Monday, January 31, 2011

Weathering AWP

50º ~ doom and gloom skies, although nice temps ~ to remain this way all night and into the morning, then threat of thunderstorms, lightning, and tornadoes as we plummet to 26 during the day

AWP, AWP, AWP, how you are on the mind today.  I've been busy trying to get all my classes outfitted for the week and in shape so that I won't feel an onslaught when I return.  I do what I can, although I know it is a bit futile. 

This year, the pre-conference talk of panels and speakers is overshadowed by THE STORM.
See where they Y is on "Oklahoma City"?  For anyone not in the know, Little Rock is just a bit to the right of that, and I'm flying from LR to Dallas, which is just beneath the white & pink under "Oklahoma City," and then on to DC.  DC looks poised to be on the southern fringes as well.  Every report I've checked about my airports lists WIND as a delaying factor as we will be on the edge of the front that will be causing such grief to my writer friends north and northeast of me. 

What a mess.  I am not happy about this since I count on being able to connect with folks in person at the conference who I might only see online without it.  I am not happy about this as it has caused a great deal of stress for people I care deeply about. 

So, I will hope that the predictions become more tame in the next 12 - 24 hours and that everyone who is destined for DC has safe travel if not swift.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Draft: Inspiration Cards

38º ~ bright sun, slight breeze, on our way to the 60s today ~ wahoo

I started today with the happy, happy, joy, joy of recent acceptances and publications.  Given that the poem of mine selected by Jonathon Williams and Ash Bowen for Two Weeks: A Digital Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, was one of my cautionary/haunting/fairy tales about a girl from the Midwest, I began my session today by reading over all five of the poems I've drafted in that series.
Cautionary Tale for Girls in Love with Fire (in Two Weeks)
Haunting Tale for Girls Embraced by Snow
Fairy Tale for Drowned Girls
Fairy Tale for Girls Enthralled by the Storm
Fairy Tale for Girls Who Seek to Meet the Horizon

After reading through these poems, I spent some time brainstorming other Midwestern landscape phenomena that might fit the series, but nothing was happening there.

Then, I remembered what I remarked in the last post, that both of the poems accepted by Anti- were first drafted using inspiration cards. (Read about these cards here.)  For anyone keeping score at home, they took "Backdrop for an Archetypal Bloodline" and "Urban Archaeology: Reading the Ruins."  Given this bit of good news, I opened up my folder of cards and flipped through.  It turns out that once I've gotten a poem out of a card, it loses a certain appeal.  Then, I realized that there were four different cards that interested me and that maybe I could find a way to use a little bit from each one.  So, I set the four cards out in a square.

I started in my journal with the words from the blue card: "An ancient wind" and "making heartache sound transcendent."  I also liked the words on the yellow card:  "trying to reclaim language" and "Stamped by history."  The red card says "Prepare to be dazzled by" and "gadgets" and "grace and personality."  The green card says "the industrial Midwest" and "a foreign landscape of small acreages."  This time around, I used a bit of language from each card and at least one image from each of the four cards.  I found that having a multitude of choices kept me going.

In some ways it was a bit of an aimless draft at first because I didn't have the structure of the fairy tale, that narrative, that I'd been working with most recently to hold up the draft.  Really, I was going with gut instinct and collecting lines along the way.  This may be the nature of the lyric poem, I suppose, but sometimes even when I work on a lyric poem, I have a stronger sense of theme, for lack of a better word.

For some reason, the first lines ended up as a tercet and a couplet, so I kept that up.  After I got four stanzas, I wanted a title to help guide the poem.  That's where the green card game back into play, as the title is currently "The Mythos of the Industrial Midwest" and boy that didn't come easy.  I must have tried on five or six titles.  The first one I tried I thought was fabulous but it drove the draft to a standstill b/c it didn't fit the images I was working with.  I'll save that for another day perhaps. 

As for the images, here's the score on which ones I used.   Green card: images of clockworks, blueprints, and Depression glass.  Red card: another clock and the structure of a sign attached to a building.  Blue card: the moth and the map.  Yellow card: the bridge and the weighing receptacle from the scale with the money in it.

Here are the opening lines as they stand right now:

Facing another season of ancient winds,
the echo in the bridge piers making heartache
sound transcendent, I stand here trying

We will see where things go in the round of revisions.  As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and being supportive of the journey.

Oh, and if anyone wants the older cards I'm not using anymore, leave me a message and I'll be glad to send them on to you, as I'm always making more of these.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Addendum to the Day

49º ~ it's dark outside, can't get to the window or door due to two cats holding down my legs at the moment, but the smart phone says the skies are partly cloudy ~ we're in for a super warm up over the next three - four days, wahoo

Just a quick note to follow up from this morning.  Sometimes, the odds pay off.  When I arrived home this afternoon, I found an acceptance from Anti- waiting in my inbox.  Wahoo Wahoo Wahoo!  I've been reading Anti- for several years now and am so happy to be included for a future issue.  I'm also pleased because the two poems that were accepted (yep, two!) are from this past fall's drafting, and both were prompted by inspiration cards.  (Explanation here.)  I'll fill you in when the poems come out.

Also, more happy news, the Two Weeks digital anthology is LIVE, with my poem "Cautionary Tale for Girls in Love with Fire" included.  At $4.99, it's packed with great poems, and I'm honored to be next to some of my favorites.  The whole thing is fabulous to the nth degree.  I am in awe of the editors, Johnathon Williams and Ash Bowen, for their fortitude.  Following their Facebook updates, I know it's been a marathon, but the end result is worth it.  They really managed to showcase how poetry can work on an ereader without sacrificing line breaks, and there is even an audio package with each of us reading someone else's poem as well.

Oh, Happy Day!

Recording Rejections and Reflections

29º ~ a good sun-filled sky, no clouds, wahoo!

This morning has been a morning of details first.  I spent a bit of time recording rejections.  Four different journals sent rejections in the last three days.  I'm guessing they want to clear the decks before AWP, as all of them are participating in the conference.  Several of the rejections included kind notes, so I'm not completely bereft.  I'm just glad I sent out so many submissions this month, which helps me remember the whole thing is subjective and with longer odds than picking the winner of any given horse race.

After recording the rejections, I turned to a sweeter task.  I'm being interviewed by a couple of different people/blogs/journals, and I received one set of questions last night.  Wahoo.  It's always an upper to realize that someone is genuinely interested in the work, that someone has taken the time to look at a poem or the book closely enough to formulate questions about them.

Answering these questions provides time for reflection that I don't normally take.  I'm always struggling to slow down and breathe more deeply on so many levels.  Much thanks to the people involved for the opportunity today.


AWP is ONE WEEK away...wahoo!

Monday, January 24, 2011

What I'm Reading: Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room

37º ~ solid gray skies today, the sun well-hidden, slight breezes in the branches, a threat of rain

I've been reading Kelli Russell Agodon's blog Book of Kells for so long that I no longer remember how I first "met" her.  I do know that I was lucky enough to be able to follow the entire journey of Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, from the post about winning the White Pine Press Poetry Prize to the post about cover art, and finally the finished product.  I ordered my copy directly from Kelli so I could have it signed, and she even included a drawing of a kangaroo, just for me. 

I was remiss in not reading this book the second it arrived, but that's the joy of books; they wait and they are patient.

The poems in this collection are brave and brazen, addressing love and loss, questioning God and mortals alike, mixing Dickinson, Neruda, Einstein, and Alice from Wonderland with the deftness of a practiced mixologist.  Here we have a speaker adrift in a world that often feels directionless, a speaker who desires nothing more than connection and yet finds that connection difficult because of the very fact that she is a poet: "the broken ones become artists," says the father in "Letter to a Past Life." 

The father is a key figure woven throughout the book, a figure who influences the speaker when young and challenges the speaker's belief when he dies.  In "Letter to a Companion Star" we see the speaker in the hospital and overhear the doctor.  There is an epigraph from National Geographic about the Hourglass Nebula.  The poem begins, "When the doctor said, / We're only delaying death, // I forgot words and let nebulae / answer." 

Throughout the book, the speaker (who is unmistakably the same speaker throughout) makes declarative statements in an attempt to define herself.

In the opening poem, "Another Empty Window Dipped in Milk," she states:
"Trust me, it's not bitterness I carry my blood, but the pulse and flow

of ordinary, the white picket fence
.....I like to call my ribcage."

In "Selected Love Letters I'm Still Trying to Write," she claims:
"I am the handwriting of a car crash,
bent metal and adrenalin-filled."

In "Quiet Collapse in the Dharma Shop," we are told:
"I celebrate small things
.......--apples, beetles, faith---"

I love that 'faith' is a 'small thing' here.  Throughout the book, Kelli manages to take the ordinary moments of a woman's life and transform them into the extraordinary, the special, the saved.  She is unafraid to tell the truth about what it means to be a poet as well as a mother, daughter, wife, and lover, and how sometimes those worlds don't always mesh.

Aside from the deft handling of this subject matter, the book is a delight of language.  There are puns and anagrams and metaphors galore.  There is music in the lines and specificity in each description.  This is definitely a book to be read aloud and savored.

Support Poetry / A Poet
Buy or Borrow This Book Today
Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room
Kelli Russell Agodon
White Pine Press, 2010

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Submission Sunday, Or, You Can't Win if You Don't Play

48º ~ halfway dreary skies with a hint of light behind the cloud cover, a chance of rain, wintery mix removed from the predictions, looks like we might make a full week of school (knock wood)

Just a quick update on some recent submissions.  I sent out a plethora of poems about two weeks ago (read about it here).  However, I recently received some poems back from a non-simultaneous sub publisher (one of the rare non-SS journals that I send to), and I discovered a couple of journals I've been meaning to try have opened their reading periods again.  So, I sat down yesterday and sifted through the poems that could go out.  To add to my pile, I've spent the last couple weeks fine-tuning several more poems from the fall Friday drafts.

In the bad old days, I used to send poems out to upwards of 15 journals that accepted SS.  Now that I'm a bit more established, I cut each poem off at five or six journals max, given the time withdrawing a poem can take.  The only problem with this is that there are way more journals that I'd like to send to, and being a slow writer, sometimes I just can't send to every journal on my list.

In any case, in the last three days, I've submitted:
One group of five poems to six journals (simultaneous and all accepting electronic submissions).
One group of three poems to one journal (simultaneous, but the poems didn't really fit with the other journals on my list, postal submission).
One group of three poems to one journal (a BIG one that doesn't accept SS and reports fairly quickly, so I'm willing to risk it, postal submission).

All of this backs up my philosophy on publishing poems in lit mags: submit, submit, submit and submit some more.  I do keep meticulous records to avoid any major mistakes like re-publishing a poem already accepted and such, and I think that is important if you take the "overwhelm them with numbers" approach that I do.  Some folks may think I should be more discerning or narrow my focus to the upper echelon of journals that take ages and ages to report back on non-SS submissions.  They may be right, but for now, my competitive nature prefers a method that seems to work more in favor of receiving the happy email rather than the sad, thin envelope.

Finally, a bit of good news.  I'll have a poem in the digital anthology Two Weeks, being put together by the editors of Linebreak.  Wahoo.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Draft: One More Fairy Tale

23º ~ at least there is a return of the sun today, an inch and a half of snow stubborn on grassy areas, nothing on the streets, although early release yesterday during the worst of the snow, supposed to warm above freezing but not into the 40's today, more winter weather on the horizon for Sunday/Monday ~ the Kangaroo does not approve

Dear Reader, I hope you don't tire of stories about drafting fairy tale/cautionary tale poems.  It seems I'm enamored of them lately.

A confession: I forgot to think about drafting a poem last night before sleeping.  It was a lot harder to get going this morning.  Did I psych myself out once I realized I hadn't "prepped" for today?  Who knows.  Just an observation.

My friend and former student, Suzi, commented on my word bank post from last week and mentioned that she found herself gathering mostly verbs.  Ah ha, I thought, a new twist on the prompt.  I decided to start today by gathering only verbs from Kelli Russell Agodon's latest book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.  This is a book I've had for several months and just hadn't gotten to.  It is next up on my reading pile.  I already know it's going to be awesome because as I was combing it for verbs, I kept getting caught up in the poems (a danger to the exercise and perhaps a reason to use a non-poetry book for gathering your words!).  In any case, I created my word bank of verbs.

Then, I veered from the prompt.  I thought I might try another fairy tale, so before I started with the words, I thought about what prairie icon I hadn't used yet.  I have used: Fire/Drought, Snow/Freezing, Lakes/Drowning, and Storm/Tornadoes.  As I stared out into the snowy wilds of the backyard, a picture from our summer trip to Jamaica was on my computer screen.  It happened to be one that was a long-distance view out over the ocean on a clear day.  The horizon line was amazing, and then ker-pow, I had it:  "Fairy Tale for Girls Who Seek to Meet the Horizon."  (There's a lot of commonality between the ocean horizon and the prairie/plains horizon.  Of course, the poem is about the prairie.)

I started off somewhat with my own lines and trying to mix in some of Kelli's verbs whenever I could.  This draft did not fall easily to the page.  There were many stops and starts.  (I wonder if this is because I didn't do the random word pair since I had all verbs.)  At first the girl of the poem was born mute and I went off in one direction for half a page.  As I transferred that to the computer, I realized the girl was becoming a little too much of a cliche, so I backtracked.  Now she is just 'quiet.'  Another interesting observation comes from form.  When I started off the poem I was trying to write without stanza breaks and using shorter lines but also lines of more varying lengths.  In reading poems lately, I've noticed that there are some poets who use the varied line length with great results and I tend to be someone who gravitates toward more universal line lengths within a poem.  So, I started the first round trying out the varied line lengths and no stanza breaks.  When I backtracked, I ended up reverting to form and using couplets with long, long lines.

Something to continue to mess with in future drafts.  When is the comfort zone a part of voice/style/identity? And when is the comfort zone just a crutch?

PS: And now, on proofreading this post, it comes to me that this poem DEMANDS long line that mirror the horizon.  Yes, form is something I've studied and something I think about, but not at the moment the draft is emerging (unless I'm going for a sonnet or a pantoum or another formal structure).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


36º ~ gray, gloomy, dense out there ~ hold onto your weather hats, predictions of more 'winter weather' tomorrow to arrive mid-day...what will the schools do with that forecast?  stay tuned

Today, my brain seems unable to latch onto any one poetry related activity and hold.  It's turned into a day of flitting.

I flitted around the blogs.

I flitted around iTunes trying to find some sound that would ground me.

I flitted around Facebook.

I flitted around my spreadsheet recording yesterday's dreary rejection from one of my all-time favorite journals.

I flitted around the AWP schedule, discovering more panels and events to add to my list.

I flitted around my email account and submitted some poems to.... don't want to jinx it.

I flitted around the house in an attempt to tidy up the place a bit (hah!).

Now, I suppose I shall flit off to school and try to focus on classes. 

PS:  I doubt anyone in the world has ever really called me a flit.  This is quite out of character.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What I'm Reading: After the Ark

35º ~ rain in the early hours, just gray and heavy skies now ~ near calm in the branches

Luke Johnson is a fine young poet who I've come to know solely through the blog-o-sphere.  I began following his blog, Proof of Blog, several years ago and have found a kinship in Luke's poetry as well. 

Just about a week ago, Luke's first book, After the Ark, hit the shelves of bookstores and the desk of the Kangaroo.  As many of you know, I've been reading it all week.  A complex elegy on a mother's death, this is a book that must be read slowly, and given recent conversations about reading straight through or dipping in and out (here and here), I would advocate for reading this one front to back, as the progression of the speaker seems paramount to experiencing the book as a whole.

The speaker throughout the book is the son of two ministers, and in the acknowledgments, Luke thanks his parents for "their love, their bookcases, and their level-headed pulpits," identifying them both as reverends.  So, the reader assumes the close confessional nature of the poems.  The book is divided into three untitled sections, with each section being introduced by a triolet.  I'm in awe of this tactic, as the triolet is not often connected with funereal themes in my mind.  However, these three triolets do a fine job of setting the tone for each section. 

The first, "Nor'easter," has as it's second and final line, "the highway buried, sky a grave."  And we begin, then, with an image of death.  The poems in the first section, take the reader through the illness of the mother, memories of youth, memories of a split in the parent's marriage that was healed, and the death; however, not in chronological order.  This circular time line is crucial to the entire book, as it mimics the fluidity of time during a long illness, a death, and the aftermath.  We begin with "Moving Day," a poem filled with ordinary domestic images as the speaker clears away "boxes of sermons / collected in her study" ... "prayers ready / to be gathered and stored away."  He notes "the weight of her words" and that weight filters through every poem in the rest of the book.

The second section is formally interesting as well as being filled with more poems attempting to reconcile the grief of the son.  There is the triolet and then a series of sonnets.  There are nine sonnets, but between the fifth and the sixth is one that is purposely unfinished, "Box Kite" at only eight lines.  That gaping space where the sextet is supposed to be becomes the formal metaphor for the grave and the unsayable fact of grief.  The speaker of these poems has much to reconcile: his mother's death, his own residual anger with her over a fracture in the parent's marriage, his position as the child of two ministers, how to help his father cope, and how to move through the world now as a motherless son.  In "Vulture Tree," the sonnet opens "We were never so holy, and apples / in the ministers' orchard rot the same."  Of all professions, perhaps we believe ministers, and by extension their families, most capable of dealing with the great tragedies of life, and yet, these poems reveal that human nature is human nature no matter a person's profession or calling. 

Finally, in the third section, the poems become wider, deeper, more exploratory as the speaker moves out into the world after the death.  The poem "Manse" begins "It might be easier to blame the dead / for disrepair... ."  This honest admission floors me as it also hints at the ease with which we often blame our parents for our own faults left unrepaired.  The speaker, though, resists this, still searching for a way to make sense of human nature.  The section and the book conclude with the title poem "After the Ark," which weaves together the religious questions and the familial ones that have embedded themselves throughout the book.  In this poem, the speaker contemplates the Ark story, and how "scores of sinners" ... "would've drowned in what my mother showed me // of God's love, the ever-lasting compassion / too definite / to be human... ."  He struggles with this:  "how // my mother left my father and I still don't know / how to forgive her, if I need to -- Genesis // missed these unpaid fares... ."  The poem ends with a devastatingly true couplet:

It's up to us to grow gills, to learn to breathe
here where the flood has become the body.

I applaud Luke's generous work for managing to be both religious and domestic, without being high-handed or overly sentimental.  Above all this book is an honest account of difficult love.

Support Poetry / A Poet
Buy or Borrow This Book Today
After the Ark
Luke Johnson
NYQ Books, 2011

Sunday, January 16, 2011

AWP Dance Card

36º ~ another day of nothing but gray-white skies ~ oppressive weather ~ many lamps burning

Dear Reader, I'm stunned to realize AWP is just two and a half weeks away!  Wowza!  Being my neurotic self, I've just mapped out the panels that draw my interest.  I know it's a Type A thing, but it's the only way I can get a grip on the overwhelming flood of activities and humanity.  All that being said, my dance card is now open for breakfast/lunch/dinner/coffee/drinks/and etc.  Feel free to email at gmail or on Facebook if you'd like to meet or just exchange cell phone numbers in case we don't cross paths at the Bookfair.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Say Hello to Earnestine

53º ~ that super sun keeps powering on ~ watching the last patches of snow diminish

My wonderful and talented friend, Anne Greenwood, is an artist and agreed to create a logo for me based on the antique brooch of the kangaroo that I bought last year.  The kangaroo has since been named 'Earnestine' in honor of my earnest nature.  And now, she lives on in my new logo, from which I've just designed and ordered new business cards.  They should arrive just in time for AWP, woo hoo.  But now, the star of the show:

What I'm Reading: Lucille Clifton in The Writer's Chronicle

45º ~ super sun that I bow down to for bring back the 'normal' range of temps, snow still in the shadow places, but melting fast

When I took the latest issue of The Writer's Chronicle out of the mailbox this past week, I teared up a bit to see Lucille Clifton's face gracing the cover.  Her passing leaves a hole in the poetry world and in my world.  I cannot claim to have known her well; our meeting was brief and lasted only a few precious days back in 1993 or 1994.  But anyone who knew her, knows her spirit is/was huge.  I felt welcomed by her presence and she offered such great advice about my work at that early, early age.  Her poem "won't you celebrate with me" has gotten me through some of the worst times.

From The Book of Light, Copper Canyon, 1993

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life?  i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

In her life, "Ms. Lucille" faced many hardships; this poem always reminded me of the grace with which she faced those difficult times and gave me a model.  Now I see her theme goes on and expands with her death.  While she has passed from this earthly life, she still beat all those things that "tried to kill [her];" she passed on her own terms, it seems to me.  Still showing me an admirable way for myself, still giving.

But, back to the magazine.  It contains an interview between Remica L. Bingham-Risher and Lucille Clifton, conducted in 2006 and 2007.  Dear Reader, I hope you will read the whole interview, but here are the bits that jumped out at me.

Clifton's parents were both avid readers, and while her father couldn't write, he, and her mother, surrounded her with words from her infancy.  Clifton says, in the interview, "I just like to read things that help me to know and try to understand the world."  Me, too, and that's the kind of poetry I love to read and that I want to write, a poetry that helps the reader 'to know and understand the world," to make sense of the often senseless world we live in.

I laughed when Clifton explained why she lost her full-ride to Howard University.  "I felt no reason to know chemicals.  I loved writing, but I was wild and young, and I didn't see why I had to know about chemicals.  I did very badly in Chemistry...," she says.  Hear, Hear!

One of the reasons I admire Clifton's work so much is that each poem is a straight shot of the TRUTH, no matter how hard that truth might be to say.  When asked about how her family reacts to these difficult poems, including one where the speaker confesses having tried to abort her daughter, Clifton is resolute.  She says, "I never tell anything but the truth.  My daughter knows that I tried to get rid of her."  Wow.  Clifton understands how secrets fester and scar, how brave to be so open with the world.

Finally, the end of the interview made me a bit more sad.  The topic of the Pulitzer Prize comes up and the fact that Clifton was a two-time nominee.  The interviewer, Bingham, asks, after naming a long list of awards Clifton had won, "Do you think you've managed to become 'extraordinary' yet?"  Clifton answers no because she has never won the Pulitzer.  Expanding on that, she admits that she would like to win the Pulitzer but doesn't need it.  She says, "After some time, you want to feel validated for your work.  I am very much validated by my readers; I just want to feel validated by my peers.  Because you know how much you have doubts.  For a long time, I was the 'Grandma Moses' of the bunch because I wasn't educated in that way.  So I would like to feel that I have their respect."

Oh, wow.  That certainly puts my doubts in their place and reminds me that those doubts are all a part of living the writing life and even winning nearly every major award there is to win won't put them to rest.  Bless Ms. Lucille for another lesson, another passing on of wisdom hard-earned.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Random Word Bank

46º ~ the beautiful sun has been hidden by an expanse of gray clouds, but the temps are staying up, so it's hard to complain, the melt begins

Thanks to Josh's comment from my process notes earlier today, I thought I'd walk y'all through one random word bank experience that resulted in a poem that has since been published, "Late Aubade."  

First:  I began with Pablo Neruda's book Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon, translated by Stephen Mitchell.  Neruda's word choices are divine, and Mitchell does a fabulous job holding true to that in translation as far as I've been told.  (I took French.)  I flipped through some of my favorite poems (the book is well dog-eared) and jotted down lists of words that jumped out at me.  Then, I numbered the words.  Here's the page from my journal.

After I had the list, I went to and used their random number generator.  I created pairs of words based on the roll of the dice, so to speak.  Once I had a healthy number of pairs, lines began to form.  The part that's a bit hard for me is to really keep the pairs random and not to force things.  If I force things, the draft usually ends up stunted.  There's something about the random smashing together of words that sparks lines in my head.   Here's that page from the journal.

You'll see that the second word pair is 'undulate' and 'foxes,' if you can read that mess.  I was probably ready to start drafting right then, but I kept listing the pairs and more sparks resulted.  The first three lines I have here in the journal are:
The foxes undulate
through the ditches filled with
cattails dense and wounded.
You might notice that 'cattails' came up in two different pairs, once with 'dense' and once with 'wounded.'  Having words come up more than once used to bug me, but that's the nature of randomness, and it worked out well in this poem.  Of course, everything gets fine-tuned in revision, so it's all about mindset at this point.

Finally, I was so inspired that I went right to the computer.  Usually, I draft more lines than this in the journal first.  To see the resulting poem, which went through several revisions, please go to the Connotation Press site and read, "Late Aubade."  You have to scroll to the bottom; it's the last poem on the page.

Thanks again, Dear Readers, just for being out there.

Friday Draft: Word Bank Propechy and Another Fairy Tale

27º ~ good sun that promises to have some teeth today to chew through this everlasting snow and ice ~ the roads are largely clear, but houses, yards, decks, etc. still thick covered ~ a forecast that calls for temps in the low 40's so a huge melt off is in store...welcome back to MUD

Today has been a gift of drafting, and I actually completed two drafts in the last hour, something quite rare for me.  Again, I've gone to bed thinking about poetry.  Erin over at Being Poetry has been writing about staying focused and I feel a kinship to what she wrote recently about simply thinking about writing even when she wasn't writing as a way to focus.  She says it better here

When one of the cats woke me up at 3 a.m. and left me unable to get back to sleep, I started thinking about poetry some more and lines began appearing.  Miraculously, I remembered them when I woke up (after drifting back to sleep around 3:30).  However, once I put them down, I realized they had no spark in the light of day.  So, I turned to creating a word bank and used Luke Johnson's new book, After the Ark.  I've read the first of three sections and am blown away.  Will post about it soon.  In any case, I scanned the poems I'd already read and noted down the strongest words, working up to about 55 words.  Then, I used to generate random couplings and wouldn't you know it, a poem began to show itself after about six pairings.  If you know Luke's work (and if you don't, go read it now), you know that there is a lot of religion going on in there, so I had some power-packed words to begin with.  There are also lots of down-to-earth domestic words as well.  I ended up with a poem I'm unsure of but that I'm calling "Prophecy" until something better comes along.  The first tercet is: "Soon the city will learn to live / crowned by dangers, / the air marked by blackbirds,"  And no, the blackbirds don't fall from the sky, even though that epic flock death at New Year's happened just a hundred miles from here.

Well, "Prophecy" slid out onto the page pretty quickly and yet I felt like I had more to give today.  "Prophecy" also ended one notebook and I got to get out a new one!  Woo Hoo!

Yesterday, I received some really great feedback on "Cautionary Tale for Girls in Love with Fire."  I have my three fairy tale poems from last fall, but I knew they weren't quite right.  I just couldn't find the final tweak to set them straight.  It turns out I was over-writing the endings. long have I been doing this and I'm still making beginner mistakes!  I beat myself up for a minute and then took the lesson in stride.  I was able to look at all three poems this morning and see the revision shimmering there, waiting for me.  With that good vibe feeling, I decided to try for another one this morning.  I opened up the fresh notebook and thought about what other prairie element I could tackle (I've done Fire, Blizzard, and Lake).  It came to me suddenly: "Fairy Tale for Girls Enthralled by the Storm." 

Here's a picture of the process.

If you can read these words, please don't steal them!
I started in the journal on the page before the one pictured.  I wrote three lines of landscape description and found myself off track.  Then, I remembered that the others all start with 'the girl,' so I started with her again.  "Once there was a girl who loved the prairie wind," and I was off and running.  I got about half of the poem into the journal and then switched to the computer for the rest.  (You can see Luke's book at the top of the picture as well.)

So there you have it, Dear Reader, another day of drafting that I get to put in the Win Column!  Thanks for reading and commenting and following the process.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unplanned Linkage

17º ~ the temp actually went down 1 degree in the last hour, what's that all about?  ~ the forecast says we won't break 30 today, the snow remains on grassy areas on day 3

My reading chair on the deck.

I hadn't planned today to be a day of links, but that's what's happened.  Three links today, but they are mighty links.


I've mentioned Nic Sebastian's blog/project Whale Sound before.  Poets, editors, readers can all submit any poem that has been previously published online.  If a poem is chosen, Nic produces a podcast of her interpretation.  The voice alone is to die for, but the careful handling of the poems is a close second.  In any case, Monday, Joshua Robbins' poem "Theodicy" was the feature.  Do yourself a favor and listen to the poem right now.


The editors of one of my favorite online journals, Linebreak, are embarking on a lightning fast foray into the world of producing a book of poetry for e-readers, Two Weeks: A Digital Anthology of Contemporary Poetry.  Here's a bit from the announcement:

For years, ebooks have been ignored by most poetry publishers. Today, the few poetry ebooks available are little more than cut-and-paste versions of their print counterparts. And many fail to preserve line breaks and other basic formatting.

They are accepting submissions until January 19 and will sell the anthology they create on the 25th.  Holy Lightspeed Turnaround, Batman!

I had my first look at a book of Emily Dickinson poems on an e-reader over the holidays.  I was so sad to see that several of the line breaks in each poem had been destroyed, and she has some famously short lines.  One reason I haven't purchased an e-reader is that I read so much poetry and so little is available in e-format.  Now that I see how it is being presented, I'm doubly glad not to have bought one yet.  

Click here for the announcement.


Finally, like most of the nation, I've been struggling to make sense of the shooting in Tucson.  The fact that the shooter had attended the area community college and had been expelled due to mental instability struck home with me, especially when commentators began to say that the college should have done more (we heard this same refrain of Virginia Tech, so it isn't limited to cc's). 

I'm thankful this morning for fellow poet and cc instructor/administrator, Kristin Berkey-Abbott's post about the subject.  I hope you'll read it and think it over. 


We're finally going to start the new semester, two days late due to snow and ice conditions.  I find I'm ready to rise to the challenge again.  Onward.

Take care and tell the ones you love how much they matter. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Day Miscellany

29º ~ dense gray-white skies, very little light, a day of dusk and snow going nowhere fast

The official snow total from the backyard of the Kangaroo is 5 1/4 inches.  It's a near perfect snow as well.  No wind, no drifts.  No ice on the front end or the back end of the storm and snow wet and sticky enough for building any decent snowperson or hurling any snowball. 

It's been a bit of a hodge-podge morning, since we knew before going to bed last night that there would be no school today.  The first snowflake touched down at 2 p.m. yesterday and the school district announced the closure at 5 p.m.  Where the K-12 schools go, mine usually follows, so there was much rejoicing in the land. 

I spent some time on reading blogs this morning and then was suddenly inspired to hit my poems in progress and spent a good hour or two revising.  There were several poems sitting there right on the edge of feeling "ready."  I don't say "finished" until it's been a good two years of so!  In any case, I polished up four of the poems to a state where I think they can go out in the February round of submissions and I read and re-read the remainder until I couldn't stomach it any longer.  Those will have to sit some more. 

As an intermission, I went out and swept all the snow from the two cars and cleared the porch, sidewalk, deck, and driveway.  Since it is such a rarity for us, I'd forgotten how snow can quiet a neighborhood (not many kids in our neck of the woods).  The snow was deceptively easy to move, and only now am I feeling it in my arms, shoulders and back.  Here's a pretty picture of our backyard, untrespassed upon.  (Not sure you can see it, but back by the fence, there's a tipped over red wheelbarrow, upon which so much depends.)

Back at the desk, I realized I had two more folders out that needed attention.  These were folders for two book publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts during January.  No contest fee!  (No award beyond royalties either.)  Bless their hearts for accepting manuscripts online ~ no loose ends of having to wait to slide over to the post office tomorrow.  I started to send the manuscript to one more contest when I discovered they were accepting online submissions; however, as I went through the steps, I realized they hadn't given clear directions about payment.  It appears I'll have to send in my check no matter what (rather than be able to pay online), so I decided to just send the whole thing together to avoid confusion.  That will have to wait another day or two. 

While I'm not up for sliding to the post office, the mail carrier did manage to stop by on schedule.  Go USPS!  I only note this because, the bounty of the mail box included my signed copy of After the Ark by Luke off the presses people!

And now, since I need a bit of a break from the desk, and today was supposed to be the first day of classes and I'm all prepped for that, I suppose I'll adjourn to the couch and get in a few hours with my all-time favorite detective, Lenny Briscoe (RIP Jerry Orbach), on Law & Order.  I'm sure there will be freshly popped popcorn (from the stovetop not the microwave!) and maybe some pomegranate tea.  The work of teaching will have to wait for better traveling conditions.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Submission Notes: A Baker's Dozen

28º ~ gray skies hovering close, the promise of 2 - 4 inches of snow has us all thinking Snow Day tomorrow! (with apologies to my northern brothers & sisters who might scoff at the idea of a city shutting down for so little accumulation)

Given that my experiment with doing a smaller number of poetry submissions each Monday didn't really pan out last semester, I'm starting this semester off with a big effort.  Today, I submitted to 13 journals, using three groups of four poems each.   The task was made easier by the work I did last Monday when I went through each poem with a fine-tooth comb and sorted them into groups I thought worked well as mini-manuscripts.  I only did a wee bit of tinkering on two poems today and the rest were 'shovel-ready.' :)

I'm still wishing for the sorting hat (see Monday), as the first part of the day was taken up with going over my spreadsheet, checking guidelines, and making the final decision on which poems might fit where.  I know it's still a subjective game, but I do believe that knowing the journals well helps put the odds in my favor.

Of the 13 journals, eight had online submission capabilities (two required small fees, $1.75 and $3.00) and five were postal only.  Either way is fine with me, although I have to admit to liking the ease of the online submission, and I don't begrudge the small fees at all.

Pick Me!  Pick Me!
This clears the desk for a bit of the more strenuous work this week: revising some more of my fall 2010 poems.  I'm going through a bit of a low concerning these.  For some reason, I'm not feeling confident about very many of them.  I'm guessing this is because the table of contents in the new manuscript has stabilized and I'm spinning my wheels during the transition to whatever's coming next.  I need to remind myself that it's all part of the process, and while I might be slow, I'm steady as she goes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What I'm Reading: Chapbooks by Kathleen Kirk

40º ~ soaking in this direct beam of sunlight as the doomsayers predict 2-4 inches of snow tomorrow

Last month, I was fortunate to exchange books with Kathleen Kirk, who blogs at Wait! I Have a Blog?!  Kathleen has become a friend via the blog-o-sphere, for which I am thankful.  Kathleen works in a used bookstore in Normal, IL and shares my sensibilities as a Midwestern poet at heart.  It turns out we are also both collagers as well, she making bookmarks that put to shame my cards.

When I received two of her chapbooks, Selected Roles and Broken Sonnets, I rushed to read the first and have savored the second more slowly.  Selected Roles contains a wonderful group of poems based on Kathleen's experience as a professional actor in Chicago and includes "lyric and prose poems in the voices of various women and one male animal" from iconic plays/TV shows/stories.  The book is arranged, cleverly, like a play with a prologue, five acts, an epilogue, and program notes at the end.  I particularly liked the program notes as the poet explained the inspiration for the poems, often mentioning specific productions.

Here's the opening of the first poem in Act I, "Miranda," one of my favorite Shakespeare characters.

Much has been made of the island.
All my childhood is a sweet fantasy
of perfection
though I was wild.

I love that clause at the end, so sly.

With that taste, I'll move on to Broken Sonnets, which I just finished this morning, and I'm still processing.  True to the title, the book is made of lyric poems that sometimes fall a bit short of the official sonnet definition, but are really close.  In fact, one of the strengths of the book, I think, is the way Kathleen plays with this form.  Some of the sonnets are in traditional stanzas, but there are others in couplets, in varied stanzas, or with no stanzas at all, and there is even one prose sonnet.   

In this book, published three years after Selected Roles, the subject matter shifts to the more deeply personal, love, birth, and death, all presented in quite an intimate way. While I felt a bit voyeuristic when reading these poems, it was not in a bad way.  I felt like I could walk into Kathleen's kitchen and pick up the threads of her life.  I have no idea how TRUE to life these poems are, but they are TRUE to the feeling of life as I know it, which is all that matters.

In "Roof Leak, Mima Calls," the speaker's husband receives a call from his mother who has been diagnosed with cancer.  However, we are led most gently to this painful moment.  The poem begins:

Tyrant ice
pries up the tar and flashing, disturbs the peace
of shingles, their social order.  It's not the freeze
but the thaw that ruins us...

I love "their social order" as a way to describe shingles, and perhaps I'm drawn so much to the opening of this poem because I spent a bit of time myself helping shingle houses when I was a kid. 

I don't want to give away too much more of the book, but trust me when I say that you should read it.  To get you going, Dear Reader, I'll leave you with one full sonnet.

Here in Paradise

My husband stands on the shore with a net.
Before we go, he wants to see the skate,
its white belly; I want to see him wet.

When we leave here, he will still taste of salt.
I cannot speak, nor close my stinging mouth.
This is how I pray, across the burning sands.

Last night with our fingers we ate the white
flesh of the flounder, innocent and sweet.
When we licked butter from our teeth
it was not a sin--no sin to eat

what we had taken gently in our hands
from the white net, from the bluegreen water.
This is how I pray, lips swollen with the sun.
Forgive me for whatever I have done.

Support Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Broken Sonnets
Finishing Line Press, 2009

Selected Roles
Moon Journal Press, 2006

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Draft: Lucille Clifton, Charles Wright, and Jimmy Buffett

39º ~ good, strong sun ~ the wind is stronger today and will get stronger still as a cold front moves in tomorrow, but for today: 60º

Today is a special day; today I turn 40!  In fact, I've been 40 for nearly an hour. (Many thanks to all who have left good wishes on Facebook!)

Each year, my dad calls around 7 a.m. to sing to me.  When I was younger, I didn't appreciate the wake-up call (and neither did my college roomates :) ), but now that I'm usually up and moving around by this time in the morning, I love it!  Today, he reported that it was about 40 degrees warmer in Waterloo than it was on the morning of my birth.  I'm a caesarean baby, as are my two older sisters, so the moment of my birth was chosen and lacked any element of surprise or drama.  Still, there was no predicting the Iowa winter, and everyone in my family continues to comment about that cold, cold day when celebrating my birthday.  In honor of my 40th year, Arkansas is ready to join the party with a cold front tomorrow that may bring snow on Sunday and highs that will stay below freezing for the rest of the week.  We start classes on Monday so it should be interesting.  Oh, and yes, I'm the instructor who says "cold?  cold?  you don't know cold!" to my Southern students.

Now, to poetry.  I was really ready to get back to drafting today after a week of prepping for classes.  As I'm trying to make a habit, last night as I was going to bed, I reminded myself that today I would draft a poem.  I remembered then that Lucille Clifton had once told me that she wrote herself a birthday poem every year.  While I didn't get out of bed to find the one I remembered, I did start thinking about how I might go about doing that.  First, I thought vaguely about Jimmy Buffett's song "A Pirate Looks at Forty" and thought I might play with the title.  Then, I drifted to Charles Wright's "1975," which seems to be his own birthday poem for 40, but I've never verified that.  The poem appears in Country Music, one of my favorite books.  When the lines started forming in my head, I made myself stop, since I was too tired to get up and write them down, and I didn't want them to be lost.  (I know this sounds a bit crazy.)

In any case, this morning I cleared the desk of everything except my journal, turned on the classical music (I can't write with lyrics in the background), and took up my pen.  Then, I jumped up and got the Clifton poem from the shelf.  The poem I'd remembered was "climbing" and it appears in The Book of Light, which is always in my top 10 when asked to list my favorite books.  I read "climbing" several times.  Then, I drafted a few weak lines in my journal.  I have always been drawn to Charles Wright's repetition of the phrase "Year of the ..." in "1975" and I started a few lines with "Year I (verb)."  Getting a bit strangled at one point, I found the Jimmy Buffett song on YouTube and got a bit lost in that.  After listening, I knew I couldn't use the song as a jumping off point, but it did energize me to go back to the poem.

There was a lot of puttering and for me a lot of shifting of stanzas.  Most days when I draft, the initial draft comes out in a certain order that remains fairly stable.  Today, I was all over the place and a bit frustrated at first.  However, once I got some lines on the computer and started shifting things around and broke loose from the order that had appeared in my journal, the poem sort of clicked.  For now, it is "A Poet Faces Forty" and begins this way: "Year I bless this body, ripe / as a peach in July, no sharp / and souring edges protruding."  Who knows where it will go in the process of revision, but for now, I can chalk up ONE poem for ONE week in 2011.  Woo Hoo!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Online Poetry Communal Pool

33º ~ bright sun beginning to filter through the trees behind my left shoulder as morning enters its second hour ~ the tiniest of breezes that requires a moment of concentrated watching to discover

Next week classes begin for me, and this week has been filled with preparation.  I'm teaching a new class this time around: Intro to Poetry, and online at that.  So, my comp and world lit classes nearly prepped themselves after years and years of fine tuning.  Intro to Poetry, that's a different story.  Lots of thinking and hesitation going on at the moment, and I have to remind myself that this will be a trial run, that I'll find things in my plan that work and things that don't, that I must be kind to myself about all of this.  I am proud, however, that I've still managed to do something with poetry every day and that I'm not quite as anxious as I've been in semesters past during this week of ramping up.

All that leads to today's post, the title of which comes from Joshua Robbins' post on Little Epic Against Oblivion today.  Josh and I have become poetry friends over the last year or so, ever since he published one of my poems in GRIST (a great journal...go out and get you a copy!).  I read LEAO religiously because the posts are honest and helpful, because the posts often include individual poems with comments that lead me to new poets or remind me of old favorites, and because I feel a kinship there.  Recently, because J. and I are going through the same contest submission emotions, I sent J. a gift in the mail, and he writes about that today, along with other gifts from the "online poetry communal pool."

Some writers are lucky to live in major metropolitan areas or cities with lively MFA/PhD readings.  Others of us live in smaller cities/towns/rural areas and we have to make a writing life happen there if we want one at all.  I must admit that Little Rock has come a long way in hosting readings lately; however, when I first moved here I felt the absence of that lively presence (which could have been more my fault than the city's).  Regardless, I began this blog as a place to explore the life of writing, to talk honestly about the emotions of rejection and acceptance, and to try and find a community of like-minded people.  Today, I can say that I've received all of that and more.  While connecting online isn't the same as meeting face to face in the pool, it has been a life-saver for me.  Of Josh's options at the end of his post, I choose 'water wings' to describe the role you all play, Dear Readers, in keeping me afloat.  For that I am grateful.

PS:  For readers old and new, when I began this blog, I vowed that I would not link/promote anyone/any book/any journal that I did not feel strongly about in the positive.  I am not a critic and I hope I am not a schmoozer in the worst sense.  In the end, I mean to be earnest each and every time I post.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Unveiling

54º ~ gray skies with streaks of light behind to prove the sun's existence, pure calm down at eye-level with a slight breeze in the upper branches

I confess, Dear Readers, that I'm nervous about this post.  I'm unveiling the results of my photo shoot from December.  My dear friend and colleague, Kimberly Kwee, who is a great artist as well as photographer came by the house and made me perfectly at ease while she shot me; in fact, maybe too much at ease as my inner flirt and sass somehow rose to the surface.  Today, I received the finished product and I'm stunned by Kim's talent at bringing out the best in me.  She gave me the files in their original format, so I've cropped here as best I can, which means the dimensions may not be right at all.

But all of that is throat-clearing.  Without further ado: Voila!

The bureau belonged to my maternal grandparents and is my inheritance.

The art in the lower right is by my good friend, Anne Greenwood.

This art is by another good friend, Megan Chapman.

Books, Books, Book, a lizard, and a bird (handmade cover of my friend Dana Falconberry's CD).

China hutch in far background is C's grandfathers, another inheritance.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wishing for a Sorting Hat

31º ~ a cold night but bright sun and clear skies for the day, warming temps, very little breeze to speak of

Yes, Dear Readers, I just referenced Harry Potter in the title of this post.  I've spent the morning sorting poems in preparation for sending out some new submission packets.  As I look at the bundles of files now stacked on my desk, waiting for me to go through the long process of choosing journals to match with each bundle of poems, I suddenly had an image of JK Rowling's sorting hat.  How great would that be?  Let the hat figure out the best journals for each group of poems and all I'd have to do is lick the stamps, be they real or electronic. 

I started the morning inspired by Erin's post over at Being Poetry.  In the post she talks about revision this way:  "When I revise a poem, I look for the strongest image, the strongest moment, and try to pare away extraneous words and lines that lead away rather than towards this focal point."  So nicely put.  And I needed that kind of clear direction to get back to the work of poetry.  Of course, we've all heard words like this about revision at one time or another; however, these were so nicely said and came across my screen at just the right moment.  Thanks, Erin!

Now, back to life, back to reality.  One sick cat must go to the vet and them I'm back on campus this afternoon.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Feeling Good

33º ~ bright sun, blue skies, finally no clouds in sight ~ sometimes after a series of gray, rainy, soggy days, you forget about the sun, and then it comes back and you are awed

Today, I'm feeling good (and singing Levon Helm's song "Feelin' Good" in my head as I write this.  True confession: I have a crush on Levon Helm).  I'm feeling good because I seem to have shaken the head cold that threatened to become a sinus infection.  I'm also feeling good because all day yesterday and for a part of this morning, I thought my eyesight was dramatically becoming worse.  Turns out, it was just the fact that both my glasses and my computer screen were filthy.  With the sun and clean lenses/screen, I seem to be seeing just fine.  Whew!

Much love to blogger friend Kathleen Kirk, who posted a beautiful review of the Blood Almanac, on her blog Wait! I Have a Blog?!  If you don't follow Kathleen yet, please check her out.  She works at a used bookstore in Normal, IL and offers all kinds of insight into the world of books.  She's also a fine poet herself.  It was a delight to click on her blog this morning and see a copy of my own book shining out from the screen.

Last, I just have to link to Julianna Baggott's most recent post: Dear Good Ole Boys of the Literary South.  While I encounters some of this psychology in my MFA program, this post is the extreme version of the Good Ole Boy Southern Writer.  I loved it!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome, Welcome 2011

41º ~ soggy, gray, weak sun trying hard over my left shoulder, more rain to come

I love the evenness of this date and remember learning subtraction sometime around the third grade and having to figure out how old we would be in the 2000's by subtracting our birth year.  2011 was easy for me, as I'll be turning 40 in just a few days.  While some of my friends remain a bit incredulous when I say the following, it is true: I am embracing my 40's and celebrating a new decade with much joy!  Finally, finally, I love my life and I feel comfortable in my own skin & body, just as I am!

I don't tend to be a person who makes resolutions, although I've tried half-heartedly in the past.  The truth is, I'm a self-critical person all year round, so why heap on a bunch more "I need to do betters" on this one particular day.  Another truth is that I'm learning to be softer with myself, to celebrate myself (with pardons to WW), and my idea of resolutions tend to be as criticism rather than celebrations, so I'll skip them again this year.

I do think it is important to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next.  Having a birthday so close to the new year makes this even more resonant.  2010 was filled with both highs and lows, as the years tend to be. 

Some lows:  the back injury of May 2010, the double sinus infection of June & July 2010, the Cubs' 2010 season, my dad's continuing struggle with Parkinson's disease, non-acceptance of the manuscript (sigh!), Razorback losses to Auburn and Alabama (double sigh!), missing the lunar eclipse of the full moon due to cloudy skies.

Some highs:  great poetry acceptances, making poetry collage cards, revising the manuscript to a stronger state, blogging & Facebooking which lead to more friends!, spending a week in Jamaica with C & friends, paying off my car, welcoming my great-nephew into the world, spending a weekend in St. Louis with my mom, Xmas in July with the Iowa side of the family, watching the Cubs win in Chicago with C & friends!, AWP in Denver!, boating on Lake Ouachita with C & friends!

Tensing Pen swimming hole, Negril, Jamaica
 Turns out there were probably a lot more highs than lows this past year, and that's really the best kind of year.  I still remember one scene from Chicago Hope, a medical TV drama that debuted the same year as ER and starred Mandy Patinkin, among others.  The two lead male actors were sharing a drink after a particularly hard day (I'm sure the patient died but don't remember the particulars).  One of the men said to the other:  "More good days than bad, remember that."  It might be hokey, but I remember that scene when I've had a bad day; I remember that in this life I'm blessed to be living, I usually end up with more good days than bad, and that's a pretty good way to live.

May your 2011 be filled with more good days than bad, more highs than lows, and more celebration than mourning.