about rich or nearly rich white people" and their problems.  (Disclaimer: I have not read the book.)  Jones picks up the conversation by also touching on a 'real' reader, someone not reading for a job (editor/critic/academic/etc.).

The following challenge comes from Gay's post:

Can you name five contemporary black writers? Or Latino/a writers? Or Asian writers? Can you do it if you omit writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Ha Jin, the writers who have achieved enough success to be the go to writers of color?

Not one to resist a challenge, I started a list in my head, and Dear Readers, these are poets, so not quite on topic, but I think the diversity issue exists across the board.  (A good blogger would provide links for them all, alas, I'm short on time this morning.  Sorry!)

Antoinette Brim, author of Psalm of the Sunflower
J. Michael Martinez, author of Heredities
Li-Young Lee (hero), author of Rose, The City in Which I Love You, and more
Joy Harjo (hero), author of She Had Some Horses, In Mad Love and War, and more
January Gill O'Neil, author of Underlife
Allison Joseph, author of My Father's Kites, Voices, and more
Eduardo C. Corrall, blogging at Lorcaloca
Tracy K Smith, author of Duende
Quincy Troupe (hero), author of Weather Reports and more
Oliver de la Paz, author of Furious Lullabies, Requiem for the Orchard, and more
Victoria Chang, author of Circle and Salivinia Molesta
Khaled Mattawa, author of Zodiac of Echoes, Toqueville, and more
Reginald Shepherd (super hero), author of Otherhood, Angel, Interrupted, and more (***chose Blood Almanac to win the Anhinga Prize), he is missed

Well, then I started thinking of writers whose race is unknown to me or is unclear to me.  I'm terrible at figuring this out for people of blended heritage (I'm also terrible with age and gender if someone looks the least bit androgynous or when reading has an androgynous name).  So, unless a person writes specifically about race, age, gender, etc. I might not notice it.  The list above is certainly not exhaustive.  If we are really talking about diversity, I would include a bunch of white women, LGBT, and working-class writers as well, and I'm glad that Roxane Gay makes the point about wealth that she does in her post.

I wonder if diversity is something I seek out subconsciously, having been educated by a group of canon-busting professors in the late 80's/early 90's (thank you, Mara Faulkner, Ozzie Mayers, Madhu Mitra, Mike Opitz, Janet McNew, and all the rest!)

I wonder why my MFA program was made up of nearly all white writers. (Sadly, less canon-busting going on there).

I wonder if poets have made better work of promoting diversity.

I wonder if my few years spent working in independent bookstores makes a differenc.

I wonder if and when the diversity issue will be overcome.  For fun, I happen to read a series of crime novels set in the future (around 2060), and in the books, a great majority of the characters are described as being of blended heritages.  Given that these are 'who dun its' the writer has to give us basic descriptions of each character/suspect so we can figure out the clues; we get images of skin tones, health/body type, economic status, etc.  It took me a few books in the series to catch on to the subtle shift in 'racial' (I distrust and question this word so much) makeup of the world as this author predicts it.  Smart move on her part, given that many experts agree that by 2060, the US will no longer be a white majority country; instead, we'll be closer to the melting pot metaphor than the tossed salad metaphor.  What will our literature look like then? (May I live to see the results!)

So, I'm left once again with more questions than answers.  Any thoughts, Dear Reader?

Monday, December 13, 2010

What I'm Reading: Me, Myself and I

29º ~ cold, cold, cold ~ never ending sun, still a bit windy

Now that the semester's been put to bed like a cranky child, I'm swinging back into reading mode and loving it.  Normally, I reserve these posts for mini-reviews of other poets' books; however, Stephanie Kartalopoulos' fabulous guest post on the 32 Poems blog gave me the boost I needed to head back to my own book-in-progress and give it a good going over.  In her post, "What's Your Intention?" Stephanie asks great questions of the book-in-progress, for example:

Do you know what your book’s intentions are? Do you know what work your book does in this world? What is its identity? What bridge does it build with its readers?

I'd known for many weeks that I needed to get back to my own book and re-read to answer some of these questions, although the questions were much more vague before Steph's post!   So, the house was quiet and the sun splashing on the desk in great sheaths this morning and all the planets aligned for manuscript reading.  Long-time readers will know that I went through a massive revision of the ordering of the poems in the book, in part thanks to a careful reading by Stephanie herself.  That all took place back in early September.  What this means is that the book is no longer a comfortable old shoe.  Re-reading the new version today was clumsy and slightly uncomfortable, although I could see the shine of this better, newer shoe.

Dear Reader, I fear that I am no good at book making (btw, I'm lousy at games of chance as well!).  It is quite hard for me to see and feel the thing as a whole.  Each poem is so well known to me; each poem is so itself.  I can see small groups of poems all linked together, but apparently those links are heavy-handed and eliminate the reader's feeling of discovery.  So, BOOM went the first version.  I do like this newer version and the surprise it allows.  I can see this now, but I couldn't see it before.

So, how does one learn to do this mysterious work, this stitching together?  How does one begin to answer the questions above?

Any advice is welcome.

PS: after reading the book, I went to get the mail and found my first rejection for the fall book season.  One of my top three presses said no thanks, but with a nice note and a semi-finalist mention, to keep it all from being completely horrible. 

Onward to the next round.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love The Rumpus

32º ~ bright sun, quick gusting wind, a hawk in the tree by the shed this morning while I made my coffee

An 'arctic blast' arrived early this morning and promises pipe-busting temperatures tonight.  Facebook has been overrun by reports of snow and more snow and news of blizzards in the upper Midwest.  I confess, Dear Reader, that is the land of my birth and I do not miss it during such times.  I miss it three seasons of the year, but not this one.  Sending warm thoughts to the hinterlands and those bundled up tightly within.

Today's post is just a quick shout out of appreciation for Brian Spears (fellow Arkansas MFA-er) and The Rumpus for linking to yesterday's post.  All due thanks, my friend.  And for those of you who haven't been reading The Rumpus, you're missing out!  Eclectic and superbly written, it's good for whatever ails you. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Submitting Like a Man

57º ~ doom and gloom skies today...working our way up to 62 and stormy weather, all heralding a serious nosedive in temps as a cold front invades

To understand the title of today's post, you'll have to click over and read Kelli's post "Submit Like a Man."  As one of the editors of Crab Creek Review, Kelli discusses the gender difference when her journal sends out a rejection that asks the writer to submit again.  Apparently, male writers submit again right away and female writers wait too long.  While this is purely anecdotal, I'm mesmerized by it.  I confess, I've usually waited at least six months and most often until the next submission period if the journal has one. The world is full of stories about how swamped journal editors are and one wouldn't want to offend by submitting too often, right?   Well, after reading Kelli's post, I've changed my approach this fall.

In October, I resubmitted to a journal that specified they wanted to see more work and I should disregard the submission period.  I haven't heard back from this journal, but I appreciated their pointed comment that left no doubt about how long I should wait.

Today, I've just resubmitted to a journal that rejected me at the end of November.  I know this is a terrible time to submit as most editors and first-readers will be taking a break over the holiday, so my poems will just sit there gathering dust for a few weeks.  For me, however, this is fine.  I'd rather have them out there waiting around a bit because I tend to forget about resubmitting once I've filed the rejection away.  I've tried making notes on post-its or leaving the journal's file folder out on the desk, but the clutter usually wins. 

As I was working, I was also mulling over this word: submission.  Like many words, there are a variety of definitions, of course, but I was caught by the idea of giving up submit to some Other that holds some Power, to be submissive.  (Here, the idea of the Alpha dog kept insisting that I acknowledge it.)  In the act of sending the poems out there, we are also giving the power of judgment to the editor.  This means admitting that we value the judgment of that editor and are willing to lie down and lower our eyes in submission as good members of the pack.  Woof.

I know that this may seem obvious to many of you, Dear Readers, but I'm a slow learner.

In any case, as rejection (or being winnowed out as one blogger (name I can't remember) recently put it) will always be a part of my life as a writer, I'm always searching for better ways to make it work for me rather than against me.  Perhaps recognizing my own part in giving up some of my personal power will help with that.  If not....there's always chocolate!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Drafty, Drifting, Drafting

39º ~ full gray sky, not missing the sun, the weather is fitting, winter making its mark

Yesterday I turned in my final grades and bid adieu to my office for a few weeks.  Hip Hip Hooray!

I came to the desk today, knowing it might not be easy, since I haven't written much in the last few weeks, but I knew I needed to do the time and see what might happen.

Things started off badly with an email rejection from one of my most favorite journals, and one that a number of friends have been accepted by lately (yay friends!).  I did get a nice note from the editors stating that my poems were among the last group that they wanted to accept but had no room for.  Sigh.  Yes, this is a great note and I'm happy they liked the work, but still sad they didn't like the work 'enough.'

I think I'm particularly susceptible to the wallowing self-pity of this kind of note b/c I've received it often about the manuscript...always the bridesmaid, never the bride syndrome!  (Someone kick my ass about this, please!)

Following my normal routine, I then minimized the email screen, turned on the Yo-Yo Ma and cleared the desk of everything except my journal and pen.  I decided to start by looking through some inspiration cards (explanation of this process here).  There are a couple that seem full of promise to me, but each time I try to write from them, I get stuck.  It happened again today.  I went through several messy pages in my journal trying to find a rhythm, a line that sounded even halfway decent, an idea that might hold up past the third line, etc.  It's a mess...a drafty, drifting mess of words.  I ended up with all the inspiration cards spread out around me and still nothing. 

Then, I reached for the most recent journal I'd received in the mail, Copper Nickel, which I adore.  I read the first poem, "Notes on the Twenty-First Century" by Ryan Teitman, which was awesome.  I grooved along through it and thought 'ah ha!' I've got it now and went back to the journal.  Strangling, struggling lines.  UGH. 

I confess, Dear Reader, that I despaired. 

But I refused to get up from my chair, and I read a few more poems in the journal.  I started wondering about my aversion to writing from the first person AND the personal rather than the persona, something I've consciously shifted away from over the last few months, and my fear of being too sentimental, too 'confessional'...that seemingly dirty word these days.  Then I took account of the poems in CN that presented a first person speaker and realized that they were great poems and how could I tell if they were persona or personal and maybe I should go there again and explore.  (That's a bit of a mess, but then, that's the state of my mind these days!)

So I did, and I finally found those lines, that rhythm.  The draft is titled, "Diary Entry Approaching 2011," which I think was my way of easing back into a first-person speaker.  This is, by no means, a draft I have much confidence in, but it seems to have a weight about it that suggests it might be worth working on again soon.  I'll leave you with a shot of the page in my journal where the draft began.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

True Confessions

28º ~ coldest night so far this winter, 22º, but bright sun, a few puffy clouds barely moving, nearly all the leaves that will drop have dropped, some will refuse all winter

So, here we are in Finals Week, and I should be jumping for joy because I've completed the grading of my composition papers and only have the world lit exams left to grade tomorrow.  I have exit conferences with my comp students today and Thursday.  Then, all the grades will be tucked in tight and I'll be free, free, free.  And yet, I continue to feel sluggish and unmotivated.  To complicate things, my Puritanical, Midwestern ethos seems to have settled in and I continue to flog myself for not taking advantage of all the extra time for writing that opens up before me when a semester dwindles to an end.

If history holds any consolation, I believe this mood will shift, but the muddling through it is no fun.

Still, I'm thankful for so many things:
time and health
the sun
great blog friends
great poetry friends
great friends in general
a warm house
two warm cats
a wonderful extended family, perhaps distant in geography, but not in love
a wonderful and amazing spouse whom I love and who loves me back


I finished Housekeeping the other day and am dazzled all over again by Marilynne Robinson's skill.  There's a poet behind each of the sentences in this book; the whole thing sizzles with imagery, metaphor, and music.  I dog-eared so many of the pages that the top of the book bulges now.  I added as many underlines and notes in the margin as I'd written the first go-round.  I stand in awe.  Y'all stop whatever you are doing and go read this book, right now!


True confessions, indeed.  Don't hate me, Dear Reader, but I am not a fan of decorating for Christmas.  My mother loves Christmas and does the house up right.  My mother-in-law will have decorated several trees already in her house, especially for the DAR tea she hosts each year.  My sisters have the tree and the lights and all the trimmings.  I loved it all as a child/young adult.  Have I been replaced by alien pod people?  Or am I just lazy, since I love the trees and lights that are done up by others?  Or am I burned out from a long semester?  (Maybe Scrooge was actually a teacher??) We can blame the fact that there is no tree in our house on our young cat.  We adopted her in May of 2009 and within a few weeks I knew that there'd be no tree last year.  C. held out hope that she would 'mature' this year, but no, no tree again.  Her one goal in life is to knock down whatever isn't nailed down.  She loves to push things off desks and coffee tables.  She lives to up-end coffee cups and pop cans, the more liquid in them, the better.  No amount of 'discipline' dissuades her.  I drink from an adult sippy cup for obvious reasons.  Still, we fell in love with her on one meeting and wouldn't give her up for the world.  Now, she makes a great reason for de-cluttering most of the house...a way I prefer to live anyway.  However, during the holidays, the lack of decorations does subdue the cheer a bit.  Another character flaw with which to wrestle... 

For reassurance, I'm no Grinch, no Scrooge.  I do love the spirit of the holidays and wish you all a special season with lots of food and family/friends and time for reflection, too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seinfeld and Kenny Rogers: No Draft Friday

38º ~ sunny, a few high wispy clouds, warming into the sixties today, heard the word 'snow' on the radio in the forecast for later in the weekend, early next week...better stock up on milk and bread...hee hee

So, this morning I woke up repeating what I'd repeated before going to sleep:  'draft a poem, draft a poem, draft a poem, etc.'  And then I realized that I'm in no mental state for it with the papers waiting to be graded that seem to hang over my head.  I know I have time to write a poem today, but we are so close to being done with the semester...grading is all there is left...that I can't seem to focus on writing.  I can't even blame the pull of the earth's core today.  I woke up full of energy and ready to go.

So, two pop culture references came to mind:

The Soup Nazi from Seinfeld's 'No Soup for You!' becomes 'No Draft for You!'

And Kenny Roger's chorus from 'The Gambler' becomes 'There'll be time enough for writin', when the gradin's done.'

Catch y'all on the flip side!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Confessions of Inertia

30º ~ brilliant, bright, blasting sunlight ~ cold air settling in ~ daylight in ever decreasing increments

Dear Reader, I confess that inertia is attempting to get the better of me today.  All I really want to do is cuddle up with the cats and finish reading Housekeeping.  (50 pages to go...I'm drawing it out each night to savor it.)  Oh, and I'm craving even more carbohydrates than usual, especially cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting (which we don't keep in the house for obvious reasons). 

I can't even blame the weather for this as the sun is bouncy and the sky clear; I'm feeling unsure of why I'm struggling.  I do have heaps of papers waiting for me in my inbox (I went paperless last semester and grade on the screen, which I now love), but these are the last papers of the semester, so the end is in sight.  I know that the sooner I start grading, the sooner I'll be finished for the semester...still I feel the extra tug of gravity at the moment dragging me down.

Fellow Bloggers, I did click through everything in my aggregator (what a weird word), but I chose "mark as read" more than I actually read.  My apologies.  Please blame this lack on the earth's core somehow gaining more density today than on other days.  Even my heart seems to be pumping more slowly and drowsily, despite drinking my usual mocha latte. 

I'm hopeful that all will be well tomorrow.  Please forgive me for today.

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Need of a Minor, Minor Miracle

51º ~ iron gray, on and off rain, a chilly set of 60's for the highs

Dear Reader, last month I boasted about receiving acceptances in every month of 2010 except July, and even as I wrote it my Midwestern fear of celebrating too loudly kicked in and I told myself to delete it.  Perhaps I should have listened as it now appears, short of a minor miracle today or tomorrow, that November will pass without any good news to share.

Short a miracle, November will be known as the month of rejections big and small.  This morning I recorded two journal rejections before turning to submit.  I've been working with a stack of haphazard folders for the last couple of weeks, since I decided to make Mondays submission days.  Turns out not to be such a good scheme for me.  I checked my spreadsheet and picked a couple of journals that accept online submissions.  I got the documents ready on the computer, and only then did I click on the websites, all ready to submit.  Well, the first journal turned out to be only accepting poems for a themed issue.  There is nothing on my spreadsheet about this journal and themed issues...alas.  So, I went for journal number two.  Revised the document to fit and went to their website to submit.  Guess what?  They've changed their reading periods.

In the past, when I've done submissions, I've tried to do them twice a month, and I spent a good part of the weekend doing them.  I stack up all the poems that are available and I print out my spreadsheet.  Then I highlight all the journals for which I think the poems will work.  At that point, I actually go to each journal's website and see if they've made any changes (updating my spreadsheet at the same time).  I usually have to set aside a handful of journals that have made changes, but I have a whole pile of others, so it's actually a relief.  This seems to be a better system for me, but I'm glad I tried the Mondays as well.

Finally, I've written about Better World Books before, but I'd like to give them another shout-out today.  I recently ordered some books and this time when the books arrived, they came with a surprise...FREE CHOCOLATE from Divine Chocolate...a fair trade chocolate company from Ghana.  How cool is that?  And the chocolate really was divine.  So...for those who aren't aware, Better World Books is an online bookstore with a global mission to promote literacy far and wide.  They sell new books, but they also buy and sell used books as well, including college textbooks!  A portion of all profits go literacy projects worldwide.  Oh, and they have free shipping or a carbon-offset option for shipping.  Seriously, why are you still giving your money to either of the BIG BOX BOOKSTORES ONLINE, which is used for the lining of wealthy pockets instead of helping people out?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blustery Day of Pre-Thanksgiving

76º ~ on our way up to 79 this afternoon, rough winds, sun and clouds fighting for sky rights, tomorrow the cold front inches southward through the state sending temps "plummeting" according to the wise weather people

This is just a quick note to say Thank You, Dear Reader for being a part of my wonderful life.  This past year has been one of general satisfaction about where I stand in the midst of this crazy, mixed up world.  For many years I wondered if I would ever feel comfortable in my own writing skin.  Finally, finally, I'm feeling almost there.  I'm so glad you all have been here to bear witness to this often solitary work we writers do and this coming to terms with the world.

Tomorrow there will be family, friends, football, food, and fun.  All of this will stretch through the weekend, so I shall return next week, perhaps a bit more plump about the middle, but hey, that's what the holiday is all about...the thanks for a bountiful year and the food.

Mums from my trip to the St. Louis Botanical Garden (10/10)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Gray Sky

66º ~ nope, not a typo, it's 9:00 a.m. and 66º on 11/22.  We are having a weird warmup for a few days before Thanksgiving, then temps plummet to the 40's ~ trees, sky, yard,  all a mess of gray & brown

Today, I have a list as long as my arm of things that need to be done, errands to run, work that awaits, etc.  However, I did make sure that I put my butt in the chair, as many of my past instructors admonished me to do.  As I've set a goal of submitting poems one way or another on Mondays, that's what I did while in the chair.  The sky is not helping in any inspirational sense.
The view from my window today.
With every ounce of will I have in my reserves at this point in the semester, I resisted the urge to curl up in bed with a book and the cats and wait for the forecasted rain (the humidity is insane!).  Instead, I did submit a group of five poems to three journals, all with online submission formats, one which charged $1.50, a charge I was more than willing to pay.  I must confess, Dear Reader, that I had also planned to submit to one more journal but upon discovering that they still use snail mail, I put it aside for now.  No time today.  I know that this means one less chance of an acceptance, but sometimes that's the trade off.

As for curling up in bed, I must thank my former student, L. C., who sent around the 15 authors meme on Facebook last week.  I'd pretty much escaped it until then, but finally used it to avoid grading.  My list is less important than L. C.'s.  L.C. is a fiction writer so her list was mostly novelists, but she was missing Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, so I urged her to read it and see if it didn't land in the top somewhere.  With that urging, I pulled out my copy and have spent my last hour before sleep re-reading this true masterpiece.  Such a delight.  Reminding me that most of what's on TV is crap, and most of what's in the books on my shelves is amazing & awesome.  Thanks, L. C.  I hope you come to love Ruth and her story as much as I do.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Draft: Cascading Lines

44º ~ a bit gray and overcast, some weak light budging through, leaves once bright and flaming, now dulled by damp

Well, Dear Reader, who would have guessed it?  Today's draft materialized with a kind of ease that always awes me.  I started the morning by spending some time with "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart."  If you've been following along at home, you know that I drafted this poem back in June, but on returning to it this fall, I found it wanting.  In the last couple of weeks, I completely gutted the poem and rebuilt it from the inside out.  I have to admit that I'm so much happier with it now!

I quickly read through all of the drafts I've written over the past few months, and I was doing so, I remembered a line I'd thought of while making my coffee, "The devil sends his demons in the form of this disease..."  Here's the thing, last week's draft, "The Making of a Pious Man," is a character sketch poem that ends with a man on his deathbed not sure if he'll see angels or demons when he passes over.  I guess that idea is still lingering.  Of course the disease I seem to gravitate to the most is Parkinson's, as my father struggles with this daily.

And here is an aside.  While I was raised a Christian, I was not raised on demons and angels, but on the more practical aspects of trying to live a just and loving life in the spirit of Christ.  At this point in my life, I'm more spiritual than religious, and yet, these images keep coming up in my poems.  I suppose this results from a mix of my childhood and now living in an overtly Christian area and teaching students who tend to be either evangelical or Baptist, when they choose to reveal their ideology. 

But, back to the draft.  So, I'd jotted down my line and then finished up with the older drafts.  On Wednesday, I linked to the prompt at Big Tent Poetry for the week, to write a poem in a cascading form.  Outlined here.   Part of the reason this appealed to me is that I had invented a form during an exercise exchange with a poet-friend that was quite similar.  In my form, I wrote five, five-line stanzas, where my first line in stanza one became line two in stanza two, line three in stanza three, line four in stanza four, and line five in stanza five (with variation, of course).  This all resulted in "Glacial Elegy I," which appeared in Cave Wall awhile back and will be in the new book, if/when it ever materializes.  So, this form, proposed on Big Tent felt non-threatening and a bit whimsical.

Non-threatening and whimsical: not two words that would describe the result.  I started with my line and broke it in half to form lines one and two, then I added two more lines to come up with a quatrain.  So, the resulting draft is five quatrains, where lines one - four are used as the last lines of stanzas two - five.  I tend to incorporate variations when I repeat lines, although I know that traditional formalists tend to avoid this.  Somehow, I've never made the direct repetition blend smoothly to the poem...a reason I'm not a formalist, perhaps.

In any case, the result of today's work is: "Reinterpreting 'An Essay on the Shaking Palsy' by English Apothecary James Parkinson, 1817."  Again, I'd begun with some real life material, my dad's experience with Parkinson's, but as I drafted the poem, the character sketch of this man suffering from this disease mutated into "not-my-dad," so I wanted to capture a title that would make this clear.  It struck me that in all my research about Parkinson's, I didn't know for whom the disease is named.  It turns out that James Parkinson didn't actually suffer from it, but I was sure he must have.  Weird brain!  He was the "doctor" who first described it.  Makes sense.
 As I said at the beginning of the post, this draft poured out of me and into the form with very little of the usual fits and starts.  I'm intrigued by this, always trying to capture what makes a draft go well and what makes it difficult.  I suppose I'm foolish enough to believe, if I can pinpoint the "why," then I can recreate the situation.  Foolish, foolish me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Links, An Accounting, and a Health Report

42º ~ bright sun today after soggy gray yesterday, cold winds blowing the leaves off the branches

Dear Reader, I do not know what magic this is, but I'd say that I'm about 80% improved from Monday's health conditions.  I do admit that I slept for three and a half hours on Monday afternoon, coming home from work early and tumbling directly to the bed.  Then, slept 11 hours Monday night, and about 9 hours last night.  Lots of OJ while awake.  Perhaps this "rest & fluids" prescription is true?  I'm trying to do better about listening to my body.  So far so good, today.


As for the accounting, I took care of submitting the manuscript to two more book contests this morning, since Monday's work was postponed.  This makes a total of nine submissions so far this fall.  I'm being a bit more selective about where I send, and I wonder if I'm being too selective; however, the checkbook does play a certain role in this.  I do not begrudge the $25 reading fee.  I know I profited from it when I won the Anhinga, and I know most poetry presses are living right at the edge of the red-line that signals operating at a loss.  So, once again, I send my re-strengthened manuscript out into the wilds of first readers and hope for the best.  Oh, and the book is still called In a World Made of Such Weather as This for anyone keeping track.  Surely there must be some charm or spell I should chant for protection and positive results.  If you know it, please share!



I love the prompt this week at Big Tent Poetry and plan to try it soon.  A cascade poem. 

I confess that I've been listening to Nic Sebastian's poetic stylings over at Whale Sound from the beginning and have failed to pass along the link.  Selfish me.  The project has now branched out to include Voice Alpha, a repository of discussions about the reading of poems aloud.  Lovely, lovely work being done here for no reward other than the work itself.  Amazing people!

Yesterday, I heard the beginning of an interview with Reza Aslan on the Diane Rehm show and haven't had time to finish listening online, but I will this weekend.  The interview was about Aslan's new anthology, Tablet and Pen, which collects and translates poetry from the Middle East from 1910 - 2010.  I am all for this project and will probably buy the book soon; however, two things struck me from the part of the interview I heard.

One was the recognition of the difficult job of translation.  Aslan did a great job, as far as I'm concerned, pointing out that translating poetry is a delicate thing, especially when moving between such different languages as Persian or Arabic and English.  For example, he pointed out that in Persian the verb always comes at the end of the sentence.  WOW!  That tripped my brain a bit. 

The second thing that struck me was Aslan's story about the last poem in the book.  I didn't write down the title or poet b/c I was driving, but it will be on the interview if you listen.  Aslan talked about being so happy to discover this Iranian author's work online because it is so hard to find contemporary Iranian poetry in the West.  Then, Aslan talked about having the poem translated and why he included it as the final poem, which all made perfect sense to me.  But then, and here's the part that blew me away, he talked about getting an email from this poet who had just found out that his work was included.  Aslan said the poet was excited about his work being shared with so many people in translation, so it all seemed cool.  Except that earlier in the interview Aslan talked about the process of putting together an anthology and said that he had found the poems, bought the rights, and then had them translated and included.  That's how it is supposed to be done, but his story about the Iranian poet made it sound like he just took the man's poem off the internet and had it translated without contacting the author; otherwise, the author wouldn't have been surprised to find out he'd been included, right?  This scares me a bit.  There have been too many cases recently of people misinterpreting rights and the internet.  Yes, I would probably give permission if someone asked to use my poems in translation, but I'd want to know about it and have a say.  That's my right, right?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Out Sick

42º ~ the morning sun seems pretty bright today

No, I don't feel quite as bad as this little girl seems to feel, but I'm having my first serious head cold / sinus ick of the season.  Hopefully if I baby myself now it won't get worse.  See you all on the flip side.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Draft: This One's Going to Be Messy

49º ~ bright slanting sun, one more day near 80 and then back to more reasonable November temps, perhaps a bit of rain as the front rolls through, a girl can dream, must admit that some of the neighborhood trees have lovely autumn colors, many dropping now

Well, Dear Reader, I did get my draft done this morning (and much praise to all of you who are joining the November-Poem-a-Day response to National Novel Writing Month...I can never keep the acronyms straight).  Today was definitely a bit of a mess in more ways than one.  Let me try to give a faithful account of how this draft, "The Making of a Pious Man," came about.

Twice this week, fellow poet-friends said "there's a poem in that!" to something I said.  Many of you may know that I'm not really the kind of poet who works this way.  I don't carry a notebook with me to write down my observations and phrases.  I've tried that method a lot, but failed.  In fact, one of my first poetry instructors, S. Eva Hooker, taught us this technique because she only had a half day on Fridays to work on poetry.  She called these written notes her 'poem seeds.'  I love the idea of this and wish I could work this way.  Instead, I rely on another method taught to me by an art instructor, a monk whose name I've forgotten (poor sieve-brain!), as I only took the one art class in college.  In any case, he told us that artists of all genres have these extra antennae attached to our heads, like those deely-bopper headbands that kids wear when they are playing bugs in the school recital.  Anyway, these antennae serve to collect images, colors, phrases, impressions all day long and these go into a type of holding cell to be called up when we need them.  This ties in with Natalie Goldberg's idea of the compost heap of words and images that she describes in Writing Down the Bones.

Whew, slight tangent there...I warned you it would be messy.  Okay, so here are the two things I said.
1.  On Monday, I saw a student on campus who was quite far along in a pregnancy, to the point where her belly button was showing through her sweater.  (I love this!)  This led me to think about umbilical cords and how the first evolving humans figured out that they needed to be cut.  When I got back to the office, I asked one of my mother-colleagues about the procedure surrounding the umbilical cord at birth and then told her why I was asking.  At one point she speculated about early humans watching animals gnaw through the umbilical cord.  Who know if we came to a correct anthropological conclusion?  Then she said, "there's a poem in that Sandy.  Go write it!"

2.  Yesterday, I was talking with another colleague and poet about my grandfather who died a few years ago and I said, "He was a pious man, if not always kind."  She said, "that sounds like a line for a poem."  Then we both realized at the same moment that it scanned.  The line I've written here is not exact, because the line we scanned was perfect iambic pentameter, and this one isn't.  I should have listened to her and written it down right then.

To add more to the mess, y'all know I went to hear C.D. Wright read on Tuesday night.  Her book is about a horrible time in history for Arkansas, attempts at integration in the 60's. At the same time, the book also talks about the death of her friend who fought this righteous battle against racial discrimination and some of the poems spoke about the woman's dying (which happened about six years ago, if I'm remembering correctly).  Somehow, this triggered a memory of my grandfather's deathbed and the minister coming in to recite The Lord's Prayer with us and I wrote a little note in my journal alongside my impressions of Wright's poems.  My note says "Grpa - death priest umbilical cord C. gnawing it."  (By the way, most of my family call their clergy 'minister.'  I know I revert to 'priest' b/c it seems to hold more weight and for me does not necessarily mean Catholic or any other denomination of Christianity, but the holy person of the community.)

So, when I woke up this morning all happy and shiny because it was drafting day, I thought, no sweat, I've already got the idea for a poem.  Let me tell you, it was not that easy.  I had to wrestle this one to the ground.  I went off on tangents.  I scribbled horrible lines.  Then two things happened: 1) I let go of trying to worry about the early women giving birth and the mess of the umbilical cord and 2) I let go of the facts about my own grandfather and just imagined an incredibly pious man and what might have made him this way.

Magically, the poem grew from there.  It begins and ends with images of the umbilical cord as it follows this pious man from birth to death, but it does this in 22 lines.  I'm nothing if not concise.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Explanation Promised and Delivered

74º ~ yup, you read that right, 74º at 5 p.m. on Nov. 10.  You gotta love the south!

About a month ago, Kristin asked me to explain how my trip to Columbia, MO, to visit Steph K's Intro to Poetry class and read for Hearing Voices came about.  I'll do just about anything to avoid grading right now, so here's the promised explanation, delivered.

It goes back to last spring or early summer and involves a bit of luck and a bit of bravery.  I happened to be on Facebook at the exact moment that Steph posted a status update asking for title suggestions for her Intro to Poetry class.  Now, I'm a hit or miss FB participant, so it was sheer luck that I saw this update.  Then came the bravery.  I'd known Steph through FB and had met her very briefly at AWP in Denver in April.  I took a deep breath and wrote her an email offering her a free exam copy of Blood Almanac and the incentive that if she adopted it I would be glad to drive up and meet her class for free.  Columbia, MO is about a six and a half hour drive, fitting into a trip I could work into my teaching schedule with missing only one day of class and not having to buy a plane ticket.  The book adoption is a huge boost even if the class isn't large, so I wasn't too worried about not getting paid, and I knew I could crash on someone's couch and not have to pay for a hotel either.  

This really did take an amazing amount of bravery on my part.  I'd never put myself out there like that before and I wasn't sure how my offer would be received.  Luckily, Steph zipped an email back with her postal address and off I sent the book.  A few weeks later Steph emailed to let me know she wanted to use the book and she'd love for me to come visit.  In early August we took a look at our calendars and settled on a date.  This is when Steph proposed trying to get me on the calendar for Hearing Voices.  She did this on her own because she is just about the most awesome poet person I know and wants to champion other poets all day long.  So, through her contact at Hearing Voices, we set up the reading as well.

Luck and bravery won out.  I know I need to be more of my own advocate in arranging events like this and I am trying.  I'd encourage anyone else to make offers like mine to friends in academia or who run a reading series.  The kicker is usually money, so if you're a cheap date like me, you might have better luck.  The worst anyone can say is no, which is true for so many opportunities in this world.

C.D. Wright in Conway, AR, and Rita Dove in Dreamland

54º ~ the sky a strange mix of gray and light, stormy weather?

Last night, I had the great pleasure of traveling the 30 miles or so down I-40 with my poet-friend and PTC colleague Angie Macri to go hear C.D. Wright read at the University of Central Arkansas.  Wright's name has been part of my poetry mythos since I arrived in Fayetteville, AR in the fall of 1999 to begin my MFA.  Wright's name hung in the air there alongside Frank Stanford's.  I've read bits and pieces of both of their works, so I was excited to be able to attend Wright's reading from her new book One With Others, just out from Copper Canyon and recently shortlisted for the National Book Award. 

C.D. Wright (photo from Brown's website)
Here's how Copper Canyon describes the book:
...Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident from the civil rights movement. Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, newspaper accounts, and personal memories—especially  those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vititow—with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and black students who were rounded up and detained in an empty public swimming pool. This history leaps howling off the page.

I admit that the semester has gotten the best of me and I hadn't had time to buy the book or investigate it, so I came to the reading cold.  Unlike other authors I've heard read in the past, Wright didn't read from any previous works, preferring instead to focus on the new book.  She admitted at the beginning that the book is so new that the reading would be a bit of an experiment.  Then, she read the introductory poem that sets the scene of "a town, a time, and a woman who lived there."  Once we had a sense of this small town in eastern Arkansas in the late 60's ("the king lay mouldering in the grave" (or ground, I didn't write the quote down) experiencing the racial strife typical of the time, Wright dipped in and out of the rest of the book offering us glimpses of the story.  While the book is one long narrative, it is not told sequentially, as Wright's goal is to "sublimate" narrative, to "distill it, to crystallize it," and for her "narrative is mutable."  (All quotes, except for the attempt at the king line earlier, come from the Q&A session.) 

One of the things I came away admiring was Wright's ability to incorporate social justice into her poems without appearing heavy-handed.  I've never been comfortable writing a political poem, and last night I was able to see and hear a master of that form at work.

When asked about her writing process, Wright confessed that she doesn't actually enjoy writing, but it is what she is good at.  She said that she "likes to articulate what she sees, but a lot of that is grunt work, dread, dross, practice, stalling out, and all of that is unpleasant."  I loved the honesty of that.

When asked how she knew she was going to be a poet and not some other type of writer she said it was when she realized that "the words were more important than...the music of the words was more important than..." anything else.  She called poetry a "strange vein" of writing.  I liked that too.

Again, while our styles are not necessarily similar, I'm glad I went to the event, and I'm thankful to everyone in Central Arkansas who works so hard to bring poets and writers to our auditoriums, our stages, our barrooms, and living rooms.  Especially a poet as charming as C.D. Wright!



Dear Reader, I confess, I don't usually have blatantly po-biz related dreams, but last night's was too blatant to ignore.  I was working in a shared office with another poet, possibly in a teaching environment.  The phone on my desk rang.  It was Rita Dove.  She told me that Blood Almanac had been chosen for the prestigious Matthew Chase Award (one of my real-world colleagues is a man named Matt Chase...he is into writing fiction and teaching composition), but I had to answer twenty questions correctly to win the $10,000 prize.  I was incredibly excited but didn't want the other poet in my office to know what was going on.  I felt guilty about this.  Rita Dove proceeded to recite one of her poems over the phone.  (I've read a lot of Rita Dove in the real world, but in the dream world, I was not familiar with this poem.)  It was a long poem with an intricate rhyme scheme.  I guessed that the first question was going to be about the form, so while she was still reading, I googled the poem.  I felt guilty about this.  The rhyme scheme was something like ABAB AABCB CDCD CCDEC, etc.  In other words, I could see the rhymes but I didn't understand the form, so I got out my Princeton Poetics and tried to find it.  You guessed it, Dear Reader, I felt guilty about this.   The form was something like an Endulsian or and Englashiatt.  I didn't recognize any of the forms in my Princeton reference and I was panicking.  Needless to say, Rita Dove hung up after reading the poem because I took too much time to answer the expected question: What is the form of this poem?

Rita Dove (photo from UVA's website)
I've been waiting to hear good news about my new manuscript and the stress is starting to show.
The NEA rejection still haunts.
I have some buried guilt that needs to be excised.
Rita Dove is making up new forms and not telling anyone what they are. :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Accounting

44º ~ bright November sun, highs in the low 70's all week, sweet Southern autumn

This morning I only submitted one thing, but rather than a pack of poems, it was the manuscript.  That's an easy submission as I don't re-read the whole book before sending it out.  I'd go crazy that way.  I'd say I've read it through about a half a dozen times since the great manuscript exchange/revision of August/September 2010.  Read all about it here.  Eventually, I have to stop the tinkering, as I've been known to over-work my work.

I was a bit surprised by the guidelines for this press.  Everything was fairly standard until I read the line: "early submission is strongly recommended."  Hmmmm.  This is something that has always worried me.  I was recently told that for contests, submitting early wasn't necessary b/c the press is obligated to treat all the manuscripts the same as long as they fall within the submission dates.  The same poet guru told me that in open reading periods not associated with contests it is best to send at the beginning because once the editors find the manuscripts they like, they stop looking as hard, being under no real obligations as no money has changed hands.  That all sounds completely sane, rational, and ethical to me.

I'm hoping that the press I sent to today (not early on my behalf), simply encouraged early submissions so that the office staff wouldn't be inundated next week when the postmark deadline happens.  I'm hoping.


In other news, check out Diane Lockward's great post on Blogalicious.  She details the process of writing an anagram poem.  Sounds like the kind of process I enjoy, getting words to bounce around on the page and letting the poem spring up out of myself and the words.


Finally, thank you to those who comforted me on Facebook over the weekend about the NEA rejection letter.  For some reason, I forgot that there would be 1,000 other poets (many, many friends of mine) receiving the same thin envelope.  The magic number this year is 42 winners, and I'm crossing my fingers that a large number of those will be friends of mine.

I don't know why I took the news so hard this year.  I know the long shot that it is, and a fellow poet reminded me that she had applied 13 times before being rewarded.  I know how much of the game is subjective and relies on which reader gets my randomly assigned packet of goods.  Still, I was the most confident I've ever been about the manuscript I submitted this year. 

I think, too, that I also realized that the odds of winning an NEA are better than the odds of winning a book contest and that really got me down.  The NEA awarded 42 fellowships out of just over 1,000 applicants.  When I get rejection letters from presses, I often find out that anywhere from 500 - 800 manuscripts were received and one, ONE, book was chosen.  I'm not a math major, but I think I can see the odds without having to use the calculator on this one.

Seriously, persistence MUST be the poet's mantra.  Try, try, and try again. 

And as a good, good poet friend reminds me, the best we can do is focus on the work and leave the rest to chance.  Onward with ever-thickening skins.
Elephant baby and mama at the St. Louis Zoo...persevering!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Already? Oh Dear

42º ~ our lows are dipping down into the low 30's, the rain has gone, the world looks the brighter for the cold, but no less green, brisk winds, the little heater put to use

Dear Reader, I cannot believe we've reached another Friday so quickly.  Time speeds up this time of year as the semester spins nearly out of control with less than a month to go before finals.  I've got 80 or so papers to grade; nonetheless, I went to bed last night reciting this: "tomorrow I will write a new draft, tomorrow I will write a new draft."  While I wasn't as lucky as last week, I did get something new on the page.

First, I went back to an older draft, "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart."  This was a poem I drafted back in June.  I love the title, but the poem wasn't holding up with age.  It was too stark, too literal-minded.  As I sat down to write this morning, I glanced at that old draft and saw that I could keep the first stanza and the last, but the stuff in the middle had to go.  Yup, I deleted four and a half stanzas and rewrote the guts of the poem.  For now, it seems to be singing a smoother song with a bit more magic, a bit more lyricism.  Time will tell if this revision will stand.

Next, I was ready for something new.  I started by jotting down a few lines from Big Tent Poetry's weekly prompt.  I shared this on Monday.  Participants left a single line in the comment field for someone else to use in a poem or story.  I found three or four lines that seemed to spark and copied them into my journal.  Alas, Dear Reader, nothing doing.  I tried a few on for size.  I mixed and matched and eked out some new additions.  Nothing coalesced.

Then, I went for my folder of inspiration cards.  This one grabbed hold of me, and the lines on the card worked their magic, with a few of the images thrown in.

This image is in reverse b/c I used my computer's camera to take the picture.  The words say, "Shrines dedicated to...the glancing flash of moonlight...illuminating...splintered ruins."  The fishing lures and the statue's umbrella made their way into the poem as well.    The lines on the card do not begin the poem, and I amended them a bit for rhythm and line length.  Still, the lines were the spark and I built a speaker around them.  For some reason, I'm fixated on romantic relationships again this week, and the draft is titled, "The Wife Who Wanders Explains Her Actions."  While I don't often draw directly from my life with C., there's a bit of it in this poem.  The wife in the poem is a worrier and so am I.  I had to explain to C. that worrying about him was my right, and the wife in the poem does some of this same explaining. 

Who knows if she and this draft will survive, but for now, I can begin my grading marathon of the weekend feeling good that I persevered and drafted!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I'm Reading: Subject to Change

51º ~ the gentle rain does rain down, all gray and gloomy light, November

Dear Reader, I confess, I am humbled by the notice I received lately at Eduardo C. Corral's blog, Lorcaloca.  On, Sunday, Eduardo praised the Kangaroo and then Jeannine Hall Gailey and Matthew Thorburn joined in with comments of support as well.

I confess as well, that I've had Matthew's book, Subject to Change, on my desk for months, after he graciously offered an exchange last May.  My lack of responding to this wonderful book and others is more proof that my summer was derailed by illness.  However, after dipping into the book here and there in the past, I've been making my way through Subject to Change as a whole since Sunday, and I have to say that I am delighted to return Matthew's compliment.  (At the moment, I don't own any of Jeannine's books, but I'll remedy that soon!)

Let me pause to say that I don't believe in promoting someone else's work just for the sake of networking or gaining favor.  I long ago made a pact with myself about this blog that I wouldn't write about any books I didn't like and I wouldn't inflate my responses.  I do, however, love this growing sense of community that I've found online, and for the most part, I've not been let down by the poetry I've come to know via this medium.  I hope you'll trust in my earnestness, Dear Reader.

Now, to Matthew's book.  Subject to Change is a fluid collection, each poem flowing into the next with ease and yet each poem offering something new.  It is a winding river through changing landscapes of a book.  As some of you may know, I do not read the blurbs until after I'm finished with a book, preferring to come to the poems with fresh eyes.  Here are the notes I made on the empty page at the back of the book (my favorite note-taking page) as I read through the poems: 
nostalgia at war with modernity and the future
speakers in need of love? of acceptance? of comfort? of familiarity?
the use of voices, especially " "
art, painters, musicians,
Modernist tendencies in embedded quotes and allusions
struggling with Romantic ancestry
refrain and coda

I wreak havoc on the books I enjoy.  Bent-over pages, underlines, marginalia, notes in blank pages, and so, one might tell just from glancing at my bookshelves which are the most beloved books by their battered nature.  Matthew's book has been battered and then some.

I have to say that I wasn't sure these poems would resonate with me because of their clear relationship to the Modernists, a group I can admire if not enjoy.  However, the tension between those Modernist influences and the Romantic history of English poetry intrigued me and led me on through the book, and I am glad of it. 

Often, the sense of the poems is one of conversations transcribed, the reader overhears, listens in.  For example, the poem "For Friends Who are Married and Expecting More Babies," begins with advice for making cucumber soup.  Then, in line two, a second voice joins that of the speaker, this second voice set off in quotation marks, a refrain, a questioner, a commenter.  The poem ends this way:

What is it with me and this small stuff
anyway?  I staple in quotes anything
you say, so it will stay. "What about those
for-instances?"  I count them off
on my fingers.  For instance, "Sometimes
things fall into place just so you can hear them
click."  For instance, when I say "you"
I mean you.  For instance, the dark 
taste of fennel on the wet
....................little heart of your tongue.

I love how the poem begins with the taste of cucumber soup and ends with it, but so much transpires in between (Matthew's poems tend to wander onto a second page and to benefit from the wandering.)  This poem, as with others, features a questioning speaker searching for some security, something that will last in this ever-changing, chaotic world.  Sometimes there is comfort; sometimes there is a void.

Let me also give praise to the use of formal structures that add to the tension reverberating just beneath the surface of this book.  There are wonderfully crafted sonnets and one spectacular sestina, "Just You, Just Me," that features the word 'justice' as one of the repeated end words.  Amazingly, Matthew tweaks that into 'Donald Justice' in stanza four as the speaker's mother says, "Donald Justice / wouldn't write a poem like this."  Kudos for the humor and the deft weaving of this poem.  There are allusions to other great writers, artists, and musicians throughout the book, but these are not heavy-handed and seem always to contribute to the poems rather than distract.

I'll end with a bit from an industrial, Midwestern poem, because I feel akin to it.  While too long to quote in its entirety, here is the beginning of "In Lansing."

Black coffee, for starters, and sun
sneaking through a scribble 
of cloud.  Holidays over and still
in from out east: you and me,
Kay, and cold day-old light--
dishwater or thereabouts.  And pale,
the sky through these trees, blue
that's almost not blue; a bird's egg
or as if colors were verbs--

oranging, bluing--and you hadn't
said blue.  Who loves January?
You see the steeple but the bell's
still broken, half-shined with ice.
And someone has to unplug
and take down these tangled strings
of lights, get the hose to spray
the salt off the Buick.

Support a Poet/Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Subject to Change
Matthew Thorburn
New Issues Press, 2004