Thursday, March 31, 2011

Big Poetry Giveaway, Sign Up Here!

42º ~ the weather has been cold, chilly, rainy, and generally frumpy for the past week, but we should see a return to spring sun and warmth starting tomorrow (which is also opening day for the Cubbies!)

Many thanks to Kelli for organizing the National Poetry Month Book Giveaway. Here's the deal, on May 1, I'll randomly select two winners from the comments left on this post. All you have to do is leave a comment stating you want to be considered in the giveaway. If you are a participating poet, feel free to add a link to your post.

I'll ship anywhere in the world for FREE.

The deadline to leave a comment is April 30th. I do have comment moderation turned on due to a bad spam incident. However, I will post all comments that are legit. If yours doesn't show up within a day of posting, feel free to email me at sandy dot 40 dot longhorn at gmail dot com and query.

On May 1st, I'll choose a winner using a random number generator to select the comments that win. If you don't have a blog profile, be sure to leave your email address or another way to contact you in your comment.

The books I'm giving away are: my own, Blood Almanac, and Cinema Muto by Jesse Lee Kercheval.

Blood Almanac
Anhinga Press, 2006

Cinema Muto
Jesse Lee Kercheval
Southern Illinois University Press, 2009

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


69º ~ glorious spring weather with a chance of rain, praying for rain to wash the pollen away

Dear Readers, I'm unplugging from the internet and poetry for about a week.  Tomorrow, I'll exchange my glorious spring weather for a bit of northern snow.  Not to worry, C. will be holding down the fort at home and making sure the cats don't take over in my absence.  (Oh, who are we kidding, the cats rule!)

Until then, I'll leave you with an update from the Grimm brothers.  Did you know that when the prince visited Rapunzel in her tower, they were getting it on?  True story.  Rapunzel ends up a pregnant teen out of wedlock and gives birth to twins (a boy and a girl) while in exile in a desolate land (this is after the witch has discovered the prince's visits and cut off all of R.'s hair before casting out of her native land).  Later, the prince gets his eyes poked out by thorns as he falls from the tower, having been pushed by the witch.  But don't fret, dear reader, he wanders aimlessly long enough that he eventually stumbles on Rapunzel and her tears restore his sight and the family lives happily ever after.  I'm pretty sure Disney missed the sex & pregnancy part when making Tangled, but I haven't seen it myself.  (Interestingly, after the witch takes Rapunzel from her parents, they are never mentioned again.  Weird.)

Also, the absence of mothers is truly alarming.  Almost every story involves an evil stepmother in some way.  I know, intellectually, that this had a lot to do with the mortality rate for women dying in childbirth, but its still a bit overwhelming.  And what if you were a good stepmother at the time?  Sheesh.  I've also read that the tales often signal the beginning separation of the child from his/her mother, who would have been the primary nurturer at the time.  Harsh world = grow up fast.

Oh, latest death practice for the evil stepmother?  Put her and her ugly daughter, stepsister to our heroine, in a barrel studded through with sharp nails, then roll them down a hill and into a river.  Nice.  (from "The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest")

I'll leave you with a picture.  I'm trying to use more of my own photos on the blog b/c of copyright questions when using the work of others.

from the Southeast Asia Butterfly exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo, October 2011
See y'all next week!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Bit of Shameless Self Promotion: Adopt Blood Almanac and Get the Author for Free

71º ~ all is beautiful and green, including the layer of pollen sifting visibly through the air

If shameless self promotion bothers you, Dear Reader, stop now.

This is the time of year when instructors, professors, and teachers of all stripes begin to plan what books they might teach for the next academic year.  Given the timing, I have an offer for anyone out there in such a position.

If you adopt Blood Almanac for a class, I will gladly travel to your school, college, university, etc., for free if I can drive and you can provide a couch.  If the distance means a flight and I can't afford it, I will gladly Skype with the class, exchange email questions and answers, do a conference call, or in some other way use technology to interact with your students.

One year ago, I was lucky enough to make this deal with Stephanie Kartalopoulos at the U of Missouri, and last fall I had a great time talking with her students.  Details are here.

Should you be interested, please email me and I'll put an exam copy in the mail, if you don't already own a copy of the book.


Oh, and I have another interview up online, along with three poems this time.  Check out Emprise Review 18.  This is a wonderful online journal published out of Fayetteville, AR.  If you like it, let them know!


Here ends the SSP for the time being.

Ten days and counting to OPENING DAY!!  Woo Hoo!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Angie Macri and Mary Angelino Best New Poets Reading at Pulaski Tech

51º ~ clear skies, good sun, small breezes, birdsong

Thursday night, Pulaski Tech was lucky enough to host a poetry reading in honor of the two Arkansas poets appearing in The Best New Poets 2010. Here are two clips from that reading.

Angie Macri is my colleague and friend at PTC, and she graduated from the MFA program at the U of Arkansas several years before I started there. While she read for about 20 minutes, my video skills are still in the learning stages.  I've edited this clip down to four poems, my favorites.
"Ismenian Dragon"
"A Song for Fever" (which appears in The Best New Poets book)
"Thebes Courthouse"
"Three Sonnets for Marie Louise"

Mary Angelino is a current student at the U of Arkansas, who started several years after I graduated.  I love that continuity to the evening.  The whole evening made me proud to be associated with the program.  Again, Mary read for about 20 minutes and I've edited this down to my four favorite poems.
"Long Distance"
"At the Golden Living Man-Made Pond"
"Helping My Father Write His Father's Eulogy" (which appears in The Best New Poets book)


Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Draft: Finally the Sun

63º ~  whoo hoo, that's 63º at 8:30 a.m., a beautiful breeze coming in through all the windows, clear skies, and most of the trees beginning to leaf, the tiny leaf buds now distinct against the sky, cats & humans happy

It's a good day at the desk of the Kangaroo, Dear Readers.  As many of you know, last week's draft was derailed by the common cold.  However, I did get the title down last week and scribbled a few ideas.  I've had that title, "Fairy Tale for Girls Fooled by the Sun," in the back of my head all week, and last night before bed, I scribbled down a few more lines.  This morning I woke earlier than usual and I was so excited to get to the desk and my journal.  I started off with my lines from last week:

Once there was a girl who lived
in a land where the sun rose
and set in long increments.

Here's the deal.  In Iowa, I had a long-distance horizon, which meant great viewing of sunrises and sunsets.  Almost everywhere else that I've lived since then my view of the horizon has been foreshortened and the sunrise/set obscured by either trees, trees, trees or mountains, mountains, mountains (and trees).  There is a real difference between a slow sunrise/sunset and one that pops up out of nowhere, or at least that's how it feels to me.

In any case, back to the poem.  I started off with the lines above (and they remain the opening lines with a few tweaks), and I went on my merry way.  For some reason, the poem gravitated toward quatrains with lines of about 4 stresses, give or take.  What I want to say is that I drafted a page and a half of quatrains, but after about a third of those it all felt forced and far too narrative for my taste.  So, I took a deep breath and highlighted only the first three stanzas, copying them into a new document.  While I'd spent time and energy on the stanzas I didn't keep, that wasn't wasted.  I learned which way not to go.  Also, when I started the poem, I didn't have a clear sense of how the girl was going to be fooled by the sun, of what her transformation was going to look like.  That first attempt didn't work out, but it somehow sparked the answer.

Once I started over, I did so with a more focused intent on combining lyric and narrative.  Also, without my really thinking about it, my reading of the Grimm tales seemed to work through the poem.  (Ooooo, last night an evil stepmother got put in a vat of boiling oil and question is did the snakes fry too?)  While I'm uneasy about personifying natural things like the sun, I did so, a bit.  So the sun takes an interest in the girl and sends a cardinal to her with a message.  In the Grimm tales, it's usually a raven, but since my tales are set in the upper Midwest, and this one in winter, the cardinal seemed more natural I'm guessing, as I didn't once consider the raven.

In my past Fairy Tale/Cautionary Tale/Haunting Tale poems, the girl has been transformed by fire, water, blizzard, tornado, &etc.  This time, she is consumed by the sun.  While I'm feeling a bit uncertain about the whole poem, I think that will remain. 

This is exactly the image I had in my head as I wrote.  Honestly, if you remove the power lines, this could have been taken from my view of the sunset as a child.  Check out this website for more awesome Iowa photos.
Oh, and two weeks ago, I talked about the challenge, to me, of writing longer short poems (not true long poems).  This one is officially 1 and 1/2 pages: 15 quatrains.  Woah, that's 60 lines by my calculation, twice and three times my normal poem length.  Perhaps I feel a bit uncertain b/c I'm not used to the length and I worry about keeping the reader's interest and keeping the language sharp and the sounds cohesive.  Because this is narrative, I had to repeat some words a bit: girl, sun, etc.  For some reason, I don't like doing this.  It may go back to a Form & Theory of the Novel class where I learned that Flaubert would go over his pages and circle repetitions and look for other phrases.  Or I could be making that up.  Somebody comment if you know for sure.

One last thing:  somewhere this past week I added a new type of tale for my Midwest girl:  The Legend of...  Perhaps that will be next week, and oh, next week is Spring Break!  Woo Hoo!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grimm Tales & A Tiny, Tiny Poem

51º ~ trying not to jinx an expected high of 80º, shhhhhhhhhhh, let's lure it in

Just a quick note before I head off to school to prep, grade, and teach, prep, grade, and teach, prep, grade, and teach, &etc.

Spring break is just two days away!  Mine will officially start at the end of a 1:00 meeting on Friday.  Woo hoo!

So, since I've gotten into writing my fairy tale poems (I will not call it a series, b/c as soon as I do, *poof*, the drive will evaporate), I've been meaning to read the Grimm tales in their original.  I've been told since high school that the Disney versions mask a lot of violence and gore, and I've read a few of the most popular tales in their original.  Then, Sarah posted one of the tales on her blog, The Rain in My Purse (that's the title of the blog, not the tale), and I asked her for the translator and edition she was reading.  Three days later, thanks to a wonderful public library, POOF, I'm reading The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes, all-new third edition, Bantam, 2003

Last night I read a few (and these are perfect for before bed reading b/c most are fairly short), including Tale #1 "The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich."  Here we have the familiar story of the princess who drops her golden ball in the well and the frog gets it back for her on the promise that she will take the frog to the castle and let him live with her, side by side.  Of course, she ditches him at the well, but he makes his way to the castle and her father makes her honor her promise.  I expected all of this.  What I did not expect is what happens in the bedroom.  When the frog demands that he be allowed to sleep in her bed, the princess, "threw him against the wall with all her might."  Uhm, wow!  That's the opposite of kissing the frog, people.  In fact, there's no kissing at all in the tale!  Lo and behold, this hurtling of the frog breaks the spell and he turns into a handsome prince and they live happily ever after.

I simply cannot wait for bedtime tonight!


Finally, those who follow me on FB know that I had a tiny, tiny poem published by Cellpoems yesterday.  I blogged about this acceptance (which followed a solicitation) here.  This publication is so cool.  They send out poems of 140 characters or fewer (and yes, the spaces count!) via text message.  The subscription list is over 500 phone numbers.  (Read the linked blog post for my thoughts on creating tiny poems.)  Later, I believe, the poem will appear on the website (here) with my bio and the usual publication information. 

If you missed the poem in yesterday's roll out, you can still subscribe and receive tiny poem #2 on Saturday. To subscribe: 

Text JOIN, followed by the name of your mobile service provider, to 347-857-POEM (7636).

Now, I'm off to prep, grade, teach, prep, grade, teach, prep, grade, get the picture. :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What I'm Reading: Bobcat Country

41º ~ a beautiful slow brightening of the sky over my left shoulder, fleets of puff clouds drifting far off, the promise of near 70 today

As many of you know, Dear Readers, the shelf of poetry books "to-be read" is sagging at the moment, and choosing one means not choosing the others.  This gives me a brief twang of guilt; however, Eliot reminds us in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (the only Eliot I really like) that
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet

Last night, I lived up to one of my poetry resolutions: turn off the TV and read a book!  As my fingers skimmed the spines of all those luscious books waiting for me, the orange of Brandi Homan's Bobcat Country called to me.  I've had this book for a few months and have had it on my list for a year.  I can't remember where I heard of it first, but I think it might have been Karen's blog, The Scrapper Poet.  Wherever I first heard of it, I learned that Homan is from...wait for it...Iowa.  And now I've learned that she's not only from Iowa but from Marshalltown, Iowa, a town only 60 miles southwest of my own Waterloo.  I can still tell you exactly how to get there, where to by-pass Hwy 63 in favor of the less traveled 96; I can still tell you exactly what the fields of corn look like bending in the wind and whipping past at 70 mph.  I can tell you how it smells on that drive in spring when the farmers are out spreading manure; smells like money, as my mom always says.  In another mirroring, it also appears that we both came of age in the 80s and I'm sure we must have sat in the same gym or football stadium at some point in our high school lives at one championship game or another. 

I promise I'll get to the book review, I do.  However, first I have to honor my joy and amazement to know that there was another girl out there at the same time as I was, absorbing the world that I absorbed and learning to craft it into something called poetry.  This might not seem remarkable to someone born and raised in NYC or SF or Seattle/Portland or even Chicago or Minneapolis, but to me it is a bit of a paradigm shift, as I often felt that I was alone in my little northeast Iowa world of words (along with my cousin, Marta Ferguson, but she was in southeast Iowa and that seemed a great distance then).

Okay, on to Bobcat CountryThose would be the Marshalltown Bobcats in the title, and the book provides a raw, funny, poignant, and sometimes difficult look at a working-class coming of age in a small Iowa town in the 80s.  These are amazing poems in a voice as different from mine as I can imagine, no soft lyricism here.  I am in awe of Homan's ability to paint that working-class life in such bright and unflinching tones.

Here's the opening of "Welcome to Bobcat Country," and if you're from a small town, I bet there's a sign like this at your town border on the major roadway.

We drove to the border just to say we pissed in the Mississippi
River, six in a car to see whether a Lifesaver makes a spark.
We danced in headlights.

We had sex with boyfriends at the funeral home, slept with
the gym teacher. Snuck into the hot tub at the Holiday
Inn.  Watched porn at Niemeyer's and went swimming and
swimming and swimming, held each other underwater too

Our mothers chain-smoked, our fathers came straight home.
Everyone spoke the same language.  Everyone felt the layoffs.

I confess, Dear Reader, that while I didn't do most of these things, I knew people who did, and those last two sentences of this excerpt hit especially close to home.  I actually lose my breath a little there.

As you can see from this one excerpt, Homan is a master in the details.  Perhaps I rushed through this book, and I did rush, because I found my people and my places there.  Boys driving T-top Camaros, summer trips to Lake Okoboji, detasseling season, Hy-Vee stores, class rings, trailer parks, Cedar Rapids & Marshalltown & Hwy 30.

But just writing about my homeland wouldn't be enough to hold me.  Homan backs it up with wonderful craft and a wry, witty voice.  In fact, at times she expands outward and writes about that taboo subject, the subject of poetry and being a poet.  Here, her humor is at the best.  In the poem "For Poets (& Others)," she tells us that we would-be poets should never use the following words "blackberries, poppies, detritus / bifurcation, sluiced, slaked" and follows the list up with this one-liner:

"James Wright has already seen horses in a field."

Oh my goodness, I couldn't stop laughing when I read that, mostly because I knew I myself had been guilty of repeating and imitating to death the Wright brothers (James & Charles, no relation to each other, or course) and so many others..

The poem that hooked me and had me starting over from the front and reading straight through to the back in a rush is actually toward the end.  As I flipped through the pages trying to decide if I should read or just go to bed, I fell on this poem, which I have to quote in its entirety and I hope that Homan and her publisher will forgive me.

Iowa Poets

Attending the Writer's Workshop
does not make you an Iowa poet.
You never drove Highway 30 to Vet's
Auditorium for the Tourney--a line
of Camaros full of Busch Light and Cloves,
turquoise Geo Trackers with shoe-polished
windows.  You never detasseled corn
or worked as a checker at Hy-Vee
until college, returning summers
to get schnockered playing Three Man
in someone's basement.  Never showed
sheep at the state fair, saw the butter
sculptures like Tibetan monks.  No
four-wheelers or grill-your-own-steak
restaurants.  So, go ahead.
Write your poems about fields
and farmers and quiet, how
you can see the stars every night.
You'll never love them like I do.

I laughed and cried at this one.  It touches on so many of my own themes and is so protective of Iowa.  In fact, my sister was a checker at Hy-Vee and her daughter now shows pigs at the state fair, and seriously, the butter sculptures are something else! 

That last line reminds me of a children's picture book that I have.  It's called If You're Not from the Prairie and it's written by a man from the Canadian side of the prairie, I think.  In any case, the whole book revolves around that refrain.  "If you're not from the prairie, you can't know the wind" is one set of pages, "If you're not from the prairies, you can't know the sun" is another.  When I'm nostalgic for home, I take this book out (and now I'll be adding Homan's to it as well).

The poem also makes me think more about regionalism and my own grad school experience in Arkansas.   Several of my instructors were old-school Southern poets, strongly narrative, strongly male.  They didn't know what to make of my quiet farms and fields, my lyricism.  And yet, I knew I couldn't adopt a Southern voice.  I couldn't become an Arkansas poet.  That wasn't my story to tell.

Homan now lives in Chicago, and we have both risen from our working-class roots to something like the middle class.  And while our styles might be quite different, it is a delight to find a sister voice.  I praise it.
Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow This Book Today
Bobcat Country
Brandi Homan
Shearsman Books Ltd., 2010

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two, Two Links for You

54º ~ a good sun but a cold breeze all day, still waiting for the warm up to begin

I hope everyone read that post title in the voice of The Count from Sesame Street.

 Link 1:  Keith Montesano graciously included me on his blog: First Book InterviewsBlood Almanac is coming up on its sixth year, and it was great to relive the happy days of that first year.

Link 2: Poet friend and fellow Arkansas MFA-er, Katrina Vandenberg has an amazing poem up at Linebreak this week.  To add to the amazingness, T.R. Hummer reads the poem, "Virginity."  Wow.

Central Arkansas Live Poetry Thursday Night!

41º ~ one more day of chilly temps and then, oh, then, the sweet, sweet 70s are scheduled to set in for a nice long soak, just in time for Spring Break!  woo hoo!

Well, given all the turmoil in the world, I almost forgot to mention this!  If you're in central Arkansas on Thursday evening, come out and enjoy what is sure to be a spectacular poetry event at PTC.  Maps and directions HERE (choose NLR).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami, Nuclear Meltdown

48º ~ a cold rain, a day of gray & mourning, wet, plastered down

Just exactly how much is the world supposed to bear?  Libya, pirates off the coast of Somalia, protesters shot or jailed in numerous countries, baby dolphins dying in scores in the aftermath of the BP oil spill, Afghanistan's "traditional fighting season," an endless war in the Congo, Oklahoma burning and no word on the news, the Northeast flooding in icy snow melt & rain, and now Sendai and Fukushima.  I'm sure I've missed something here. 

I confess, Dear Reader, this post may be grim and disjointed.

I turned on the news today, oh my (to paraphrase the Beatles). On one channel, coverage of Japan and the imminent threat of nuclear meltdown.  On the other major news channel, talk of the NFL breakdown in contract negotiations.  On the one channel, news of 1,000 bodies washing ashore.  On the other channel, news of how a group of men should divide $9,000,000,000 for throwing a ball and hitting each other.  Yes, NINE BILLION DOLLARS.  Obscene.

I confess, Dear Reader, I am a Cubs fan and love MLB.  I do not love the amount of money we devote to our hobbies, our enjoyments, not when teachers are getting the shaft everywhere, and the top 2% continue to outstrip the remaining 98% of us.

There is a heaviness in the air and in my body.  So much pressure at large.  And yet, I am determined not to sink into despair.  I am determined to justify my life on this planet by attempting to leave it a better place than it was when I was born.  When I was an undergrad, I was obsessed with Native American literature, and yet, I suffered from a severe case of white guilt.  Once, we had a visit from a Chippewa man who was a writer, an environmentalist, and a philosopher.  He addressed the audience's white guilt (for we were an ocean of white in front of him).  He said, "we don't want your guilt.  We don't need it."  In essence he said, we have to move past that binary system and come together to heal the world, to do better for our children.  I'm not sure why, but I'm reminded of his statement today, as I struggle with the guilt of living a good & safe life while others around the world, both far & near, suffer.  I struggle with leading the life of a writer, when the world seems to need so much more than poems.

I confess, Dear Reader, in times like these I do turn to poetry, and that may seem a contradiction.  I almost always turn to the closing of Mary Oliver's poem "In Blackwater Woods" from her book American Primitive (Little, Brown 1983).

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
you own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday No-Draft from the House of Sick and Sicker

40º ~ bright sun, a return to the shiny, hopeful side of spring

Well, Dear Readers, it was bound to happen sooner or later.  C. brought home a massive head cold on Wednesday, a gift from his high school students, I'm sure.  Yesterday, I felt the first twinges in an earache and cough.  This morning, I thought I might have beaten it back, but, alas, no.  So, I'm sick and he's sicker (it hurts me just listening to him try to breathe normally).

I did manage a title: Fairy Tale for Girls Fooled by the Sun.  I also scribbled out the first few lines and some ideas for the draft. Then, I had to head out for supplies from the grocery store.

At the moment, I have to reserve my energy to deal with some school work that can't wait.  Perhaps tomorrow I'll be in better shape to work on the poem.

Just one question: how is it fair to be sick when we are scheduled to have two glorious spring days in a row?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Game of Numbers

47º ~ bleak skies, cold wind, everything gray and sodden

Dear Reader, I do not understand how time speeds up so much when I'm excited about my life and the things I'm doing.  This post is about six hours later than normal for happy reasons, but still, I'm wishing I had one of those wizarding gizmos that Hermione uses in Harry Potter so that she can be in two places at once.  A colleague tells me it is the "Time Turner."  Yeah, get me one those, STAT!

So, the game of numbers.

Yesterday, I had two more happy emails from the acceptance fairy.  This time I heard from Diane Lockward, who is guest editing the inaugural issue of Adanna.  She accepted two poems, one from the middle of last year and one newer.  Then, not more than an hour later, I had an email from Elizabeth Guest, a member of the staff of roger, an art & literary magazine, and they wanted to take two older poems.

I spent some of my poetry time this morning taking care of the business of those happy emails.  As many of you know, Dear Readers, I like to simultaneously submit poems.  That means detailed records.  I have to update my spreadsheet and then notify any journals considering the accepted poem that it is no longer available.  I am militant about this because I appreciate those journals that do accept simultaneous submission, and I would never want to fail to notify and then have to tell them a poem that they want isn't available.  I hope that makes sense.  

So, that's three acceptances in two days, with each journal taking two poems.  The magic number here is, apparently, six.  I'm thrilled of course, but this only makes me more desperate to write as I begin to run out of poems to send out.  And as January points out in a recent post, it seems the busier we are the more we want that writing time.  Sadly, January has also been visited by the rejection fairy recently. And she isn't the only poet friend to be going through the doldrums.  So, I'm performing all manner of spells to send the rejection fairy packing for everyone!

This all reminds me that several months ago, I was sad and pitiful because a bunch of poet friends were hearing good news and I wasn't.  Oh, November and December, you cruel months!  I am hoping that I will remember that these things come in waves and we aren't all on the same schedule.  "This too shall pass" isn't so often quoted because it is wrong!  I just need to remember that it applies to the good times as well as the bad.

More on the numbers:
One of the poems accepted was pretty darned new, begun in the first week of January.  One of the poems was pretty darned old, begun in the beginning of 2010.  That new poem had only gone out to the one journal, mostly because I'm so backlogged here at the desk of the Kangaroo that while I'd intended to simultaneously submit it, I only had time to send it out once.  The older poem had been around the block more than a few times.  Even after a serious overhaul in the revision garage, it suffered from the wallflower syndrome.  The fact is that there is no formula for figuring this submission magic out.  Sometimes the poems go out and stick right away; sometimes they come home and go out and come home and go out, until I despair, until finally someone sees in the poem what I see, or until I shelve the thing out of the direct sunlight.

In thinking about the numbers, I was also wondering what the current status is for poems in my currently-circulating manuscript: In a World Made of Such Weather as This.  As many of you know, I'm really happy with the state of this manuscript, and I'm really sad that it hasn't found a home yet.  Still, there is hope.  In any case, I counted things up this morning.  Of the 50 poems that make up the book, 45 have appeared or are forthcoming in national journals, both online and in print.  Incidentally, the oldest poem in the book was written at the end of 2005, just as Blood Almanac was in production.  It's harder to pinpoint the youngest poem in the book, but I think it was probably written in May of 2010.  (By written I mean, the first draft on the computer.)

Does any of this counting matter?  Probably not.  However, for some reason, it comforts me.

I'll leave you with one more thing that comforts me.  A live webcam of a pair of nesting eagles in Decorah, IA.  These birds are completely wild, meaning they've never been banded or interacted with humans in any way.  There are three eggs under there, and the eaglets are expected anytime between 3/31/11 and 4/4/11.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Short Short

37º ~ terminally gray skies, more rain on the horizon for tonight/tomorrow, no breeze to speak of

Today's post will be a short short.  I am dying to be reading poetry books and journals and writing up my impressions to share with you all.  However, this is the time of the semester when the stress of school starts to build up.  In fact, I have exactly one hour when I could be reading right now; however, just thinking about the to-do list for school prevents me from my focus.  This is one of my areas for improvement: compartmentalization (at least for schoolwork).  I'm all caught up with grading, but I've got a mountain of prep work that I want to complete so that when I get the next round of papers (Thursday), I won't drown.

Sitting to my left is a stack of journals and books, topped by folders of poems and journals that have been sorted for submission.  They call to me.  I answer with guilty looks.

Enough with the whine.  I am blessed to have a full-time position, and I am compensated well for my work.  These are two things that not every community college instructor can say.

The day did get off to a wonderful start with news from James May that New South wants one of the poems I wrote last year.  I do love that journal, which consistently pulls together some of the finest poets working today.  It's also gratifying that some of the newer poems are finding homes.  These are poems that don't fit in the weather manuscript and were written as I cast about for a new direction.  I have no idea if these will make it into the next book, but I'm glad they are finding a readership nevertheless.  So, many thanks to James and all the other fine folks at GSU and New South.  It's a fine way to start the week.

One of my most favorite covers ever!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A. Van Jordan: A Poetry Reading

47º ~ dreary day, cloud cover thick upon the sky ~ heavy rain, thunder, & lightning during the night ~ the murky underside of spring

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I had the great good fortune to attend A. Van Jordan's poetry reading at Hendrix College on Thursday evening (3/3/11). I have to confess, that I love attending readings at Hendrix when they are held in the Reves Recital Hall.  The space has the feeling of a church and an intimate auditorium all at once.  It's perfect for poetry.  (I've included two photos I clicked on my iPhone, which don't do Jordan or the space any justice.)

Van Jordan is the author of three books: Rise, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, and Quantum Lyrics.  While I haven't had time to read any of these books as a whole, I want to give you all a glimpse of Thursday night's performance and hope to provide mini-reviews at a later date for the books themselves.

Jordan read several poems from M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, which tells the story of the life of MacNolia Cox, the first African American to make it to the final round of the national spelling bee competition.  This happened in 1936.  The title of the book becomes clear, then, as a typographic nod to verbal spelling competitions.  Yet, the book does not focus solely on 1936.  Instead, it tells the life story of MacNolia Cox in reverse order, from Z to A.  Sadly, while this young girl once dreamed of becoming a doctor, as an adult she worked as a domestic in the house of a doctor, and as Jordan points out, the spelling bee turns out to have been the high point in her accomplishments.  Of course, much of this has to do with race and gender to some extent.

In fact, my favorite poem of the night was "N-e-m-e-s-i-s Blues."  Jordan gave the audience a little intro to the poem to let us know that the word that eventually caused MacNolia cox to be disqualified in that final round was "nemesis."  Apparently, there is a set list of approved words that can be used in the bee, and MacNolia was nailing all of those; however, there was a clause in the rules that allowed the judges it throw in a word if it had "come into common usage that year."  Prior to 1936, the word "nemesis" was always considered the proper noun for the Greek goddess of revenge.  The poem is in blues form.  Here is the opening:

I'd rather have no name, no name for my man to call
Say I'd rather lose my name, no name to call
Than to use my name to make a poor girl crawl

They gon' and used my name, cruel as they can be
They up and broke my good name, cruel as they can be
Done set fire to my name and blown the smoke back at me

The rest of the poem is just as powerful.  Jordan often uses set form or nonce forms in his work.  In this case, choosing the blues seems completely perfect to me as a comment on the weight of Western ideology and the racial oppression of the time.  There is also the twist of taking this traditionally white goddess and giving her the voice of an African-American blues woman. 

Jordan also read poems from Quantum Lyrics, which combine his curiosity about physics with the emotional turmoil of his father's death.  These are poems of scientists (Einstein and Feynman, for example) as well as comic book heroes (The Flash and Green Lantern to name a few).  Jordan drew a good laugh from the audience when he pointed out that he only writes about DC comic book heroes, not Marvel. He also commented on how his fascination with physics was heightened when he realized that the physics in the comic books was being used correctly.  I find it fascinating how Jordan so deftly weaves physics, comics, R&B, jazz, & having to confront death.

Of these poems, my favorite of the night was "Richard P. Feynman Lecture: Intro to Symmetry," which begins this way:

Love begins in the streets with vibration and ends behind closed
doors in jealousy.  Creation and destruction.  What do we pray
for but the equation that helps us make sense of what happens
in our daily lives?  

Finally, Jordan closed by reading from a new series of poems dealing with silent film, in particular, with the films of Oscar Micheaux, who is seen as the first African-American filmmaker and whose films sought to right the racial wrongs brought on by other films, such as The Birth of a Nation.

Here I have no lines to provide because I was blown away just in listening and by the fact that the Micheaux poems are apparently written in a double sonnet crown.  Uhm...holy formal high wire, Batman!

After the reading, Jordan answered questions from the crowd.  One of the answers I noted down had to do with the drafting and revision process.  I really liked how Jordan framed this.  He said that he tells his students to let the first draft be purely emotional.  To just get it all out there on the page.  And then, each subsequent revision gets more intellectualized (I'm not sure that's the exact word he used), farther from the emotion and closer to the craft.  Also, he revises in waves.  He might read a group of drafts just for the line breaks.  Then, he will move on and read for nouns and verbs and see where he can "punch those up."  It seemed a careful and precise approach to revision that makes a lot of sense if all of the emotion has been tossed onto the page from the get go. 

I also liked what he said about choosing poetry projects that often allow him to write persona poems.  Jordan stated that he is an incredibly private person and that audiences tend to leap to conclusions about the "I" in the poem.  He wants to distant that I, while still telling some truth about his world.  Nice.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening for recharging my poetry batteries and I'm thankful to Hope Coulter, my friend and an instructor at Hendrix, someone who herself writes both prose and poetry beautifully, for inviting Van Jordan to Arkansas.

I am once again in the position of staring at a stack of books I'm super excited to read at exactly the busiest time of the year.  Summer, summer, summer, come soon!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Draft: Midwestern Daphne Tale

62º ~ the air liquid, heavy with the threat of storms, consistent gray skies, a good breeze churning the wiry branches, all the lights turned on inside in an attempt to push back the gloom

Today's draft owes a debt to two particular poets, Josh Robbins and A. Van Jordan.

First, to Josh: while on the flight to AWP, I'd read Josh's long poem "A Patterning of Fire, A Patterning of Ash" in Copper Nickel 15 and was blown away.  As many of you know, while I can meander on and on in the prose of these blog posts, I'm hard pressed to write a poem longer than 20 lines on most days.  That first night in DC, Josh and I had the chance to talk and I brought up the poem.  I think he told me that he wrote it either because another poet friend had inspired him or challenged him, can't quite remember.  In any case, I said, okay, I'll go home and write a long poem now, and Josh cheered my promise.  Confession: I forgot my promise until a recent email exchange with Josh in which I was reminded.  So, yesterday, as I repeated my "tomorrow = drafting day" mantra, I actually wrote these words on the notepad on my desk, "Write a LONG poem, 2 pages." 

Now, to A. Van Jordan: last night I had the great good fortune to attend A. Van Jordan's poetry reading at Hendrix College in Conway, AR (watch for a longer post about that later).  I was familiar with Jordan's work from journals but hadn't yet read a full-length book of his.  After last night, when I bought two of Jordan's books, I'll be remedying that ASAP.  The reading was fantastic, and of course, I had my notebook with me.  I was caught up by the reading and hadn't even written anything yet, when Jordan was either reading a poem or introducing one and he mentioned the speaker "being held captive."  ZING!  I wrote down "Fairy Tale - Captivity: What keeps Girls there?"  For regular readers, I hope you see the beginnings of today's draft, another tale of my Midwestern girl, but this time, something was going to keep her captive.  As Jordan read "Nemesis Blues," I also jotted down, "FT G who Fall for the Gospel Choir/the Blues."  That one will have to keep for a future drafting session.

Finally, you might be wondering how Daphne fits in, given today's title.  Well, as I toyed with the idea of what would keep a girl captive to the Midwest (this was either last night going to sleep or early this morning), I didn't want her to be held captive by a man or by the pastoral beauty of the land.  Instead, I realized that this time the girl would be wanting to get the hell out of there, but her parents would want her to stay, so the poem begins,

Once there was a girl who longed to leave
the small acres of her family farm, the dirt
beneath her nails, the smell of manure

the wind picked up and hurled.

Later in the poem, she does try to flee and her parents chase her into an alfalfa field where they curse her, in the oldest tradition of that word.  She is struck by dry lightning and transformed into a bur oak (the state tree of Iowa) and thus held captive there.  I recognized immediately, of course, that this echoes the Daphne myth, but I hope it complicates the traditional pursued/pursuer paradigm.

Also, bur oaks are not known for their lithesome beauty.  Nobody's making crowns of oak leaves for Olympians.  This is the tree that survived everything the prairie had to throw at it (fire, flood, drought, pestilence) because of its "gnarly" tough bark and tenacious roots.  Not the most romantic of trees, but still beautiful to me.

So, at the end of the session, I have "Haunting Tale for Girls Held Captive" and I'm thrilled to say that it contains 13 tercets for 39 lines and does indeed stretch onto the second page, if only by two stanzas.  Who knows what might happen during the revision process!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Getting Over My Sad Self

39º ~ sun with a high thin layer of white

Dear Reader, I hope you'll indulge me as I continue Monday's conversation about my doubt in 'earning' my recent acceptances.  A few additional thoughts occurred to me yesterday after I processed the comments.

~ I never made clear my question about gender.  Here it is: do men worry about what others might say when a friend or associate publishes their work?  In other words, are men more natural at establishing professional networks and relying on them without second guessing their own value?

~ After Kathleen chimed in, it dawned on me that I hadn't even considered the situation from her point of view or that my doubt was an insult to her.  (I'm so sorry, Kathleen.)  As she rightly points out, I had succumbed to the doubt monster.  She also points out that part of the reason we even know each other is from reading each others' work and then forming a connection.  So why would I doubt?  Again, many apologies!  I'm so thankful to you has a poetry friend and as an editor who has given my work a home.

~ I'm thankful to Kristin for following up with a longer post about this, and I'm so happy to be a member of her virtual Lake District.

~ Finally, something clicked Tuesday morning in the shower and I commented briefly about it in Monday's post.  Several years ago now (now defunct) made a huge attempt to uncover biases in poetry contests, and for the most part I appreciated their efforts.  I even cheered them on when they uncovered the most blatant examples of cronyism.  No, I don't think that someone should get a book deal and an award check b/c of who they know, and I don't think a judge can be unbiased about someone with whom they've worked closely.  So, I champion the efforts of presses to limit that bias.

The other part of the 'click' was remembering a panel I attended at a past AWP.  Can't remember which year, but as the moderator did the introductions, it became clear that all of the people on the panel were editors of journals and almost all of them had published each other.  The moderator said: "I guess it's true that editors only publish other editors. Ha ha."  Dead silence from the audience.  The moderator waited a beat and I felt a shift in the room, then she said, "a joke, people, a joke."  Her attempt at humor was, obviously, not well received, because it pointed out something many beginning writers believe: it's not what you know (or write), it's who you know.  (Of course, beneath that glaring assumption would be the fact that the panel was about being a poet from a particular region and so it shouldn't be that unusual that the speakers had appeared in those regional journals.) 

~ Now, to my conclusions.  Isn't doing the work of writing and submitting a form of networking all on its own.  I've worked my ass off for 10 years to establish a reputation as a poet worth an editor's time.  I've striven to remain professional on all levels.  I have few connections with the major players in the game.  So, now that all of that work is paying off, I should embrace the success, pat myself on the shoulder, and shout out in jubilee.  And that is what I shall hope for when the next acceptance comes from a friend or acquaintance in the poetry world, and it is a small world, so I'm sure it will happen again. (Or at least I hope it will!)

Some may think me foolish for working through my own poetry drama online; however, when I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place where I could be honest with myself, and any readers I might attract, about what it means to be a poet today, especially a poet not attached to a prestigious MFA/PhD program or journal.  Thank you all for listening and helping me learn and grow along the way.  I am indebted to you, Dear Readers.