Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Numbers Set Me Back on My Heels

56º ~ while luxuriating in these days of warmth & sun, a subtle sadness permeates as there is this evidence of climate change, note (the lack of leaves on the trees means the sun has unfettered access and swaths the desk & my body

As I've aged, I've come to realize that I'm not really a resolution person.  At one point, a therapist commented that I was one of the most self-aware people she had ever counseled.  I do not say this to brag.  For whatever reason, nature/nurture/astrology/etc., I'm the type of person who is almost constantly aware of my imperfections, and I've fought hard to loosen my grip on my attempts at perfection, which were more harmful than helpful. 

Still, there are goals I keep in front of me all year round.
1. To slow down and push back against this speed-hungry & product-driven world.
2. To be kind & patient with those I love and with those who are acquaintances or even strangers.  
3. To read & support my fellow poets by buying their books, subscribing to journals, or using the library.
4.  "To live live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" a la H. D. Thoreau.

I do like the way the close of a year provides a chance to reflect and celebrate.  Here are my numbers.

42 poems drafted ~ This number set me back on my heels, in fact, almost set me spinning off my chair.  I am thrilled with this number, given the summer of troubles we had and the fact that I launched a reading series this year.  Thrilled!

1 reading series launched ~ Of course, I had lots of help from colleagues and friends, and I am thankful for each and every one. 

56 rejections ~ This number reflects the journals rather than individual poems.  I usually send 4 - 5 poems in a packet, and if even 1 poem is accepted, that's recorded as an acceptance, so the other 3 - 4 poems would have been rejected.  It's fuzzy math to be sure.  Doing the multiplication sets me back on my heels as well.

20 acceptances ~ Again, this number reflects journals.  All together, 33 poems were accepted as some journals accepted more than one poem at a time.  Again, I'm THRILLED with this number and so happy to know my poems are finding good homes out there in the world.  Thank you all for the support through the drafting stages and beyond.

10 hours per week ~ my average time (during the academic year) at the desk of the Kangaroo working on drafting, revising, manuscript ordering, submissions, reading, blogging, and recording acceptances/rejections.  Slightly higher in the summer.


As 2011 comes to a close, I hope you all are warm, happy, & well-fed.  May 2012 bring us all more victories than defeats, more laughter & love than tears & grief, and more time with poetry than with the dirty laundry gathering in piles around the house.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not a Lot of Poetry Going On Round Here

48º ~ gorgeous weather w/ highs in the low 60s, bright sun today, a little breeze

There hasn't been a whole lot of poetry going on around here over this holiday break.  As I've commented before, I do best with a set schedule, and that usually means a teaching schedule to "keep me honest" about my writing time.  Plus, after the semester is over, we often spend several days catching up on household tasks and lots of days visiting with friends and family.  I am learning not to beat myself up over these non-poetry days, and most importantly not to judge my own progress against that of others. 

I am content to have seen many family members and friends and am looking forward to seeing a few more on New Year's Eve.  I am content to play with the new cats and help them settle in here.  I am content to watch endless episodes of Law & Order (the original), which I am streaming while I play endless hands of spider solitaire.  My brain was in serious need of mush-time, apparently.

Mostly, I am content to learn that my dad's surgeries are complete and his hardware is now turned on, as of yesterday.  By all accounts, the Deep Brain Stimulation therapy is a modern miracle.  My mother described watching my dad's body "loosen up" by degree as the doctor activated and adjusted the signal now being provided to his brain by electricity rather than by dopamine.  The biggest amazement, apparently, was when they had him write his name before activation (a nearly illegible scrawl) and after activation (almost back to his pre-Parkinson's, legible, handwriting).  Dad was even able to snap his coat and buckle his seat belt without assistance.  This may not seem like much, but for us, it is a miracle.  Now, he begins the long journey to lowering the meds which have caused such lethargy & some confusion.  We are hopeful, hopeful, hopeful.  Here is an image of what's inside my father now.

Click for link

Still blown away by this.  Lots to process. 


Thanks for stopping by, even with sparse postings!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solstice Gratitude

45º ~ solid gray skies, a drizzling rain, no wind

Happy Solstice, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  I am a creature of the light, and I take heart that the days will slowly lengthen toward that other tipping point at the summer solstice. 

Having returned from Iowa earlier this week, I have to take a moment to comment that the upper Midwest finally treated me to an enjoyable weather trip in December.  In years past, when I've traveled this time of year, I've been met with snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.  This past weekend, we had bright sun and temps in the upper 40s.  Someone needed to pinch me to make me believe it.  Blessings.

Now, I'm reflecting on my gratitude for good news from the poetry world over the past week.

First, Jessica Goodfellow awarded the Kangaroo a Liebster Award while I was away!  Since I've done this a number of times, I'm going to skip the rigamarole and just say THANKS to Jessica.  If you haven't checked out her blog, Axis of Abraxas, please do!  Great insights about poetry and writing in general, as well as updates from the Pacific Rim.

Next, news of two acceptances.  The fine folks at Pebble Lake Review accepted "Fairy Tale for Girls who Gather Maps" and will also host an audio file for the poem, which I recorded yesterday.  I'll let y'all know when the new issue goes up and the poem is available to read/hear.  Just on the heels of that good news came an email from the folks at Sou'wester, who accepted two poems, "Inventing a Rain Spell" and "Cornfield, USA III" for the special weather issue, forthcoming in 2012.  This is my second appearance in Sou'wester, which is always a thrill, and I'm super psyched for this acceptance b/c this is the first of the three haibun to find a home.  Many, many thanks to the editors and readers of these two journals for showing my work some love.

Finally, tons of gratitude to those of you who chimed in on my manuscript blues, either in the comment section or by email.  I am so grateful to have you all in my life.  After my sojourn up home and my return to this, my southern home, I'm feeling a bit braver about returning to the manuscript and giving it a good re-reading.  You all ROCK!

Some rocks from Heber Springs, AR.  Solid!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Family Update

30 degrees with a chance of flurries ~ yep I'm in Iowa
After an all-day drive, I just wanted to give everyone who has been reading a quick update on my dad. He came home yesterday, having had no post-op troubles this time around. He spent most of today sleeping but was up and about by the time I got to the house this evening. Thanks to everyone who sent good thoughts. 14 days until they activate the hardware and begin the therapy. Exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Also, so many thanks to those who have offered wisdom about the book, both here and in emails. You all are wonderful, amazing poet-friends. I'm lucky to have you on my side!!!! (Yes, that is the overuse of the exclamation point. What can I say? I'm exhausted!)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Manuscript Blues: A Messy Mess

57º ~ oddly warm here for the past 48, moisture everywhere, leftover rain, cement seeping, light rain here and there through tomorrow, then the cold returns

This morning my father is having his second (and last) surgery to finish placing all of the hardware he needs for Deep Brain Stimulation therapy for Parkinson's Disease.  Tomorrow, I'll be on the road to Iowa to visit and see for myself how he is doing.  (C. will be home with the cats, recovering from his semester.)  Dad's hardware won't be activated until the very end of December, so we won't know how much improvement he will see until the first of the year, but I just need to check in and give everyone hugs.

from, click for link

That being said, I'll be offline for a few days more.  You can see that I have been fairly quiet already this break, after Monday's draft.  I confess, Tuesday was a disaster in terms of poetry.  One of my goals for the break is to re-visit In a World Made of Such Weather as This, my 'second book.'  As most of you know, the manuscript has gotten lots of love in terms of semi-finalist status and a bit of love as a finalist; however, it has not made the final leap to publication, and I've been sending it out in what I consider its strongest form for two years (with a re-ordering between year one and year two).  In any case, I thought I was ready to take another look under the hood and see if I needed to tinker with it more.

It's hard for me to describe what happened on Tuesday when I opened up the binder and started reading the poems.  After the first poem, I started questioning everything.  I wondered what I had been thinking.  I beat myself up.  I felt sick.  I was tired of all the poems I was reading.  I half-heartedly shuffled a few poems around.  I told myself to stick with it and just keep reading.  I stopped reading and closed the binder in defeat.  I'm now wondering if it is even a book.  Most horrify thought:  it is not a book and I've wasted my time on it.  I feel sick again, now, just thinking about it.

On reflection, I suspect I know what is happening.  I've "broken up" with those poems.  Traci Brimhall writes about this transition at Her Circle Ezine.  The new series I'm working on is so exciting and full of energy that I've moved on to a new passion.  Since the sickly speaker poems are shaping up as a true series with an arc of a plot that the poems will follow, I'm caught up in that cohesiveness.  My weather book is definitely NOT a project book.  It is a 100% mix-tape book, with common themes and threads floating throughout, but no definitive arc that moves through time and place.  Connections that seemed natural and instinctive when I put those poems together have evaporated in the face of how easily the new project poems are sliding together.

Today, I sit here gathering questions.

If nearly every poem in the collection has been published individually, is that enough?  Is that too much?  Do I suffer from over-exposure?

Is the poetry world more apt to publish a project book over a mix-tape book?

What does it mean to collect these loosely connected poems in a book and send it out into the world?

Is it all about audience at this point, growing the audience for all of the poems together?

When does one decide to abandon a collection?

How does one deal with this abandonment?

One thought that is running through my head is that I need to go back to square one and pull the whole thing apart and find the poems that still sing to me and see what I have then.

Another thought is that I'm being too hard on the book and need to leave it be and see what happens with this round of submissions.  But how long do I keep putting the book out there without revision and can I continue to do so when my passions have moved on to other work?

While nothing about this work is physically taxing, the emotional exhaustion is real. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Draft Process: Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country

42 ~ 70% cloud cover with bright highlights where the sun breaks through, no sign of the territorial robin and the window now un-draped ~ winter inches closer & the heat runs on & off, on & off, on & off

Today's draft process requires that we 'go round by Laura's house' a bit.  (This is a saying in C.'s family for when his mother gets overly involved in telling a story and doesn't get straight to the point...I happen to love it when she does that, as I do it too, plus you get all kinds of bonus details.)

Yesterday, I sorted through the pile of loose papers that had grown and mutated over the course of the semester.  Many of them went to the recycling bin as I couldn't remember why on earth I'd saved them.  However, I found one print out of the rules for the Poetry Society of America awards.  I've been a member of the PSA for years and have never taken advantage of the waived fee for members submitting for these awards. 

While I still didn't enter any individual poems this year, I did decide to enter a group of the sickly speaker poems for the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award for a manuscript in process.  This led me to re-reading all 17 of the poems I've written so far, and to revise a few along the way.  As I sorted through the poems and tried to come up with an order, I realized several things. 

1) Writing these poems will require me to work more with a fiction writer's mind than I have done in the past, if I want to create a collection that tells the story of this speaker, which I think I do.  I also think I want to tell the story over the course of a year, with the dates that head the epistolary poems as markers of this.  Perhaps she will remain confined for the whole year or perhaps she will recover and return to her home and the poems will explore that as well.  I'm not sure yet. 

2) Most importantly, I need to work harder to distinguish the different women in her life.  It is easy to note the doctors and nurses, and then there are the 'mystics' who are non-medical but associated with the hospital in some way.  The two primary women are the mentor the speaker addresses in her letters and 'the woman [she] called mother by mistake.'  In looking at the group of poems, I realized that I couldn't include the two poems about the pseudo-mother in the sample I sent b/c the readers would not have enough information to distinguish the two characters and I didn't want any confusion to taint their reading of the work.

As I went through my morning rituals today, I toyed with the idea of drafting a poem.  It's 'break' time and I want to be productive, but I have to fight the inertia that tries to take over when I'm not on a schedule.  It helped when I realized that I didn't draft anything on Friday.  (How did that happen???)  So, I went back over what I described above as I set about reading Quan Barry's Water Puppets.  Since I haven't used the word banks much in the past few drafts, I didn't stop to write down words; I just let the poems wash over me.  About five or six pages in, I read a phrase about the speaker being 'born again' (in a non-religious sense), and I started to mull that over with my speaker's situation.  Pretty soon I had to put down the book and go to the page.

The draft begins:

When the fever shifts and loosens,
I understand absence, being born again
to solitude, the population of my hallucinations

elusive and in hiding.

What happens is that whenever the speaker 'wakes' from her fever, this is when she misses the mother figure in her life.  So the poem is a way to provide some history and backstory about their relationship.  As I scribbled in my journal the lines were all over the place and out of control.  When I went to the computer, the lines immediately suggested this tercet form with each line slightly longer than the one that proceeds it in the stanza.  It was weird how easily the poem drafted itself into this form.  Rarely do I figure that out so quickly. 

After I had the poem drafted, I went back to Barry's book for a suggestion of a title.  I flipped to the last poem in the book, "ode," and found this line, "Thus refuge here in the blasted moonscape."  When I first read it, I misread 'refuge' as 'refugee,' and I knew I'd found what I was looking for since my speaker is a bit of a refugee.  No one visits her, no friends, no family.  By the way, I figured this out because I had to write a paragraph of description when I entered the sample in the PSA contest. In any case, I rephrased the beginning of the sentence and came up with my title "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country."  This fits with the poem's focus on the pseudo-mother b/c she is the one who brought the speaker to the hospital.

From Science Photo Library, click for link
Well, my speaker refers to the doctors as 'whitecoats' not 'bluecoats,' but I love how these doctors seem to be peering down at the patient/specimen, which gets at the 'refugee' feeling.

I'm hopeful for more poems over the next three weeks and more time to read and be inspired. As ever, thanks for reading and keeping me company on this journey.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Break Dance, Break Out, Break Down, Break Through

41º ~ brilliant sun aimed directly at the desk for the moment, one window draped with a sheet on the outside to stop a territorial robin from hurling himself against it (this morning's wake up call)

Today's title is brought to you by the Holiday Break.  I turned in grades yesterday!  Wahoo!  Of course, I'll have things to do over the break, but I won't be "on" every single day as I am during the official semester.  Wahoo!  (Did I already say that?)

This morning was a morning for poetry business.  I received an acceptance this past week and three or four rejections to go along with it.  I was thrilled to the acceptance from Natural Bridge, the lit mag from the University of MO - St. Louis.  Natural Bridge published the very first poem I had accepted while I was in grad school.  While I can definitely tell I've come a long way from that poem, having it published at the national level provided an injection of confidence when it was sorely needed.  Also, NB accepted "Cautionary Tale for Girls Kept Underground in Summer."  After a long string of rejections for the fairy tale series, having blossombones pick up one two weeks ago, and now this acceptance, I feel more energy for that project.  I'm going back over the remaining poems with the fine-toothed comb of revision.  I already found several major changes needing to be made in some of the poems I felt really good about in August.  It just goes to show that I do need to take more time; however, I think the rejections play a huge part in giving me the sharper sight to see the flaws. 

On the heels of this revision and the recent rejections, I sent out some more poems this morning as well.  Along the way, I found this gem in the New Letters' submission guidelines:

d) We encourage writers to create emphasis through word choice, placement, syntax and sentence pacing, instead of overuse of exclamation marks.

Hee Hee.  I am definitely going to use this in my Creative Writing class in the spring, but I may also introduce it to my comp students as well.  Sometimes they have to hear this kind of thing from an outside authority before they really believe me.

In other news, we had our first sticking snow this past week as well.

Sadly for C., the roads were fine and there was no snow day for his school. He gives finals next week, and then we can both enjoy the break together with the new cats, George & Gracie.  Heaven!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


34º ~ winter is inching its way in here, our lows are in the upper 20s this week, highs in the upper 40s/lower 50s, overcast and dreary after two days of solid rain

There's a lot going on here at the desk of the Kangaroo and little of it is poetry related, although I did manage to devote Sunday to submitting some of the new poems.

To follow up on my new attempt to be better about reacting to positive rejections and requests to send more, here's a little story.  In September I received a kind note from an editor at a journal I admire and in which I've appeared in the past.  The editor expressed regret at not taking (quickly enough) several of the poems that had been withdrawn due to publication elsewhere, and rejected the last poem they had under consideration.  She then asked me to send on something else.  I finally got around to doing so on Sunday morning.  At 8:18 p.m., I received a rejection for the group.  This time, no personal note from the specific editor, but a general "good rejection" (requesting that I submit again) signed by "The Editors."  So, it's three steps forward and two steps back.  Nonetheless, I persevere.

In the meantime, the papers have arrived like the first snowfall, and I'm about to embark on several days of non-stop fun.

On a more serious note, my dad had surgery yesterday, and while the surgery itself went very well, he is having a hard time shaking off the effects of the anesthesia.  We are hopeful that a few more hours will show more improvement.  This is the first of two surgeries to implant the mechanics needed for Deep Brain Stimulation, one of the most promising treatments for Parkinson's Disease to date.  Any healing thoughts will be appreciated.

In happier news, C. and I have returned to being cat people, adopting George and Gracie.  These two cats are not siblings and are about four years apart in age; however, they were abandoned together 13 months ago on the steps of a local animal rescue group.  They have been kept together at a foster home and needed to be adopted together, which may explain why they were still available a year later.  They are soooooooo sweet and playful, although fairly skittish yet.  We knew we wanted two cats, so this was perfect since they already knew each other and didn't have to go through that awkward period of cat adjustment.

I know, I know...this is NOT a cat blog, and not a family blog, but sometimes life interrupts poetry y'all and that is all there is to it.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Draft Process: What Collects in the Dark Tunnels

52º ~ brilliant slanting sun, very little wind, a few robins left over from the flock

After the Thanksgiving break, I was a bit shy about returning to the drafting process this morning, but that's to be expected.  It's amazing to me how missing one week makes such a huge difference.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I've had an idea brewing about my sickly speaker.  She has a fever of unknown origins and a difficult to diagnose disease that relates to her blood in some way.  The procedure I wanted to include in a draft was a blood transfusion.  I also ended up thinking about the bone marrow biopsy our cat went through as we tried to diagnose her disease.  So, I kept playing with the ideas as I went through my morning routine.

Somewhere between the shower and breakfast, I remembered that I'd written about the coming winter in the last draft and the poem began to coalesce as the speaker commented on the ice on the window and the ache in her hip from where they collected a bone marrow sample.

The poem begins:

The cold has settled in, the window wreathed
in crystals sharp as the ache in the bone of my hip

where the whitecoat scooped the marrow.

It progresses to the fact that the transfusion is set to begin and the speaker speculates about how her health might improve based on this new development.

It alternates between couplets and single lines, and uses only a few words I gathered from Quan Barry's new book Water Puppets, which I just bought a few weeks ago.  It turns out, again, that the poem was already percolating away and I didn't have to rely on the word bank for much.  I suppose I am moving away from the process, which is fine.  I'll take the poems any way they come.  For the title, I did fish around in the book for some line that might work and came up empty.  I did come across the phrase about a "dark trap where things collect" in the poem "de natura vincularum."  That sparked what became the title of the draft as I thought about the veins and tubes associated with a blood transfusion: "What Collects in the Dark Tunnels."

This picture is from Science Photo Library (click image for link).  It shows a woman getting a transfusion of goat's blood to treat tuberculosis.  Here is the info:

Tuberculosis goat blood transfusion. This procedure was carried out by the French doctor Samuel Bernheim (1855-1915) and involved transfusing 150 to 200 grams of blood from the goat to the female patient. It was hoped that this would cure the tuberculosis, but transfusing animal blood into humans had been banned since the 17th century due to the procedures killing the patients. This is because the blood would not have been compatible. This scene was later the subject of a painting by Jules Adler. Artwork from the seventh volume (first period of 1891) of the French popular science weekly 'La Science Illustree'.

Uhm, yeah, my speaker gets human blood, no worries, but I love this image so I'm using it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quick Links as I Rush Out the Door

41º ~ the clouds departed, the sun returned, still a cold, cold breeze ~ a massive flock of robins populates the backyard

As a follow up to yesterday's link, here are two more that talk about the submission process and teach me something new along the way.

links from Science Photo Library

1)  Traci Brimhall talks from the poet's perspective of submitting on Her Circle:  "Hazards of the Passion: What I've Learned About Submissions."  New piece of information: remember to thank the editors when the issue comes out.  I'm pretty good about expressing my gratitude when I get the acceptance, but I don't always remember to say 'thanks' when the issue comes out.

2)  Diane Lockward talks from the editor's perspective on her blog, Blogalicious: "What I Learned as an Editor."  Diane served as the guest editor for the first issue of Adanna, and I am indebted to her for including two of my poems there.  Favorite bit from this blog, one poet submitted 96 poems.  I've made some mistakes in the past, but I have to say, I haven't over-submitted to that extent.

Finally, the AWP Conference Schedule is up and this year they have an interactive tool that allows you to form your personal schedule.  Cool.  Check out F114.  That's me, reading with Robert Wrigley, Nicole Cooley, Tim Seibles, and Daniel Khalastchi, as we represent Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum's wonderful Poem of the Week.  Holy Moly!  I might pass out from admiration of my fellow panelists.  (I'll also be reading with the diode and Barn Owl Review folks on Friday night.  More details to follow.)  Wahoo!!!

I'm off to the grading salt mines.  See y'all on the other side.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Welcome to Rush Week, and I Don't Belong to Any Sororities, My Friends

33º ~ coldest morning so far by my count, a high of only 45º on the horizon, then 50s for the rest of the week, still soggy from all the rain but only solid cloud cover today

The Arkansas River on a cloudy Thanksgiving in Little Rock

So, it is rush week for me and I'm not sure how much I'll be posting here, but I hope to be back on Friday with a draft.  We had my parents in town for Thanksgiving, which accounts for the absence of a draft this past week.  I've got an idea bubbling away about the sickly speaker.  Much of her story began with our cat, LouLou, and her incredibly difficult to diagnose disease, which involved fevers and lots of drawn blood.  So, while the sickly speaker is NOT LouLou, is in fact human and with a whole host of other issues, there's a particular procedure I'd like to use from LouLou's experience.  Shhhhhhh.  Don't jinx it.  Check back on Friday.

The rush of this week is that it is the last week of classes and next week = finals.  That means I'm about to be buried under a slew of papers, some already waiting for me to begin grading this morning.  There will also be one exam that needs to be written.  Unlike the end of the spring semester when the summer stretches out before me and I don't even think about the next semester's classes, at the end of the fall semester, I'm already preparing my January syllabi so that I can get a bit of my own personal work done over the "break."  That word is in quotes because there won't actually be a break.  I'll be working on classes, the reading series, and the journal throughout my time off.  I'm thankful to have a job doing something I enjoy doing and which I can often do in my pajamas in my home office.

As I rush off to work this morning, Dear Kangaroo Readers, I want to pass on this link from Tara Mae Mulroy's blog Poetry and Effrontery.  She offers some great advice about the submission process from not only the point of view of the writer but also the point of view of the editor, particularly the graduate student editor.  After over a decade of doing the business of submissions, I thought I had it all figured out.  Still, there is more to learn.  Two things that stuck out to me.  1) If you get a personal rejection that is unsigned, consider photocopying it and including it in your return submission, as most of the staff know each other's handwriting.  2) If you get a request to submit again, do so immediately.

I know I've heard that last one before but I guess I need to be hit over the head with a two by four to get there.  THANKS, TARA MAE!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for Some Good Poetry News

52º ~ eerie white cloud cover, a sparrow scratching in the leaves on the neighbor's roof, the world still damp after two days of flooding, interstate-closing rains, our cycles now seem to be drought or flood, drought or flood, I worry for the planet

I've been AWOL from the desk of the kangaroo as the semester hits light speed.  We had a big meeting Monday morning for a committee working on an NEH grant.  I'm thankful to be working with a great group of folks and I'm thankful that this one isn't my baby.  It's huge!  Half of my students are in the midst of turning in research papers (due by midnight tonight), and the other half (the comp students) will be turning in their final papers in another week or so.  I'm using Thanksgiving to gird my loins for the onslaught of comma splices and fragments, but also to build up some energy to celebrate the great papers as well.

While I've been swamped with grant-writing, quiz-grading, and paper-collecting, some good news has arrived from the poetry world.

Mossy rock near Heber Spring, AR (my photo)

1.  I received a grant from the Sally A. Williams Artist Fund at the Arkansas Arts Council to help defray costs for AWP.  It won't cover the whole amount, but it will help out in a major way, as I have no funding from PTC this year.  I met Sally when I was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship in 2007, and I know the Arts Council lost a true gift when Sally passed away a few years ago.  Her family and friends used part of her estate to create this wonderful opportunity, and I'm more than thankful to have qualified this year. 

2.  Six weeks ago or so, Jeremy Schraffenberger, one of the editors of North American Review emailed me about some poems of mine he'd read in another publication.  He inquired about my sending on anything new I might be working on.  Through this exchange, two exciting things happened.  First, NAR accepted "Having Been Outside the Body," the first of my sickly speaker poems to find a home.  And second, in our email exchange, I let Jeremy know that I was from Waterloo, IA, the twin city of Cedar Falls, IA, where NAR is housed at the University of Northern Iowa.  In the end, the gracious folks at UNI invited me to do a reading on campus in March, and I am thrilled to do so. 

As most of you may know NAR is AWESOME, but it is also the oldest literary magazine in the US, founded in Boston in 1815.  Wow.  I just lost my mind for a minute there.  I was totally oblivious to this great treasure while I grew up within a stone's throw of its home.  When I learned about it years later, you can bet I was kicking myself. 

All of this proves that getting the work out there (and doing the hard work of drafting & revision first) matters.  That there are other people out there reading the work and that magical connections can happen this way.  I have no fancy connections to the movers and shakers of the po-biz world, and in this case, it didn't matter.  The work mattered.  Yay for poetry and yay for poets & editors!

3.  This week, George David Clark, who has taken over as Poetry Editor at 32 Poems, as John Poch passes the torch, accepted "The Ashes of My Familiar," the second of the sickly speaker poems.  This is super exciting since these poems are a departure from my old familiar Midwest poems and super exciting because I love 32 Poems with a mad passion.

In the way of explaining po-biz for any emerging writers out there, I first worked with GDC when we was a grad student and poetry editor of Meridian, another favorite journal of mine, and he accepted a poem of mine.  GDC and I have crossed paths since then at AWP and we've kept track of each other and our work.

4.  Finally, yesterday, Susan Slaviero, who is doing amazing things at blossombones, an online journal that features work about the female experience (although not limited to female writers as far as I understand), took "The Contents of Our Tales," the opening poem in my series of Midwest fairy tales.  Again, I'm thrilled by this.  In part I'm thrilled because the fairy tales have not soared out into the world in the way I imagined they might.  Several people mentioned there being a kind of blacklist against fairy tale poems and I guess I've seen some of that, or maybe, not all of the poems are as strong as they need to be.  I'll be checking to see if more revision is in order before sending them on their way again.

**I am not naming these editors for the sake of name-dropping.  Let's face it, this is the poetry world.  Nobody outside our circles knows or cares who these people are.  I'm naming names because the whole thing seemed such a mystery to me when I started submitting work and I had to forge my own way through this mystery.  I want this blog to offer a bit of light for those beginning writers who still feel in the dark about how it all works.  Also, I'm naming these people because editors are often left out of the "let's celebrate this publication of mine" moment and without them, without their reading and reading and reading through the piles of submissions, the publication wouldn't happen at all!

***Keeping it real, I also recorded several rejections over the last few weeks, just to keep the old ego in check!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Draft Process: Over Which a Feast Weight Passes

38º ~ one of the coldest nights so far for the season, but a warming trend through Tuesday, bright sun today, the remaining leaves fluttering like torn flags on the stripped branches

Well, she's done it again, Dear Reader.  My sickly speaker got so insistent that I kept running into the office to scratch out her words while I was trying to make the coffee. 

The prelude:  Last night, I did remind myself that I had time and space to write this morning, but I didn't really fixate/focus on drafting at that point.  As I was going through my morning routine, I did think about where the speaker might be today and what she might be thinking about.  Since this whole set of poems began with the idea of a fever and an illness that escaped diagnosis, the fever tends to come up a lot.  This morning I was thinking back to the previous drafts and trying to remember what the speaker has had to say so far.  I wondered if I needed to re-read all the other drafts before I started.

Uhm, no. 

One of the earliest drafts I wrote included a reference to the speaker's meals of rare meat and red wine (an allusion to "The Yellow Wallpaper" that I couldn't avoid/resist).  Then, a later draft featured a "thinning diet" of a "thin slip of soup" and "a thimble" of either wine or water (I can't remember without looking the draft up).  So, I was thinking about food, I guess, and the speaker arrived with this:

Two days after the fever breaks,
they return with plats of meat.

Fat & juice congeal on the plate.
The wine has been replaced.

from (click for link)

After I got the coffee brewed and got to the desk, I went straight to the computer and typed out the lines I'd scratched into the journal.  It seems I've moved away from word banks and clustering.  The poems build themselves more slowly as I have to search the dictionary of my own brain/life to find the best words, but that's the real work, isn't it?  I suppose I'm glad to move away from the word banks a bit, although I still believe in their power to propel me onto the page without any dilly-dallying. 

Just counting the lines, I see today's draft matches Wednesday's: 22 lines, all in couplets.  Hmmm, when is form a crutch?  Something to watch for.  Did I cut this poem off too soon?  I confess, that when I reached a certain point on the screen I started thinking about how to "wrap it up," although I want to avoid the trite epiphany endings.  Endings are also a bit different now that I know there is a series of these poems in the works.  There is more of a sense that the ideas of the poem may continue to evolve in different patterns and progressions, so I don't have to try to say everything about this speaker all at once.  For me, these are strange times. 

To the title: I admit that I thought about going to my mainstay, Lucie Brock-Broido and mining her work again for the title.  However, laziness overcame me and I stayed rooted in the chair.  (In an organizational fit, I shelved a bunch of books yesterday, so nothing was in reach.  Yes, if I lean over, I can just touch the edge of the book case, so it's only two steps away, but the chair was so sure beneath me and the electric heater is aimed right at my feet.  You understand.)  In any case, I decided to try my hand at a title that would fit with the others and hit at the illness-altered state of the speaker's mind.  Who knows if it will stick.

I think now, I will need to print out all of the sickly speaker poems and see what's what. 

Until the next installment, then.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Draft Process: Inside, the Ice Assembles

60º ~ the rain continued into the early hours of this morning ~ as far as I understand it, this is going to be one of those days where the temperature falls throughout the day ~ lows tonight in the mid 30s ~ the wind continues to stir the trees

No, the calendar has not leaped ahead to Friday, constant Reader.  I am simply off schedule as noted at the end of last week.  This morning as I woke up, my sickly speaker came to the forefront of my mind and stayed there.  After I read the blogs, I glanced down and saw the copy of Mary Oliver's American Primitive, still open on the desk from yesterday's post.  I read another of my favorite poems from the book, "Ghosts," which is about the near extinction of the American bison during the 19th century and the cost of that excessive hunt.

I was not planning on writing a poem today, I confess.  I put the book down and wondered how different a poem I might write if I gathered words from Oliver instead of Lucie Brock-Broido.  They are as different as night and day in diction.  Then, without even thinking about it, I heard my sickly speaker's voice.  She said, "They say the seasons are turning."  And Poof!  I grabbed my journal and the poem began itself.  It did not pour out of me whole, but I got a great start.  I should also say that between blogs and Facebook, I've taken note that friends in more northern climes are commenting now about snow more regularly.  That matters to the poem.  It begins:

The nurses say the seasons are turning.
I see little but one squat square of sky.

On days when the fever lets loose of me,
I notice now the gathering clouds, the way

their weight is shifting toward snow.

Frost appears in the poem, too.  (click for link)

It goes on in couplets, as most of the poems in this series go, for 22 lines.  I had been wondering about the speaker making progress in her battle against this undiagnosable illness, but that wasn't to be today.  She has more to say about being sick. 

I've also been chaffing a bit at the fact that the speaker is contained within this hospital (asylum?) and thus there's not a lot of the natural world in the poems.  In some ways, today's draft speaks to that as well.  The speaker identifies with and yearns for the natural world but cannot reach it due to her illness.

For the title, I did return to Brock-Broido, to her book, Trouble in Mind.  I found the phrase "Inside, the ice assembles" in the poem "After Raphael," and it works perfectly for this poem about the coming of winter and the state of the speaker's body & mind. 

As for Friday, well who knows now what will happen.  I may return to my "schedule," or I may not.  It's that nearing-the-end-of-the-semester, oh-my-the-HOLIDAYS-are-here time of year so anything goes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Poetry & Grief

61º ~ the rain it does rain down, steady mostly, with sudden bursts of bucketfuls ~ that carpet of crunchy leaves on the lawn? now a sodden blanket

On Sunday, a friend of mine from college was by his mother's bedside as she breathed her last breath.  Over the past several years, I've kept up with her battle against cancer via Facebook updates and a few personal emails & letters along the way.  What I know is that this woman cherished her life and her family & friends and she was cherished in return.

Today, I need to post this Mary Oliver poem for my friend, G., and for all of us. It has helped me through so much, and it is one of the first poems that made me want to be a poet.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able 
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

from American Primitive, 1983


Monday, November 14, 2011

Artistic Obessions: The Horizon

80º ~ hold on, friends and fans of the Kangaroo, there's been a wicked wind blowing for three days now and it seems to have an unlimited supply of energy, stripping the trees to about 30%, the yards are carpets of brown and yellow crunchy leaves, a fat storm to the west should usher in cooler temps tomorrow

I keep this picture on the side of the file cabinet at my writing desk.  It was taken in the summer of '78 and my grandmother's inscription on the back states that I'm with Bonnie, probably one of the last ponies or horses that she and my grandfather kept on the farm. 

I'm glad the details are fuzzy with age, although I did play with the color a bit as the surface has faded over time.

Why am I showing you this off-center pose?  Because I've been thinking about what obsesses me and how those obsessions bleed through into my poems and deeper still how those obsessions began.  Sometimes, when I do a reading or look at the manuscript I'm currently sending out, I get a bit shame-faced about recurring words / images.  Then, I look more closely and try to be sure I'm earning those repetitions.  Handling the patterns correctly builds cohesion; overuse or repetition without expansion build boredom.  With revision, the shame fades and confidence returns.

What I noticed the other day was my fixation on the horizon. For anyone who isn't from the Midwest / Plains and wonders why my work is so full up with that demarcation line, I hope this picture informs you a little bit.  Living in the South as I do now, I miss being able to see for miles and miles and miles.  I miss the pure power of a wind that gathers strength uninterrupted (although we are getting a hint of it down here today).  I miss the sunsets that stretched and stretched and stretched across my field of vision.

When C. and I were visiting Iowa a few years back, he commented on the lack of trees, and I was stunned.  Couldn't he see that grove over there?  Couldn't he appreciate the way those pines were planted to stop the wind from eroding the field we were driving past?  Of course he could; however, down here in Arkansas, we live among the pines and hard wood forests of the southern edge of the Ozarks.  (Timber is a huge industry, especially in the county where C was raised.)  We both love trees it turns out, only I love them as individuals or in small groups and he loves them on a grand scale. 

In any case, back to the horizon.  How do these obsessions form?  That's material for a psychological study, I suppose, but I do remember being fascinated with that distance even as a child, that sense that I could walk or ride for hours and not reach what I was seeing in the distance.  And in that distance, anything at all might happen.  There were no real boundaries, no sense of being closed in, which seems a bit frightening now that I think about it.  I was nothing but a tiny dot on the landscape, even with the heft of Bonnie beneath me.  On the other hand, with that distance all around me, I'd surely see any threat with enough warning to high-tail it home as well.  Maybe that's what I miss most of all, the ability to be on the lookout for danger without having to build a fire tower to do so.

Finally, here's a Wordle of the weather manuscript so you can see my other obsessions.  (MOM:  Sorry that "dead" and "mother" are right next to each other.  I promise, it's not that kind of book!)

Saturday, November 12, 2011


50º ~ the leaves are changing daily, the Japanese maple deepens to a brick red tone, clouds show off the colors best

Today's post is a bit of a placeholder.  There's no draft process this week.  On Wednesday night/Thursday morning a cold/flu bug got the best of me and I was down for the count until midday yesterday.  Then, the papers that have been lingering here needing grading got the priority. 

True confession, Dear Reader, I'm just a little burned out, singed around the edges and needing a bit of a break from poetry. 

I've been thinking about that old Nike ad: "There is no finish line."  I get the inspiration behind that, and I've been thinking about it in terms of poetry.  Yes, I'm frustrated because book #2 hasn't found a home and I've moved on to book #3, and I just keep writing poem after poem because, hey, that's what I do; I can't stop doing it.  However, there is a tiny voice (that corrosive, eroding voice) that questions why I continue to sweat over the page when the finish line eludes me.  I guess I need the weekend to slap some duct tape across the mouth of my internal doubter.

I am not writing this because I seek encouragement or comfort.  I write it because the goal of this blog is to be real, to be honest about what the writing life is all about for me.  Sometimes it's not all happy, happy, joy, joy, 'fun with words,' party time.  Sometimes, it's trying to drag the plow through the hardest, most drought-stricken topsoil in the hope that the weather will turn in my favor at the end of a hard day's work.

Until then, here are a few pictures from the neighborhood from last week.  The colors are even more saturated now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reflections on Building a Reading Series

50º ~ bright, clean sun after a squall line of thunderstorms ushered in a cold front last evening, a bit of wind leftover yet

Last night was our third and final event in the Big Rock Reading Series for the semester.  We had a smallish crowd, but a wonderful event.  I'll spend the next few weeks mulling over some of the information gathered and lessons learned, but I wanted to share a bit that's surfaced already.

It's all about the audience.  Of course, I want to hear the readers no matter how many people are in the audience, but now that I'm in charge of planning the events, I feel an extra pressure to be sure there are others there to share the joy.

In particular, since we are a community college, we are trying to reach a group of students who often don't even know what a reading is before we bring it up in class.  We do an audience survey at each event, and the participants identify whether they are students, faculty, staff, from another college/university, or from the community at large.  In this way, we can zero in on responses from our students.  Overwhelmingly, the students who do attend have wonderful things to say, often including a comment about this being their first time at such an event and their desire to hear more.

When I began planning the series, I scheduled each of the events for this fall on a Tuesday night, the second Tuesday of each month to be exact.  I was following the footsteps of a lot of other monthly activities in the area, thinking to build a sort of muscle memory.  However, this backfired a bit last night.  You see, we have had classes come and attend the two previous readings, and that was great.  However, it is hard for any instructor to give up three evening classes (or parts of them) over the course of one semester.  I'm pretty sure using a Tuesday and a Thursday next spring will serve us better.  We are also considering doing one daytime event, which will draw in participation from those daytime classes. This kind of shifting of the schedule goes against my experience with other reading series, but it is important to be flexible and adaptable, as is the case with most things in life.

Of course, we are also striving to build a relationship with our community, central Arkansas, and the lovers of literature living here.  I know they are out there.  Here is where our location hurts us a bit, I think.  We are not hard to find, but we are a bit isolated perhaps, surrounded almost entirely by homes and apartments.  It is not like going to a reading at a bookstore or at one of the other colleges in the area, where there are restaurants, shops, and bars in abundance within a stone's throw.  One suggestion has already been made to form a partnership with either the local library, which is more centrally located, or another business and do one of the readings per semester off campus.  That is something to think about as a way to bridge the gap.

Overall, while the series requires time, sweat, and a lot of help from a lot of other people, I'm so happy that we have launched ours to such success, and I hope we can grow and improve in the coming months.

Finally, here is a shot from last night.  The reading featured two current MFA candidates from the U of Arkansas MFA program.  We are hoping to do one reading per year with the program as a way of offering a reading experience to the writers and to educate our students about the ways they can make writing a part of their lives.  Corrie Williamson read some amazing poems that left the crowd breathless.  Then, Kaj Anderson-Bauer kept us enthralled with a story about an imagined afterlife set in a place a lot like North Dakota.  Ben Nickol, a recent fiction graduate from the U of A came along to cheer on Corrie & Kaj.  I love my people!

L to R: Ben Nickol, Corrie Williamson, & Kaj Anderson-Bauer

Monday, November 7, 2011

Saving Daylight

57º ~ 75º highs in the forecast for today and tomorrow, then a cold front brings us back in line

I understand all of the arguments for daylight savings time and moving clocks back and forth.  What I know is that it was easier to wake up at the right time today because the sky was lightening again when the alarm went off, after weeks of darkness.  It does make me wonder how much exhaustion occurs from forcing the body to live outside of the sun's own time. 

It's that time of the semester (week 12 begins today) when we are all just putting one foot in front of the other, clinging to every holiday advertisement, not for the joy of gift-giving and mouth-stuffing, but because once the holidays hit, we know it will all be over.  We are at that point in the marathon when the body is all machine and the brain something we drag along behind us.

Yes, there are papers waiting to be graded.  Yes, I took the day off yesterday.  It was necessary.

On a bright note (hello daylight!), tomorrow night we cap off the Big Rock Reading Series for the semester.  Wahoooo!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Draft Process: We Live in Black & White

50º ~ the autumnal blusters are upon us, complete with gray hovering skies

The story of today's draft is convoluted.  Wednesday night, I fought the insomnia beast at 2 a.m. and my mind went wandering to my sickly speaker.  Caught in the lethargy of exhaustion, I failed to get out of bed and write down what was happening, but I remembered it well enough Thursday and had it at the back of my mind this morning.

What happened in the night was this.  The speaker started talking about how "the woman [she] called mother by mistake" came to visit her.  The poem spun out from there.  As I was getting ready to write this morning, I started with that, but something about the situation kept bugging me.  Finally, I pulled out the draft from last week and took a look.  Sure enough, there was a kind of separation in that draft and a sense that this woman would not be visiting, even though she is the person who admitted the speaker to this hospital/asylum.  There is also a sense that the doctors (whitecoats in the speaker's language) want to get blood from the woman in the mistaken sense that she and the speaker are related.  The speaker feels a need to protect her, this pseudo-mother. 

So, I scratched that beginning and started over with the idea of the pseudo-mother, for lack of a better title, sending anonymous gifts to the sickly speaker, anonymous to remain hidden from the whitecoats.  What struck me about all of this is that writing a series of linked poems like this means I have to take some elements of fiction into account in terms of plot and character if I want them to hold together as a whole, and I think I do. 

More and more, the speaker wants an audience, and some of the earlier poems take the epistolary form to solve this.  Today, I needed for her to be able to tell someone about these gifts, so she writes a letter to "Dear Madame," her mentor, which is where the whole series began back in August.  Today's draft begins:

Dear Madame--

Be on your guard.  There are secrets here
which I will seal with glue & string.

The woman I called mother by mistake
sends me gifts addressed by an anonymous hand.

For clarity, the mentor-figure and the mother-figure are two separate women, and while I first thought that only the mentor-figure was of great importance to the speaker, I now see that the mother-figure is, perhaps, equally important. 

As for the process of the draft, after I scratched out the false start, I did turn back to Lucie Brock-Broido for some word gathering.  However, I've switched to Trouble in Mind.  I didn't need to gather as many words this time, but I did still go through and look for a title. The phrase "We live in black & white" comes from her poem "Physicism."  This worked for the draft given the correspondence by letters and the fact that one of the gifts the speaker receives is a series of photos, and while they aren't mentioned to be black & white photos in the poem, they could be. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some Poetry for You (and it's FREE)

46º~ gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous: repeat until tired of sweet sun that doesn't broil and blue skies that go all the way up

Today, I have some poetry I've fallen in love with to share with you.  Say what you will about online journals, I love them.  I love the ease with which I can share the work I love, and yes, I'm always careful to include attribution; I am, if nothing else, a teacher of composition and research skills through and through.


First, the most excellent poet Carolyn Guinzio (a friend of mine) and Stephenie Foster (new to me) have started a journal for women poets and artists: Yew: A Journal of Innovative Writing and Images by Women.  While my style remains a bit more mainstream, I have been inspired by the first issue (3 pieces per month, 12 months a!).  Check out work by Laynie Browne, Andrea Baker, and Doro Boehme.  To top things off, I LOVE their logo.


Next, another Browne poet, this time Susan Browne, whose poem "Too Poetic" is up this week at Linebreak, another favorite online journal.  Check out this gorgeous poem that includes this nugget:

"I won’t say a thing about the V of geese rising
above the chain-link fence, their calls

sounding exactly like nuns keening...."


Last, here's a poem from Heidi Lynn Staples, "Things Between Themselves," distributed by in their email daily dose of poetry.  I can't quote from this one because the lines I want to quote are the closing couplet and you really need to read your way down to them to get the full THWACK as they knock you backwards off your chair.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Only Poet who Doesn't Like Halloween

42º ~ near perfect weather predicted all week, highs around 70º, a little rain perhaps midweek, ahhhh autumn in Arkansas, what we wait for during the broiling months

This morning I have a little poetry news to report and then an explanation, of sorts, about my apathy for Halloween.

First, I spent my writing time this weekend polishing off the fellowship application I wrote about a week and a half ago.  Wow, time slips by so quickly.  I'm glad I started early.  The deadline for this opportunity is November 15th, but I try to practice what I preach with my students and avoid the procrastination blues.  I'm glad I did, since letting the draft sit for 10 days and then overnight after revisions on Friday, showed me two typos on Saturday morning, both missing words.  It really is true that when you read over something you've written, your brain fills in the blanks.  For me, I have to read out loud and sssslllllloooooooowwwwwwllllly to discover my errors.  My students can attest that I sometimes don't take this kind of time with assignment details!  So, on Saturday morning, I did the final touch-ups and then hit 'send.'  I LOVE being able to apply and submit online, saving me time for the real work of the writer, reading, writing, and revising.

Second, I have a new poem out today in Waccamaw, Dan Albergotti's fabulous journal.  You can read "Cautionary Tale of Girls and Birds of Prey" along with many other fine poems and some great fiction, essays, and interviews as well. Check it out!

And third, a brief explanation of why I don't like Halloween.  The costumes.  It's all about the costumes.  When you are a creative type, people expect great things from you on Halloween.  If you doubt me, just cruise through the blogosphere or over to Facebook and check out the pictures posted from Halloween parties that occurred this weekend.  The costumes are amazing and witty and intricate and unique.  I just don't have it in me.  I think this may also be linked to my avoidance of performing in any type of theater production.  My creativity just doesn't extend to 'becoming someone / something else' in the flesh and I always feel heaps of self-judgment when I try.  No, I'm more comfortable staying at home and dishing out the candy to the munchkins.  That's where you'll find me tonight. 

by Joe Lercio, via

Friday, October 28, 2011

Draft Process: Tongueless, I Conjur Her at Will

46º ~ some grayness to the beginning of this day, leftover clouds from yesterday's rain should clear shortly, the intensity of autumn is upon us, wearing new thick flanneled pants and a sweatshirt, the electric heater kicks on and off

Wow!  I'm thrilled with today's draft process, Dear Reader.  (I confess, a crowing opening like this scares the humble Midwesterner within.)  Still, it was a breakthrough kind of day.

As I puttered through my morning routine and saw C. out the door, I was thinking of drafting and thinking of my sickly speaker, wondering if she had more to say.  Yes, indeed.  As I waited for the coffee to brew I started wondering how the speaker wound up in the hospital/asylum where she now lives.  Hmmmmmmm.  Then, shazam.  I had a line:  "My mother brought me here."

I ran into the office to jot it down in the journal, and as I wrote, I realized that the speaker doesn't have a mother.  (Just that instant knowledge about the character rang true.)  And I remembered a poem I wrote a while back, "Body Sewn Together with Twine and a Dull Needle," which appears in The Collagist.  In that poem the speaker talks about "a woman [she] called mother by mistake," and I knew I had my answer.

The opening of the draft now looks like this:

A woman I called mother by mistake
brought me here when the fever

made me shiver even in a scalding bath.
The water lapped the edges, spilled ...

Slowly, it has been dawning on me that while this series about the sickly speaker began in August, I have, in fact, written several precursor poems pointing in this direction.  The above mentioned poem in The Collagist is one.  Another is "Lament at the End of a Long Convalescence" recently published by Connotation PressThis makes me wonder if there are others.  I will have to review some older material and see.

Now, I arrived at the "whole draft" pretty quickly today, and the breakthrough was that I didn't rely on a word bank or reading to get inspiration.  Once I had that spark while standing in front of the coffee maker, I was on my way.  It was interesting, though, I did keep reminding myself to use the dense, rich, intricate language of Lucie Brock-Broido, and to keep reaching for the truth about the speaker.  The poem took a few wrong turns, but I think I was able to identify them fairly well.  Time will tell, of course.

When it came time for a title, I tried to come up with one on my own to no avail.  Since I've made the practice of using bits of lines from others (mostly L B-B), the titles all have a similar feel.  I tried on several of my own making and was not happy.  Going back through my notes, I realized that I had used Rilke's Poems from the Book of Hours once and I returned to it.  After much searching, I finally seized on a line from "Put out my eyes, and I can see you still," "and tongueless, I can conjure you at will."  Rilke's book is a meditation in conversation with God, which actually works fairly well with my speaker, even though she is not concerned with God.  She is, however, in conversation with people who are not with her, so the meditative quality and the lack of response parallels Rilke.  In any case, I changed the line a bit and came up with this:  "Tongueless, I Conjure Her at Will."

I do have one worry about the draft.  As many readers know, there are previous drafts in which the speaker communicates with her mentor, who is a woman.  Right now, I see that mentor as distinctly different from this new woman who has entered the narrative.  Given that I'm not naming anyone, if this "pseudo-mother" remains, I may have to work to distinguish the two.  This is also problematic because they aren't with the speaker, so their own voices aren't present and distinct.  Hmmmmmm.

Oh, and there are chrysanthemums in the poem, so I thought I'd show you all a picture of the mums I planted a few weeks ago.  Here is a moment when my life helped with my art.  After I planted the mums and the blooms all opened beautifully, I couldn't resist running my hand over the flowers.  When I brought my hand away, I smelled the scent of the mums on my fingers and was amazed at the intensity.  I had either forgotten their smell or never taken the time to notice it before.  In a totally organic way, the flowers and their scent fit perfectly into today's draft, and if I hadn't taken that moment in the sun with those blooms, it might not have happened.  Wow!

Until the next time, be happy, be well.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pounding the Pavement for Poetry

55º ~ the high today only 57º, always struck by those days when the temperature begins near its high and sinks, rain in the offing, 'spooky' weather

Yesterday, I was not at the desk of the Kangaroo because I was 'pounding the pavement for poetry' as I told my boss.  One of my goals at school for this year has been to increase our creative writing program. 

These are not my feet.  Courtesy of
 Program may not be the best word here, since we are a community college and do not have an official program in creative writing per se.  However, our school has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of numbers enrolled and we have about a 70% base of students who plan to transfer to one of our state's four-year institutions.  Creative writing fits into their plan as a humanities elective that will help them in that transfer.  However, many of our students have had little experience with creative writing and are unaware of what an introductory workshop class entails.  I really believe that a lack of knowledge leads many of them to choose Intro to Music, Intro to Theatre, Intro to Visual Arts, etc. instead of Creative Writing I.  Notice that even the title of the class is "different."  (Caveat:  I love all of those other intro classes and mean no disrespect!)

Our entire division (fine arts & humanities) set out on a quest to increase our visibility on campus last year (2010 - 2011) and to increase the knowledge among students about the electives we offer.  With the transient population of a community college what this means is an on-going information blitz.

In doing my part yesterday, I went to the different ENGL classes (Comp I, Comp II, and World Lit) being offered on MWF between 9 and noon to spread the word about my offerings for spring 2012.  I'm on the schedule to teach Intro to Poetry and Creative Writing I on MWF, and I want those classes to make.  If history is any indicator, the creative writing class should be fine; however, we need to get some buzz going about the Intro to Poetry course.  I taught it online last spring and had a great time but want to see if we can make it work as an on campus class as well.  Technically, this is an 'academic' course involving the study of poetics and including a research paper; however, I also allow students to workshop their own work if they would like.

It was fun to get to pitch the classes, and I am thankful my boss groups all the ENGL classes on the same floor of the same building so I wasn't running up and down the stairs/hills of campus.  As one might expect from gen-ed classes, the majority of the students were underwhelmed by my presentation.  Yet...yet, in each group there were those two or three people whose eyes lit up, whose body language changed, whose hands reached up for the offered fliers I brought.  All this makes me eager to see what waits for me in the spring!

And tomorrow, I have a blissfully clear calendar for drafting day!  Wahoo!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Improved Lighting Reading Photo Recap

54º ~ amazing fog cover out there this morning, shrouded leaves and gray light

I had an amazing time in Fayetteville Saturday night at the Improved Lighting Reading Series, held at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street.  I was fortunate to read with three other lovely & amazing writers:  Tony Presley, Amanda Auchter, and Mark Spitzer. 

Matt & Kaveh, co-founders of the series


surprise visit from beautiful niece Katie!

Tony not only writes, he sings & plays, too!

Matt puts a hex on the crowd

Matt introduces me

me (thanks Laura!)