Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Comes Early This Year

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Poems

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Morning of Reading, Morning of Revision

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Three Quotes

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

Three quotes have been haunting me these last few days.

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

(Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day")

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

(Muriel Rukeyser, Houdini)

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

(Akira Kurosawa, The Films of Akira Kurosawa)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcoming the Winter Solstice and a Return to Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So be it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Derailed, Upended, Tumped Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Drafting Friday: The Apocaplypse and a Love Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I'm Reading: Third Coast Fall 2010

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Other wonderful notes from this collection of mini-essays:

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

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

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

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

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Third Coast
Fall 2010 
Western Michigan University

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ghost of John Cheever Beats The Ghost of Richard Wright

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

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

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

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

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

The following challenge comes from Gay's post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

What I'm Reading: Me, Myself and I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any advice is welcome.

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

Onward to the next round.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love The Rumpus

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

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

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Submitting Like a Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Drafty, Drifting, Drafting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I confess, Dear Reader, that I despaired. 

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

True Confessions

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seinfeld and Kenny Rogers: No Draft Friday

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

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

So, two pop culture references came to mind:

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

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

Catch y'all on the flip side!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Confessions of Inertia

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

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

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

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

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