Saturday, July 30, 2011

Two Days Away from August

93º ~ back in the deep heat cycle with highs topping out at 100º soon, the rain it did forsake us

Technically, we're about a day and a half away from August, but that lacked the punch I wanted for the title.  Why all the fuss about August?  Several reasons really.

1.  I report back to school on Aug. 8th and students begin classes on Aug. 15th.  The scurry of prepwork looms.

2.  On Aug. 1 many, many lit mags will open their reading submissions for the fall.  Sadly, I did not build up a cache of poems over the summer as I'd hoped.  Still, I do have some strong candidates from the nursery tale series that will be meeting the editorial boards soon.

3.  August also begins the new year of sending out the manuscript.  I am embarrassed to say that this will be my fourth year shopping this book, although it bears little resemblance to the manuscript I sent around in 2008/2009.  I know the individual poems are strong because 90% of them were published in quality lit mags, some as long ago as 2006! 

Many things are more difficult with this book than with Blood Almanac.  

For one, with Blood Almanac being my first book, I was using all of my quality individual poems to shape the manuscript.  Now, having learned much more about putting a book together, I've got some great poems that aren't in the new book b/c they don't fit.  I also have the nursery tale series, which is something different all together.  I'm feeling much more like an out of control octopus now, with themes and tendrils going every which way.

Another difference is that I've made a larger home for myself in the poetry universe.  In almost every way, this is fantastic; however, there is the tiny sliver of competition amongst friends now.  I was just talking about this with a local poet friend as she and I will compete for a local fellowship this fall.  I am bone-honest when I say that I will celebrate without hesitation should she win and not me (and I'll be thrilled to have someone to commiserate with should we both lose); however, I am also bone-honest when I say that I will be disappointed should I lose and that disappointment will be a bit different because I know the competition.  It is the same with rejection elsewhere in the poetry world, a bit different because I know the competition so much better these days.  However, I would not trade my poetry friends & family for anything.

Also, I really want to share In a World Made of Such Weather as This with my poetry universe. 

I spent the morning back with the manuscript.  I did this in part because I began reading a book by another poet and then Lou-Lou stretched out over the pages and took it hostage.  While petting her, I thought about how carefully I was reading this book (by a poet relatively unknown to me) and how I was annotating it.  I decided to try reading Weather that way, although without the annotations as I could only read it on screen with Lou-Lou taking up the desk.

As usual, I was only able to sustain the deep & distant reading of my own work for a bit, but several surprising things happened.  Frequent readers may remember that I changed up the manuscript in June. Today, as I opened the file and began reading, I was surprised by the order of the opening section and then I remembered that I'd tinkered with the order in June.  This is exactly why I need to wait several weeks when revising.  I need that surprise to jolt me and get me to see more objectively.  I'm happy to say that as I read, I felt much more comfortable with the order of the book.  In some ways, it's more of a middle ground between the 09/10 version and 10/11 version.  It feels more settled this way and I am glad.

Another thing that surprised me was how confident I felt about the book as a whole.  I really believe in this thing and that may be why the disappointment of rejection hovers and hovers.  With Blood Almanac and with the first few versions of this book, I was confident about the poems but still hesitant about the whole. 

Finally, another poet friend had emailed me a few weeks ago as she reviewed her own proof for an upcoming publication.  Within those proofs she was able to see my poem as well.  She emailed me to compliment the poem and to question if it was in the book (she'd been one of my first readers).  Remembering this, I checked out my files today for any poems that should be in Weather that aren't.  Turns out, one of the poems I had loved in the 09/10 version had gotten dropped along the way.  Who knows how?  In any case, I got it worked back in and I found two other poems that belong as well.  Again, I just needed more time to gain the distance to see where they fit.  And perhaps in the other versions they didn't fit, but by tweaking the order, I found an opening for them.

All in all, I'm happy with today's work and I thank you all for reading and listening to me bemoan the rejection woes.  I know that we all share these woes at different times in our writing lives.  It's soothing to know I share the writing universe with such wonderful folks!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Draft Process: Flailing in the Dark

80º ~ cloud cover, rejoice! ~ the best chances of rain in weeks, but nothing on the radar yet, I grow impatient for the rain,

Well, friends and fans of the Kangaroo, I must confess that I did not go easily into drafting today.  I tried all my tricks, including pre-visioning the drafting time last night and as I ate breakfast this morning.  I simply couldn't get excited about drafting.  (In hindsight I wonder if I feel I've "finished" my series of tales because I drafted the poem that fits as the last in the group, and whenever I've finished a group of work I've had to flail around in the dark for a good long while before another spark gains on the tinder.)

I am proud, though, to say that I kept my BIC (butt-in-chair) and slogged through the resistance. 

I decided to start with a word bank but instead of using a book of poetry, I challenged myself to use some of the torn out articles and receipts and whatnot from my pile under the printer.  (See image here.)  My first column uses words from an article in a local who's-who and what's what for Little Rock.  The article is about a group of young, hip men who formed a hat club b/c they want to have a reason to wear vintage hats.  The club has evolved to being a community volunteer group as well.  The second column uses words from a piece of creative non-fiction from Orion.  The piece is a collage of sentences and brief paragraphs about humanity's relationship to the earth, to religion, and to each other.  Finally, the last column combines two much shorter pieces: a back order notice from a small press and an ad for a book by Andrei Codrescu.  Imagine my surprise when the word "quicksilver" showed up as part of the street address for the press and as an adjective in the ad.  You know I had to use it then!  One last note, in a recent email exchange with a poet friend, whose husband is a travel & nature writer, the idea of poets who use the word "gossamer" a lot came up (and not in a good way).  So, for fun, I added "gossamer" to one of the columns. 

With my words numbered, I used the random number generator at and got to making pairs.

It was interesting to see the different types of language crashing up against each other and I got some interesting collisions.  I scribbled out a few rough lines in the journal and thought I was on to something.  Moving to the computer, I typed up what I had and then realized that I wanted to expand on the first half of what I had started.  By the time I had added on to my first two-three lines, the other two-three lines I had drafted with them in the journal, no longer belonged in the poem.  At first I tried to cram them in there, but finally, I re-wrote them in the journal to save for another poem. 

The poem begins:

Years ago, the map of my home
folded in upon itself and creased
along the gossamer bloodlines.

image from

FYI: map and folded came from the back order notice (Matthew Nienow's book, The End of the Folded Map); home and creased came from the article about the hat club; gossamer came from my friend's email; and bloodlines came from the piece in Orion.

Once I started drafting on the computer, I paid less strict attention to the word bank, although I did go back to it from time to time.  I just didn't rely on the pairings I'd created.  I also let words suggest other words.  So, one of my words from the hat club article was "architect" and it became "draftsmen" and later "architecture."  My point here is for beginning writers: don't marry the prompt.  The prompt just gets you going.  Feel free to ignore the rules at any point!

Back to the draft.  It came to a natural closing, and I'm left with a draft that is right in my comfort zone: six stanzas composed in tercets = 18 lines. 

Faced with searching for a title, I read and re-read the draft, aloud.  (Another note to beginning must read your drafts out loud as you work...poetry is an aural art form.)  As I searched for a title, I remembered reading a blog post that reviewed a group of poems where the poet (sorry, can't remember who) had titled all the poems with "Notes: the date."  I realized that the poem I'd drafted had the meditative feel of a journal entry.  When I was in grad school, I drafted a poem titled "Notes Toward a Biography: 'some date I can't remember.'"  It never made it past the drafting stage but most folks loved the title.  At first I thought I'd use that.  Then, I remembered the word "biogeography," which is the title of a book of poetry by Sandra Meek that has been on my to-read pile for far too long.  It will be next up!  Looking up the definition of biogeography, I found this:

"a science that deals with the geographical distribution of animals and plants"

Ah hah!  The poem is now "Biogeography: 7/29/11" and I can see a way to write more of these poems that explore a personal "geographic distribution" as a way to further mine my obsession with my roots while also including the flora and fauna I love.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Poetry Reading Styles: A Series of Questions

86º ~ lots more sun today than in the past few days together, heading back toward 100º for a high, good breezes in the high branches, nothing much in the lower

Over the past few days I've been mulling over a series of questions about how poets read their work in public.  These are not new questions and they have been with me for years and years.  I know that some of it is a matter of taste, but I'm wondering what you all think, Dear Readers.

In an oversimplified X versus Y formula the question is, to pause between poems, providing brief anecdotes, or to only read the poems and let them do the talking.

image from

I have this question as both a poet and an audience member. 

As a poet, I try to find a good balance in the middle.  I try to avoid explaining the upcoming poem because I know that the poem should speak for itself, and as an audience member, it drives me crazy when a poet explicates his or her own poem before reading it.  However, as a poet, I'm not comfortable reading just the poems with a brief, quiet moment in between.  As an audience member, when poets do this, the poems tend to blend together and get a bit "soupy" for me, unless I'm super familiar with the poet's work. 

This question has resurfaced because I ran into a colleague on campus the other day, and she had attended my reading on the 12th.  She is not a poet and not an English instructor, which becomes part of the mulling.  My colleague stopped me to thank me for providing the interludes between poems.  She said that poetry is so powerful that she needs a bit of down time between poems.  She also commented that sometimes my tiny introductions helped her get into the poems since she was relying on her hearing rather than reading.

Now, of course, my ego shone a bit brighter after talking to her, so take all of this with a grain of salt, but her comment got me to thinking about the poet's job as it relates to a non-poetry-writing audience.  When we do a reading, who do we imagine in our audience?  Are they mostly poets & writers?  If so, do they need less interluding and more poetry-only?  If there are many folks in the audience who are non-writers, or beginning writers, is the poet doing a good thing by providing "breaks"?

Another comment that has stuck with me since the reading is that one of the library staffers who attended the reading confessed that she isn't a huge poetry fan but that she enjoyed my book and my reading.  This got me to thinking about our opportunities to widen the poetry audience.  If we stand up and read to the audience as if everyone lives and breathes poetry 24/7, then are we hurting more than helping?  What is the poet's responsibility?  Does it change with the location / audience?  Does the poet need to adopt different styles at different times?  Is this a "betrayal" of the work?

All of this leads back to the question of accessibility, I suppose, and the poet's agency in creating a poetry community.  Lots and lots of questions there.  Let me know what you all think, if the questions interest you, of course.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Draft Process: Chapbook Final Poem

81º ~ cloud cover 80%, 40% chance of rain from t-storms, yesterday's rain due to t-storm = 10 minutes, we take what we can get

Yesterday was not a good day.  I was hit by the sluggish, couch potato bug pretty hard.  I was also hit by the "oh crap, summer is almost over and I wasted it" bug.  Most teachers are familiar with this one.  I know I didn't "waste" anything.  I just always start the summer break with lofty goals about what I'm going to accomplish.  It turns out, I don't do well without a schedule.  This realization has been creeping up on me for the last few summers.  Now, I report back in two weeks but have a lot of prep work to do on classes in that time.  (I'm teaching Comp I online for the first time.)

I think I was also a bit down because I hadn't written a new draft in a while.  In this case, I was the agent of my own melancholy.  I know the solution: butt in chair.  I simply couldn't do it yesterday.  Today, now, today is a different story.

I wasn't even really thinking about drafting.  I was just waking up at the desk, going through my emails and reading blogs.  Then, Lou-Lou came to help me.  Her version of helping is to sit where I need the keyboard to be.  She also likes to be sure to hold down one of my arms by curling up on it.  In the past, I was pretty good about shaking her off; however, we've been feeling bad because she no longer has Libby as a playmate, so she's lonely.  Also, after one cat dying, I'm wanting to give Lou-Lou all the love I can. 

So, as I sat there, stymied by my helper, I realized that I had my right hand free and my journal was in reach.  No excuses now. 

As I flipped open the journal, I came across this note "have all the girls meet in the afterlife."  It looks like I wrote this note in April.  Suddenly, the lines were pouring out of me.  I've called the draft "After" and made it the final poem in the chapbook.  While I didn't consciously set out to write a "final poem" for the book, I now see that it helps close the manuscript.  So by writing through the poem, I also learned something about the manuscript as a whole.  That's a first for me.  The poem begins:

In the ever-after, the air sweet
with cut grasses, the girls arrived:

image from

It's a bit of a list poem and contains some of the key images from the tales, and it is the most lyric of all the poems in the book.  I found that I loved the fluidity of being back in the lyric poem.  When I'm writing a narrative it seems that the draft takes a lot longer and there are more questions to address during revision (not that I don't spend a lot of time on revision when working in the lyric form).  Having to marry story and imagery/sound is just really hard for me.

I'm not saying my days of writing the nursery tales are over, but it was a joy to move in a new way today.

By the way, one of my all-time favorite smells is the smell of fresh-cut grass or new-mown hay.  It's bizarre, but cracked watermelon rind smells the same way to me.  All luscious and alive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What I'm Reading: Wait

85º ~ another round of bright sun and no rain, no breeze today either

Alison Stine's second book, Wait, won The Brittingham Prize in Poetry last year and I was able to pick up a copy, I think at AWP.  This is one of my top 5 contests for consistently putting out great books, and it lives up to the reputation with this one.

Wait is all about love and lust, regrets and longing, sex and joy, too.  While there is not a clear narrative arc for the book, there is a consistent speaker revealing the age-old journey from innocence to experience.  Formally, I find the book interesting because Stine moves easily between the single stanza, left aligned block of text and the more airy, multi-stanza, multi-indented lines of text.  Being more drawn to the latter in my own work, I read the former with extra attention to see how Stine made them work. 

Luminescence, each of the poems in this book glows with intense images and powerful feeling that never crosses into sentimentality.  It was almost as if each poem was pulsing with energy and I found myself tearing through the book on my first read.  However, I'm having a hard time summarizing what made me feel that urge to turn the pages so quickly, given there was no mystery or plot pulling me toward the end. 

Here is an excerpt from one of the first poems in the book, "Child Bride."

It's different every night.  Your sister
has two days before her wedding, 
but she has been sewing since she was five.
Your cousin is nineteen, but her groom
is sixty.  You risk salvation by squeezing
your eyes.  Now your prophet is wheat
in a rain field.  Now your prophet is acid
and orange.  Love ends in the pocket, a rope
belt untying.

This poem has one of the most haunting last lines ever, but I'll let you discover it on your own, Dear Readers. 

"Salt" has the same intensity but with the added white space I mentioned earlier.  Here is the beginning.

You were the lover for which I bled.  Comfort me
.....with salt: tears, their silken twin.  Understand

..........I have made my arms doors for you.  Listen:

I love that "listen" followed by the colon that keeps us breathless and urgent at the end of the line.

One of the most heart-breaking poems in the book has the speaker detailing a miscarriage.  Again, what stands out here is not only the powerful language but the ability to avoid the overly dramatic sentimentality that the subject matter could easily cause.  Here is an excerpt from "The Red Thread," and for clarity, the speaker is in the shower.

A red snake coils at the bottom of the drain: our child,

......phrased like a question.  The plum tree in back
...........ruptured in blight.  Still, I could say nothing.

My favorite poem of the whole collection may just be the very first poem, "Wife."  In it, the speaker recounts a childhood filled with the urge to rush into adulthood, into sex really.  She states, "I got in a car / for a strawberry cream" and later "I wanted / to be dancing."  By the way, that line break on "wanted" is brilliant as it sums up that restless urge of the teen years.  However, the speaker then admits her regret for rushing into it all as she addresses her husband and wishes she had waited.  She states:

.............................I would have curled a rabbit whorl, a mouse nest,

in a leaf-spilled shade.  I am a bird the field and I want you to find me.

............I want you to find me.  Tell me wait.

Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today


Monday, July 18, 2011

Three Links and a "Coming Soon"

84º ~ morning light over my shoulder, crisp clouds well defined, a tease of a breeze

I'm currently giving myself carpal tunnel by typing OVER the cat's long body stretched in front of the keyboard.  Too much loss and sickness means she's getting her way for a while yet.

Three links to pass on today.

1.  Animated book covers, yep, we're there.  This is pretty cool and thanks to Julianna Baggott for sharing the link to hers this morning.

2.  South Dakota Review announces a new editor.  Welcome to Lee Ann Roripaugh, only the 3rd editor in 48 years and the first woman.  Wahoo.

3.  Jake Adam York contemplates the act of leaving a book or journal behind while traveling in a post for Best American Poetry.  I'm a huge fan of leaving a journal behind when traveling or even when just at Starbucks or anywhere around town really.  I've left one behind at the Jiffy Lube, just in case people find themselves intrigued while waiting for their oil change.  I couldn't leave behind a complete collection, though, unless I purchased extra copies of my favorites, and I don't earn enough cash for that plan yet.  (BTW, I think I startled Jake when I told him that I left my copy of Copper Nickel on the plane to AWP.)  Oh, and I have a habit of ripping out the poems I really love or copying them out in my own journal if they are short.

Coming soon: a response to Alison Stine's Wait.  I have to go to work for a meeting today so I'm delayed.  What's that you say?  Teachers / college professors don't work in the summer?  Yeah right...we just work OFF CONTRACT, which means for free.  Ahem.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chapbook, First Draft Complete

89º ~ some huge puffy clouds, but not enough to dim the sun or the heat, restless breezes, lung smothering humidity

For those keeping track of our cat crisis, Lou-Lou has shown a positive response to treatment and we are breathing a bit easier here at the house of the kangaroo.  This has allowed me to think more about poetry.  Whew.

This morning, I've spent several hours going over all the poems I thought might make it into the chapbook I'm working on and then establishing an order to the poems that made it in.  The main set of poems are the fairy / cautionary tales I've been writing about an unnamed Midwestern girl, with a big emphasis on coming-of-age themes and the threats that those from outside the Midwest might not think about when picturing a pastoral landscape.

That was a mouthful.

I've added to those poems to flesh out the book and to provide some changes of pace between tales.  I added the three haibun that I wrote in May and June.  While these do not fall directly into the tale trope, I think that they provide interesting texture and background.  I also included one older poem that I hadn't seen as a direct member of the tales, but on hindsight might just be the sparking moment of the whole series, "Requiem for the Girl with Sparrow Wings for a Heart."  This poems is in the current issue of diode if you'd like to take a look.  (Here's the original blog entry on the process of writing the poem, although this one is one of my most heavily revised poems to date.)

For now, the collection is called Midwestern Nursery Tales.  I've fooled around with six or seven different titles and may or may not keep this one.

Thanks to for the image
Once I got everything in order in the Word file and had typed up the front matter, the real fun began.  For the life of me, I could not figure out how to get the page numbers to stop showing up on the front matter.  After agonizing hours (well, probably 20 minutes), I remembered that I'd printed the instructions out some time in the past.  I found those instructions and they didn't work!  I've upgraded to Word 2008, and things are different.  Microsoft gets negative points for me in the "Help" category.  It took me far too long to abandon the "Help" function within the program and actually switch to the web.  Duh.  I found the new procedure in a snap and, finally, finally, I got the pages sorted out.  These are the things we forget to mention when we talk about needing writing time.  

All told, I'm at 20 poems and 21 pages, which means I can start sending the manuscript out soon.  I want to let it rest a bit and check the ordering of the poems again.  I also need to research chapbook publishers more thoroughly.

Pudding House
Main Street Rag
Dancing Girl Press
Finishing Line Press
Black Lawrence Press
Poetry Society of America
Seven Kitchens Press
Dream Horse Press

Anywhere else I should look?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Imperfect Video

79º ~ rain in the early hours and continued cloud cover keeping us a bit "cool" so far, still, it's swampy out there, friends and fans of the Kangaroo

Another "as promised," I worked up a video of several poems from Tuesday night.  I've done this before for several readings this past spring; however, this was the first time working with video of myself.  It was excruciating.  Why does my voice grate on my ear like that?  Everyone else says it's not grating, but I cringe!

Just before the reading, I bought a 7" flexible tripod (highly recommend).  I was able to place my Flip camera right on the lectern, which seemed like a great idea at the beginning.  Seeing how close up the video is, though, gives me more to cringe about.  Still, if it weren't me in the video, I'd love the closeness!  The Flip camera is so small that it didn't get in the way at all. 

Ok, this video is IMPERFECT as I'm still learning the ins and outs of the editing program.  I might have kept aiming for perfection but it's taking a long time and I'd rather move onto writing some new poems! 

There are four poems in the video.

1.  "From Fence Line to Hill Rise" from Blood Almanac, previously published in Midwest Quarterly.
2.  "The Once-Winged Saint" from In a World Made of Such Weather as This, previously published in Escape into Life.
3.  "The Fledgling Saint" from In a World Made of Such Weather as This, previously published in Escape into Life.
4.  "Midwest Nursery Tales" (the title got chopped out of the video and I couldn't get it back!) from Midwest Nursery Tales, previously published in Escape into Life.

Uhm, wow, I hadn't realized that 3 of the 4 poems were from EIL.  You can read the text of those three poems here.

***In a World Made of Such Weather as This and Midwest Nursery Tales are currently unpublished and in search of homes. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Poetry Trading Cards

93º ~ cloudy skies but enough sun getting through to make the heat that much worse, small breezes, thirsty dirt

Last night, I was fortunate enough to be the featured reader in the William F. Laman Library Meet the Author Series, and I had a great time.  Many, many thanks to all of the wonderful folks who came out in 103º temps (yes, we had A/C inside) to attend.  Thanks also to the great people at the library.  They have a wonderful lecture hall and a beautiful building in general, which is staffed by awesome and friendly people. 

As promised, I'm here today to reveal what exactly it was that I gave away to audience members.  I call them Poetry Trading Cards. 

I had a damaged copy of Blood Almanac, which started the whole project.  I clipped out the short poems from the book and made collages.  (The card stock is 4.5" x 6.5".)  Realizing that I might be a few cards short and wanting to highlight some newer poems as well, I printed out some newer work on cotton bond paper (I knew that old resume paper would come in handy some day) and clipped those out as well.  On the back of each card, I glued a little notice of my blog title and address and hand wrote any publication information that went with each poem.

I made 31 cards and gave away 24.  Guesstimates on audience numbers ranged from 25 - 35, which thrilled me.  Many folks stayed after to buy a copy of Blood Almanac (thank you!) or to just say hello and make a comment or two about the poems.  However, there were people in the audience who were strangers to me who didn't stay around.  Those are the people I wonder about the most.  I don't worry about them so much as I am curious about who they are and what brought them to the reading.

Of course, this project gives me a new direction in my collage obsession.  I'm hoping to make more cards and stockpile a bunch to take with me to AWP in February.  You, too, could become a collector of Poetry Trading Cards, and I think I'll include bubble gum the next time around, for the sake of baseball.

Coming soon: video clips of several poems from last night.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Set Lists and Audience Takeaways

88º ~ the predicted high? 102º before the heat index is figured, last night, with heat index, we topped out at 109º, a mild breeze helps just a touch, lots & lots of sun, Earnestine & I keep to the indoors

Yesterday, I began planning my set list for the upcoming reading on Tuesday night.  This is one of those one author only readings, so I'll have the podium to myself, which is both an honor and a bit more stressful than a mixed reading.  For those in Central Arkansas, the details are:

Tuesday, July 12th
Laman Library
Lecture Hall
2801 Orange St.
North Little Rock
6:30 p.m.

The library allows for an hour and a half for the reading, but that includes time for Q & A and book signing (books will be for sale, $14 cash or check).  I'm planning for about 35 - 40 minutes of reading, which I think is hitting the limit for poetry, even with a bit of intro & levity between poems.

Picking the reading list has been interesting, given that the audience will be a mix of friends quite familiar with my work and newer friends and those unknown to me who might not have heard me read yet.  I'm going to read 10 poems from Blood Almanac, 10 poems from In a World Made of Such Weather as This, and then 5 poems from Midwest Nursery Tales (the new title for the chapbook).  As most of you know, my poems tend to be short and can be read in a minute or two each.

I'm feeling a bit like an aging rock star with Blood Almanac, so, while I'll read a few of my "hits," I'm going to read a few of the under-exposed poems as well.  Even with In a World Made of Such Weather as This some of the poems have a little age on them and have been read before, so I'm going for a mix there, too.  Only the poems from Midwest Nursery Tales will be brand spanking new.  A bit nervous about that!

Here's the scribbling so far.

After settling on some poems, I thought about what I might offer to the audience in terms of takeaways.  Over the past year, I've collected a few blog posts by other poets who have offered chocolate, handmade bookmarks, photocopied poems, and other items at their readings.  I love this idea and spent quite a while brainstorming on how I might dream up something new.

My best idea can't be done in the time allowed, but I'm ordering what I need so I can do it in the future: Earnestine shaped cookies!

While I couldn't find a kangaroo cookie cutter here in Little Rock and will have to order it online, I did come up with with another pretty good idea, thanks to the help of my lovely man, C.  Not wanting to give away the surprise for those who will attend, I will tell you that it involves scissors, card stock, and glue sticks. Oh, and quite a bit of time, but it's a fun project, so I'm cool with that.  I'll post images on Wednesday for those too far away to attend.

This morning, I did my first practice session, reading the poems through, stumbling a bit on the newer poems and even the older poems that haven't been read out loud much.  It reminds me that PRACTICE is paramount.  Given that this is a solo reading, I really want to do a stellar job for anyone who gives up their Tuesday night to attend.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What I'm Reading: Barn Owl Review 4

90º ~ dead calm, uninterrupted sun, even the shade sweats

We find ourselves again waiting, waiting, waiting for news from the vet.  As we wait, I return to a favorite journal, Barn Owl Review.  I read this through when it arrived a few months ago but didn't have a chance to post about it then.  It's been wonderful to dip back into the cool pages and revisit some of my favorites.

For those not in the know, Barn Owl is an annual poetry-only journal with some book reviews as well. Number 4 also includes a new feature, a folio, in this case a series of Oliver de la Paz's "Dear Empire" poems.  It is edited by both Mary Biddinger and Jay Robinson, along with their fantastic supporting cast.  Each of the four issues is a gem worth its cover price and probably more.  The poems are eclectic, lively, and engaging. 

Nin Andrews * Stacey Lynn Brown * Jenna Cardinale * Brittany Cavallaro * Elizabeth J. Colen * Juliet Cook * Jaydn DeWald * Lorraine Doran * Carolina Ebeid * Suzanne Frischkorn * John Gallaher * Peter Joseph Gloviczki * Brent Goodman * Matthew Guenette * Carol Guess * Charles Jensen * Stephanie Kartalopoulos * Steve Kistulentz * David Dodd Lee * Rebecca Loudon * Amit Majmudar * Adrian Matejka * Oliver de la Paz * Louise Mathias * Shane McCrae * Robert Miltner * John Minczeski * Carrie Oeding * Alison Pelegrin * Dan Pinkerton * Nate Pritts * Liz Robbins * C. J. Sage * Carmen Giménez Smith * Catherine Wing * Cori A. Winrock
Plus, featuring reviews of David Dodd Lee and Elizabeth J. Colen.

Today, I thought I'd highlight just a few of the poems with poet, title, and first few lines to whet your appetite.  I confess that most of the pages are dog-eared in my copy, so this selection is difficult to the extreme. 

Elizabeth J. Colen
"Wife Beater" (prose poem)

There's a tattooed girl at the counter in the bread shop and she's thin and she's tough and she's scarred and you start talking about what her life must be like.

Brent Goodman
"To the Student Who Asked You What My Poems Mean"

I cannot find my hands.  Nor will a tongue against
wet cobblestone help triangulate one's
penultimate destination.  Let us first turn
our desks into a circle.

Amit Majmudar
"Radio Mustasim"

All afternoon, the boys collect
radios like firstborn
door to door.

In earshot of the mosque,
target practice.
Panicked Panasonics
leap off the wall, innards outed
in a blizzard of slivered
transistors, speaker-sieves, plastic shrapnel.

Oliver de la Paz
"Dear Empire" (dissidents) (prose poem)

Dear Empire,

These are your dissidents.  They are dark and threadbare like the stripped corpses of trees in winter.  They feather the hillsides with their cloth houses.  The whole hillside is awash in bright fabric--a riverbed of canvas.

Alison Pelegrin
"River of Voices"

I have this inarticulate theory of being wronged.
I can't shut up about it.  I'm hooked on Katrina,
my worst luck (and I was lucky!) doling out
sucker punches, ulcers, and suspect fruit,
and who can make peace with bloody kisses?

Well, that's just a hint of all the goodness wrapped inside.  Perhaps your appetite is whetted, your curiosity peaked, and all those other endless cliches.  If so, I hope you'll support this journal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Giant Poetry Book Sale

96º ~ yep, you guessed it, friends and fans of the Kangaroo, we're looking 100º in the eye again today, a few thin clouds and a slight breeze to push the damp heat around a bit

Dennis Maloney, editor of White Pine Press, is a good friend of the Kangaroo, and I'm happy to pass on this news for him.

"White Pine Press founder Dennis Maloney is selling off his forty year collection of signed and first editions of poetry and more to raise funds to support White Pine Press."

image accessed through
If you've got an itch to add to your collection, check out this awesome opportunity.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Draft Process: Fevered Fairy Tale

80º ~ conditions the same

I promise this blog is not going to turn into a cat blog, but the new poem I'm working on is linked to what's been happening with Lou-Lou. 

On June 20th, I took Lou-Lou to the vet with lethargy, no appetite, and weight loss.  At that time she had a high fever.  Because she was not injured and hadn't been exposed to any sick cats, the vet called it "a fever of unknown origin."  Our good friend, Sean, was staying with us at the time, and he asked if I would put that in a poem.  Normally I shy away from these kind of direct links, but the phrase stayed with me. 

image accessed at

In the meantime, I am still working on fleshing out a chapbook of my "tale poems" and finding myself short by a few pages.  One night I scribbled in my journal "Prayer for a Girl with a Fever of Unknown Origin."  I thought that a prayer would be a nice change of pace from the tales, and a few days later I started drafting a poem in that manner.  Instead of a cat, my usual main character, only known as "a girl," is the one who suffers.

The draft begins:

Once, a girl fell ill so slowly no one noticed.

I drafted three, six-line stanzas on July 1, the day that Lou-Lou had her blood transfusion (strengthening her for the tests she'll have this week).  However, I couldn't finish the poem.  I was too much in the middle of Lou-Lou's crisis.  And while, in the poem, it's a girl who gets sick, there are parallels to some of Lou-Lou's details. 

On Sunday, I tried again, and wrote what I thought were the final two stanzas.  But, it didn't sit right.  It was too easy and predictable, I thought.

Then, when I was finishing Jeannine Hall Gailey's book, which I posted about yesterday, I was struck with the "right answer," and I scribbled out some notes.

This morning, as we wait for a call from the vet to bring Lou-Lou in for tests, I have distracted myself by rebuilding those last two stanzas, deleting everything I'd added on Sunday.  I'm much happier now.  Perhaps because the girl lives now but in a weirdly altered way.

I've retitled the poem "Fairy Tale for the Girl with a Fever of Unknown Origin," because it is more story than prayer.

This whole draft is odd for me, as I normally wait quite a while before using something from my real life in a poem.  I find that I usually have to let it all sit before it becomes workable material.  Given the shifting nature of the process of this poem so far, I have no idea if it will stick, but I'm glad to have written it.

Thoughts on the Death of our Cat

75º ~ our low for the day was 71º, the goal is only 92º today with another chance of t-storms, tho yesterday's clouds produced no rain, no thunder, nothing but gray, for now, we are on full sun

As many of you know, we had to put Libby to sleep last week, all the while struggling to save our other cat Lou-Lou from a completely unrelated life-threatening illness.  I've had a lot of thoughts rumbling through my head about life and death as C. and I struggle along. 

1.  We lost Libby last week.  "Lost" is a weird and terrible word for death.  There is some hint that we've simply misplaced our dear kitty and if we could only find her, all would be well. 

2.  We had to put Libby to sleep last week.  Yes, the first part of the procedure involved giving her a sedative that caused her to sleep, and then the second part of the procedure made that sleep permanent.  I know there is a long history of sleep as a metaphor for death.  It still seems too easy a word, although I was with Libby the whole time and she did not struggle; she slept and then she "slept forever."

3.  We had to put Libby down.  I was raised by the children of farmers.  This is the most comfortable phrase for me, but I've found that it tends to make others uncomfortable.  It seems the closest to the reality. 

4.  Libby's heart was so damaged that it couldn't pump oxygen to her brain and she became hypoxic.  I love this word: hypoxic, being in the state of hypoxia (without oxygen).  I had a name for what was happening to Libby and that helped.  As yet, we have no word for what is trying to kill Lou-Lou, destroying all of her red blood cells, hypoxia threatening despite her heart being healthy. 

5.  In a state of hypoxia, a cat becomes confused, disoriented, and vocal.  This was hard to see on Libby's last day. Although the vet did not think it was "pain," it was certainly suffering.

6.  Seven days from the first visible symptoms (racing heart, fast breathing) to death.  Yesterday, I downloaded some pictures from my phone and found a bunch of pictures of both Libby and Lou-Lou from before these crises.  The dates were so recent, it made my heart ache.

7.  Seven days from symptoms to death; we are grateful for the time we had to adjust and the fact that Libby didn't suffer long.  Still, so quick.  So sudden.  Whiplash.

8.  After we brought Libby home from the diagnosis and began her on meds to remove the fluid from her lungs/heart, we thought we might be able to have a few months with her.  She knew differently.  She stayed in her hiding place, only to be dragged out for meds.  She did not eat on her own after we brought her home.  On the third day, she stopped drinking.  Her body knew before we could accept it that death was near.

9.  One of my grandfathers died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  His heart and lungs filled with fluids the same as Libby's. 

10.  One of my grandfathers died after several long years of Alzheimer's disease.  He was confused, disoriented, and vocal.  My grandmother bore it all.  Once, when hospitalized for pneumonia, he "escaped" from the hospital because he wanted so desperately to go home.

11.  One of my grandfathers had a relatively quick and peaceful death.  One had to waste away, no longer recognizing his wife and children, let alone his grandchildren.

12.  Why, when the writing is on the wall, when death is so near as to be undeniable, are we able to end the suffering of our animals, but not the people we love (if they've consented)?

13.  C. and I know the difference between pets and people, but we suffer in Libby's death.

14.  I've always been quick to offer words of condolence, although I've rarely needed to receive them.  With my grandfathers, they were both in their 80s, and their deaths were known to us for years before they happened.  We had time to accept the inevitable.  I was so surprised at how much it helped to hear from others via Facebook, email, mail, and phone calls after Libby's death.  Words really do carry power.

15.  Whether real or imagined, it seems that Lou-Lou wonders where Libby is as well.  There is an emptiness in our house.  We honor that emptiness, the absence of a once forceful presence.  Libby was an attention-diva, and as much a cliche as it might be, I wish she'd just demand my attention one more time.

One week before symptoms, our princess kitty.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Upcoming Reading: July 12

89º ~ a bit cloudier, maybe some thunder and rain on the way?

For all those in the Central Arkansas area, I'll be reading at the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock on Tuesday, July 12.  The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the lecture hall. 

Hope to see you there!

What I'm Reading: She Returns to the Floating World

81º ~ headed to a high of 99º, which seems fitting for the 4th of July, partly cloudy here for now with a chance of t-storms, moments of tiny breezes interspersed with stillness in the leaves

A week ago, I wrote about how Jeannine Hall Gailey's She Returns to the Floating World inspired me to revise, and it happened again yesterday as I finished the book.  Jeannine is a fellow blogger friend, although I hope we get the chance to meet in the flesh one day.  I was lucky enough to follow her new book's progress from contract to publication, one of the real joys of blogging for me.

Before we get to the contents of the book, I have to remark on the cover, which features an artist I've admired for a few years now, Rene Lynch.  I'm not sure where I first encountered her work, but the image on Jeannine's cover, which is perfect for the book, was the inspiration for one of my own poems last year.  Cool.

So, the book in a nutshell, from my notes scrawled on the last page:
Japanese fairy tales
Oak Ridge, TN - the bomb - Japan
atomic legacy
code (i.e. computer, biological, scientific)
renewal & resurrection
husbands & wives
brothers & sisters
distrust of the body/flesh

This is a lengthy collection, clocking in at 129 pages.  It is full of haibun with a few haiku, along with narrative poems and lyric musings.  There are five sections, and each section begins with an epigraph that helps an American audience bridge the gap with Japanese themes.  Within each section, the blending of pop culture, fairy tales, and modern, global concerns is fantastic.  There is nothing cheesy about it; every speaker is authentic, every line rings true.

Of all the Japanese fairy tales, the fox-wife is perhaps the most important to the book, although the white crane-woman is prominent as well.  As the hyphen implies, the fox-wife is a half-creature, hiding her tale while in human form, always separate in a permanent way from the man she loves.  There are several fox-wife poems in the book, usually in the form of haibun.  One of my favorites is "The Fox-Wife Describes Their Courtship."  In the prose section, we get these lines:

When we're alone, I forget my other life sometimes, forget my sharp teeth and tail.  I become the thing beneath his hands, softer.

and later

He always sought to put things back together.  I tear things apart.  The instruments of bone and blood are the same; the intents are different.

and the final haiku:

I know before he does
how he will leave me,
a little temple of spine and fur.

The separate-but-together (a la Tim O'Brien in "The Things They Carried) theme carries through the entire book, whether the speaker is a fairy tale being or a modern woman.  Here Jeannine gets at the brokenness of our world and does so with deftness and beauty.

Another way into this theme is through the use of "code."  In the poems this might be computer code for gaming or technological advances, it might be the scientific code responsible for the atomic bomb, or it might be the genetic code damaged now by all we've unleashed on the world in our quest for progress.  In "Aberrant Code II," the speaker states, "...but I was already / blessed with DNA so sampled, broken / that no one would could relay its message."  At the end of "Aberrant Code V," the speaker tells us, "One story's about nuclear waste and the other a trick of genetics. / Either way the ground here is sown with monsters, / some of them weeping, some of them eating the furniture."

That idea of the broken DNA translates in several poems into infertility issues, which culminate in a poem toward the end of the book, "Why We Cannot Have Children," which is heartbreaking and real.  It is a list poem.  Here is just a sample:

Because I am a witch, a demon.
Because one might be born with a fox's tail, or a white bird's feathers.
Because our children would all become monsters.
Because I would rather not pass on the problems coded within me.

Finally, I have to remark on one of the last poems in the book, "Autobiography I."  Here, the poem begins:

No, last time you read me
wrong.  I'm not the main character,
I'm the photographer, the one
with her feet in the river.
I'm the frame of reference,
not the delicate willow branch,
not fragile and crumpled as a peony.

What I love about this poem is that it not only continues one of the main threads of the book, the idea that we can never become truly known by another human being, not known down to our soul's last atom, but also that it reinforces the idea that the "I" is not the poet.  Who knows how much of the narrative of the book has happened to Jeannine?  Does it really matter?  I think not.  In fact, I'm relieved to separate the poet from the speaker; perhaps because I have some connection with Jeannine, I would shy away from the hard truths of the poems if she were outright confessional.  Not sure if that makes sense, as I'm on an on-going journey with figuring out the "I."

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Buy or Borrow a Copy of this Book Today
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She Returns to the Floating World
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Kitsune Books, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I'm Reading: Grist Issue 4

86º~ clear skies, nothing but sun and the tiniest hint of a breeze, heat, heat, heat, no rain in sight

In the midst of our cat crisis, it turns out that reading journals is a good fit.  I tried reading a few complete collections, but my mind wandered or it was time to give another dose of medication or I just got tired.  Being able to dip in and out of a journal, to absorb one poem and let it sit for a bit, has been great.

This morning, I finished Issue Four of Grist, a journal that was kind enough to publish me a few years ago, and is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.  This is an annual journal and meaty, weighing in at right around 200 pages.  A lot of bang for the buck.

While I did try on the short fiction and essays, I wasn't as good about finishing each one.  (Sometimes I wonder if poetry is killing my ability to read sustained prose.)  I was, however, drawn to "Bloody Feet," a brief essay by Ira Sukrungruang about connecting with his ancestral homeland of Thailand by becoming a Buddhist monk there for a month.  The piece kept my attention because Sukrungruang discussed landscape and how we often flit about on its surface.  Only after having to walk barefoot in the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand, did he really begin to understand his connection to the country where his parents were born.  By the end of the essay, I was dreaming up a scheme to walk some miles in Black Hawk County, Iowa, the next chance I get.  And to walk those miles with the careful attention of spiritual practice.  Probably, I will wear shoes.

As for the poetry, well, that's where I fell in love again and again.

First, Matthew Nienow's "After the Earthquake, the Great Operatic Singer Tests His Voice" provides a persona poem from the SF earthquake of 1906.  One passage:  "Screams punctuate / the dawn.  How quickly life becomes a cinematic / undertaking-- / clipped reels stuttering..."

Hats off to the editors for finding a way to print several poems with lines too long for portrait alignment.  So, as I turned the page, I found a poem printed in landscape and simply turned the book 90º to read it.  As someone whose lines can get a bit lengthy, I applaud the effort to hold true to the poet's vision without shrinking the font or wrapping the lines.  John Anderson's "Imminent Domain" is one such poem.  The lines are amazing exercises in merging form and content.

Jason Schossler's "Letter to Daniel LaRusso, Karate Kid" uses popular culture to shine a light on class issues in America and does it well.  Schossler has three poems in the issue. The other two use pop culture icons as well, for those who gravitate in that direction.

Another highlight is James May's persona poem "Esteesee," which begins "I have also mistaken strong desire / for talent...."  Oh, my, one of my deepest fears about my own work!

"Trespassing in my Childhood Home" by Johnathon Williams makes my heart beat in kinship with the speaker.  In the pasture, "Wrecked cars bleed rust / into iron-sick earth" and the once fertile land bears "a scrap yard no harvest."

Chelsea Rathburn's "Small Deaths" draws images of that "terrible beauty" of death and the body, in this case, the body of a young possum and later of a baby bird in formaldehyde.  Shivers throughout.

For fans of landscape lyrics, Adam Clay provides "Nocturne for a Flock of January Crows."  One  passage:  "A starting point always distracts // the vision in such a way that the weather / has changed, and we are suddenly dressed poorly // for the occasion."  (There's also a transcript of an email exchange between Adam Clay and Timothy Donnelly in this issue that shouldn't be missed.)

The issue ends with several poems by Adonis, translated by Khaled Mattawa.  Three of the four poems are brief and delicate, but packed with a super charge.  The fourth is a longer meditation, no less powerful.

This is just a glimpse at what the journal has to offer; there's much more than I can mention here.

For full disclosure, several of these poets are my friends or they've published me in their journals.  Several of them are not known to me beyond the page. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Days of Grief and Chocolate

87º ~ a sky of pure sun, a slight breeze moving the sweltering leaves, several sightings of the fledgling robin still bouncing around our backyard, the empty nest a reminder

This is not how I imagined my summer.  Once again, life reminds me that I have no control over so many things.  While we mourn Libby, we continue to fight to save Lou-Lou.  While we recognize that our cats are not people, they are such an integral part of our daily lives that there is a huge emptiness when they aren't where they usually are, doing what they usually do.

I've been eating a lot of Russell Stover dark chocolates.  It helps for the length of time the sweet is on my tongue. 


I'm so late in this congratulations, but a big hooray for Kelli Russell Agodon, whose book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room won a Gold Prize in the Foreward Magazine Book of the Year Awards.  Here's my reader response to the book as well.


Many thanks to the editors of Redivider.  The new issue is out, and my poem "Pantoum for a Landlocked Girl" has the honor of batting lead-off on page 1.  I'm thrilled and send much gratitude to all who work on this wonderful journal.  You can read about the draft process for the poem here.


Finally, both C. and I are so grateful to all of our friends for sending support these past few days.  It really helps, and if we aren't quick to reply, please know that we appreciate each and every note.