Saturday, October 30, 2010

Big Thanks to Glass

52º ~ gorgeous light this morning, small, cool breezes rustling the half-leafed branches, crisp

A short note today to send out big thanks to Glass: A Journal of Poetry.  The fine editors, Holly Burnside and Anthony Frame have seen fit to nominate my poem "Flood Plain" for the 2011 Best of the Web Anthology from Dzanc Books
current cover at Glass
Thanks for the honor!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Drafting: Feeling Groovy

41º ~ a low last night of 37, the little heater working in the office this morning, brilliant, late October light through a less dense scrim of leaves, there's raking to be done this weekend

Yes, Yes, Dear Reader, today was a blissful drafting day.  I feel in the zone more than I've been in a month and a half ~ able to relax and let the morning unfold on its own terms.  Perhaps this is because I'm in a momentary lull at work.  No new papers to grade until Monday!  ~ Just a few hours of work on the horizon for the weekend.  After I finished this morning's draft, I was overcome by a feeling I can only describe as "groovy."  I confess, I used to watch Ally McBeal, and I loved the idea that her therapist suggested she come up with her own theme song.  Being the multi-tasker that I am, I have many theme songs, but the one I call to the front when life gets overwhelming is Simon & Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song."  It's the one that begins: "Slow down, you move too fast. / You got to make the morning last."  And here's another confession, I often rush too quickly through life in my attempt to cross yet another item off my to-do list.  This song reminds me that isn't the goal.  Also, that rushing is detrimental to drafting a poem.

a view from my southern window
Today, before I started drafting I needed to back up the computer (an item on my to-do list), and as I was setting up the external hard drive, I knocked a book off my poetry shelves.  It was Elegy by Larry Levis. I had been reminding myself that this morning was drafting time ever since I'd gotten up.  My mind tends to wander and try to solve problems/ prep for tasks from school and other areas of my life and I actually have to forcibly remind it to wander in the direction of poetry when I get tangled up in other issues.  This is all part of my practice of putting poetry as high on my priority list as my paying job.  In any case, when Elegy came loose from the shelf, I thought, "ah, I'll start today by looking at someone else's poems that I love."  I love Larry Levis, but another voice called more strongly:  Quan Barry. 

In 2002, I took a trip out to Colorado to visit some friends.  This would have been the summer between my third and fourth year of my MFA program.  There is an amazing bookstore in Denver, The Tattered Cover, that has a delicious poetry section.  While I was there, I spent several hours, slowly browsing the contemporary poetry.  Quan Barry's book, Asylum, leapt out at me from the start, in part because of the gorgeous cover.  Once I read the first poem, I knew it was going home with me.  It turned out to be a touchstone book for me in my last year of my program and has continued to hold up each time I return to it.  This book is filled with poems that explore the dual experience of Barry's heritage: Vietnamese-American.  The poems have that tensile strength that I strive for in my own work and the images, oh my, the images.  I only dream of reaching such heights. 

So I began again at the beginning of the book and started reading.  I was immediately sucked back in and for a brief moment, I worried I might have made a bad choice b/c her work is so intimidatingly good.  But then, after reading for a half hour or so, I reached one of my favorite poems, "Lullaby."  This is an epistolary prose poem that is annotated and contains footnotes, so there are multi-layered speakers on the page.  I've always loved the intricacy of this.  Barry also manages to weave a nineteenth century influenced style with a twenty-first century style, creating a spark to her syntax.  Something else I've long-admired in her work. 

As several lines began to form in my journal ("Once, we forged in fallen oaks and a field of sunflowers gone wild..."), I suddenly saw how I might adapt Barry's form from "Lullaby" into my own work.  It's true, I must confess, that some of the emotional weight seeped into my poem as well.  "Lullaby" is a letter from the speaker to some dangerous lover, and my draft "Love Letter with the Stamp Not Cancelled" contains the same basic situation...a forbidden lover; however, my letter is annotated by the speaker's father after her death.  Also, I haven't used the prose poem form.  And while Barry's poem is steeped in her own mythology, mine is controlled by the forces of the prairie.  I hope that it is an homage and that it also stands on its own.  Time shall tell.

For now, there are revisions to be done on older drafts and another look in store for the current manuscript as the next round of contest deadlines looms.

Enjoy the late October light.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We Go Down and We Go Up on the Poetry Carousel

57º ~ and a high of only 67º is what the casters of fore predict...whoopee, officially fall-like weather has arrived,  dawn seems to be slowing down these days, still gray-green-blue mixes, aquatic light even without the rain ~ the trees lost nearly half their leaves in our last bout of tornadic winds

Two days ago, I received my tenth rejection from a journal that I dearly love, Hayden's Ferry Review.  I can state their name because I love them.  I simply want to say that sometimes even persistence doesn't win in this carousel game of poetry submissions.  Nonetheless, I shall persist.  Granted, I may only submit once a year now.  I first submitted to HFR in 2000 when I was a wee second-year student in my four-year MFA program and really had no right to be sending out my fledglings.  After that rejection, I took a few years off and resumed submitting in 2003, when I was about to graduate.  I've been known to submit to them twice a year, as they read all year but have two specific dates when they stop and make decisions about the next issue.  HFR is an outstanding journal, but one that has a rotating staff, so this string of rejections is less of a sting.  In fact, if I had been rejected ten times from a journal with a standing editorial staff, I'd probably be wasting my time and money to continue.  So, Dear Reader, here's one valuable lesson I've learned in the last decade: to know if the journal has a revolving staff (usually associated with a degree program) or an unshifting group of readers and a standing editor.  These things matter in the game of persistence when submitting.

Now on to the ups.  My August submissions have gone out and found themselves some homes.  Whoo Hoo.  I've had three acceptances this month.  For those keeping score at home, I'm proud to say that I've had at least one poem accepted every month of 2010, except July; after all, even editorial staffs need a break sometimes.  :)

My own photo of the carousel at the LR Zoo
Giant shout outs of appreciation to the following journals:

The Dirty Napkin for taking "When the Weather Forms a Holding Pattern."  You can read about the drafting of this poem here.  I've appeared in The Dirty Napkin once before, and it is always a boost of confidence to be granted that second acceptance.  My records show two rejections in between these acceptances, healthy reminders that sometimes the poems just don't fit and sometimes I send out before the final coat of paint on the poems has dried and they arrive still smudgy.  The Dirty Napkin was one of the early adapters of using audio files for their online journal, and I'm happy that I'll get a chance next week to record this new poem.

Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts for taking "Stumbling Away from the Oracle."  Here's the story with this one.  I knew the founding editors of this great journal out of the University of Missouri Columbia; I knew them way back in the days of the late 90's.  When they had the journal up and running, I sent them some poems, again at the beginning of my time as an MFA student.  Needless to say, the poems did not pass muster, but the sting of that rejection really sang because I knew the editors personally.  I don't mean to imply that I thought by knowing them I'd immediately get in the journal; I only mean that I was embarrassed that these writers I admired had seen my less than worthy work.  (I hung my head in shame for days.)  After that, I didn't submit to the journal again until the current poetry editor (and my friend) Stephanie Kartalopoulos encouraged me to do so.  Again, just knowing Steph was no sure thing.  I can attest to her scrupulous eye as an editor and I know that "Stumbling Away from the Oracle" earned its own place in the next issue of Center.

Redivider for taking "Pantoum for the Landlocked Girl."  As with The Dirty Napkin, this will be my second appearance in Redivider, and I had two rejections in between.  However, this acceptance is especially sweet because, as you know Dear Reader, I am not a formalist poet.  To know that this pantoum has found a home is doubly cheering.  You can read about the drafting of the poem here.  I also have to give a huge shout out to Big Tent Poetry for having a weekly pantoum prompt going at the time that set me on this course.

Now, I must confess, that even as I've established a tiny bit of a name for myself in poetry journals, it is still a thrill to receive the acceptances and a bitter pill to receive the rejections.  Sometimes I worry about submitting too much and placing too many poems, lest I become a name that is bantered about at parties as the "loose" poet.  However, I really do believe in each and every poem that I send out, and I believe that they each deserve to be read by a wider audience.  So, until someone tells me to stop, I shall continue on my path of persistence and riding this crazy carousel over and over and over.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I'm Reading (and Hearing): Adamantine

46º ~ bright sun today, one more day in the 80's according to those in the know, then down in the low 70's where we belong, exhale

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending Shin Yu Pai's reading at Hendrix College.  Shin Yu is a new poet to central Arkansas, and I'm glad we are growing in numbers.  (N.B. As regular readers know, when I've become friends with a poet, as I have with Shin Yu, I dispense with the academic, last name only moniker, and use first names in my reviews.)

 While the reading was a bit short due to another event on campus, it was packed densely with poems of skill and agility.  Shin Yu began by reading from one of her books that I don't own yet, Equivalence, her first major collection.  With a background in both writing and art, many of these poems were either straight up ekphrastic poems or highly influenced by pieces of art, in particular photographs by Stieglitz along with other works by major artists of the 20th century.  After hearing the poems, I've added this book to my list of future purchases.

Shin Yu then read briefly from Sightings: Selected Works (2000 - 2005), a book she graciously exchanged with me when we met for dinner in August.  I've been working my way through these poems. Although they are a bit outside my comfort zone in style, I've enjoyed their energy and references to artworks and current events.  It was great to hear Shin Yu read from "Nutritional Feed," the fourth section of the book and based on her time working in advertising and PR.

Finally, the last half of the reading was devoted to the new star, Adamantine.  As I struggle with the title of my own manuscript, I have to admire this title for its ability to represent the book as a whole.  As many of you may know, adamantine is a a stone that is hard and indestructible, much like diamond.  Shin Yu illuminated this even more at the reading by mentioning the connection to Buddhism's "adamantine path."  The poems in this book beautifully showcase Shin Yu's global perspective, with much influence from Eastern beliefs and experiences.  While they are meditative, they are also poems of hidden hard edges that expose the pain of living in this world of chaos.  As Shin Yu said last night, her goal with the book is to "narrow the distance between the I and the other."  She does that exceptionally well.

In the opening poem, "This Is Not My Story," the speaker tells of a mouse discovered in the kitchen of two lovers.  After the appearance of the mouse, Shin Yu writes, "her lover says / it has a very tiny heart, // you need only chase / it until it tires... ."  This image of chasing follows through to the end of the poem with this meditation: "... the human heart is / a wholly different animal, / we must sense when to give in // before the other gives up."  This poem seems a perfect choice to open the collection as it introduces that theme of the distance between each of us, even in our most intimate relationships, and it contains a hint of a threat about the destructive as well as constructive elements of those relationships.

One thing I admire about Shin Yu's work, among many, is her ability to write about current events as they unfold around us.  While I am often caught up in the dramas of our world (the BP oil spill, the wars at home and abroad, violence against women and children, etc.), I've not yet been able to write directly about them.  In the poem "Search & Recovery," Shin Yu writes about the search for James Kim, who in 2006 became lost in a blizzard with his family in Oregon.  While his wife and children were rescued, James Kim perished of hypothermia when he left the car to search for help.  Shin Yu's poem manages to honor his bravery and his love for his family while also broadening the moment for all of us and saying something new about how we search in vain for what we've lost.  Here's the second half of the poem, the part that moves me the most:

the signs
you left for those 
who came after you 

a red t-shirt 
a wool sock, 
a child's blue skirt

layers of a life,
stripped down to 
a family's fate --

the weight of being
unseen -- to travel
a path back to

what you knew 
at birth, the warmth
of being held close

brought home

It's a delight to welcome Shin Yu to our local literary world and it was a particular delight to be able to hear the poems in the flesh last night, as I believe all poems live best in the voice and breath of the poet.

Support a Poet/Poetry
Buy or Borrow this Book Today
Shin Yu Pai
White Pine Press, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Submissions

63º ~ wild storms last evening, the threat of a tornado, this morning, cloudy, breezes cool & damp

Dear Reader, I confess, I'm a list maker.  It clears my mind and calms my nerves to list out those tasks before me, and then I am addicted to the joy of firmly marking out the job when finished.  This weekend, my list included grading and averaging overall grades and sending out poems.  I only made it through the grading portions of the list before my body and my brain insisted on some down time.

Today's list, my journal spreadsheet
Therefore, this morning, I was happy to send out two batches of poems.  Long-time readers will know that I usually spend a weekend doing submissions and end up sending out twenty-something batches of poems.  I'm learning that working in this smaller time frame has its benefits as well.  I spent a bit more time with each poem, fine-tooth-combing each and making small tweaks.  I also bless those journals that have adopted online submissions, as there is less time spent fumbling for SASE's and new ink cartridges.

Perhaps I'll try to do a packet or two on Mondays for a bit and see how that works out.  I hope you'll join me in wishing these two packets well as they sail out into the electronic world of poetry editors and staff readers.


On another happy note, tomorrow night I get to enjoy a live poetry reading!  Woo Hoo.  New friend and new-to-Arkansas poet, Shin Yu Pai will be reading from her latest book, Adamantine, at the Hendrix College Bailey Library at 6:30 tomorrow night.  Watch for my mini-review, as I already have the book and am reading it in preparation for tomorrow night's event.  It seems that central Arkansas is hosting more and more readings, and this makes me such a happy poet here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A-Drafting I Did Go

53º ~ the trend for above average high temps continues, am trying to embrace the lasting heat in case the winter turns longer, colder, and wetter than normal again this year, while we crave more rain, the light is lovely as it slants all autumn-wise through thinning tree branches

Woo Hoo, Dear Reader, I'm riding the high of having drafted today after several weeks on an upset schedule.  As I've said before, those scheduling upsets weren't necessarily bad, but I still feel off kilter when I haven't drafted in a while.

This morning, I decided to dive into my "In Progress" folder and see if any energy from those drafts would spark something new.  In fact, at first I got diverted into revising a draft that was "nearly there."  I spent some time tweaking the last couple of stanzas of what is now "Ancestral Incantation," but what began as "The Old Ancestral Homestead" (ugh, I cringe at that title).  I blogged about the drafting of this poem here.   Letting it sit for 3-4 weeks seems to have done the trick as I saw how I'd pushed the ending in my first version.  A key turned in a lock in my brain and I saw the door open to how the poem needed to end.  Voila!

After that tinkering and tweaking, I opened my journal and wrote "Too long away again."  This is a repeated phrase that I use just to make the pen move on the page.  It worked again, and it appears I'm still obsessed with creating fairy tales of the Midwest.  (I confess that last night before going to bed I reminded myself that I should go immediately to drafting this morning with no pit stops on blogs or Facebook.  And so I went to sleep thinking about the poems I'd most recently drafted, challenging myself to remember them if I could.  One sign of a good line being its memorability.)
Today, I came up with "Fairy Tale for Girls in Love with Fire."  It begins as the others do with the word "Once," but I changed up the opening this time.  The phrase "who refuses to mind" comes up in this poem, as it does in the others; however, in this new draft, it appears in the closing stanza rather than the first line.  That all happened naturally, and I think it was important to have some time pass between the drafting of these poems so that they don't all start to sound alike. 

I have no idea how many of these fairy tales I have in me, and they make me uneasy, I must confess.  They are so narrative, and that is not my strong suit.  I know it's good to work outside my comfort zone, to bend and stretch, but the hard part is that I have no idea if these are any good at all.  Sigh.  Just when I'd developed some sense of confidence about my more lyric poems. 

As always time and editors will tell, Dear Reader.  Thanks for reading these blog posts in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Her Circle Ezine ~ Guest Post

57º ~ a damp chill this morning, lovely

A short note today, as I'm off to school early to help with an advising project. Registration for the spring semester begins next week and we're all aflutter with it.

Today, I'm the guest blogger at Her Circle Ezine's The Writer's Life feature. Check out my post, "Having Abandoned the Muse, I Write Alone," and then explore this wonderful resource for women artists of many genres.

I leave you with another photo from my recent trip to St. Louis with my mom.

That's not a muse, that's a SE Asian moth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rejection and the Rain

66º ~  RAIN!  the good & gentle kind of rain that is necessary after a drought, plenty of time to soak in, I didn't think I'd ever smell this smell again, delicious wet earth smell, a bit of distant thunder

Our front walk, wet leaves.
This morning, I'm catching up on recording my recent rejections before I launch into a full-scale grade-a-thon.  (No classes today as the annual conference of Arkansas two-year colleges wraps up.  I opted out of the conference to prepare advising material at the office yesterday and to grade today.)

A word about rejections.  I think I've lived with them long enough to see the upside.  The upside is that I go back to the poems with new critical eyes if the poems get rejected over and over again.  Coincidentally, both rejections I'm recording this morning are for the same group of poems, which have been rejected a few times already.  This tells me that either the poems need more work individually or they aren't working as a group.  Most likely, it's a little of both. 

The first rejection is a little painful because I've worked with this journal closely in the past and feel like I have at least something of a relationship with the editors.  However, I received the standard form rejection with no personalization at all.  I know that editors are busy people who are underpaid and under-appreciated for what they do.  And yet, I was taught that it was important to establish a relationship with editors and so I try by reminding them of our past relationships when I submit or sending them emails when I like an issue or a poem in an issue above and beyond the rest.  It's disheartening to then receive the standard reply.  Nonetheless, I will send again in the future with hope in my heart and a certain thickness to my skin.

The other rejection is the kind I love to get.  It's quite specific that the poems don't work for the journal, but the editors want to see more.  The editor who wrote the note even went so far as to say "feel free to disregard the closing date of our reading period."  I'm never sure what to do when an editor says to send more work and usually err on the side of caution by waiting until the next reading period.  I know that I've lost some opportunities because of this caution.  (Once again, I was taught that it is best not to anger an editor by sending outside the reading period or sending too often, much like walking softly around a sleeping bear and offering the honey at the right time.)  Therefore, I was happy to see this specific information.  I will definitely search for something to send them soon.

All of this reminds me that I'm woefully behind on sending out poems.  I'm so happy that I got my August submissions out (and have gotten a few acceptances!); otherwise, I'd be high and dry right now.  Perhaps our rainy day today will auger good things for future growth via submissions and acceptances.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Links to Launch the Week

53º ~ still no rain, a promise of rain is all, brush fires surround us, highs in the mid to upper 80's, the leaves fall brown and crisp, no color at all, summer when will you go?

I'm slowly getting back in sync after traveling last week.  I know, Dear Reader, it's not like I went to the moon and back; however, I'm a homebody at heart and love the rhythms of my days here at the desk of the Kangaroo.  It takes me days to re-adjust after even a short trip.  This is a minor inconvenience given all the joys I experienced last week.

A golden pheasant from our trip to the St. Louis Zoo
This morning, I offer you a bit of color in the photograph above and a set of links that moved me as I read my way through the poetry blogosphere.

May you meet him there, the same age as you.
May the meeting take place in a small, locked room.

A chilling beginning.  You must read this poem ASAP.


Forming a natural connection to this is Robert Peake's post "Why They Are Called the Humanities," which offers a wonderful defense of this much attacked discipline in academia.  I love that Peake sees beyond the normal, surface-level arguments for the humanities and digs a bit deeper.  I agree and plan to spread the news more loudly when we come under the gun budget-wise at my school.


And then, I read Nancy Devine's thoughts about Tim O'Brien's visit to her school and how he reminded her of why writing is important.  While you can't see me, Dear Reader, rest assured that I am a bit green-tinged with jealousy about this visit, O'Brien being one of my touchstone writers, one who has been with me during my entire journey.


Finally, I offer a wonderful piece from Jake Adam York about the publication of his new book, Persons Unknown, with thanks to Ruth Ellen Kocher for posting it on her blog, About a Word.  Jake is one of my new touchstones, a poet I admire desperately (well, maybe 'desperately' is a bit strong, Dear Readers, but I do admire him as a poet and as a person...all depth and heart.)

So, it's Monday and we are off to the races with a new week of meetings, stacks of papers to grade, advising panels to organize and present on campus, and of course, class days with students, which always offer the possibility of success.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why I Love Columbia, MO

50º ~ finally it feels a bit more like fall, still too much sun and not enough rain, one of the hottest and now one of the driest summers on record

Again, no draft today because of my traveling earlier in the week; however, I'm so fortunate to be able to report that the entire trip was a huge success from beginning to end.  Huge gratitude goes out to Stephanie Kartalopoulos, who hosted me, and my cousin (and wonderful poet) Marta Ferguson, with whom I was able to reconnect a bit.  The city of Columbia is near and dear to my heart after living there for a year in the late 90's, and I was so happy to discover that little had changed around the Mizzou campus and 9th street.

My last post recapped my time with Steph's Intro to Poetry class, and today I want to fill you all in on the wonderful Hearing Voices Reading Series put on by the Orr Street Studios in Columbia.  Big thanks go out to Allison Smythe, Karen, and Nellie, for organizing the series (apologies for not writing down your last names K & N!).  The reading series takes place in an artists' collective, which means I was surrounded by not only beautiful people as I read, but also beautiful works of art.

Several hours before the reading I received another surprise.  Emili Carlson, a friend of Steph's and a grad student at Mizzou in architectural studies, emailed and asked if she could do a photo shoot of the reading for a photojournalism class she is taking as an elective.  The photos here are from that shoot.  Very cool.  (Many thanks, Emili!)

The reading itself was wonderful.  A great audience was on hand with a mix of Columbia folks and Mizzou folks.  I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Cornelius Eady and Aliki Barnstone, both on the faculty of Mizzou's PhD in Creative Writing program.   For the reading, I covered quite a few poems from Blood Almanac and then read a few of the newer poems from the new book.  All seemed well received.  Hearing Voices provides a Q&A time after the writer finishes reading, and just like in Steph's class, the questions showed a sincere engagement with my work and a real desire to know more about me and the poems.  It's amazingly flattering to know that these poems that were written in solitude have a life of their own out in the world, and I'm still riding high on that energy.

After the reading, Steph had a few people over for some wine & cheese and poetry talk.  All good fun and the making of many memories to carry me through the second half of the semester!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Intro to Poetry with Stephanie Kartalopoulos

70º ~ cloudy skies, cool, perfect when the weather actually behaves in season...autumnal  (this report is for Columbia, MO as I'm currently away from the physical desk of the Kangaroo)

A butterfly from SE Asia that Mom and I saw at the St. Louis Zoo...damaged but still beautiful.

Hello, Dear Readers, today I'm blogging from the road as I'm smack dab in the middle of my Big Missouri Trip and smack dab in the middle of Missouri.  This morning, I made my way from St. Louis west on I-70 a couple of hours to Columbia, MO, home of the Mizzou Tigers, Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, The Missouri Review, cousin-poet Marta Ferguson, and friend-poet Stephanie Kartalopoulos.  As I mentioned last week, Steph adopted Blood Almanac and today I was lucky enough to talk to her fantastic Intro to Poetry students about the book.

First, a huge shout out of admiration to Steph and her students.  The students had read the book with care and asked insightful questions that lead to great discussions.  I changed up my routine a bit this time and opened with a brief bio, then read one poem and asked if anyone had any questions or comments.  One student did and we had a great conversation about "the line" and how the style of the poem results from the content of the poem (for me).  I picked another poem to read and again we had a brief discussion prompted by student responses.  Then, I let them pick the poems they wanted to hear and talk about.  Those fifty minutes flew by in the most delightful way.  One student even asked me to read a poem that isn't in the book but that he'd found online because he was interested in my work.  (I'm blushing here as I sit on Steph's couch, admiring her cats, in Columbia, MO, one of my all-time favorite college towns!)

I will definitely use this back and forth approach if and when I'm asked to talk with other students who have already been assigned my work.

It's super fun being back in a town where I once lived (one year in the late 90's) and seeing what has and hasn't changed.  It's also super fun to be able to spend some time with a friend from the internet in her "real world" environs.

Tomorrow night: 7:00 Orr Street Studios.  I'll be reading.  Y'all come!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Woefully Behind

83º ~ drat, it seems the low 90's are back in the forecast

I am woefully behind on my blog reading.  However, I want to take this chance to say congratulations to fellow poet-blogger Kristin Berkey-Abbott.  Finishing Line Press has just picked up her latest chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.  I cannot wait to read this book.  For now, why don't y'all pop over to Kristin's blog and join me in congratulating her for the great news.

And now, you may wonder what's up with my Friday draft.  Alas, it's not to be, so I'm doubly thankful that I drafted on Wednesday this week!  I've been rushing about town running errands and rushing around the house doing chores in order to prepare for my big Missouri Trip!  As I said about a week ago, Stephanie Kartalopoulos was kind enough to adopt Blood Almanac for her Intro to Poetry class and then to invite me to guest lecture for the same class.  She also worked her networking magic and got me on the lineup for the Orr Street Studios' Hearing Voices Reading Series for Tuesday night, October 12th.  Anyone close to Columbia, this is where I'll be on Tuesday at 7 p.m.  (The website hasn't been updated, but I promise I'll be there.) 

To double my fun, I'm meeting my mom in St. Louis for a girls' weekend and then I'll get to see my cousin, the poet Marta Ferguson, while I'm in Columbia.  Woo Hoo.

And just as a reality check for any non-teaching folk out there, I'll also be taking along my laptop, so I can run my online classes from the road, as well as papers and midterms that need to be graded and material for classes that need to be prepped and ready to go when I return.  I'm guessing this means teachers are wicked people, b/c the old adage says, "There's no rest for the wicked!" (Is it December yet?)
Libby reminds me to slow down and nap!
In all seriousness, I love my job, I love my writing time, I love all the wonderful & supportive friends and family surrounding me (especially C.), and I love my life, as busy as it may be at the time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Drafting On an Off Day

44º ~ a continuation of the southern sun, but no rain to speak of, we are dry and drought-ridden, temps hovering in the mid-80's most days, cool nights at least

No, it isn't Friday, Dear Readers, but I was called to draft today.  I'd felt the pressure building over the last two weeks of non-drafting.  Poor C., I get a bit uneven when I fail to work on my own poetry and sometimes am not the most pleasant person.  Granted all the things that have prevented me from writing have been wonderful and poetry-related, so there is little to complain of.  Still last night I told myself that today would be a drafting day, and after I woke and was working through my morning routine I reminded myself of such.  I thought of my draft from about a month ago, "Fairy Tale for Drowned Girls," which was at first "Midwestern Fairy Tale for Drowned Girls."  I really enjoyed thinking about the cautionary tales that might be specific to my favored geography.  And fairy tales, in most of their original forms, are really cautionary tales in disguise.  So, today I wanted to focus on a girl freezing to death in the winter.

Today's draft is, therefore, called "Fairy Tale for Frozen Girls," and thanks to a work exchange with the wonderful poet, Charlotte Pence, I knew exactly how I wanted to start it: by repeating the first line of "Drowned Girls."  Both poems begin with this line: "Once, a girl refused to mind... ."  Obviously, in the first poem the wild girl drowns and in the second poem she freezes to death in a blizzard.  What I hope I'm exploring is that Midwestern sensibility that calls us all to stay in line, to be a part of the continuous whole...but to also give credit to those outliers who break the code.  In other words, while the surface of the poems may seem to enforce the "rules," I hope the reader will see that there is admiration for the girls who will not mind as well.  That tension interests me.

Because I was building on something I'd already begun, I didn't use any of my prompts.  However, I'd thought of a line I wanted to use and jotted it down while I was still getting dressed, getting breakfast, etc.  It turned out that during the first draft I forced that line into the poem and that one line led me down a path of clunkiness and non-poetic lines.  What I was doing was really drafting in prose.  I cut the line and about 5 subsequent lines and then pared the rest down, focusing on image and sound.  After about a half hour of tinkering and printing, I realized that my original line fit perfectly (at least for now) at the end of the poem and allowed the poem to remain a poem and not a story lineated as a poem.

I hope some of that made sense.  In any case, here is a picture of my desk during the drafting time.  My journal is buried there with the handwritten scrawl of the beginning idea.  Yes, I print a lot of drafts, but always on the back of an already-used sheet of paper.  Later as I whittle down the drafts, I toss the throw-aways in a bag that I will later take to school and dump in the paper recycling bin.  I must atone for my sins against the trees, I know! 

Good drafting days to all of you, Dear Readers.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Busy Days at the Desk of the Kangaroo

50º ~ a bright October sun, shadows slanting across the neighbor's roof, the desk faces West so I have to look over my left shoulder to find that sun

We are knee-deep in the semester and I struggle these days to maintain the balance of poetry and teaching.  Case in point, I spent about seven hours this weekend grading world literature papers, and thanks to the hours at the computer and a cat that insists on sleeping on my pillow and shoving my head off it, I have a painful kink in my shoulder/neck to show for it.

The news for the week is this:
1.  Blessings to all the editors and literary journal staffers out there.  I had a poem accepted by George Looney, the editor at Lake Effect, a journal out of Penn State Erie.  This is one case study where I can say exactly how this magic happened.  It all began at AWP several years ago, when towards the end of the conference, the student staff members of the journal stood in the aisle of the book fair and pressed copies into any hands that reached for them.  After reading my sample copy, I sent off a few poems.  I received a kind note from George Looney asking me to send again.  I did and those poems were rejected as well.  However, the third time being the charm...this most recent submission resulted in one poem finding a home.  However, the story doesn't end there.  George emailed to ask if I would consider two changes, one minor adjustment to the last two lines and one major change involving a new title altogether.  Funnily enough, the change the staff members suggested for the ending was something I'd already been considering.  I'd gone back and forth on both versions for weeks and finally just sent the poem off.  Turns out I should have gone with the other version, but thankfully, the folks at Lake Effect saw the possibility of the change and were willing to work it out.  As for the title, I hadn't ever considered revising it; however, George & his staff members made a valid argument for their suggestion and I was more than willing to go with it.  (I've only recently discovered that some poets aren't so ready to make revisions at this stage...what say you, Dear Reader?  If an editor wants to use a poem but only with certain changes, are you usually willing to work it through?)

2.  Still recovering, in a good way, from our joyful visit with Jon Tribble and Allison Joseph.  Still thinking through a lot of what they had to say about publishing and poetry.  Again, all due thanks to these two superheroes of the poetry world.

3.  I'll be preparing for a big weekend/week.  On Saturday, I'm going to meet my mom in St. Louis for a mother/daughter weekend, which will be followed by a trip to Columbia, MO on Monday - Tuesday.  (Sadly, C. must stay behind to care for the cats and go to work.)   The great Stephanie Kartalopoulos adopted Blood Almanac for her Creative Writing class and I'm going to speak with them on Monday.  Then, on Tuesday, I'll be appearing at the Hearing Voices reading series at the Orr Street Studios.  Having lived in Columbia for a year back in the late 90's, I'm thrilled to be going back to one of my favorite college towns.  Hello, U of MO Columbia!  Hello, Shakespeare's Pizza!  Hello, cousin & fellow poet Marta Ferguson!  Hello, Steph!

4. In the midst of all of this, it is time for Midterms, and I'm busy helping our division's advising committee provide information for spring registration.  Oh, and there are always papers to grade and classes to prep.  Let's be real about that!

So, it will be a busy week again.  Have missed drafting for two weeks, but there's a lot of buzz in my brain thanks to Allison & Jon.  Something new is coming...I can feel it.

Finally, many thanks are due to friends Chris & Rebecca, local bee wranglers, who gave me a jar of honey on Thursday.  With the weather inching toward cooler, the time for hot tea seems upon us.  The honey is sweet & light & tastes of central Arkansas.  Just what a tired girl needs on a Monday morning!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Second, Welcome Rain

59º ~ beautiful sun that finally feels like an autumn sun, all slantwise and golden rather than a direct and blazing beam, the breezes have returned as well, although we still lack the relief of rain

Jon Tribble & Allison Joseph
Busy times here at the desk of the Kangaroo.  Yesterday was a second, welcome rain of poetry, (the first having been written about here), a campus visit by Jon Tribble and Allison Joseph.  In the morning, Jon and Allison represented Crab Orchard Review during "A Forum on Editorial Roles" for Banned Books Week.  While the conversation turned mostly to issues of challenges and banned books, we did have the benefit of Jon & Allison's 15 years of experience as editors of COR.  Next time, we will plan a longer session as the students were filled with questions.  I'm so proud to say that we filled the room with 40 audience members made up of faculty, staff, and students from Pulaski Tech, UCA, and UALR.  We are proving that there is an interest in creative writing in central Arkansas in both traditional and non-traditional students alike.

A few of us were lucky enough to have lunch with Allison & Jon at Starving Artist Cafe in North Little Rock, AR.  If you're in the area, I highly recommend this restaurant, which is owned in part by Paula Martin Morell, a local writer and editor who records her public radio program there, Tales from the South.  During lunch, several former students received great words of wisdom from J & A about MFA/PhD programs, applications, and the general literary scene in America.  All of us learned more about the behind-the-scenes action of running a book series.  One of the most important things that stuck out to me was from Jon talking about reading submissions for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry competitions.  He said that often when a book makes the semi-finalist rounds but not the finals it is because there is a lot of promise there but the book isn't quite ready.  This is important b/c the publisher has no idea what kind of person the writer is and how he/she will respond to the working relationship between editor/writer.  Therefore, the book needs to be FINISHED and ready to go from the start, as there is not the building of relationships as there is when a book is signed outside of a competition setting.  Also, if a book makes the finals, then it is READY and if it doesn't win that round, it is 70% likely to find a home (at least that is the general statistic for books that go through the COR competition and make it to the finals).  In other words...finalist status is a GREAT step.  The eventual selection is just a matter of taste for the judge, so it becomes very subjective there.

After lunch, we let Jon and Allison off the hook for a bit and they explored Little Rock/North Little Rock.  Both have connections here, as Jon grew up here.  After completing their graduate degrees, they returned and Allison taught at UALR for a few years while Jon split his teaching between UALR and PTC.  Old home week, indeed.

My favorite!
Finally, the day culminated in Allison's most wonderful & amazing reading from her new book, My Father's Kites, out this year from the wonderful & amazing, Steel Toe Books.  We had approx. 125 students, faculty, and staff, as well as people from the community at large in attendance.  (I've learned that when putting together an event like this, one of the biggest fears is that 4 people will show up.  Swhew.  I started to relax a bit when I saw those seats filling.)  Thanks to all who attended and helped out in ways large and small.  Much praise is due to Allison for her charm and her words.  She delighted us all!  If you ever get the chance to host or attend a reading with Allison, go for it.  Her reading style is clean, clear, and most of all ENERGETIC.  At one point she sang.  As she read, her body movements became a part of the poems, but not in any distracting way.  She is the epitome of grace.  As evidence, I offer the fact that there was a line of over a dozen people waiting to buy My Father's Kites and get Allison's autograph.  And many of these were community college students, for whom book buying is a luxury.

Finally, I was so proud of our students who engaged with the reading and asked thoughtful questions during the Q & A, again proving that literary events like this are welcomed and necessary on our campus. 

As we say, in our geeky way, around the halls:  Go TEAM ENGLISH!