Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Academic Duty Calls

90º ~ sun breaking through clouds, no rain to report, another day of ominous skies with no rain

Academic duty calls me away from the Desk of the Kangaroo until Friday.  Until then, Dear Reader, until then, may the poetry you read be full of surprising images and meaning that dips beneath and beyond the page; may the words you write fill you with a sense of accomplishment, no matter what stage the draft.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gift of a Manuscript Exchange in Progress

76º ~ stormy skies, the smell of heat and a coming rain on the air, windows open despite the humidity

Usually, I like to use Mondays to post on what I've been reading.  This morning I can't do that because what I've been reading is a gift, an unpublished (as yet) manuscript by another poet.  Through the wonders of the internet, blogging and Facebook, I've been lucky enough to become friends with Stephanie Kartalopoulos, who is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri Columbia and a poetry editor for Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts.  Earlier this month, Steph agreed to do a manuscript swap with me as we gear up for the big autumn submission race.

Sylvia Plath draft of "Bees" from the Modern American Poetry website.  Click image for link.
I'm not going to write about Steph's amazing manuscript, but I do want to write about the process and how lucky I feel to be a part of it.  This morning was my second read of the book, a time when I could sink more fully into the poems and underlying themes.   I had two major thoughts in doing this: 

1) I should be reading more books for second and third times fairly close together in time, rather than the months or years that sometimes lapse between my readings of favorite books.  A good book of poetry is the proverbial onion needing to be peeled to reveal the inner heart.  I wonder what I've missed by not doing this as much as I could have done.  I wonder how much the hectic pace of this 21st century life has trained me to not re-read.  We are a product based culture, a gold-star-in-the-box for each task community, and that isn't how poetry works, or it isn't how poetry should work.  However, I'm guilty of this.  There's nothing I love more than to check another book off my to-read list.  This leads me to wonder again about those folks who claim literature, and poetry especially, is dying or dead.  The groaning bookshelf to my right begs to differ.  I feel the pressure of that stack of books in my bones, that feeling that even if I read a book a day I'd never read through all that is being published this year, let alone last year or over the last decade, let alone all those brilliant writers from centuries past.

2) In my creative writing workshops I have to convince my students first of the idea that reading their peers' drafts will improve their own writing by default.  Reading through Steph's manuscript brought this home to me again.  As I read in awe of her subtle ways of stitching themes together and her often stunning images, I also found places the book could be strengthened, small moments to shore up.  And with this, I also thought of my own book, somewhere in the recess of my mind, and what might be needing a bit more work within it.  This is the gift, the being willing to invest in another person's work and being willing to open myself to hear where my own can be improved.  I know both of these books will be the stronger for.

Many thanks to Steph for going on this journey with me. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What I'm Reading: Face the Fear, P & W Sept/Oct 2010

81º ~ overcast, muggy, breezy, seems like a brewing storm, but we're on the low chance of getting one, others will be more lucky

I've just been reading through the new issue of Poets & Writers and enjoyed Rachel Kadish's essay "Face the Fear: A Rallying Cry for Writers" so much that I wanted to post about it here.

The essay begins with a reiteration of what Virginia Woolf writes in Chapter 3 of A Room of One's Own: "It [the world] does not ask people to write poems and novels and histories; it does not need them."  In Woolf's essay, she is pointing out that in the face of this denial of the arts by the world, women have it even harder as they are denied not just in art but in gender.  Kadish puts a 21st century spin on this.  The world still doesn't demand that writers write; however, the new weight on our shoulders is an economic slide and a publishing industry in flux as technologies advance and recede. 

So, Kadish sets out to give us a pep talk, and let me state here that I tend to laugh a bit when I read these kind of pep talks, as many of them are written by prose writers who might be more used to receiving monetary gains from their writing.  As a poet, I expect little to no financial reward, and have thus built a life of writing around a separate career that provides my paycheck (teaching).  I do commiserate with those fiction and non-fiction writers out there who have seen a diminishing of the once mythic publisher's advance or even the receiving of several hundred dollars from a journal.

All that being said, I found Kadish's essay to be on point through and through and laced with enough humor to keep me going along for the ride.

When Kadish writes, "To be a writer in any culture, but perhaps especially this one, is to defend one's way of seeing the world against those who are suspicious of complexity and prefer to leave dark corners of the human psyche unexplored..." I am reaffirmed.  While not a political poet, I do believe that writing is a political act at the heart of it, something that endangers writers around the world, and I am blessed to live in a democracy that might ignore my work but will not imprison me for.

Later Kadish again affirms something that I too believe.  In writing about which authors succeed at having a long career in letters, she sates, "The people who keep writing are the ones who keep writing.  Talent is a prerequisite, yes; but ten or fifteen years out, the ones who are still at it are the ones who didn't stop.  There's no magic to it, only sheer bloody-minded stubbornness."  Stubbornness I've got to spare, just ask my family!  I try to teach my students the lesson of persistence, and I practice that lesson by submitting to journals over and over again, even in the face of rejection.  Now, I'm enacting that stubbornness with the second book as well. 

In response to a publishing world that feels as if its gone amuck, Kadish advocates, "Write freer.  If no one is paying anyway, shouldn't we write what we want rather than what we think will sell?"  Here's one of the times that I had a little poet-as-pauper pride.  Maybe I'm not a novelist b/c I can't figure out the trends, and it does seem that the world of the novel, even with the many, many sub-genres, is all about trends.  Maybe the poetry world is too and I'm dense to that as well!

I'll leave you to read the rest on your own if you're interested, in your copy or at the library.  

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The David Shields' Reality Hunger Wrestlemania is Over

83º ~ brilliant & clean sun, the heat and humidity creeping back up

I'm finally ready to be done with David Shields.  As I reported in my last post about this (here), I had read Shields' essay "What We're All Looking For" in The Normal School 3.1, but I was holding off on commenting until I'd read the follow up article, by Bob Shacochis.  Dear Readers, I started Shacochis' essay "What Everybody in the Room Knows" two hours ago and after a trip to the library to get Shields' book Reality Hunger again, I couldn't even finish the essay.

Here's the backstory:  I read an excerpt of Shields' book in PEN America and loved it, but then found through the notes at the end that most of the words Shields presented as his own weren't, in fact, his own.  This caused me to check the book out from my local library (go libraries!), where I discovered that Shields presented an argument for blatant plagiarism in the name of collage-texts.  I've been trying to process this for months, and then I stumbled across the two above mentioned essays in The Normal School.

First, my notes on Shields' essay "What We're All Looking For."  In this essay, he clarifies for me that the book, Reality Hunger, is an argument for the lyric essay and against the novel.  (I hadn't read more of the book after I read the "I'm plagiarizing on purpose" statement.)  In this argument, he claims, "I and like-minded writers and other artists want the veil of 'let's pretend' out."  My notes say, "But he pretends to author giant chunks of's all let's pretend."  In his essay, Shields praises Georges Braque because in his works "you don't have to think about literary allusions, but your experience itself."  Shields goes on to write, "That's what I want from the voice.  I want it to transcend artifice."  My notes ask, "Isn't RH entirely artifice if he's alluding to other writers' thoughts, ideas, and actual words without attribution?"

The next bit might have touched a personal nerve.  Shields says of lyric poetry, "When a lyric poet uses, characteristically, the first-person voice, we don't say accusingly, 'But did this really happen the way you say it did?'"  I beg to differ!  I get asked this question quite often, and not just by students or beginning readers of poetry.

The rest of the essay goes on to defend Shields' collage technique without directly discussing the appropriation of other writers' words.  My notes go on as well, at length.

Next, I turned the page to Shacochis' essay and was heartened because it seems that Shields had sent Shacochis the manuscript not knowing how he might react.  Here would be an essay that questions as I question.  It does, and Shacochis makes very clear when he is quoting or paraphrasing another writer.  I immediately felt comfortable with Shacochis' authority.   Shacochis engages in a give and take, a conversation with the text of Reality Hunger, and therein lies my problem, the reason why I didn't finish his essay.  In section 3, Shacochis writes, "He [Shields] writes in section 371: 'Great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings.'"  My notes read, "Really?  Did Shields write this or take it from someone else?"  I continued on, and each time I came upon a quote from Shields, especially those introduced with a "he writes" phrase, I stumbled because I was pretty sure the words weren't Shields' at all, that he had lifted them whole from someone else and placed them in his book, with a publisher-forced appendix that supposedly listed sources but often just contained a last name.

This led me to the library to check out Reality Hunger again so I could find out who had said the things Shacochis was quoting from Shields.  What I discovered was that the manuscript Shacochis quotes from does not match the published book.  Luckily, with a little Google finessing, I was able to figure out that the numbering of sections was off by about 30 and could quickly find that the section 371 Shacochis mentions is section 405 in the published book.  Then, through use of that appendix Shields didn't want to include, I discovered that the quote above belongs to "Auden, paraphrased and altered by Edward Hoagland."

I checked through the first two pages of the essay, and in fact, all of the quotes Shacochis presents as Shields' belong to others.  This might have been fine if Shacochis had begun his article with an explanation of Shields' technique, if he had alerted the reader of his article that it isn't really Shields writing anything, it is Shields copying texts.  However, Shacochis doesn't do this.  His essay is concerned with Shields' attack on the novel as a form, not with Shields' techniques.

I confess that I teach research techniques to college students; however, I also teach them that they each have a voice and something to say that matters.  What happens when we stop attributing quotes to their original authors?  What happens when someone who doesn't know that Shields is quoting someone else in those quotes that Shacocis passes along?  Yes, some of my discomfort is as a writer who wants credit for the work she's done, but some of my discomfort resides in a world that more than ever rewards lying, cheating, and stealing in the name of religion, politics, and even art.

I must seem like a stick-in-the-mud traditionalist, a librarian with her button-down Oxford shirt buttoned all the way up, a militant English instructor ruining students right and left by my insistence that attribution matters.  Some claim that what Shields is doing is avant-garde or cutting edge.  If it is, I'll stay here in the backwater and give proper credit where credit is due.

Sean O'Hagan in The Observer
Laura Millier on
David Shields on The Huffington Post explaining his views

Herein lies the end of my wrestlemania with David Shields' book Reality Hunger.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Draft, Or How To Kill Trees With Your Art

73º ~ clean sun, clean blue skies, no haze of humidity mucking up the view

As many followers of this blog know, during the academic year my goal is to draft one new poem per week, and this usually ends up happening on Fridays b/c I don't have to go to campus on most Fridays and weekends can involve family and friend time.  I'm the kind of drafter who needs acres of unscheduled time, although I don't spend hours and hours drafting.  I can usually get something workable happening in two - three hours.  This means that I could be drafting every day.  However, it seems that when I try to draft on days when I have a deadline...I have to be at school by 11:00 on Monday-Thursday...I feel too much pressure and end up watching the clock, breaking my concentration.

***I KNOW this is self-indulgent, and I KNOW that I'm blessed to have a life that allows me three days out of every week when I can create unscheduled days.  I give thanks to the Great Creator every day for this.

So, after battling a stream of ants that had taken up residence in our shower this morning, after running over to a friend's house to water plants & check on the cat, after playing with my own cats so that they might leave me in peace, I sat down to draft.  I have a messy stack of torn out pages and printed stuff from blogs/websites that is terrorizing my desk these days, but I did remember that among the stack were several ideas for drafting. 

The first one I dug out was a poem that had been published in translation and the journal was cool enough to publish the original Slovenian version as well.  I've used the mock translation exercise for years, when I can get my hands on poems published in a non-Latinate language.  The way this works is that you look at the poem in the original language (without having recently read the translation to English) and you start forming lines in English "suggested" by the foreign language.  For example, this Slovenian poem contained this phrase, "ne on nista priotna," which suggested something about neon and prisms to me.  You doodle around with phrases until it sparks lines for your own poem.  Sadly, today, this just led nowhere for me.  I'll hold onto the Slovenian poem and try again with this later.

Next, I found a print out from a Guest Blog by Aimee Nezhukumatathil on the Ploughshares blog.  In this blog, Nezhukumatathil discusses the Japanese form, haibun, which is made up of a prose poem finished off with a haiku at the end and usually on the topic of travel.  Definitely go and read this blog post for some great information.  I don't usually write prose poems, but having traveled to Jamaica last month, I thought I might be able to use some of my photos from the trip as inspiration.  Having the new form to try was also a big help.  Since the form was new to me, there was no pressure to be perfect right off the bat. 

My not-so-great attempt to capture the full moon in a photo.
I opened up my iPhoto program and set my landscape photos of Jamaica to play on slideshow.  One of the first images was of the full moon from our first night in Negril.  Thus began the draft.  Per usual, I began in my journal with pen to paper.  I got a good hunk of work done there and when it began to take on a recognizable mass, I switched to the computer.  What I found as I worked on the poem was that I was consciously aware of the danger of cliche in writing about a trip to the Caribbean.  In fact, the first few attempts were so rum-soaked, I had to wring them out to dry. :)  Eventually, I found my way and have completed a draft with the working title "Haibun from Negril," but I hope that changes.  How boring.

I think I came close to fulfilling the goals outlined for the Haibun in Nezhukumatathil's post, although I'm not sure I got close enough to the dog walking on the ceiling that she mentions.  As this draft goes toward the revision process, I'm making the note to think about magic realism in my revision.  Just as a thought.  I was also glad that Nezhukumatathil mentions the fact that in the contemporary haibun, there's room to play with the haiku syllables as well.  I'm trying for the traditional 5-7-5; I am trying, but right now, it wobbles a bit in the middle.

Today's title also mentions the killing of trees.  In my usual method, I get to a point where I believe a poem is "complete" in the sense that I can feel a beginning and an ending.  When I'm winding down for the day, I'll read and re-read the "complete" draft out loud, tinkering and tweaking a bit.  Then, I print out the draft and date it.  I might find a few more things to change along the way and go through 2-4 printed pages before putting the poem in the "In Process" folder.  Today, for some reason, and I think it was the prose, I kept printing, reading, and tweaking over and over and over.  I think I went through 15 sheets of paper, yet I really did believe that each time I printed it that would be the last.  Silly me, I kept re-reading it out loud and finding things to change.  A danger here is changing too much at this stage.  I need to let the poem sit and breathe and dry its new wings before I start poking at it too much. 

It's probably a good thing that I'm not much for prose writing as there might not be any pine trees left in Arkansas by the time I got done printing and re-printing my drafts.  Oh, and remember that I never use clean paper for drafts.  I always print drafts on the back side of paper I've brought home from work: extra handouts, stuff that gets put in my mailbox or handed to me at meetings, &etc.  Also, we recycle everything here at the home of the Kangaroo.  Hopefully, the trees will forgive me for today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Windows Wide Open & David Foster Wallace

66º ~ sunlight creeping over my left shoulder through the trees, a promise of 86 for a high, feeling lighter than I have in weeks as the heat abates, have thrown open the windows even though I'll only be in the house for another half hour of so, cats in chaos with only screens between them and the urban wild kingdom beyond

Many thanks to my good friend Anne for sending me this quote from the beginning of David Foster Wallace's essay "A Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" found in his book A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

"When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad’s alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathematics. I’m starting to see why this was so.  College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner’s sickness for home.  I’d grown up inside vectors, line and lines athwart lines, grids --- and, on the scale of horizons, broad curving lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates.  The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals are easements, as integral as schema.  Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put in light.  Calculus was, quite literally, child’s play."

I've never been a fan of DFW, but I also have never read his essays, just attempts at his fiction.  Truthfully, Sick Puppy from Girl with Curious Hair (1989) freaked out my naive, Iowa-girl mind when I was 18.  Not sure I was ever able to overcome the trauma...I recognize this is my failing and not DFW's.

While I love what DFW says here about those vectors and lines that are imprinted on my soul and thus infuse all of my poetry, I was terrible at calculus.  In fact, I'd been excellent at math until my senior year in high school when I hit pre-calculus.  I could work the formulas and get the "right answers" for tests, but I couldn't understand what I was doing.

I confess that finding out DFW was from the Midwest, and wrote about it like this, motivates me to read more.

Here's a lovely image that includes DFW with a field of corn.  May he rest in a peace that apparently alluded him here on earth.  

Image from The Village Voice Blogs. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I'm Reading: Vinyl

74º ~ the sun is busy with its rising through a sky of gauzy white and blue, everyone here is giddy with the prediction of lower temps, but more importantly lower humidity, the weatherman was almost radiant with the good news last night

This morning has been a disorderly approach to reading time. Eventually, though, I settled on reading the premier volume of a new online journal: Vinyl Poetry. I believe that I linked to this journal through either Adrian Matejka or Kristy Bowen's blogs, as both are poets I admire and both have poems in the issue.
Cover Art by Allie Kelley (
I have to admit that the cover art whetted my appetite. The pluck and joy of the that little bluebird with its worm (an early bird, perhaps?) made me smile and want to click through, even though I already intended to do so. I've since also gone to the artist's website, listed above, and you should too, if the work moves you as it did me.

Here's a list of poets making an appearance in Volume 1:

WOW! That's quite a list, and after reading through the issues, I'm pleased to say that the whole thing stands up quite well. Also, kudos to the designers of the site for making the navigation between poets simple.

My favorite poems from the mix include:
Adrian Matejka's "Cocaine Blues" (a Johnny Cash poem, exquisitely wrought)
Anne Marie Rooney's "Alice, leaving the Caterpillar" (always hard to add to a legend like Alice's, but this one works)
Kristy Bowen's "how to re-imagine your life through mythological characters" (wonderful weaving of allusions and new additions to our mythology)
Sasha Fletcher's "all the tired horses" (a prose poem of bewilderment laced with darkness)

There are three other writers in the issue who, when asked by the editors to submit a handwritten grocery list, each moved in an entirely different direction from each other. Check out the results from Julianna Baggott, Jeff Mann, and Bob Hicok.

This is definitely a journal I'll return to for Volume 2. Also, hats off to the editors, Gregory Sherl and K.M.A. Sullivan for their submission policy. I'll let you discover that one on your own, Dear Reader, click here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

RIP Mrs. Chambers 1917 - 2010

71º ~ dawn, clear skies, no breeze to speak of

Yesterday, my mom emailed to let me know that Mrs. Chambers, my fourth and fifth grade English/Math teacher had passed away.  This morning I found her obituary online.  Her first name was Melvina, something I'd never known; she had two children, something else I didn't know, reminders that teachers have personal identities beyond the classroom. 

What I did know about Mrs. Chambers are these things:

She had been widowed for almost 30 years by the time I met her, losing her husband in an Air Force training accident.
She was missing the tip of her middle finger on one hand and would tell us she lost it in a paper-cutter accident.
She taught me the phrase "close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades."
She had a beautiful laugh.
She eased us through the transition from grade school to middle school.
She made me love math as much as I loved English, at least for a time.
She made boys on the verge of adolescence cry...but in the best way...with literature.  She read books to us, and if anyone would argue that this is a waste of time in the classroom, that it doesn't move the students closer to passing those all-important tests, I'm here to tell you that hearing those stories come to life in her voice made me want to be a writer.  That and watching those boys put their heads down on their arms and weep for the boy and his dogs in Where the Red Fern Grows. The power she held in her voice, the power she shared with us through that book, was nothing short of magic.

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Chambers, you touched so many lives.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Still Wrestling with David Shields

79º ~ today I noticed the sun rising later for the first time, a hint that the seasons might actually change, a hint in the forecast that we may not experience the 99+ days this week, and miracle of miracles, the window open this morning and no muggy heat seeping in, just a cool sense of the outer world

Ah, Dear Readers, I am troubled.  I continue to mull over my thoughts about David Shields' book Reality Hunger and his thoughts on an artist's ownership of his or her works.  If you missed the discussion, you can catch up here and here, where I comment after checking out the book itself.  Today, I've been reading another essay by Shields that was published in Volume 3, Issue 1 of The Normal School, one of my newest favorite lit mags.  I've read Shields' essay there and have scribbled all over the margins, but I'm holding off on commenting just yet.  The essay is followed by another by a different writer in conversation with Shields and I want to digest that too.

So why bring it up, you ask.  Well, thanks to some long lingering doubts and Marie Gauthier's blog, I couldn't leave it alone today. 

First the doubts.  While thinking about Shields' argument for the right to mish-mash the words of other writers without having to attribute the copyright, I had this vision of how this might apply in the art world.  According to Shields' premise, he would be fine with me copying the paintings of great artists and then having a show of my own in which I placed these pieces of art "in conversation" without adding the typical tag next to the art that gives the who and when for the piece.  Really?  That just rankles this scenario, I would not be an artist, but a copyist.  Yes, there is value in putting pieces of art, fragments of dialogue, bits of music "in conversation," but to act as if they are my original works, as Shields does in his book, I just can't get my Midwestern ethics around that.

***I do know that Shields expects his readers to pick up on the fact that he's quoting from others, and when the quotes are obvious, I did; however, when it turned out that the majority of his book was made of copied paragraphs, I had serious doubts about his work.  Much more on this later.

Here's an image I did capture myself at school last week that sums up how my brain feels right now.

As some of you know, I've taken to creating collage cards, mixing images and text that I've cut out from magazines, junk mail, and any other material I can get my hands on.  I make these cards as inspiration for poems and also as personal cards that I send to friends and family.  When I started doing this, I talked with an artist friend of mine about the rights of the artist.  After all, I was chopping up their work and had no way of attributing it, as many of the photographers weren't listed on the junk mail or in the ads of magazines.  However, there were some images with credits.  Talking with my artist friend, we talked about collage and fair use and how I wasn't using the entire photograph and calling it my own.  I was cutting it up and making something new.  She said that was okay and that artists had been doing it for quite a long time. 

Then, today, I was blog reading and Marie Gauthier provided a link to photographer Steve McCurry's blog.  Marie's link was to the most recent post of images of people reading, which is really cool.  However, I caught the title for the previous post and had to click it:  Pirating and Plagiarizing.  In this post, McCurry gives examples of people using his images without seeking permission or rights.  In fact, he talks about one woman submitting his photographs as her own and getting them published.  ACK!  Of course, I'm on his side!  This is exactly my problem with David Shields' non-quotation marked, embedded quotes (what his book is mostly made of).  And yet, now I wonder, have I done the same thing with my cards.  No, I do not sell them, no I do not publish them as "art."  I do not claim the images as my own.  They are private, and no one who sees them would believe the images to be my original work.  Have I crossed a line?  Should I stop?

I did do a quick Google of "fair use in art" and "collage copyright," and it seems that artists are being warned against collage that uses other people's images.  If I don't claim to be an artist, is what I'm doing okay?  Because I use images from popular magazines and advertisements, is that different from using images from photos that are fine art?  Who owes what to whom?

I'm troubled, Dear Reader, because I get such joy and such a creative charge from creating these cards.  Must I stop?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Putting the Money Where the Mouth Is

90º ~ hard-core sun, a solid breeze stirring up the heat

Whew!  I just completed my round of August submissions.  I now have work out at 26 journals, which is huge, considering I only had 2 submissions still out there from Spring 2010.  Clearly, I believe in simultaneous submissions, although I like to think I've gotten smarter about the whole submission process.  I used to be a "carpet-bomber submitter," tossing packets at journals that would never accept my work.  In my defense, I read as many journals as I could, but it took me years to learn the different aesthetics at even a small fraction of the journals that are out there.  Add in the fact that many journals are edited by grad students and aesthetics at these journals can change every couple of years.  Even now, when I feel like I have the tiniest of toeholds of a reputation in the poetry world, I still feel like much of my submitting is hit or miss.  I have narrowed my journal pool considerably and limited the number of journals a given poem can go out to.  Live and learn.

Envelopes available at De Milo Design, click for link

Many poets build their reputations as I've done, by placing individual poems in lit mags on the way to publishing full-length collection.  Given that I'm doing the same thing with book #2, I thought it appropriate that I put my money where my mouth is.  Therefore, I'm having a special promotion on copies of Blood Almanac.  If you purchase a subscription to a lit mag between now and October 1, you will qualify for a 50% discount on my book. 

Email me at sandy dot 40 dot longhorn AT gmail dot com for details.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Revisions Blooming

82º ~ some thin cloud cover with sun drifting through, an amazing brief but power-packed thunderstorm yesterday afternoon...hoping for another one today to cool these 90+ days...on track to break the records of 1954 and 1980 in terms of hottest summer in Arkansas

The academic groove has proved to be a boon for me.  Not only have my classes gone well this week, but I've slipped back into the writing rhythm like a well-oiled bicycle chain slipping onto the teeth of the chain ring.  For those familiar with this rhythm, you'll know that Fridays usually end up as drafting and/or revising days.

Last weekend, I tried to work on revising a bunch of the poems I'd drafted during my 14 days of a-poem-a-day drafting.  It was horrible.  I hated all of the poems and wanted to throw in the towel.  Serious doubts followed.  Realizing that I was worn out from a week of professional development and prepping of classes (NOT in the groove), I quit after about an hour.  Thank the stars!

Today, I bravely swept my desk clean of all the riff-raff clutter.  Then, I stacked the folders of poems that needed to be looked at again (these are ones that have been through hefty revision in the Spring and have maybe gone out once to journals) on top of the folder of poem drafts from June.  I eased into things by starting with poems I had some confidence about.  I fine-tuned, tweaking a word here, a comma there, reading and re-reading aloud until I was happy with the sounds.  Then, I'd print a fresh copy and place it in the folder, close the folder and set it in the ready-to-submit pile.  Slowly, I worked my way down to the poems that were newer and in need of more elbow grease.  The time spent with each poem began to lengthen, but I felt happier about the poems than I did on Sunday.  Yay!

Now, I have a fat stack of folders containing poems that seem fit to send off into the world.  One of my goals for this weekend is to send off my August submissions.  Today's work gives me hope that a few of the poems may find homes sooner rather than later.

What I learned by the end of today's revision work is this:  I've been grumping about losing July to health issues and the beginning of August to getting ready for a new school year;  I WAS WRONG.  The time away from the poems really did give me new insight into directions for revision.  I wasn't as married to a single word or phrase.  In fact, I was able to delete the last three stanzas of a nine stanza poem and start over from scratch, having known all along that the ending didn't work.  Suddenly, it was like the petals of those stanzas stretched out and bloomed without me having to force them.  Yay!

What I also learned:  nearly every poem contains the word "pollen."  HAH!  A few years back, I noticed a trend with the word "grass" in a bunch of poems.  These are things I can't see when I'm in the mix of drafting...only after time has passed do I make the connection.  I can explain this pollen fascination without any trouble.  We had some major pine pollen issues here in Arkansas this past spring...March - June our porch was yellow-green with it, almost like sand piling up on the porch of a beach house.  It definitely drifted into my imagination in a major way.  So, I leave you with this photo of pine pollen from Jane Larson on the Niwot Ridge Long-term Ecological Research site.

Ahhhhhhh choooo!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Link City

79º ~ Below 80º at 9:00 a.m., some kind of miracle, humidity is back on the rise, although no 100 º days predicted this week...just upper 90''s been a sweatin' summer

Getting back in the school groove here at the desk of the Kangaroo.  Finding a routine for reading blogs daily or at least every other day.  My stack of books to read beckons me, and Fridays will probably be reserved for drafting, revising, and otherwise WRITING.  Today, what I have to offer are some links for your pleasure, Dear Reader.

Anna Clark is sharing the celebration of  90 years of the 19th Amendment over at her blog, Isak.  It's still stunning to me that women have had the right to vote in this country for fewer than 100 years.  Still, there is hope for civil rights as long as we keep fighting the fight for a true democracy.

Free, Free, Free: Your chance to win a cool journal just by leaving a comment at this post on Drew Myron's blog Off the Page.    Journals are made from copies of "vintage books."

Josh Robins has got a great discussion going about writing about tragedies over at Little Epic Against Oblivion.  Drop by and read what's there and add to the conversation if it moves you.

Finally, Emma Bolden, blogging at A Century of Nerve, has started an AMAZING new project in which we can all participate: The Yawp!

Click away!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Beginning Again

83 º ~ a front is lingering over the state and keeping us from reaching trip-digits for the next few days, highs still in the 90's though and 100 in the forecast for next weekend

Today has been about resetting the daily routine to the academic calendar.  Students have populated my online classes and I'll greet my on-campus students tomorrow.  That means, the desk of the Kangaroo will be occupied on MWF mornings before office hours, prep work, and grading kick in.

I wasn't sure how this morning would go.  Yesterday, I tried to work with some of my summer poems and I just felt like they were all trash.  I stopped trying to work with them after about an hour, afraid I'd do more harm than good with that mindset.  I'm glad I did.  Today, I started over.  I picked up a poem I'd ripped out of a journal during our vacation last month.  (Check out this post for an explanation.)  I hadn't even made it to the second stanza when I felt a shift in my brain and I suddenly knew what I needed to do to two of my own poems to make them work.  With that, I was off on a revision binge.

In part, I know I need to get into this revision mode with some real fervor.  Yesterday, I noticed that I only have 2 submission left outstanding (both from March), and of those 2 submissions, only 2 poems are still available.  Yikes!  This is not to say that I'm a slave to the submission process, but having a few sets of poems out in the world reassures me that I'm on an even keel.  This could be a mistake if I were to rush poems out there that weren't ready for an editor's eyes, and I confess, I've made that mistake in the past.  However, as I've matured as a poet, I think I've gotten a better grip on holding poems back until they are more fully capable of standing on their own.

With all that being said, I did send out one submission this morning.  That was a warm-up.  I hope to spend this coming weekend hip-deep in journals and poems and submission guidelines.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spreading the Joy

99 steamy deg ~ a sky of bright sun, a slight breeze that simply pushes the heavy air but does nothing to alleviate the heat, lethargic

Between the heat and professional development week, blogging and poetry have slipped a bit; however, next week my normal MWF routine shall rise again.

In the meantime, huge congrats to those poets selected by Claudia Emerson for the Best New Poets 2010.  With apologies to Jane Austen, "Among them are some who will claim an acquaintance with [me]."  I'm so happy to celebrate with Angie Macri, whose office is across the hall from mine and is a good friend as well, along with Luke Johnson, who has become a blogging friend through the miracle of our existing in the age of the internets.  To Angie and Luke and all the rest, hooray!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

All Y'all Poets, Check Out This Link

88 deg ~ some sun, some whispy clouds, some chance of thunderstorms in the offing

Today: doing my blog reading, feeling good b/c I've been keeping up with the daily posts on my long list of blogs, and needing to share this link with all the poets out there.

Kristy Bowen is an amazing creative force and the editor of Dancing Girl PressOn her blog, dulcetly, she has drafted a beautiful epistolary essay, "dear poet."  Here's a brief excerpt, but all y'all poets would do well to jump over there and enjoy it right now.

The essay begins:

"You will probably never make any money off your writing. You will, however, have shelves full of contributor copies, cupboards full of ramen, unspeakable urges to go to law school or library school or some other semi-responsible thing. You will cry a little each month when you write that frightfully large check to Sallie Mae, or when you can't afford nectarines in the grocery store, when your cats/spouse hate you for not running the air conditioner nearly enough when it's 95 outside."

Read the essay; it's worth the time!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Speaking of Definitions

88 blissfully cool degrees ~ cloud cover but dead calm, storms are building

So, I'm sitting here reading the paper and enjoying my last weekday off before my faculty duties resume on Monday, and I stumble across this sentence, regarding the cementing of the infamous well in the Gulf.

"A day before, crews forced a slow torrent of heavy mud down the broken wellhead from ships a mile above to push the crude back to its underground source." (appearing in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, byline = Democrat-Gazette Press Services).

I actually stopped reading after "heavy mud," because I couldn't get the question mark in my brain to turn off.  A "slow torrent"? Is that possible?

Here's the definition of "torrent" from

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How Do I Not Know This Word?

103 deg ~ yep, yet another day of trip-digits, but hey, we get a break tomorrow with a high of 95...break out the long underwear!

From the OED:
petrichor, n.

 A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions. Also: an oily liquid mixture of organic compounds which collects in the ground and is believed to be responsible for this smell.

 What I'd like to know is, how have I, a poet who loves dirt and the weather, gone this long without knowing this word?

Many thanks to Jean Morris who posts at Tasting Rhubarb for enlightening me.  Morris links to Marja-Leena Rathje's blog with more information.  Apparently Bear and Thomas coined the word in 1964 for use in their article as quoted by the OED.  Cool that the OED quote is the original use of the word.

Here's a little Van Gogh painting to imprint the word for me, "Wheat Field In Rain." (Click image for link to original website.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Somebody Back Home is Wondering, "Now Why Don't [S]he Write"

99 deg ~ today will be our 12th day of 100+ temps, with at least one more tomorrow...broiling local car dealership is baking cookies on the dashes of cars as a promotion...not even cookies would entice me out onto a concrete lot filled with oven-cars

The title of today's post is a gender-modified quote from Dances with Wolves, which I love for the sweeping images of the prairie, shot in the Dakotas.  Just in case you were wondering where I've been, here are two photos from our trip to Tensing Pen Resort in Negril, Jamaica

If you remember, Dear Readers, June and the beginning of July were not kind to my body.  I had an injured back and then two rounds of antibiotics for a stubborn sinus infection/bronchitis situation.  In fact, I finished my antibiotics three days before we flew to Jamaica.  I'm wondering now if simply booking a cottage at Tensing Pen wouldn't be cheaper than all the Western medicine for which I paid.  I am arrived back home fully cured of all my ills, rested, restored, and ready to rock the fall semester (which sadly begins on the 16th, although I report on the 9th).

While I took many books of poetry on our trip, C and I traveled with some of our best friends (four adults and one toddler), and it turned out that I didn't get as much reading time in as I'd planned.  I did, however, read four or five journals on the plane rides.  What I do whenever I travel now is this: I read the journal and tear out any poems or prose that move me to keep them.  Then, I leave behind the slightly lighter journal (with a note if I had to tear out a page with the beginning or ending of another piece).  I hope in this way that someone who might not ordinarily read a lit mag will stumble across it and give it a chance.  Now I have a stack of torn-out pages (with the journal credits duly noted).  In a bit, I'll go through them again for a second read and the stack will grow smaller as I recycle those that don't stick.  The ones that do will go up on the walls of my office at work.

As for the blog-o-sphere, I spent the morning with Google Reader, which doesn't count above 1000 posts.  I had the 1000+ label waiting for me as "Unread" this morning.  Sadly, I had to force myself to simply "Mark All as Read" over and over again.  I am so sorry, my fellow bloggers!  I know that I've missed births and deaths, acceptances and rejections, and some wonderful writing.  However, the slate is clean now, and I look forward to picking up the thread of our shared conversations.

The Kangaroo Rises Again.