Sunday, January 31, 2010
31º and ice-melting sun, dripping water music
On Tuesday, I'm traveling down I-40 to visit Hendrix College and lead a Murphy Foundation ShopTalk poetry workshop for eight students. I'm honored to have been asked and delighted to attend. Interacting with beginning writers is one of my favorite things to do. In preparation, I typed up a list of some of my favorite writing exercises. Here's what I came up with.
**Many of these ideas were stolen from other poets or created in collaboration with Angie Macri and Tara Bray.
1. Random generator: Take a text you love and start listing all the "good" words you can find, strong nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Jump around the pages. This is called a Word Bank. Try to get at least 50 words, but not more than 70. Number the list (I just mark every 5th word with its number). Go to random.org and use the random number generator. Generate two numbers in a row and write out the corresponding words from your list. Do this until you get a dozen or so pairs (it's okay if some of the words get used more than once). Once you have a good selection of pairings, lines should begin to suggest themselves based on the random words. Draft away.
2.Take any line of a poem or story that you love, change two – four words in the line (depending on length) and make it the first line of a new draft.
3. Browse a good dictionary (preferably the OED) and find 5 words you hadn't known before. Copy out the words and their definitions in your journal. Draft a poem that includes two of the new words.
4. Pick a shape and let that shape influence the form of the poem. For instance, if you pick a pentagon, then draft a poem of 5 stanzas of 5 lines each. The first line of the first stanza could be repeated (with slight variation) as the second line of the second stanza, the third of the third, and so on, allowing for slight variations in the repetition.
5. The fun-house mirror exercise. Draft a poem (no requirements) or choose a poem you’ve already drafted. Now, draft a reflection of that poem as seen in a fun-house mirror; in other words, distort the form and the content of the first draft. The second poem should be, loosely, related to the first in theme. You may repeat a few phrases but the second poem should stand on its own. For example, if the original is made of tercets with long lines, try writing a reflection that has stanzas of six lines alternated with tercets. Try for short lines.
6. Pick a body part. Write a poem not only inspired by or about that body part, but in a form suggested by it.
7. Great writer’s block breaker. Read one poem each from three of your favorite writers and generate a word bank of 50 - 70 words (see #1). Then, using the words from your Word Bank, complete this Mad Lib style poem. The goal is to make it as wildly imaginative as possible. Do not insert a word that would be expected.
[Name of a city] [adjective], [adjective]
Your streets are made of [noun] and [noun]
Your language sounds like [verb-ing] [noun]
At night you dream of [adjective] [noun] and [noun]
[Repeat city name], your people [verb] at [time of day]
You are jealous of [name another city, country, ocean, or geographic landmark]
for its willingness to [verb]
[Repeat city name] [adjective], [adjective]
Now take off from there. Do you see a line or two that could become the beginning of a poem? You can change the [Name of a city] to anything really: [Inanimate object], [Animal], [Object in the sky], etc. and adapt the lines from there. The point is to get your brain playing with language.
8. Mad Lib from another text. Pick a text that is not poetry. This could be a textbook, a newspaper article, a piece of junk mail. Copy out three to five sentences from the text. Now cut out all the nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. You should be left with a scaffold of articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and etc. Fill in the blanks from one of your Word Banks or with words of your own. Then REVISE your new lines into a poem, adding on to whatever the original text generated. (This exercise should get you focused on syntax.)
Enjoy if you will; ignore if you won't.
Friday, January 29, 2010
In the Mail: Folded into your Midwestern Thunderstorm
28º and the ice thickens
How does the US postal slogan go? Neither rain nor sleet nor... Our intrepid mail carrier did in fact deliver our mail amid the sleet and ice bullets. And in that delivery was a great surprise. The week got a bit busy and I forgot that I'd ordered Kristen Orser's chapbook Folded into Your Midwestern Thunderstorm from Greying Ghost Press. Honestly, I'm not sure on which blog I saw this mentioned, but the title was too much for me to bear. I had to own it. (Now, after weeks of buying books at will and charging my plane fare for AWP, I have a moratorium on buying ANYTHING besides the necessities for the next month!)
But back to the "surprise." I carefully opened the mailer and was puzzled when I saw that there were lots of little bits of things included with the book. I tipped the book out into my hand. Spilling forth were: an 8 1/2 x 11" numbered pamphlet by Sasha Fletcher (an unknown poet to me until now), an unused postcard with all the words in Cyrillic, a page torn from a comic book written about George Stephenson inventor of the steam engine locomotive, a tiny print of the Bascule Bridge in Corpus Christi, a photo illustration of a potter turning a bowl, and a small black & white photograph of what appears to be a customs boarding crossing between the US and Mexico. And then there was the book! The cover extends about a quarter of an inch beyond the pages and is cut from a piece of blank, orchestral sheet music. There is a beautiful pink stamp of an owl that I simply can't describe. No words on the cover. Opening the cover reveals fuchsia endpapers. All in all the production is superb.
I've only glanced at the first poem (as I feel a headache coming on from too many hours at the computer), but I cannot wait to read this!
Flipping to the back in search of author info, instead I find that this is a numbered production. I'm the proud owner of #15/99. Woo Hoo! The colophon is witty and worth the read. Finally, stacking all my goodies to the side, I went to the website and discovered this:
All of our books are handmade and in most cases, every aspect of production is done in-house. This includes the processes of printing, binding, and shipping. Each cover is hand stamped or pressed. And all of our mailorders are stuffed full with either old photos, fragments of old maps and books, comic scraps, and other ephemera. Greying Ghost seeks to reassure the reading public that printed matter won't vanish.
What a wonderful undertaking. I'm going to take a closer look at their catalog when the moratorium on shopping lifts!
32º and solid cloud cover, a layer of crunchy sleet, ice gathering on leaves and branches, conditions to deteriorate as more moisture arrives with falling temps
Another snow day for the husband and me, although I don't travel to campus on Fridays because of online teaching, so it's not a real snow day for me. It's actually ice we're about to get, which is nothing to mess with down here...to many hills, too few salt trucks.
Everything has been moving at half speed for me this morning, perhaps because of the lack of sun and the sinking temps. Therefore, this post is a bit later than normal. I'm not sure how it happened but at the end of week 3 of the semester, I find that I've developed a pattern for writing: Mondays: read others' works and post about them, Wednesday catch up on others' blogs and maybe some more reading (school-related obligations build), Friday (a gathering breath and a step back from school) draft my poem attempt of the week. I wonder if the patter will hold.
Today, I have three rejection letters sitting on the desk waiting to be recorded; however, I did draft, for which I'm always thankful. I did not use any kind of prompt per se. I did begin by reading from someone else: Nate Pritts, Sensational Spectacular, which I'll be posting on soon. Pritts is just a bit outside my comfort zone, but that's turned out to be a good thing. I've been reading the book more slowly, delving in again this morning as I shifted gears into "word mode." Pritts uses the colon a lot and I've been studying how he uses it to his best advantage. One of his poems, "Duel on the Island," begins, "Hidden: a meticulous list," and after I read that line, it stuck in my head. I continued to read a few more poems before my draft began to form in my head, starting with, you guessed it, "Hidden:..." I scribbled out some lines of pure image, whatever came to me. I fumbled around with it for a bit. After twenty minutes of scrawling lines and then scratching half of them out I realized that the line should begin, "Recovered: ..." Then a scenario built itself in my head and a speaker to go with it. And now there is a poem of sorts beginning. Today's poem is titled "Notes from the Burial Site." (I almost never begin a poem with a title in mind. This one only arrived after I had that first group of lines and a scenario.)
For those keeping score, January was a huge success. Four weeks, four poems! They are:
"Having been Entrusted with the Safekeeping"
"For Beaufort's Distant, Landlocked Daughter"
"Notes from the Burial Site"
I'm also pleased with the way this writing schedule allows me to revise at will. I believe that I've tinkered with the older poems at least twice a week so far. One consequence of this is that the poems are almost always floating around in my head and therefore the revising goes more easily, I think. Fewer stops, starts, and stutters. The poems become more organic, perhaps.
In the face of rejection, the only step available is to revise, revise, revise, and write on.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Wednesday Comes Early This Week
46º and cloud cover
Tomorrow, I have one of those rare conflicts with my writing schedule. As frequent readers know, I have reorganized my life to make writing a priority, which involves dedicating 3 hours each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings to thinking, reading, and writing. Now that I've made and kept that schedule, I don't like to have it disrupted. Alas, there are some things that are out of our control.
In any case, I wanted to post this now because it includes such good news. Friend, editor, and poet, Justin Evans, has just announced the acceptance of his first book! Stop by his blog, One Man's Trash, and help join in the celebration. If you haven't read his online journal, Hobble Creek Review, what are you waiting for?
Also, new poet-blogger friend, January O'Neil has a great column up over a ReadWritePoem on making sure your poetry finds an audience. Definitely worth the read.
I'll be back in full swing on Friday.
Monday, January 25, 2010
What I'm Reading: In the Voice of a Minor Saint
37º & glitters of sun, a wind building towards gusting
I've been following Sarah J. Sloat's blog, the rain in my purse, for over a year and always delight when I come across one of her poems in a journal. I bought her chapbook, In the Voice of a Minor Saint, after I read the title poem online somewhere, I think. I've also been working on a series of poems about made-up, forgotten saints, so the title intrigued me as well. I've now re-read the book for the third time and am still delighted.
An aside before delving into the poems: This was my first book from Tilt Press, and I'd like to commend them on the quality of the chapbook. The cover art is amazing and in four-color printing. The paper is quality stock, heavy enough to withstand my dog-earring behaviors and my endless annotations. And, the inclusion of the endpapers of chocolate brown give the whole thing a polished look.
To the poems: Sloat's subject matter focuses on the everyday in such a natural way that I fall into the poems quite easily. These are both poems of consolation for living in a painful world and poems of defiance against letting the painful parts win. These are poems that call attention to our "epidemic impoverishment" and our "nerves ripped to bits" ("3 Deep"). Yet, they also call attention to this world "wallowing / off in the wheat of long siestas" ("Humidity"). The same poem also asks the reader to "Console / yourself: at least the trees / put up their parasols... ."
Sloat is a master of sound and syntax, two properties I consider essential for lasting poetry. Perhaps because I've been introducing my beginning creative writing students to alliteration and assonance, these two craft issues stood out the most as I re-read in order to discover what made the poems sing so. As I read, I was also impressed with the precision of the line breaks and the deft shifting from enjambment to end-stopped lines when the poem called for it. Also, her last lines are masterful.
To sample from my three favorite poems of the collection, here is the opening stanza of "Grassland."
When I could not get with child
I swallowed the egg of the meadowlark
who eats the daylight
the mother of untangled grasses.
A long drop, the egg bore its root
in my foot, it stitched me
together with grain.
Another favorite is "Ghazal with Heavenly Bodies," which includes such couplets as these
Look at me crooked. Mistake me for Eve. If looks
deceive, who knows which mask our maker wears tonight?
Yet again, love drops anchor where lust dug its moat.
On the roof, angels play musical chairs tonight.
My signature moves like loops and lightning. Letter
posted, I'll sleep the sleep of millionaires tonight.
And finally, I can't help but include the entirety of the title poem.
In the Voice of a Minor Saint
I came at a wee hour
into my miniature existence.
I keep my hair close cropped
that my face might fit in lockets.
My heart is small, like a love
of buttons or black pepper.
On approach, I notice how
objects grow and contours blear.
That's what comes of nearness.
I have an ear for the specific,
as St. Apollonia minds the teeth,
and Magnus of Fussen, hailstones.
I dwarf gloom with my cachet sign:
one good hand conceals
my one good eye,
halving all disaster.
That "ear for the specific" and the way the poems have of "halving all disaster" makes me sure I'll be re-reading this book in the future. Definitely worth the price of admission!
Support poetry and poets today. Borrow or Buy a copy of this book.
In the Voice of a Minor Saint
Sarah J. Sloat
Tilt Press, 2009
Sunday, January 24, 2010
55º and lovely, warming sun
Thanks to Josh Robbins for sending me this poem.
such great stretches of dreamscape
such lines of all too familiar lines
caved in so the filthy wake resounds with the notion
of the pair of us? What of the pair of us?
Pretty much the tale of the family surviving disaster:
“In the ancient serpent stink of our blood we got clear
of the valley; the village loosed stone lions roaring at our heels.”
Sleep, troubled sleep, the troubled waking of the heart
yours on top of mine chipped dishes stacked in the pitching sink
What then of words? Grinding them together to summon up the void
as night insects grind their crazed wing cases?
Caught caught caught unequivocally caught
caught caught caught
head over heels into the abyss
for no good reason
except for the sudden faint steadfastness
of our own true names, our own amazing names
that had hitherto been consigned to a realm of forgetfulness
itself quite tumbledown.
(Translated, from the French, by Paul Muldoon.)
from The New Yorker, January 25, 2010
Doctors Without Borders
Saturday, January 23, 2010
50º and 80% cloudy...a rumor of severe weather on the western horizon
Here are three mighty links from today's blog reading.
dancing girl press is having an awesome winter sale. Chapbooks normally $7, buy 5 for $20, shipping included! Chapbooks really are the bees knees in terms of bang for your buck (how's that for cliches?)! I picked three titles and asked the press to pick two more. Not sure if that will work, but I hope so. I picked: The Sad Epistles by Emma Bolden, Flood Year by Sara Tracey, and Orange Girl by Simone Muench. (I really do have to stop buying books now! Must save to pay for AWP. Just bought plane ticket and credit card gained a few pounds on that purchase!)
Over at Little Epic Against Oblivion, Josh Robbins has a link to a WONDERFUL video/poem that I plan on showing all of my classes, composition and creative writing. Check it out. Poem by Taylor Mali; video by Ronnie Bruce.
This one is over a week old, but I just found it today via The Word Cage: Mike Young, with the aid of Elisa Gabbert, posted on Moves in Contemporary Poetry over at HTMLGIANT. It's a wonderful list of current trends in poetry.
Friday, January 22, 2010
What I'm Reading: Temper
50 º and the gloom persists
I first heard about Beth Bachmann's book Temper, which won the 2008 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, about six months ago. I tried to get it through ILL at the school library b/c my book buying was getting out of control. It turned out that if a book is too new, we can't ILL it. So, I requested the library purchase it. I was able to bring home the library copy a few weeks ago and have since read the book several times. (And, just now, I received my overdue notice...yikes!)
Temper has received a lot of talk on the blogs, so many of you may already know that its central subject is the murder of the speaker's sister and the shadow of suspicion cast on the father. The poems detail in stark images how one family experiences a trauma of this scope and attempts to hold itself together, sometimes not all that successfully.
The book itself is beautiful, with a stunning cover that fits the poems perfectly. While it is easy to read these poems quickly, devouring the storyline and the images, it became important for me to re-read with more deliberateness, to soak in the way language has been made to wrestle with a difficult subject matter.
The title poem, which opens the collection, epitomizes Bachmann's strengths: her concision and her use of sound & images. Here it is in its entirety.
Some things are damned to erupt like wildfire,
windblown, like wild lupine, like wings, one after
another leaving the stone-hole in the greenhouse glass.
Peak bloom, a brood of blue before firebrand.
And though it is late in the season, the bathers, also,
obey. One after another, they breathe in and butterfly
the surface: mimic white, harvester, spot-celled sister,
fed by the spring, the water beneath is cold.
There is a sparseness to the poems that haunts me as I read. If I have a complaint about the book, it is only that I wish for more details about the sisters, the father, and the mother. So much is held back. As a writer, I can see the need for this; after all, the book is about not knowing, about sudden absences, about moments that refuse to be resolved. As a reader, I want to know the unknowable.
Woven throughout the poems is religious imagery, although it does not overpower the poems. It seems a natural extension of the speaker's attempt to reconcile her sister's suffering and her family's lack of knowledge about her death. For example, in "Erato," the speaker is describing the position of her sister's body after the struggle and the murder. She states, "...you might take one look at the shape in the snow and say, // swan or angel, / something to do with the divine, the light // always bending back." The image of wings provides a common thread throughout many of the poems, that hope for a swift flight from this world to the next, whatever it may be, and also the darker feeling of the swooping, threatening predator.
There are also many "what if" questions asked in these poem. The writer's instinct is to revise the story, to find a way to make answers fit, and Bachmann does this in several poems. For instance, here are the last three stanzas of "Deception":
Should it have happened then
written over in blossom),
the ripened bees
would have been faced with pollen--
What I'm left with after reading this incredibly engaging collection is a set of questions. What happens next? How do people rebuild their lives after the tragedy, after the mourning lessens? How do we go on? I'm hoping Bachmann might address these questions in future poems, if she continues to write about this subject.
Support poetry and poets today! Borrow or Buy this Book!
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009
49º and gloomy
Yes, I forgot to include the weather this week. School must have zapped me. In any case, here are a few links that I found worthy of my time.
Find out why Hemingway, Churchill, and Golding fail the A-level computerized English exams.
Steven D. Schroeder, blogging at Sturgeon's Law, has an amusing post on his journey to becoming a writer. Makes me want to write my version.
In the same vein as the above, Josh Robbins, blogging at Little Epic Against Oblivion, provides a view into his normal writing day. Another one I want to write my version of sometime soon.
This Week's Draft and a Question of Prompts
Woo Hoo, my new routine of not reading the blogs first, but just getting to the writing seems to be paying off. (I'm sure this seems like a "Duh!" kind of statement, but hey we all take different paths on our journey, right?) I did read some poetry to transition and settle into a world of words. I'm happy to report that I was successful in generating something new today. It looks like the draft of a poem and seems sturdy, but only time will tell. It's titled "Pilgrimage." I did use some old notes on one of my inspiration cards to get started. My first few lines turned out to be just prose broken up into lines...eeek! Then, I loosened up and rearranged things and found my footing and my voice. The process of this poem was very choppy. I'd draft another stanza and see where it led me, but then I realized a lot of the lines needed to be reordered for sound and sense. I've just been talking to my students, both in creative writing and in composition, about shitty first drafts, a phrase I borrow from Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird. It was good for me to remember it myself today!
Now, let me confess, Dear Readers, that I've been haunted by a blog post I read yesterday. Rebecca Loudon has a great blog, Radish King, and a few days ago, she posted on using writing prompts. Here's her initial post, but the good stuff is in the comments. "Don't use writing prompts. Come up with your own damned stuff." If you follow my postings about my draft process, you can probably see why I'm haunted. I often use prompts of some kind, often word gathering or some kind of leaping off from something I've read or images I've studied. Perhaps this is not the kind of prompt Loudon means, but in any case, why am I so bothered? If it works for me, why should I care what others think about my process?
Loudon asserts in the comments section that "So much modern poetry lacks imagination." I hope and mostly believe that I do access my imaginative powers once I get into the depth of the poem. This is one of the areas I worry about in my own work. I want desperately to make imaginative leaps. I want my images to be original and worth the reader's effort. Does it make me or my poems weaker because they often begin with a direction? Isn't writing with a form in mind writing from a kind of prompt?
Reading Loudon's post occurred on the heals of having a former student contact me to find out where she could find prompts like the ones we'd used in a creative writing class. I had just finished sending her a list of books, a link to a blog post with some prompts, and directions for six of my favorite prompts that I use often. After reading Loudon's post, I had one of those teacher moments where you question whether you've led the student astray or towards success.
What do you think, Dear Readers? To prompt or not to prompt?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Social Networking at Its Best
Last week, I received a friend request from another poet on Facebook. Along with that request was a message in which the poet explained how he had found me via reading yet another poet's blog. The blog post had mentioned Blood Almanac and contained a link to some sample poems. This led to the friend request on FB. Once I accepted the request, the poet asked if I'd be interested in a book swap, which I was, and also mentioned that he works on the journal Terrain.org and was wondering if I had anything I might like to submit.
I had heard the name of the journal a few times, but I hadn't yet investigated it. After the above exchange, I did, and I was glad I did. It's a wonderful online journal, combining the arts, architecture, and the environment. As explained in the guidelines: Each of Terrain.org's issues is based on a predominant theme that relates to the built and natural environments. Contributions are oriented toward that theme, though the connection does not have to be obvious. Lots of fascinating stuff to read and listen to on the site.
I have long been uneasy with themed issues, never quite sure how my work might fit and never very good at writing to an assigned theme; however, I did find a few poems I thought worked with the current theme and sent them off to my new FB friend, knowing that there was no guarantee of acceptance. Yesterday, I received the good news that two of the poems will appear in the next issue of Terrain.org. Once they appear, in March 2010, readers will also be able to listen to me read the poems, which is one of my favorite things about online journals.
So, this is online social networking at its best. By creating this blog and finally settling into a rhythm with my posts, I have gained new readers and new friends. One of those readers posted about my book on her blog and that led to the new Facebook friend. Frankly, given my geographic location and lack of funds to travel often (aside from one big blowout at AWP each year), I would not have been able to establish these connections, at least not as quickly or as many, in the "real" world of networking. Today, I'm thankful I live in the age of the internet and I'm thankful for the community I'm joining online.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Time Keeps on Slippin', Slippin', Slippin'
60º and overcast, but not gloomy
Whew! That time thing is a slippery beast. It's a long weekend, and I still feel a little bit behind. Much has been accomplished in the last 3 days, some of it for fun (read, visiting some good friends and finally seeing Avatar, in 3D at an IMAX nonetheless...amazing!) and some of it for necessity (read, re-caulking a part of the shower window). Today was my first day of the long weekend to devote to poetry and I spent the morning revising In a World Made of Such Weather as This, AGAIN.
In the last revision, the manuscript lost a bit of weight and got quite skinny. This time I added back in some of the poems I had dropped, but I also added back in a handful of poems I've been working on since late summer/fall that still fit the theme. It's back up to being "healthy" at 64 pages/59 poems. Now, of course, I'm worrying that I wasn't being critical enough. Sigh. In any case, I have two packets ready to mail tomorrow, and I was able to submit electronically to one publisher. That is slick. I hope more publishers go the way of the standard online submission manager. Such a savings on paper, ink, and postage, not to mention TIME.
I've been meaning to post here about Beth Bachmann's book Temper, and I do promise that post, Dear Readers. To tide you over, check out Charlotte Pence's close reading of one poem from the book.
I've got a zillion books I want to read and several hours worth of school work to finish before tomorrow. Guess which is going to win? (Darn that Midwestern work ethic of mine!)
Sunday, January 17, 2010
diode, diode, diode
New issue of diode available online now!
Arpine Konyalian Grenier
Mihail Gălăţanu, trans. Adam J. Sorkin
and Petru Iamandi
Jeffrey Ethan Lee
Steven D. Schroeder
Friday, January 15, 2010
Catch of theDay
53º with a faint layer of clouds, but a sufficient amount of sun
Well, I did manage to sift through the blog list. I'm getting better at moving on if something isn't grabbing my attention. I know it sounds weird, but being the type of person I am, I tended to try to read everything all the time. Slowly, I'm building my own filter and allowing myself to "mark all as read" and move on to the next blog. I have on my list blogs written by both individuals and by groups/organizations, and so far, I'm more attracted to the individuals. Hmm.
In any case, here's the catch of the day. I found a link to a journal new to me: la fovea. Once I clicked, I realized that this wasn't like any other journal I'd seen before. I don't think I can explain it any better than the editors do:
•Each nerve editor (found on the main page www.lafovea.org) is in charge of a nerve. The nerves are made up of poets who are invited to submit to La Fovea. Click on the editors name to see all the poets and poems in his or her nerve.
•The nerve editor asks a poet to submit two poems. After that poet has had his or her poems published on La Fovea, he or she will ask another poet to submit poems.
•If the last poet on the nerve does not find a poet to submit poems for whatever reason, the nerve is called "dead." It's okay to have a "dead nerve." The important thing is for the nerve editor to notice that a nerve has died and begin a new nerve from their first page of poems.
Navigating this journal is a great example of what online publishing has to offer.
Drafting and a Change of Routine
34º and high, thin clouds dissolving
This has been the first full week back to school with classes in session, and Wednesday my writing time left me disappointed. Today, I knew I needed to get some words on paper to keep to my draft a week goal, and I realized that I needed to change my routine. I'm following so many blogs now, that reading them on Wednesday (after missing on Tuesday b/c of class) took up too much of my concentration, I think. So, I changed it up and ignored Google Reader this morning (having missed Thursday b/c of classes as well). For those of you who like my links, I may post something more later today or on Saturday, but I feel a need to shift priorities of time.
So, I started reading from some books on my desk and then a line emerged, followed by another. I set the book aside (Cloisters by Kristin Bock), and turned in earnest to my journal. I drafted out a dozen lines there and then when things began coalescing, I turned to the computer and printer. Dear Reader, let me admit that the first attempt today was an ugly mess of forced lines. I grew disgusted. I picked up Bock's book again, one I admire for its concision and its leaps. After reading a handful of poems...aha!...I saw what needed to happen and went back to my draft. I know believe it is something with some sticking power.
The title is "What Beaufort's Distant Daughters Know about the Wind." I've long wanted to write about Beaufort's wind scale, and if you are familiar with my work, you know that wind is an important player. The forces that converged were these...the past week has seen two disasters: one international (Haiti) and one personal (a sad event for a friend). My heart has been heavy, not to be overly sentimental, and the lines that first emerged today were an expression of that heaviness and involved the wind, and then I remembered the Beaufort scale and started drawing on some of the language there as well. Only time will tell if the draft will survive, but I go now, back to reading with a slight lessening to the heaviness within.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
A Note on Reading for Linebreak
22º and clear skies, enough sun to turn off the table lamp
As yesterday's post announced, Linebreak currently features a poem by George David Clark, "A Crossing," and I am the voice for this week's recording. Recording someone else's work was an eye-opening (or maybe ear-opening) experience. I was anxious about doing the poem and the poet justice. Perhaps adding a bit to this was the fact that I knew the poet personally (although the folks at Linebreak didn't know of this connection). If I screwed it up, I'd feel awful when GDC and I next met.
When I received the poem, I had about five days to get the recording done. I spent the first two days reading and re-reading the poem aloud whenever I passed by my desk. This turned into a close examination of the line breaks (as the title of the journal suggests) and to the meaning and sound of individual words. Rather than this being a work of my own with which I was intimate, now I had to decide where to place emphasis, where to pause slightly, fully, or not at all. I had to take my cues from the author. I must say that I always encourage my students to read aloud, and I do as well, but this kind of rehearsal with the goal of a recording prompted an even deeper reading on my part. On day three I sat down at the computer to record (I use Audacity...thanks, Sean!) I think I ended up with 6 failed takes before I was satisfied with my recitation, but by and large, I'm still happy with the result. I learned a lot from this exercise and am thankful to the editors and the poet for the opportunity. If you'd like to try it, just email the editors and ask for your shot. I highly recommend it!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Linebreak - A Crossing
39º and clear skies, much sun
A quick Tuesday appearance to encourage you all to click over to Linebreak this week. George David Clark, of "Jellyfish" fame, has a new poem up today, "A Crossing," read by yours truly.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Still 27 balmy degrees
Here are three new books that are sitting on my desk. I've got an hour to read and draft before hitting the slopes of higher ed.
Steel Toe Books, 2007
(Come on with a title like that, how could I NOT read this?)
January Gill O'Neil
CavanKerry Press, 2009
(Special thanks to the author for sending this book to me!)
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009
(Special thanks to the PTC Ottenheimer Library for buying this book!)
Help support poets and poetry by either buying or borrowing a copy of one of these books today.
The Business Side
27º and direct sunlight
Today is the first day of class at PTC, so we're back in business. Rumor has it we are seeing close to a 20% increase in registration from Spring 2009. (Classes are packed!) In the fall we had a 13% increase over Fall 2008. As larger universities downsize in a down economy...community colleges are where it's at! Sure, my job is non-tenured, but with numbers like these, I'm feeling some security about my paycheck ... knock wood. And it's a full-time gig, which means benefits. I'm thankful for all of that!
Today, Poet Mom, January O'Neil has a post up about the business side of publishing. She poses two questions: one about taxes and one about estate planning. I've always wished for a book about the business side of being a writer of literary short stories and poetry. I know there is a lot of information for writers who freelance and/or publish in the mass markets, but most of that doesn't apply to the smaller scale of short stories and poetry. Does anyone know if there is such a resource?
Saturday, January 9, 2010
20º and 98% sunny (2% thin, hazy cloud-like substances)
A brief mention here and then a day date with my man.
Justin Evans has a post up about the attempt to balance teaching writing and actually writing, and in his case, he's a high school teacher so the balance is all the more difficult to achieve. My favorite part of the post is his parting shot:
I suppose I could, in an attempt to find catharsis, throw away all restraint and become a variation of Kurtz in my classroom, inflicting true terror into the lives of my students.
Oh, wow, I had a sudden vision of the classroom as the journey to that "heart of darkness" with which we English majors are all so familiar and myself as Kurtz. Shiver. Shudder.
Friday, January 8, 2010
2 X 5 X 5
26º and pure sun
Submitted today: 2 groups of 5 poems each, each group submitted to 5 journals.
Here ends the list of goals to be achieved before the semester begins. Woo Hoo!
Linking to the Outer World
13º, windchill -4º, splotchy clouds
Arkansas is currently experiencing its coldest weather in 10+ years (like much of the rest of the South). Having abandoned my roots in the Midwest b/c of my thin-skinned inability to withstand the weather of winter, I'm not faring very well. To keep my mind off the numbing cold, I've found many links to share today. Here we go:
Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz, are pleased to announce a call for submissions for A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry. The deadline is now Feb. 15.
Born on January 2, 2010, Corium is an online, quarterly magazine, featuring short and very short fiction and poetry. New issues will run in March, June, September and December. That’s who we are now. But Corium is a living project that will develop and change over time. The skin is the largest organ in the body; we will test its limits of expansion. It will not contract. We are excited to exist and intend to publish amazing work. Maybe yours. Send us something.
Poet Mom, January O'Neil, shares a great story about her son's perception of her/their fame, given her first book, Underlife, just came out. Also a great video of Naomi Shihab Nye.
Check out Dana Guthrie Martin's 2010 poetry reading challenge. I love this and will dovetail it with my goodreads 2010 poetry reading challenge.
Perhaps the last word on best-of-2009 poetry lists. Coldfront has a year in review that features an exhaustive list of bests. Best categories: best cover, best opening/closing lines, and best first/last poem in a collection.
As for me, dear readers, I must confess that I did not get my submissions done last weekend, so I'm going to tackle those today to clear the desk for the onslaught of students who populate my classes next week. I also need to submit the manuscript for some new contest deadlines and to publishers who read mss. in January.
Wherever you are, there's a good chance it's colder than it should be, so stay warm by any means possible.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Draft of the Week
24º and still no sign of snowy clouds
My earlier prediction of getting some word work done came true! Woo hoo! My goal during my teaching months is to draft one new poem a week. In 16 weeks, I hope to have 10- 12 poems ... knowing that some weeks things won't work out or that the draft will ultimately fail, which is fine b/c I'm still showing up ... still playing with the language.
Today I returned to something I posted about last fall: the word bank and the random number generator. I started by beginning to read Beth Bachmann's Temper, which I'll post about later, but then I really wanted to write. After casting about for a time, I knew I needed a springboard to launch myself back into the writing mode. I flipped back to the beginning of Bachmann's book and randomly picked nouns, verbs, and adjectives that called to me, making lists of words in my journal. Then, I numbered the words (1 - 51 today) and used the random number generator at random.org to form pairs of words. Once I had about 10 pairs, I already saw several lines forming. Eventually, I drafted a 15-line poem in 3 stanzas of 5 lines each. This is a bit unusual for me, since I normally draft in couplets or tercets. Also a bit unusual is that this is a character poem about a woman I just made up in my head based on several lines the random number generator suggested. Cool. I have no idea if it will survive, but the draft is called "Having Been Entrusted with Safekeeping."
Getting in the Groove
21º and sunny for now, snow expected later today
That's right folks, the powers that be are calling for an inch of snow overnight...what do you bet the powers that be in the school district do NOT cancel school for that... not after the embarrassment that was our Monday snow day.
I'm still struggling to shift gears from vacation-mode to school-mode and classes don't start until next week. However, today, I do feel more into my poetry space than I've felt in a few weeks. So, I'm hoping I'll get some word work done this morning before going into the office to work on my online World Lit class.
Here are three links that hit the spot this morning.
1. Kelli Russell Agodon's blog features a post about things a writer should be doing BEFORE a book is accepted. I found this to be true when I was working with Anhinga on Blood Almanac, but it was great to be reminded as I'm sending book #2 out into the world. I still haven't gotten the website started, but I know it will be a priority soon.
2. Saaed Jones over at for southern boys who consider poetry (one of my favorite blog titles!) has a post about his writer's notebook that dovetails nicely with the great discussion you all provided on Monday's post (thanks so much for joining me in conversation!).
3. Susan Rich, blogging at The Alchemist's Kitchen, is doing a series of posts on ekphrastic poetry. She provides some great insights into the poet writing about other art forms.
One last thing...I'm open to any blog topics you all are curious about. Leave a post with a question or topic if there's something I haven't touched on (relating to poetry/writing, please) and I'll be glad to put it in my blog topics file for later thought and posting.
Oh, and send snowy thoughts to the school administrators and maybe we'll all get another vacation day tomorrow!!
Monday, January 4, 2010
24º and a fury of flurries
This morning my husband got his wish...a snow day. I'm a bit stunned by it, given the "dusting" of snow that is on the ground, but hey, this is the South in all its glory. My school is on a 2-hour delay, but we don't start classes until next week, so this mostly concerns the hard-working staffers and administrators who are handling registration and all the policies that go into getting the semester started. [For those of you who are truly snowed in...my apologies from the South.]
I'm feeling a bit fragmented this morning and having a hard time thinking about poetry b/c I'm feeling the slight unease of needing to get three classes prepped this week. (Sure, I brought home all the materials, planning to work on this a few hours here and there over the break. The best laid plans and all that...)
So, here's something from December. Anne Haines blogs at Land Mammal, and a few weeks ago she wrote about paying attention to three things each day, a goal I can wrap my scattered mind around. Here are my three things from yesterday:
1. The rattle in the vent when the heater kicks in is not an unkind thing.
2. The warmth of the sun seeps through my wool socks as I prop my feet on the desk.
3. Sunday, I feel like a jellyfish, suspended in a day with no obligations, pushing myself this way and that without any hard steering.
Also from December, Kristin asked about my thoughts on blogging and my paper journal. Way back in the day of junior high and high school, I kept a personal journal. Through college, this morphed into a writing journal alongside more personal angst entries. Throughout my 20's and early 30's I wrote both drafts of poems and personal entries...almost always expressing my fears and frustrations rather than my joys and celebrations. As my life became more settled (marriage, book, steady job, etc.) those entries have tapered off and I mostly use the paper journal for drafting and poetry work. I'm not sure I've ever really done the true journalling work of deep self-searching.
I know that blogging started as online journalling, but I guess I approached it somewhat differently. I always wanted an audience, and I knew from the beginning that the blog would be about poetry work and not personal details so much. I approach the blog less as a vehicle for self examination and more as a vehicle for conversation with the poetry world; however, I do want to be as honest as possible with my audience so I try not to shy away from getting at the reality of being a working poet (celebration of publications alongside the fact of rejection). I also want this space to be as much about the work of others as it is about my own work...thus the many links to other sites. So, I don't think my paper journal has suffered due to blogging. I think it has followed the path of my life fairly consistently...when I'm content it is mostly poetry...when I'm distraught it is mostly a place to vent and question and search for comfort.
I'd love to hear what other people think about this topic: how you approach blogging, if you use a paper journal and if so, if it has changed with changing technology.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
26º and cloud-layered
Tomorrow marks the return to work for both my husband and myself. This means I'll be back to blogging on MWF with an occasional S or S thrown in for good measure. It's been a blast being able to blog nearly every day, but I'm realistic enough to know that once the teaching commences, that will have to fall away.
Today, my plan is to finish the last of my goals for the break: to prepare my January submission packets. I'm a meticulous record keeper, so submitting (always done in batches) is a great way to check in on things.
Two things to leave you with before I crack open the Excel spreadsheet:
1. HTMLGIANT, a blog I've only recently started reading, by Sean Lovelace, has a great post which includes a checklist to identify writers. I'm especially fond of #3 and #9.
2. The inaugural issue of Bone Bouquet is available in PDF. Looks like a fabulous line up and I can't wait to sit with it and absorb the words.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
What I'm Reading: Lit Windowpane
33º and sunny side up
Joining the Goodreads 2010 Poetry Readers Challenge is turning out to be a good thing so far. I just posted my first review! Being a good Midwesterner with a strong Protestant work ethic, I love that I can kill two birds with one stone by posting my review on Goodreads and then putting it here as well. Yay me! In any case, on to the more important words: my thoughts on Suzanne Frischkorn's book Lit Windowpane.
I "met" Suzanne Frischkorn through her blog: Lit Windowpane and ordered her book of the same title. I just finished the book this morning, and it is lovely.
Frischkorn writes fresh, short lyrics. Being a writer transfixed by place may be why I'm drawn to these poems, although they are not of "my" place (the Midwest). Frischkorn writes of New England and specifically of Connecticut. This is a wet world of rivers & ocean, rain & snow. In the opening poem, "Puccini at Dusk" the speaker confesses "I'll do anything / for beauty" and that sets the tone for the rest of the book.
"Watermark" is my favorite poem. It begins, "Valley of stars, lace, caulk, molten glass: / the glassine envelope of my womb; its water table rising." This poem is quite short, but packed with images and language that rolls off the tongue. The best poems in the book pack this kind of punch.
Another favorite is the litany poem "A Friend Asks, What's to Forgive?" Here is the opening, "Forgive me. I can't name the scarlet birds / that dart through the bramble." And the poem ends on this wonderful note, "And forgive the catmint, / the cosmos, and the black-eyed Susans, // for their tenacious grip on dry earth."
Frischkorn had me looking up several words as I read, which is always a delight. Here are the words I either learned or re-learned: tessellated, hyson, greisen, clerestory, noctilucent, and paean (re-learned that one!).
This is a book I'm sure I'll return to again.
Help Support Poets & Poetry! Buy or Borrow this book today.
Main Street Rag, 2008
31º and brilliant sunshine making a glare on the screen~~loathe to draw the curtain
2010 is staring off in a sluggish gear. We hosted a small party to ring in the New Year (this picture is of our blue moon taken about 11:30 p.m.), and yesterday was spent mostly on the couch, as I don't normally see midnight and lost some few hours of sleep...but it was all worth it. Good friends are a comfort and a delight. And today, I'm going to dinner with two out-of-towners, Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble of SIU Carbondale fame. Yay!
Today, the new issue of Southern Women's Review is available in PDF form, and you can read my poem "This Is What It Comes Down To" on page 83. I haven't had a chance to read the rest of the issue, but it looks lovely. I was so happy when Alicia Clavell, the editor, emailed me to accept this poem. It's a quiet one, and I wasn't sure how it would fare in the world. Thanks to everyone at SWR for giving this poem a home.
Today, I read Julianna Baggott's response to the question of gender & writing and winning awards/making the lists, published in The Washington Post. I was particularly struck by her admission that she had been guilty of this unexamined sexism in the beginning of her education. Baggott writes, "But I was told to worship Chekhov, Cheever, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Carver, Marquez, O'Brien. . . . " I was reminded once again how grateful I am to the professors I had at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University whose sole focus was on diversity. We read the traditional canon, but we also explored those marginalized voices that had been excluded. This was the late 80's/early 90's. I even did an independent study with one professor on Contemporary American Women Poets, where I created my own list of 8 or 10 books that fit the category and read one a week, writing a short paper on each. That was fabulous!
Baggott goes on to write about a stunning study:
Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. "The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author," Jordan said. "In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters 'likability,'and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable."
Due to all the festivities of the last few days, I fell behind in my blog reading, and I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of unread posts in my Google Reader this morning. Many, many folks posted their resolutions, which I find fascinating, as I've never been good at "resoluting." Of the many I read, I was particularly struck by Diane Lockward's post at Blogalicious. Her first resolution is "1. Write on a more regular basis. Aim for three morning sessions per week. Show up at the kitchen table. Do chores later. Or not at all." This is a great one for me, since over the break, I've allowed the chores to interrupt my writing time far too often! Poets should all have piles of dirty laundry and unwashed dishes!!