Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Poem Available Online & Family Business

80 deg ~ mostly sunny, a good bit of a breeze

Last week I reported on an acceptance from Glass: A Journal of Poetry and how the editors really helped me find the finishing touch for this poem.  In the wonder that is the digital age, the poem, "Flood Plain," is now available!  This is the 7th issue from this journal (Volume 3: Issue 1, technically), and I'm really impressed with the poems and the layout.  I like that the contents remain visible on the margins so you don't have to use the back button to get to the next poem.  Hope you'll check it out.


As for the family business, I may have blogged about this before, but if so, I've lost track.  In some weird twist of fate, I have two cousins (one maternal and one paternal) who also became bona fide writers.  I say this is a twist of fate because we do not come from a long line of literary families.  We are distinctly middle and working class folks who were born in smallish cities in the Midwest.  We come from grandparents who were farmers, carpenters, electricians, etc.  We come from parents who moved off the farm and into the business world that supports farmers.

All this surfaced again today because I ran across my cousin, Ryan Longhorn's blog.  Ryan and I had lost touch, as he is a bit younger than me and I left Iowa while he was still in junior high, but we recently found each other again on Facebook.  I've know about Ryan's fiction writing for about ten years, but it's been great to start a bit of a dialogue with him again.  He has a horror story about agents and NY publishing houses, but that's his story to tell.  For now, here's his blog, Universal Acid.  I have to warn you, Dear Gentle Readers, that Ryan is in no way the prim and proper Blogger that I am.  He's letting it all hang we used to say, back in the day. 

My other cos. is Marta Ferguson, a poet, a sci-fi writer, and an editor.  Marta and I are closer in age and it was Marta who offered me a room in her house in Columbia, MO the year that I left my professional life and decided to apply to graduate school.  Marta's chapbook, Mustang Sally Pays Her Debt to Wilson Picket, is available from Main Street Rag and is definitely worth the read!  Again, a bit less prim and proper than me, I admire Marta's willingness to tangle with many of the issues I might shy away from in my own work.  By the way, Marta does poetry manuscript consultations through her editorial business Wordhound, if any of you are interested.  She definitely helped me get a handle on Blood Almanac before I sent it out into the world.

So, as the song goes, "We are family!"  I wonder if some future grad student might someday write a paper on our family ties and what literature we made of it.  I'll leave you with this diagram from the University of Manitoba that details how to count cousins.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer of the Ill Winds

a wonderful morning thunderstorm and now 82 blessed degrees at 11:26 a.m.  ~ amen

Summer 2010, the 39th Summer

Summer of the Ill Winds
Summer of the Sick Bed
Summer of the Unfortunate Luck
Summer of the Fever Sweats
The Lost Summer
The Body Rebellion Summer
The Summer I Lost My Health and Regained My Appreciation for Breathing without Coughing

Well, I've been absent again, Dear Readers, without planning and with great frustration.  Just after I finished my two weeks of drafting I came down with a head cold.  No problem, I thought, it's the summer.  I can rest and drink OJ and take over-the counter meds and it will be gone in 48 hours.  Not so, not so.  The head cold traversed my sinuses, then headed for the ears and throat and finally settled in my lungs.  The coughing which will not let me sleep began a week ago.  Four days ago, I "woke up," really just roused myself from my sick bed where I'd been able to doze off and on during the night, to discover, I'd developed the stinking pink eye.  Yes, you can give yourself pink eye, no need to be exposed to another victim...just manufacture the illness yourself.  So now, I'm officially diagnosed with bronchitis and conjunctivitas and am on the dreaded antibiotics I'd tried to avoid. 

The worst of it is the frustration with my own body.  I feel as if it has betrayed me this summer.  First the back issues, now the upper respiratory stuff.  I live a fairly healthy smoking, very little drinking, lots of sleeping, and ok, maybe not enough exercise, but that was changing due my physical therapy for my back.  As a good friend, who is suffering her own ill-fated summer, just said in an email:  what angry god have I offended?  (I paraphrase). 

Really, I feel like the weak secondary female character of a Victorian novel.  You know the one, the one who succumbs to the fevers and the chills, who faints at the slightest upset and takes to her sick bed to be nursed by our heroine, the strong and undiscovered beauty whom the hero will eventually recognize as his soul mate, leaving the simpering, whimpering weakling to his lesser peer. (Pictured here is The Sick Woman, by Jan Steen. RIJKS MUSEUM, AMSTERDAM from a book on Flemish furniture.  It's odd that the chairs are detailed there as well, but the picture sums up my past weeks so well I grabbed it.)

Needless to say, poetry has been sidelined for the time being.  I haven't had more than a few hours of undisturbed sleep at any give time for the past week, so my brain is muddled at best.  Yesterday, I was able to read a beach book and keep up with the plot so I'm hopeful that poetry will be back on my agenda in the next few days.  Be patient, Dear Reader, and I will try to transform my sickness into health.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Good News Email Strikes Again

88 deg ~ full sun, almost no breeze at all

Last night saw the good news email striking again.  Glass: A Journal of Poetry accepted the poem "Flood Plain."  What's interesting is that this is the one poem that I attempted to write to fill a spot in my current manuscript.  I've written on this blog in the past about being in awe of people who can write toward a project or know that they need four more poems for this section and 2 for that.  In any case, this is a poem that I felt I needed to write for a section of my manuscript to be complete, but it has not come easily.  I've always loved the poem, but I kept fiddling with it over the last two years, knowing something wasn't quite right.  Luckily, Holly Burnside and Anthony Frame, the editors of Glass, put their fingers right on the problem and suggested a revision that does wonders for the poem.  Once again, I am indebted to the heroic actions of underpaid and underpraised editors who do what they do simply for the sake of poetry.

Way back in the day when I first started submitting, there were very few, if any, journals that did business by email.  Instead, everything was stuffing envelopes and paying postage and watching the mailbox.  Part of this pattern meant that acceptances and rejections arrived at a certain time of the day that was fairly reliable.  A poet could gird herself for the thin envelope of rejection and do a little dance of joy when a fat letter arrived with a contract inside.  Now, emails arrive at any time of day or night, and while I'm happy to have the news in a more timely fashion and without the payment of postage, a small part of me misses those expectation-filled walks to the mailbox as fewer and fewer journals send word by post any longer.

At this point, I have the fewest poems in the past three years out in circulation.  Luckily, this is because many of them were accepted, although few were sidelined along the way...benchwarmers waiting for me to take another look and see if I can get them fit enough for the first string.  This is all the incentive I need to head into my revision process on the drafts I completed just recently.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day Fourteen: Draft-a-Day

91 deg at 10:15 a.m ~ mostly sunny, very little breeze to speak of, a thunderstorm last night that brought some rain

Day Fourteen: Dear Reader, we've reached the finish line!  Woo Hoo.

Last night, I noticed a photography book I had purchased back in April but hadn't had time to really delve into.  I placed it on my desk with the intention of it serving as my inspiration for today's poem.  That's a bit more premeditation than I usually resort to, but I knew today would be my last day and the temptation to skip the writing would be even stronger than yesterday.

The book is Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild by Michael Forsberg with essays by Dan O'Brien, David Wishart, and Ted Kooser.  The University of Chicago Press published this in 2009.  Knowing that many people have differing definitions of the plains and the prairie, I first checked this book out from the public library to see if it had anything about Iowa in it.  The book is divided into three major sections: the northern plains, the southern plains, and the tallgrass prairies.  The last third of the book does indeed contain information on my homeland, so I went ahead and invested in it.  I'm glad I did.  Forsberg's photography is amazing, and the quality of the production is worth the price tag on the book.  The essays are rich and nuanced, well-written, too.

But what it's all about today is the poem.  I started by flipping through the book and reading the captions that accompanied the photographs and skimming the essays for now.  Every once in a while a phrase would sing out to me (i.e. "following the prairie bloom" and "kettles of Sandhill cranes") and I'd jot it down in my notebook with an attribution if I took it from one of the essays.  Eventually, I drafted six lines based on a picture of Sandhill cranes roosting on the Platte River during their migration.  Sadly, these never rose beyond pure description.  There was no heft to them.

I moved on and became transfixed by an image of a northern harrier at her nest.  In fact, I was able to find nearly the exact image from the book, available on MF's website, link through the image and here.  The image of the northern harrier soaring is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and taken by Frank Schleicher, link through the image and here.  Again, I started with description in part from the photograph and in part from the details provided by the Cornell Lab's website.  These lines too failed to lift off.  It was only when I combined some of these lines with some of the inspiration phrases from the book that I got something going.  The draft is called "Prairie Conflict" and addresses one of my main internal dilemmas.  I am an advocate for restoring the native prairie and plains and protecting all the plant and animal species that have been decimated by agriculture; however, agriculture is what makes the economy of the Midwest run.  It's what supports my parents and my family, even though they are now removed from agriculture as their primary means of income.  Frankly, the towns of the Midwest live and die by the success or failure of the farmers that surround them.  So, in some ways this is a political poem for me, but the issue isn't black or white.  The poem focuses on the harrier, a species that has come back from being endangered, its recovery in large part due to conservation efforts.  And the poem also acknowledges the value of farming.  It's true that farmers and hunters are often the best conservationists, but the world's hunger and the expansion of cities seem to be growing at a rate that eclipses even the best efforts of conservation.  Perhaps this is more of an essay topic, but for now, it's a poem.  My favorite lines of which are: "A northern harrier hunts on the wing and haunts / the air with a piercing, descending scream."

So, that's that.  I now have 12 drafts to show for my two weeks of purposeful writing.  This is the first time I've ever imposed an assignment like this on myself.  It makes me wonder.  I've spent lots of my writing time in the past drafting lines and crossing them out and not producing anything, happy to come up with a viable draft once a week.  What would happen if I imposed this assignment on myself each time I sat down for writing time: no email, no blogs, nothing else until you get a draft on paper.  I still worry about the material being forced.  I also will need revision time and time to read more, which this drafting has cut into.  As always I come back to balance...something it seems I'll always be searching for in every area of my life.

A huge THANK YOU to all of you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with me and providing your support.  I probably could have done it without knowing you were out there, but I bet it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, and I might have drifted off the plan more easily with no one there to hold me accountable.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day Thirteen: Draft-a-Day

87 deg ~ was gray and cloudy an hour ago, but now the sun has cleared the air, a breeze stirs the trees

Day Thirteen: It's a good thing I chose to do this project in the summer when the days stretch out with little structure.  Had a hard night's sleep, not quite insomnia, but fitful.  So, another late start, although C. assures me that this kind of thinking should only apply during the school year.  What does late mean when there's nowhere to go and no one to whom we are accountable but ourselves?  (A wise man, that man I married.)  Still, it's hard for me to shake off the self-judgment.

When I finally made it to the desk, I must confess, Dear Readers, I was ready to throw in the towel on this draft-a-day experiment.  Really, I already have 10 new drafts...a nice round number...why not stop there?  However, I'd woken up thinking about January Gill O'Neil's book Underlife, a copy of which I'd won on January's blog almost six months ago, I think, maybe more.  Like most of the books I acquired in the late winter and spring, Underlife was relegated to the summer reading pile.  In order to get started today, I thought I'd take a peek I can't wait to read the whole thing!

I did start today by gathering up words from the first few poems in the book and then I went ahead with the random generation of pairs.  On the third pair, I knew I'd struck pay dirt: rage and hourglass...fraught with imagery and meaning.  Two more components entered the mixing pot:  one) a poet friend had recently shared a true litany poem, with her repeated phrase being "breath of..." and two) my fitful sleep.  I ended up writing a draft titled "Litany for the Insomniac" with the repeated phrase being "Suffer the... ."  Of course, I was thinking of the biblical "suffer the little children to come unto me," although there's nothing religious in the poem.  It's written in couplets, with the second line of each couplet indented.  Right now my favorite is the first, which I must thank January for inspiring.  "Suffer the rage of the hourglass, / its body smacked hard and cracked."  There are four words from my Underlife word bank in this group: suffer, rage, hourglass, and cracked.  Throughout the rest of the draft, I picked a few more words from the word bank and did some pulling from thin air as well.

Litanies, a type of catalog poem, can be fun to draft, but I have my reservations.  It's harder to tell when the poem is finished.  In fact its harder to discern the real skeleton of the poem, since one could go on creating more repetitions all day.  As my creative juices were drying up this morning, I tried to force this draft to go a particular way.  I was stubborn; it was stubborn.  Eventually the draft won and I had to delete one couplet that I really liked but that didn't fit the skeleton that took shape. 

I am beginning to wonder if these drafts are becoming forced or if the pressure-cooker of the 14-day program just produced results.  Time and the revision process will tell, I hope.  As always, I'm thankful for those of you who stop by to read and to comment.  One more draft to go.  Official count: 11 drafts in 13 days.  Woo Hoo!

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January Gill O'Neil
CavanKerry Press, 2009

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day Twelve: Draft-a-Day (Who Does She Think She Is?)

87 deg ~ and a very late start at the desk of the Kangaroo ~ nothing but sun and 97 - 100 deg for the next seven days

Ah, Dear Faithful Readers, I have so much to say, it jumbles my mind...or addles it as my friend Anne says.  Let me start by reporting that Day Eleven was obviously a wash, which I knew would be the case for family and friends reasons.  Also because yesterday, I hosted my Who Does She Think She Is girly night.  Many, many thanks to Kelli for sending word out about the availability of this DVD, which I've long wanted to view.  So last night, seven women gathered in my living room and enjoyed each other's company and a great discussion after the film.  We were split with about half being mothers and half being without children, which made our discussion many-layered.  All thanks to the wonderful women who joined in the merriment and seriousness last night.

The night went a bit late for me, and I am a creature of habit.  I have a system and I feel most comfortable when that system remains unfiddled with.  (I know this must seem boring to many of you!)  So, Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were days spent outside my routine.  All of that is to say I just got started at my drafting at 9:45 this morning instead of 8.  I'm feeling a bit woozy and my back is acting up b/c I haven't done my therapy prescribed exercises and I've not concentrated on my posture for two days.  In other words, I thought today would be a waste at trying to draft.

How wrong I was!  I scooped all the pesky bills and papers off my desk, turned on the classical music, and picked up Simone Muench's Orange Crush, another book waiting for me to resume my reading time more fully.  I thought I'd look for words there and inspiration.  I did jot down a group of words, but I had my inspiration from the first line of the first poem, "Hex," which begins "Trouble came and trouble / brought... ."  For some reason, the phrase "The trouble with this...." popped into my head.  I jotted down some awesome words from Muench's work, maybe thirty words or so, and as I was doing so, I kept glancing up at the small postcard I had tacked above my desk with the painting "Wind Goddess" by Mayumi Oda, one of the artists featured in the video.  If you click on the image of it here, it will link to the website that sells her prints.

I wrote a draft of six tercets in under 15 minutes.  I think that's some kind of record for me.  The title of the draft is "The Trouble with This Goddess" and it bleeds into the first line.  Because I can't stop writing about my poor back, the goddess in the poem takes a big leap from the inspiration and crafts straight, metals spines for a group of "hex-slumped figures."  My favorite line right now is "a mistress of posture and flexing wings."   That the draft happened so quickly and while I'm not in the best of shape has me a bit dazed.  I know this one will need a lot of revision, or at least I think I know that, but for now I'm just happy to be 10/12 in terms of drafts completed during this two-week journey.  Two days to go and then the season of revisions will begin and I can return to reading as well.

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Orange Crush
Simone Muench
Sarabande, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day Ten: Draft-a-Day

79 deg ~ below 80 and after 9:00...must be a cold front!

Today was a true test of this 14-day journey.  I usually write best when I have no obligations until much later in the day (late afternoon/evening), but today, the man and I have plans that begin quite soon.  I didn't know if I'd be able to concentrate on writing with a bit of a deadline in place.

As usual, I cast about my desk for some place to begin.  I always clear my desk of everything except some poetry books, my journal, and my pens.  I set my monitor to sleep and push my keyboard out of the way (until I draft enough lines in my journal to gather the momentum necessary to make the jump to the computer).  One of the books I picked up for inspiration this morning was Oliver de la Paz' Requiem for the Orchard.  I only read three poems and a line began in me:  "What was taken from me then... ."

I turned to my journal and started scribbling.  The lines in my journal look like one thick stanza, but as I transferred them to the computer, I saw the tercets forming naturally.  My usual method is that about 2/3 of the poem begins in the journal and I have to shift to the computer to finish it.  This may be due to the size of the journal and my handwriting.  I need to be able to see the whole thing at once, apparently.  In any case, that's what happened today, and I'm really pleased with the leap and turn the poem took once I was composing on the computer.  It is titled "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart," obviously influenced by de la Paz' title and the mood of the pieces I read in the book.  I'm definitely looking forward to sitting down with Requiem for the Orchard and reading the whole thing straight through.

That's one drawback to this draft-a-day journey.  I've lost some of my reading time.  But I'll be back to my "What I'm Reading" posts in a few days, I'd wager.  Until then...thanks for stopping by, Dear Readers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day Nine: Draft-a-Day

88 deg ~ a bit of a late start at the desk of the Kangaroo today, the forecast is set on repeat (heat and humidity and sun), eating fresh Arkansas blueberries and Georgia peaches

Another day, another draft!  I don't know why I'm so surprised, but I am.  I do know that there will be much more work to do on these during revision.

Today, I sat down with my journal and, as usual, fumbled about without knowing what to write.  I kept coming back to the fact that today was Day Nine (image from  Eventually, I decided to write a poem called "Nine for the Ninth Day" and I would write a nine-line poem with each line being nine syllables...very reminiscent of Sylvia Plath's "Metaphors," I confess, although without the riddle and subject matter.  (Sorry, no link to the poem online.)  I made it through three lines of counting syllables and I gave up.  I have stated before and I'll state it again, I'm not a formalist.  When I have to start thinking about syllables or meter or rhyme, I get completely pulled out of the poem.  I can't drive a stick shift either because it requires me to multi-task in a similar way.  A connection?

Abandoning my nine poem, I grabbed the Charles Wright book, Country Music, which was still on my desk from yesterday.  I decided to fall back to my word bank and random pairs of words exercise to get me going (process explained on Day One).  Sometimes I do feel a little bit weak for needing a launching pad, but perhaps this is just because I'm not writing toward a specific subject matter.  Today, I gathered up the words and made the pairs and nothing really leaped out at me.  Eventually, my brain started scanning the page and making its own connections and I came up with "there's a notch in the breath, / some secret root taking hold of the lungs," and I went from there.  I still used the Wright words as fodder, but I didn't worry about the pairs.  As I wrote the first couple of couplets (my old standby), I also remembered one of my favorite lines from Alice Walker's story "Everday Use."  Well, actually, I misremembered it.  The line I love is Mama's epiphany about Maggie: "This was Maggie's portion. This was the way she knew God to work."  What I remembered and took for the title of this draft was this: "The Way She Knows the World to Work."  Something that surprised me about the draft is that it is about a speaker with a troubled life, but I'm not the least bit troubled.  It reminds me of another thing I'm not very good at, which is writing the celebratory/happy poem.

Just looked at the draft again, and wouldn't you know it, it's composed of nine couplets.  Honestly, I wasn't consciously thinking about the number any more.  The nine couplets are broken down into three sets of three, where each set repeats a phrase: "Some days...," "Everywhere,...," and "Sanctuary is... ."  Weird how the mind works ~ weird and fun.

Oh, and I also realized that some of you, Dear Readers, might have joined the Kangaroo recently and not know about the inspiration cards to which I keep referring (Day 6 and Day 8).  You can read about where I got the idea and how they work here and here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day Eight: Draft-a-day

85 deg ~ another day of full sun and full on humidity...thank the stars for the wonders of A/C, not even the birds are singing today

Another day, another draft, more delight & surprise & gratitude.  Again, the draft spilled quite easily from my fingers once I got a grip on where it wanted to go.  I used two different inspiration cards this morning, a bit of a dream/nightmare, and without re-reading them, the memory of two  Charles Wright poems from his collection, Country Music, one of my top ten poetry books that now bears re-reading. 

I've included a picture of the two cards here.  The bits that made it into the draft are these:  the words "Urban Archaeology" became part of my title, "Urban Archaeology: 2027"; the letters and the flicker made it into the poem; the religious imagery of the gold-leafed door made it in, but not as a door, as an icon; and the "renegade secret" became "the secrets of renegade prophets."  I really wanted to use the bluebird but felt that the flicker was enough bird for this one poem.

So, I started looking at the cards and remembering a dream I posted about on Facebook.  In the dream I had night before last, I cut my cat's claw too close but instead of it bleeding, my upper molars started bleeding, not from the gums, but through the enamel on the chewing surface.  Highly disturbing, but weirdly no pain in the dream.  As I recalled that, I remember a Charles Wright poem that begins with a litany of four lines that all begin "Year of the... ."

Here is his poem:


Year of the Half-Hinged Mouth and the Hollow Bones,
Year of the Thorn,
Year of the Rope and the Dead Coal,
Year of the Hammering Mountain, Year of the Sponge . . .

I open the book of What I Can Never Know
To page 1, and start to read:
"The Snow falls from the hills to the sea, from the cloud
To the cloud's body, water to water . . ."

At 40, the apricot
Seems raised to a higher power, the fire ant and the weed.
And I turn in the wind,
Not knowing what sign to make, or where I should kneel.

As I said above, I didn't re-read the poem until after the draft was finished, and I'd forgotten the turns the poem takes in the second and third stanzas.  My draft is a four stanza litany, with the first two lines of each stanza beginning Year of the... or Year we... variations.  The third and fourth lines of each stanza are indented right now.  I think I'll need to add some kind of turn and remake a different ending during the revision process.

My first line right now comes from my dream and is "Year of the bloodied tooth and torn claw."  That set the tone of violence for the rest of the poem.  I'm not all that comfortable with violent poems, so this was a new direction for me.  Then, somehow, I blended the above Wright poem with another, "Self-Portrait in 2035," which obviously has a futuristic quality.  I toyed around with setting my poem in the current year, "Urban Archaeology: 2010," but it wasn't clearly based on real events of this year.  Then, I remembered Wright's future-looking poem and decided to set my poem in the future as well...thus 2027 in the title.

Here's the other Wright poem:

Self-Portrait in 2035

The root becomes him, the road ruts
That are sift and grain in the powderlight
Recast him, sink bone in him,
Blanket and creep up, fine, fine:

Worm-waste and pillow tick; hair
Prickly and dust-dangeled, his arms and black shoes
Unlinked and laceless, his face false
In the wood-rot, and past pause . . .

Darkness, erase these lines, forget these words.
Spider recite his one sin.

I love Wright for his lines, which lengthen and fragment in his later works, but I also love him for his use of ADJECTIVES, of which I'm always being told to be wary.  I can't quite believe that I have seven drafts to show for eight days of work.  I FEEL LUCKY TO BE ALIVE IN THIS WORLD!

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Country Music: Selected Early Poems
Charles Wright
Wesleyan/New England, 1991

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day Seven: Draft-a-Day

up another two degrees to 88 ~ forgot to mention full sun, but we are so lucky most of our house is shaded ~ if you don't believe in the power of trees, please contact me and I'll testify

Oh my, Dear Faithful Readers! You may notice my earlier post about Allison Titus' book and my certitude that I'd have a draft today. I must confess that was pure bravado (or would that be bravada in the female sense?). I just wasn't sure what would happen, but today was one of those slick-as-a-whistle, quick-as-a-lick drafting sessions. Wheeeeeeeee! I'm giddy and high with it.

The story of today's draft, a bit fragmented:

The whole time I sit at the computer now, I'm fixated on my posture. This is all part of my physical therapy to repair the muscles I damaged in my lower back. The kneeling chair is the best for me, because I can't cheat and lean back. Sometimes, the words of my physical therapist echo in my head. Today's draft is called "Body Work" and it contains some of those words. It begins, "The hips are a compass / and the spine should align / dead center." Not word for word what my PT said, but close.

The thing is, when I first opened my journal and began rambling, I noted that I thought I might write about doors left unlocked b/c C. had just told me I'd left the door unlocked after getting the paper. Sadly, we live in a place where thieves have been known to open doors (with the residents at home!) and grab purses or keys that have been left right inside. After I'd doodled on about the doors and locks, I added that I might also write about "how hard it is to retrain the body" and voila that's what today's draft turned out to be.

I'm hesitant because the poem is completely autobiographical and it is definitely about my own struggles with my own body. My very first national publication was in Natural Bridge and the poem was called "Reasons Why I Diet." It was sooooo transparent and, in my mind, earnest. The guest editor mentioned it in her introductory note. Not only did she get my name wrong and call me "Sally" (the horrors! offense to any Sally's out there, the name just doesn't fit me), but also she thought the poem was humorous and me a writer who "makes us laugh out loud." Ouch, that stung a bit. Ah, I've just learned that Sally Longhorn is listed on the website's table of contents for this issue as well, although it was correct in the ToC of the printed version. Sigh.

In any case, I haven't written a poem about my own specific body since then. Once this new draft had found a stopping point (who knows if this is where it will really end), I reread it and felt the shadow of that sting, the impulse to hide the draft as it might reveal too much about me personally and might be misread as well.

And yet, that's the thing I love about drafting with no particular project in mind. What rises to the surface is a new surprise ever day. As always, I have no idea if this draft will survive the revision process; however, for now, I'm going to celebrate that at the end of the first week, I'm 6 for 7 in terms of getting my pen on paper and then my fingers on the keys to craft something that resembles poetry.

What I'm Reading: sum of every lost ship

86 deg ~ only 9:30 a.m., highs predicted at 97 or 98, plus humidity = summer in Arkansas, can't imagine how it feels in Louisiana/Mississipi

Today is Day Seven, Dear Reader, but as I sat down to draft, I decided to start with reading over my favorite poems in Allison Titus' first book, sum of every lost ship, for inspiration.  Instead, I got drawn right back into the lovely drama of the book and lost my drafting mind.  Not to worry, it will return as soon as I write this mini-review.

Before I start though, I have a question.  Both Titus' book and Suzanne Frischkorn's, that I write about here, have titles that are not capitalized on the covers; however, in the LOC data on the copyright page, they are capitalized.  The authors and the presses often use the capitalized form themselves.  I'm not judging, but I'm wondering what is going on.  Is this a font thing?  Or is it intentional?  If it is intentional, why switch to the capitalization for the official documentation?  How would the author like me to present the title? 

Now, to Titus, the power of this book is in the way the author creates a mood of longing and loss with such beauty that the reader is sucked into the vortex of the poems and feels compelled to keep reading.  The book is separated into five sections and paced like a good meal: in fact, the book begins with an untitled proem that I liken to a petite bouche.  It begins, "Think of the nights that / have broken without a word, // have left a starless sky in / your throat."  That lament of brokenness, of disconnection, is the theme that holds the whole book together.  Of the five sections,  each is made up of a handful of poems, with Part Three being a long poem "From the Lost Diary of Anna Anderson," a woman who may or may not have been Anastasia Romanov. 

The book begins with an epigraph from Don DeLillo's Americana: There is a motel in the heart of every man.  Every section of the book, save the Anna Anderson section, contains a prose poem titled "Motel."  Each of these highlights another thread in the book, which is a sense of urban landscape encroaching on the rural, a clash between what is human made and what is wild.  For example, here is the first motel poem.


If only some small lament could inventory
our reckonings and we could be done with
it, all the old griefs.  Get on with it.  From the
floral bed of our discount suite the view is
industrial, all oil slick and water tower.  No
permanent forest no fox skulking the river;
no river.  Just the concrete.  Just transformer
boxes upholstered in snow.  Only this
afternoon and the way we have decamped 
inside of it.  A palsied etiquette of retreat.
Our familiar vocabularies ruined.

These motel poems become touchstones, as we sense the speaker in transit, never able to rest as she searches for something, something never quite named.  Throughout the entire book, I felt I was in strong and capable hands, such empathy pouring out from the pages, that I knew there was a real human heart at work here, but not in the sentimental sense.  There is intelligence and careful attention to craft, the diction just right, the line breaks and stanza breaks fit just so, and the use of the caesura in a way I envy.  Another example, the verbs in the poem "Reckon Thy Disease Its Courtship" sent me spinning (i.e. "Where water baskets / the shoreline..." and "Mineral weeds ratchet the cold..."). 

Here's a brief glimpse from the end of "Inclement":

Once there was no language
for the weather, just               The sky is low and birdless;
or The sky is a box of wings.

I will definitely be on the lookout for more work by Allison Titus, she moves me in new directions as both a reader and a writer.

Support a Poet/Poetry! Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Sum of Every Lost Ship
Allison Titus
Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day Six: Draft-a-Day

84 deg ~ cloudy skies, brisk breeze, humidity so high it's hard to breathe

Before I get to today's process notes, I'd like to acknowledge the disaster that struck western Arkansas early Friday morning, when a flash flood wiped out Camp Albert Pike, which can hold as many as 300 campers.  So far, 16 are confirmed dead, but that number may continue to rise today as more search and rescue teams deploy in the remote, mountainous and heavily-forested area.  If you pray or not, I hope you'll take a moment of silence or two for the families and individuals who died there. 


Today is the sixth day of my write-a-thon project, and I was so worried it would be another tooth-pulling day like yesterday.  However, I sat down to the desk with determination.  I switched up the music I'd been listening to and selected Yo-Yo Ma's Bach: The Cello Suites.  I sipped my coffee and thought of how to begin.  Without too much waste of time I reached for my inspiration cards and selected one, pictured here.

The yellowjacket in the bottom right jumped out at me, along with the caption.  As I began writing about the yellowjacket and it's "simpler story than ours," I wanted to refresh my memory about the species.  I clicked on Wikipedia (yes, yes, I know it's not a solid source, but it's fast and easy to understand...I always confirm the details later.)  As soon as I saw that the genus name was Vespula, I felt a surge.  Two things struck me:  One, a good friend has recently acquired a Vespa and I wondered if the name came from the name for wasps?  Probably not, but I like the association.  Two, that friend has had problems with arthritis in the hips and back...This led me to think about a friend I knew a long time ago, with whom I've lost touch, sadly.  This woman was older than me, a mother figure, and diagnosed with MS while I knew her.  At the time, I also happened to see a television clip about people who used bee venom to alleviate the symptoms of MS, arthritis, and other debilitating diseases.  I have no idea if it really works, but it all came together in today's poem "Vespula Cures."  A few lines I like so far:  "Old wives and snake oil / salesman agree.  They give the capture nets / away for free but sell the secret for a hefty fee."  Maybe too sing-songy.  Time will tell.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day Five: Draft-a-Day

77 deg ~ if yesterday was gray, today is positively black, storms throughout the night, rain coming down in sheets though not perpetually, windows still specked with water

I knew this 14 day write-a-thon would be a challenge, and it is living up to my expectations.  Perhaps, my pace is more the once-a-week drafter, and that will be okay, but I'm determined to see the 14 days through.  Today, I began by reading over the drafts in my "In Progress" folder.  There are a few from April and May, and then the three I'd already completed in this brave new attempt to write a draft a day.  I'm proud of these drafts and feel that they all may well survive.  Today's results, not so much. 

Without an immediate spark, I decided to try another launching platform today.  In this one, I copy out sentences from some work of prose and then replace each noun, verb, adjective, and adverb with either words of my own or words I've gathered from various other sources.  This is a bit like a Mad Lib.  Once it's been filled it, I redraft the poem into lines and allow variances to emerge from the original sentences.  This has been highly successful for me in the past.  Today, given that the Bruce Metcalf catalogue was right at my elbow, I turned to one of the prose pieces about his work and picked a few sentences for my framework.  Then, I decided I would copy out all the major words from his titles and use those as my word bank, along with any words I brought to the table on my own.  After ten minutes of trying to force the puzzle to take shape, I knew the process wasn't going to work today.  However, I did come up with these two lines on my own during the process:  "No longer queen -- / a body betrayed."  I flipped to a clean page in my journal and wrote:  "Detained in a braided cotton cage / No longer queen -- a body betrayed."  There, that felt right.  There was an energy in the lines that I felt would go somewhere, so I started drafting.  After three more couplets (my favorite drafting form, often revised out), I saw that all three couplets ended on slantish rhymes  "cage / betrayed," "wound / bruise," and "fever / fervor" so I thought aha, almost heroic couplets...just missing the iambic pentameter.  So I started fiddling in that direction, and alas, Dear Faithful Reader, somewhere along the way, the wheels came off that wagon.  (Oh, I'm just full of cliches today!)

Still, I have something typed up and printed out to put in the folder, and I can say without hesitation that I'm 4 of 5 in my drafting challenge.  This one may be the weakest of all, but that doesn't mean there isn't something there I can return to in due course.  That's one of the wonders of being a writer.  The material is malleable. 

Thanks for taking this journey with me, Dear Readers.  Knowing you are out there keeps me honest and motivated!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day Four: Draft-a-day

75 deg ~ summer rains on and off all day, breezy, grayish day

Well, what happened to Day Three, you ask, Dear Readers.  Day Three was a bit of a wash.  I woke early enough but I never wakened fully all day.  There was coffee.  There was sugar.  Neither could conquer my drowsiness.  I felt drugged all day, despite having been off the painkillers and sleeping pills for a full week.  I did put in the time at the desk, although my back was not in a happy mood (it's hard to adjust to the fact that I'll have some bad days here and there while I'm rebuilding the strength in my back...I used to take for granted sitting in front of the computer for long hours). 

I had one of those writing days I'd predicted.  I read some first and then struggled to draft a few lines here and there...lines I thought wholly unconnected at the time.  This photo is of Lou-Lou agreeing with me that we should just go back to bed, which we did at 10:00 a.m.  (Believe me, I know I am blessed with this summer schedule.  I do not take it for granted, but I also know I earned it and I do not apologize for it).

Day Four arrived in total opposition to Day Three.  I slept well and I slept long.  I woke up with clear eyes, a clear mind, and great energy.  I brewed my coffee and skipped the sugar, and although I burned my tongue, I knew it would be a good day.  I opened my journal to the lines from yesterday, and like a puzzle, the pieces snapped into place.  The cover of the catalogue of the Bruce Metcalf show was sitting beside my arm.  The cover image is a detail of the work shown here:  "Deliverance from a Gilded Cage." (Photo from this article at the Traditional Fine Arts Organization's website.)  The poem took shape in response to this piece, but not necessarily as an ekphrastic poem.  Aside from there being a gilded cage (I know, I know, risky, right?) in the first line, there is little else taken directly from the visual of the piece.  It is more a response to the mood/ emotion/ feeling/ whatchamacallit of the art.  Is there a word for that type of poetry? 

In any case, I ended up with a poem titled "This is Not my Body, This Body That Refuses."  (Are you detecting a theme, Dear Reader?)  I had originally scribbled those phrases as two lines for a poem.  This morning, I saw them instantly as the title that went with some other lines I'd eked out yesterday.  I had about 1/4 of the poem from yesterday's misery.  Today, I added and elaborated.  I ended up with another couplet poem, but of shorter lines.  However, I also have a new form going on (new for me).  Half of the couplets are from a first-person speaker.  These are left-aligned.  After each "I" couplet, there is a response from a chorus type of speaker, sometimes responding to the speaker, sometimes telling the audience something the speaker might not want revealed.  This response is also a couplet and indented one tab.  I kind of like it, but the whole thing seems much more fragile than the poems I wrote on days One and Two.

So there you have it, I'm 3 of 4 so far, with 10 days to go.  Thanks for accompanying me on the trip, Dear (sensitive) Reader.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day Two: Draft-a-Day

80 deg ~ bright sun lighting up the tree leaves (I first wrote tea leaves), a cardinal calling what-cheer, cheer, cheer ~ yesterday a pair of Carolina chickadees outside the window, today replaced by a chipmunk scaling the bushy tree

Amazingly, I was again able to produce a draft with relatively little hesitation (knock wood).  I guess it's true that bouts of non-writing can lead to bouts of writing.  (There is hope!)  I'm a little dizzy with the high of having written.  I'm writing without any project or topic in mind and just seeing where the words take me.  Lovely, lovely feeling. 

Today's draft is a mix of two moments/events from yesterday. 

First, after I finished drafting yesterday, I went back and started blog surfing.  I found the new prompt at Big Tent Poetry: write a pantoum that somehow addresses a personal anger.  I printed out the prompt, mostly to remind myself of the pantoum form.  I was heartened by the sentence:  "Pantoums aren't as scary as one might think."  As my Dear Devoted Readers must know, I am no formalist, and in truth, forms tend to scare the Dickinson out of me (hee hee).  But, I knew that I'd need something to start with today, and I figured if I blew it, that would be okay, b/c I'm on this 14 day journey and not all 14 drafts will be winners.

Second, my good friend Anne Greenwood (artist, bee- and chicken-keeper, gardener, and so much more) came for a visit yesterday.  We had a wonderful lunch and then headed down to the Arkansas Arts Center to see "The Miniature Worlds of Bruce Metcalf."  Metcalf is a studio jeweler (a phrase I hadn't heard before) whose work spans five decades and is amazing for its intricacies and its visual poetry.  I went so far as to buy the exhibit catalogue, which is something I've never done before.  I was particularly taken by a piece from 1980 titled "Vessel with a Cargo of Light."  Sadly, I can't find an image of it online, but here's a link to Metcalf's website, which includes samples from each decade.  I've linked to the 80's and the top two images are from the same family as the one that inspired me.  The work in the photo here is "Two Doves in a Private Garden" from 1999, taken from Metcalf's website as well.  Like many of Metcalf's truly miniature pieces, this functions as a brooch, although Anne and I wondered about the weight of the pieces.  One of the drawbacks to museums is not being able to touch.  I'd gladly don white cotton gloves or whatever protective gear required to touch paintings and sculptures and all the other categories of art held behind protective barriers. 

So, I rose this morning early and pulled out the catalogue from Metcalf's exhibit and the description of the pantoum.  I knew immediately that the anger angle didn't really interest me, but I wondered about using one of Metcalf's longer titles as one of my repeating lines in the poem.  I started flipping through the plates and when I saw "Vessel with a Cargo of Light" I knew I had my line.  That phrase is the fourth line of the first stanza, thus becoming the third line of the second stanza as well.  At first I was stymied because the art focuses on an oceanic image.  I tried writing from that perspective but it didn't feel genuine, since I've mostly lived as a landlocked person (save 18 months outside of Boston, even then I wasn't near enough to see the ocean everyday).  After scribbling around a bit, I found a new direction: a landlocked girl who romanticizes the oceanic and feels dessicated by being landlocked.  (Not sure I'm really good at boiling a poem down to a descriptive sentence, but that's close.)  The poem is called "Pantoum for the Landlocked Girl" for now, with an epigraph naming Metcalf and the piece that launched the poem.

As for the form, I found it a bit constraining, as I normally do.  However, I can admit that it forced me to think in a different way and perhaps some lines emerged in this draft that wouldn't have without the form.  I will definitely let this one sit for a bit and then come back to it and try to figure out if the form works or if I need to revise away from it.

Woo Hoo!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day One: Draft-a-Day

77 deg ~ clear skies, light breeze in the upper branches, bushes and lower limbs nearly still

Today begins an attempt to write a draft a day for 14 days.  My own mini National Poetry Writing Month, two months late, but there you have it.  I've been frustrated in not writing since school's been out (nearly a month now...sigh).  Yes, I've been reading a lot of poetry, as evidenced by my posts of late, but I wasn't getting the pen to paper and what was worse, I was making excuses for it.  Paperwork and laundry and floors that needed cleaning...which led to a back injury and a delayed trip up home.  Even as I simmered in frustration I knew I could have been writing throughout all of that (well maybe not the worst days of pain and medication).  So, after the trip to Iowa and resettling into my routine here, I decided on my 14 day challenge.  No excuses!

I even have a new journal to set things off on the right note.  I finished my last Moleskine a few weeks back and went down to WordsWorth, my favorite independent bookstore...just four blocks down the lucky am buy some more and right inside the door, I stumbled on a display of these amazing journals from a company called Two's Company (can't find a website).  About the same size as my preferred Moleskine and with blank pages!  Ever since I read Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones when I was a young and innocent 18 years old, I've written in journals without lines.  It turns out I'm one of those people who need the room to roam.  I also have atrocious handwriting and sometimes it gets a bit on the large size.  Now, I find having to write on lined paper a total nuisance and rarely do so.  In any case, when I saw these journals were unlined, I did a little jig right there and proceeded to buy every version they had with birds on the covers: nine in all.  The back cover states both the common name of the bird (Red-whiskered Bulbul in this case) and the scientific name.  It also gives the region (nearly always Asia and/or Africa) and a brief description.  Totally cool for a bird lover like me. 

Happily, today's draft went so smoothly, so easily...scary!  Knowing I'd been away from the journal for a bit, I decided to use my favorite starting point.  I gathered a word bank, this time from Allison Titus' book, sum of every lost ship, which I'll be posting about soon (fabulous!).  I randomly jotted down strong nouns and verbs and tossed in a few adjectives.  Then I counted (48).  Using the random number generator at, I gathered the words into groups of 3, gaining a bit more distance from the original text.  Really with the second or third grouping I knew a poem was taking shape.  I drafted it in my journal...two pages of solid words.  Woo Hoo!  When I felt myself winding down from the inspiration point, I shifted to the computer.  The title of the draft is "Lament at the End of a Long Convalescence" (obviously inspired by real life events of late!), and with such a long title and such densely packed hand-written beginnings, I landed on couplets with longish lines.  There's too little vowel music for my likes at the moment, so I'm sure I'll be revising the dickens out of it, but I'm thrilled that I had something to say and that what feels like the skeleton of a complete poem found its way to the page today, rather than fits and starts of lines here and there.  Two things about the poem:
1. It centers around my recent injury and recovery

2. I first used a fox due to Titus' poems; however, we've had a recent influx of coyotes into our somewhat urban neighborhood, so I changed the fox to a coyote...much better for this poem, no offense to Titus. 

I know a lot of people post their drafts on their blogs and then sometimes take them away after a few days.  I'm just not that brave, and if I did post the draft, I'd probably forget to evaporate it.  A lot of journals are becoming even more regimented about what they consider "previously published" so I'll continue to opt to keep the drafts to myself.  As a sneak peek, here are my favorite lines at this time:  "........  There is salt.  // As in a refrain we hum.  As in thirst.  / As in what the body considers necessary."

Well, Dear Readers, this morning's drafting has made me a bit verbose and slightly dizzy.  Now, I'll be running those errands and I have a date with a good friend to see an exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center this afternoon.  Woo Hoo!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What I'm Reading: girl on a bridge

83 deg ~ sun, sun, sun & it's quite difficult to determine if there are minor clouds anymore, given I'm enclosed in a shelter of green leaves on both sides that afford a view of the sky

Readers who were with me for my AWP posts know that Suzanne Frischkorn helped me kick off the conference by having dinner with me that first night in Denver. Suzanne is one of my blogger friends, blogging at Lit Windowpane, and it was a delight to meet her in person, finally! As dessert, I received my copy of Suzanne's new book, Girl on a Bridge. I'm only sad I couldn't read every book that I got in Denver (plus those remaining on my stack from before) simultaneously. Still, Suzanne's book was worth the wait.

It's appropriate that the first word of the title is "girl," but we are not dealing solely with the child-girl in this book. Instead, the word "girl" stands for all the complicated facets of the feminine, all the crossing overs we experience in our lives, and thus, the "bridge" becomes apparent as well. In this case the girl eventually becomes a wife, then an ex-wife, a wife again, and a mother. While the poems are always expertly crafted and with wonderful turns of the language, there is a sense of wildness caged here, of emotion contained.

The opening poem "Great Lash" begins with the speaker as a city teen exploring all the accoutrement of femininity & sexuality. It opens with the lines "Our cornfields were paved in asphalt, sulfur / lights snuffed our stars" and goes on to list moments experimenting with makeup and boys. The sentence "We were not sweet girls" is used as an effective refrain. These girls are the girls of my generation, when parents continued to have a life of their own and the nuclear family frayed or fragmented. The poem ends with this: "We were not sweet girls, no. If there had / been corn, or stars? Maybe the deep / sweet girlness would have surfaced--dreamy / fresh-faced girls--petals listening to rain."

As the book progresses, the girl grows into womanhood. There are poems of marriage and the aftermath of an ended marriage. Then, there are poems of new love and motherhood. None of these poems are sugar-coated; they all read as honest, true accounts.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the book is this one, which I'll leave you with.

Perpetual Motion


The gulls swooped circles
above our house all morning.
Concentric serendipity
not a touch of wing tips
in each loop, crisscrossing
the same radius for hours.


It's noon and the sky is empty.
I am round with superstitions.
I would rather use
the number 11 or 7
if given a choice.


On Tuesday
I took Weed Avenue because it hugs
the bay in an S curve, and stopped
for geese crossing in circles
towards the guardrail.
I kept a silver Eclipse behind me
and face the Mercury traveling west.


This platinum band
will not slide past my knuckle.
The sapphire flanked in diamonds
cuts off my circulation
now, when I need the comfort
of circumference most.

Support a Poet / Poetry: Buy or Borrow a Copy of this Book Today
girl on a bridge
Suzanne Frischkorn
Main Street Rag, 2010

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday at the Desk of the Kangaroo

84ยบ ~ full sun, the slightest of breezes

Here's a picture of Lou-Lou that sums up the last couple of days. Having spent 5 days away from the desk of the Kangaroo, I've been having some trouble getting back into my routine. There were things to deal with (bills and laundry and whatnot) and my back is still not up for long stretches at the computer. (I cannot believe how long the recovery period for this simple injury is going to be!) Also, I'd fallen incredibly behind on my blog reading. I use Google reader, and while I almost never read every blog post, I do have quite a few blogs on that list and so many of them are especially compelling.

Over the last two days, I've cleared the list. Woo hoo. I must confess, Dear Readers, if your blog is a usual haunt of mine, I might not have done it justice b/c I skipped leaving comments, mostly; however, such is life. I'm always grateful to know you are out there reading what I've posted, and I cherish your voices, too.

Speaking of other voices, here are some links you simply must check out.

Late, late, late, but this past week's poem at Linebreak is stunning in it's simplicity. Click here to read "Salina, Kansas" by Trey Moody. I'm jealous, jealous, jealous of this Midwestern poem.

Also, Suzanne Frischkorn's poem "Zoological Garden" from her new book, girl on a bridge, is up at Verse Daily today! Lovely, lovely.

Michele Battiste has been doing some interesting things with templates and some new results are up. I'm intrigued by this process and may use it next week as I begin an attempt to write a draft a day for two weeks.

If you missed it, Jehanne Dubrow was on Fresh Air on Monday. Take a listen! (Link is in her post.)


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Where I've Been

76 deg ~ yes, it is 1:30 a.m., and the temp is 76 deg...looking at 90's for the highs next week, with one 100 deg day in the forecast

I don't normally write about my family much here at the Kangaroo, but given my silence the last week or so, I figured an explanation might be in order.  So, this is where I've been:  meeting my great-nephew for the first time.  Let me tell you, Joseph Matthew (aka Joey, aka Peanut) is one happy kid.  The back injury delayed my trip by a week, but we still managed to fit in some quality aunt-nephew bonding time.  Unfortunately, I couldn't really tote him around and swing him about as much as I wanted to given that I'm still on restricted lifting and exercising.  That will have to wait until our next visit later this summer.

Iowa was its normal, stunning spring/summer self, although some of the fields have had to be replanted due to a late freeze.  I got my fill of staring at the neatly combed rows of corns just starting to get a good grip in the dirt.  Now, I'm homesafe, the back is on the mend, and I'm planning a poem-a-day write-a-thon starting on Monday, I think.

As for the time of this post, I've been struck by a cruel blast of insomnia, reminiscent of my bout with it in Denver at AWP.  However, this time, I'm home in my own bed after days away, I haven't had any caffeine since 6 a.m., and there isn't much to stress about, so I'm not sure who I've offended to deserve such treatment, but I'll gladly perform my penance to get back to sleep!