Friday, September 30, 2011

Status: PPD

61º ~ glorious weather after a high of 91º yesterday, a cold front arrived in the night and wiped the heat from our memories, all is sun and slight breeze and chill

Today's drafting process is postponed, or in the parlance of baseball, PPD.  Lou-Lou has had a bit of a crisis this past week and needs to have some treatments at the vet today.  All are hopeful because she has responded to her medications in the past and the docs have ruled out secondary infections and the like.  It looks like a change in the dosages and times per day they are given is in order.

from ~ click for link

I shall return to the desk tomorrow with pen and journal and attempt a draft.

In the meantime, I've finally got a stack of poems ready to go out into the world and I haven't had a lick of time to do submissions in the entire month of September! Time to re-prioritize!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Photo Prompts

86º ~ yep, summer is back, going to be near 90º tomorrow, clear, clean skies, sparkling sun

Life is cluttered right now, but I try to keep my poet brain engaged by observing the world.  These images may become fodder for later work.  Here are two from yesterday.  Sorry about the size, no time to download and adjust.

surprise lilies are my favorite

this bee wanted to read from The Lorax at our Banned Books Week reading

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alison Pelegrin @ the Big Rock Reading Series

55º ~ looking like mostly blue skies today, with a high below 80º, then a warm-up predicted through the week, topping out at 88º forecasted

Friday, September 23, 2011

Draft Process: Before & After Photos

55º ~ it is hard to express the joy of these cooler mornings after a summer of endless, beating heat, cloudy today, foggy too, wonderful soaking rain last evening, replenishing us all

I was eager to return to the desk today, to set aside all the clutter and muck of day-to-day life and just be in a world of words and my imagination.  Of course, I'm not good at completely divorcing myself from my life (thus there is a bit of autobiography in nearly everything I write, but just a bit, don't be saying the speaker of my poems is me, please).  Therefore, today's draft continues with the sickly speaker and is informed both by my recent battle with sinus infection / head cold and Lou-Lou's seeming relapse that is puzzling the vets.  (Yes, that is plural.  There are three doctors on her case.  We are lucky!) 

Here is how I prepared to clear my mind, to make a path for poetry.

With the desk clear and Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid on the iTunes, I sat down with Camille Dungy's books.  I bought her two most recent volumes at the reading I attended: Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press) and Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press). 

I've really fallen in love with my current draft process.  Read and collect words haphazardly in the journal.  Read and collect lines that hint at titles that might work for my sickly speaker.  Let the title and the word bank coalesce into the beginning of a draft.  Knock on wood, it hasn't let me down yet.  Today, I added a new twist.  As I collected the words I started adding arrows and circling two words together that jumped out at me.  My journal page is a lovely mess.

I started with Dungy's Suck on the Marrow but put it aside as the subject matter is the terrible history of slavery and much of the language is so charged with that history that I was having trouble divorcing individual words of that charge.  This is not a slight on the book at all, and I look forward to reading it for its own sake very soon.  Smith Blue, while still quite political, is a book of conservation, recording what is being lost in our world due to climate change, war, and the other devastations we visit upon ourselves.

In fact, that word "devastation" is part of the line that led to the title of the poem.  I read the first few poems and gathered words at a furious pace.  Then, in the poem "Daisy Cutter," I found this line "You taught me devastation / ... ."  Dungy's sentence continues, but I was caught by just those four words and I made them the title of the draft: "You Taught Me Devastation."  It begins:

Madam, it is your skill set to which I cling.
Most ingloriously, I confess.

Again, the poem is drafted in couplets.  They seem to fit this speaker's voice so perfectly.  I hope I'm not missing an opportunity by sticking with them so much, but time will tell.  This speaker is a bit disjointed and abrupt.  She makes associative leaps, and the brevity of couplets works for that.

So, this is what the desk looks like after the process is over and the draft as a whole has been printed.  Yes, Lou-Lou insisted on "helping" me from start to finish today, although now that the process is over, she has disappeared.  Muse anyone?

As always, thanks for reading.  Knowing someone is out there, wondering if I drafted on Friday, helps. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reading Attended: Camille Dungy at the Central Arkansas Library System

62º ~ sound the bells, it's foggy out there friends and fans of the weather, we're on the cusp of fall & temperatures are finally stabilizing into a more comfortable pattern

Life has been fast and furious and a bit stressful these days.  Lots and lots going on with school and I received papers from all of my students on Monday.  In the meantime, Lou-Lou's blood work is not good and we continue to go through testing to find a better approach to her treatment.  My own health is nearly back to normal after a three-week stint of sinus infection / serious head & chest cold.  All of this is not to whine but to set the scene. 

There were three or four literary events in central Arkansas last night.  I'm not sure why this happens but it seems to happen at least once a semester when people at different institutions all decide one day is the perfect day for their reading/performance.  I had narrowed my choices to Kevin Brockmeier reading just down the street at UALR or Camille Dungy reading downtown.  Then, all of this other stuff seemed to get in the way and I was ready to say 'uncle' and just sit on the couch.  Somehow, I rallied in the afternoon and made my decision.  I am soooooooo glad I did, as the night uplifted me and energized me in a way that only literature can.

I chose to attend Camille Dungy's reading in part because I've seen Kevin read several times and I know I'll have other chances to hear him because he lives here in Little Rock.  If he ever comes to a town near you, do yourself a favor and go hear him.  He's an amazing fiction writer and a great reader.

Wish my author photo was this glam!
I had heard Dungy read at AWP as part of a panel in the past, so I knew I was in for a great night.  Dungy came to Little Rock as part of the Poets House "Language of Conservation" program.  We were so lucky to have our zoo chosen as one of five across the country to be funded for poetry installations (Joseph Bruchac was our curator for the project and each poet-curator traveled to the other cities to give readings at the various libraries).  While Dungy is the author of three books of her own poetry, she is also the editor of Black Nature, an anthology of poetry that explores nature writing by African-American poets.

I loved Dungy's set list.  She began with a poem from her first book What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (which just may be the best damn title ever).  Then she read a few poems from the anthology: Lucille Clifton (may she rest in peace), Ishmael Reed, Marylin Nelson.  Then, a few poems from Dungy's most recent collection Smith Blue, an amazing book from Southern Illinois University Press, one of my all-time favorite poetry publishers:  "The Blue," "On the Rocks," and "On Ice."  Then back to the anthology:  George Marion McClellan and Arna Bontemps, two poets new to me whom I plan to find out more about, especially Bontemps.  On to Dungy's own Suck on the Marrow (she is awesome at book titles!) for "Aspire" and "Survival."  Then the anthology for Robert Haydn (favorite!!!), Gerald Barrax, Sr. and Anne Spencer, another I really need to find out more about.  Dungy concluded with two of her own poems "What a Snakehead Discovered in a Maryland Pond and a Poet in Corporate American Have in Common" and "How She Keeps Faith."

Yes, I was scribbling furiously to get this all down, but I was able to stop and absorb the poetry, too.  Dungy is an AMAZING reader.  She gives each word its due.  No rush, no fuss.  Pure love of language embodied at the podium. 

I found myself intrigued by her comments regarding black nature poetry.  She pointed out that for African Americans, a relationship with nature is not one of the Romantic ideal.  It involves a tie to having once been considered property and a part of nature itself.  It involves a tie to toil.  That was the word she used, 'toil.'  And this set me to thinking about my own relationship to nature in my work.  As a lot of my poetry is based in the landscape of the rural Midwest and the agriculture that includes, I realized that the word 'toil' rang true for me as well, although certainly not to the extent of an African-American history with slavery.  Still, when you grow up around working farmers, there is a love of the land and a respect for the natural world, at the same time one is fighting against the elements as well. 

I also loved what Dungy had to say about being a nature writer.  She said that to do so one has to observe closely, that it is a matter of what we look at and how we look.  So, when she was on a cruise in the Antarctic to mark her father's retirement, Dungy watched and watched and wrote observations of everything.  She was able to see that this land of ice of "millennia on millennia of cold" was melting.  She was able to see that the penguins in Antarctica were being plagued by ticks that should have died off due to cold but were now thriving in warmer temperatures.  Then, she was able to take all of the political and emotional importance of those observations and weave it into her poems.

I'm still stunned.  

Here is the beginning of "Survival" from Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010)

The body winnows.  The body tills.  The body knows
sow's feet, sow gut, night harvested kale.  The body knows
to sleep through welted dreams, to wake
before the night succumbs to morning.

If you don't own one of Dungy's books, then go out and remedy that as soon as you have enough change in the cookie jar to do so!

Finally, I was so happy to see two former students in the audience, both of whom attended the Big Rock Reading Series last week.  Talk about growing a community!  Jessica Otto was once a student of mine at the Arkansas Governor's School back in the day.  Toby Daughtery was a more recent student of mine at PTC and I've written about his inspirational story before.  I was so happy to see them both in the room!  (Sorry y'all, the pics we took didn't work out.  Next time!)

Many, many thanks to Camille Dungy for coming to Little Rock and sharing her work.  Her reading was just what this weary soul needed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How to Create a Reading Series

65º ~ massive thunderstorm last night, beautiful dangerous lightning and house-rattling thunder, everything sopping wet as the sun begins to rise through cloudy skies

This post is in response to Kristin's request on last Thursday's post

As most of you know, through the help and support of many of my friends and colleagues, we launched the Big Rock Reading Series at Pulaski Tech last week.  Here's the story of how it all came together, in a perhaps disjointed tale.


Pulaski Tech, where I teach, is a growing community college.  In fact, we just moved up one notch to become the fourth largest institution of higher education in Arkansas, with 11,900 and some students.  For my first five years on campus, I served on the library committee, and through that committee, we were able to host several readings.  I mention these events because they helped teach me all that goes into putting on a great event, which, for me, involves an incredible amount of planning and coordinating with other offices on campus.  I also mention these events because the data on attendance and the written feedback we received from each was key to floating an organized reading series by the administration.  We were able to demonstrate a need and we knew what would be needed in terms of resources. 

Speaking of resources, I also learned a lot about how to do this on a shoestring by attending a panel discussion at AWP in DC.  That panel featured writer-instructors from a variety of community colleges who hosted reading series and other literary events with almost no budgets.  The key component I learned about: setting up a foundation fund and running the series on donations.  While we can't pay our readers a huge honorarium and we can't offer travel expenses, I would not ask someone to come and read for free.  With a couple of anchor donations and then many smaller ones, we are able to pay our writers a very modest honorarium and in the case of Alison Pelegrin who will be driving up to read for us, we will take care of her hotel stay.  By creating the reading series at PTC, we are able to use resources like the PR/Marketing office to create promotion and get out press releases.  This has been INVALUABLE!

So, how does one create a reading series?

Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Secure a venue & date and get the details in writing.  Think about all the details: size, seating, accessibility, lighting, mic/speakers, parking, if there will be a cover charge, etc.

Contact writers well in advance and let them know upfront the details in terms of location, pay, expected audience size, and if books will be sold how and by whom.  Get the details in writing and be sure to get good contact information in case of emergencies.  One new twist we weren't expecting was video rights.  We taped the event for students who couldn't attend and to have as an archive, but our authors alerted us to the fact that some publishers require permission for publishing videos (especially on YouTube).  For future events, we will be getting written permission in advance for video postings.

If you will be setting up a donation fund, start asking for donations as early as possible.  Again, we used our Foundation office on campus, so I don't know the legal details of this if you plan an independent series.

Promotion, promotion, promotion.

With the date/time/location/author(s) secured the time for promotion begins.  We had a three-pronged system.  One: flyers & posters to promote the reading on our campuses and at local libraries/bookstores.  Two: email blasts (collected the email list at previous readings and by going online and collecting addresses for English faculty from institutions in the area).  Three: press release to the local media (we were fortunate and the story got picked up by the state-wide newspaper).

Facebook.  I suppose this is a fourth prong of our PR system, but it's so big, it's kind of it's own thing.  I created a page for the Big Rock Reading Series and sent out an invite to "like" it to my regional friends.  As with social media, the page grew from there.  We use the page to promote future readings and to post photos and feedback from previous readings.  It's also a good place to post links to campus maps and directions if you are targeting a community-wide audience as we are. 

Word of mouth.  Yep.  I never stop talking about the series with colleagues and friends. 

Prepare an event program.  For us, this is a simple 8.5 X 11 sheet folded in half.  I used Microsoft Publisher to put it together and it was quite easy.  Our PR office had created a logo for the series, which is awesome.  The program features the author bios and websites, a list of upcoming events, and our donor list (THANK YOU!).  We also included two half sheets stuffed inside (many thanks to the student workers who copied, folded, and stuffed).  One half sheet was a survey and one was a donation form.  The survey was awesome and has given us even more data to use for future fundraising.

Reading. Reading. Reading.

Be in touch with the writer in the days leading up to the reading and on the day of.  Be sure you have water and a place for the writer's book(s) to be sold if that is part of the deal.  If the books are not being sold by a bookstore at the event, designate someone you trust to handle the sales and get a bit of cash change before the event.  We sell books for cash or check and I volunteer to cover any bounced checks (although that hasn't happened yet).  I'm looking into getting Four Square for my iPhone so we can also do credit card sales.

Arrive at the location well in advance.  I arrived an hour early to start setting up (we display our division's course offerings and our student journals).  Believe it or not, we had audience members arriving 45 minutes before start time.  Check the lighting, the mic/speakers, seating, and whatever else you've arranged.

ASK FOR HELP!  We use student ambassadors to greet arrivals, hand out programs, and provide directions within the building.  A few of my English faculty colleagues jumped in to help with details I overlooked.  For example, as the coordinator of the series, people wanted to talk to me.  I hadn't figured on that.  I was hauling tables around and setting up displays and fielding questions/discussions from audience members in the meantime.  It was chaotic.  I will search out volunteers and do a better job of delegating next month!

Coddle the writer(s).  Be sure the writer is comfortable with the mic and set up.  Be sure he/she has anything he/she needs to be comfortable (including water).  The writer is the whole reason for the event.  For that hour, he/she is a STAR!  Treat him/her as such.  Depending on your situation, you might offer to take the writer(s) out for a meal before or after the event.  I'm fond of going out afterward as we were all amped up and used the meal as a way to unwind and bask in the joy.

The Day After.

Collapse from exhaustion on the inside but keep putting one foot in front of the other for the day job or family obligations or what have you.

If you did a survey, crunch the data.  If you didn't, take the time to write out a narrative of how the evening went and what you might do differently in the future.  We learned that it would be good to have a calculator at the book sale table.  We learned that the moderator needed to repeat audience questions during the Q & A.  Small things add up.  The data and/or narrative will be important if you are seeking funds for the series or applying for grants in the future.

Begin promoting the next event, depending on length of time between readings.  For us, there is a month between readings for the three months of the semester, then breaks for holidays and summer.  Promote early and often, but not so often that you become a pest.  :)

I'm sure I've forgotten a bit, so chime in with questions if you have any!

Good luck!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Draft Process: Becoming the Sickly Speaker

58º ~ overcast, 30% chance of rain we would welcome

Dear Reader, it seems I have become the sickly speaker of my recent poems.  As many of you know, since the beginning of August, all of my drafts have featured the same speaker, a woman who is hospitalized for some strange and unknown illness.  No, I'm not in the hospital or even close to it.  My nagging sinus infection has been confounded by a head cold.  I'm whiny.

Still, after a knock down week of launching the reading series, I told myself last night to be prepared to write a draft today.  I made a note to myself, "Draft a Poem" and left it on my keyboard so I would see it first thing. 

It worked again.

At the reading, we talked about B-I-C (butt-in-chair), and you know what?  It's rarely failed me.  Not never failed me, but rarely.

It worked again.

I sat down at the desk with cold medicine taken, a cup of coffee, and an aching arm.  On the night of the reading, I fell up the stairs.  Yes, 'up' the stairs.  My right arm bore the brunt of the fall and I have a wicked purple bruise in the rectangular shape of a stair edge.  The bruise is almost exactly half way between my elbow and my shoulder.  My arm hurts!  I'm sort of surprised by how much it hurts as I didn't feel like I fell that hard.  

Back to the draft: I began by reading some of the poems in Sarah J. Sloat's new chapbook Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair (dancing girl press, 2011) and collecting some nouns and verbs.  While I love Sloat's poems, nothing was jumping up for a title.  So, when I had a page full of words, I went back to Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters in search of a title.  I found one in the poem "Housekeeping," which includes this line, "You have been outside / The body now."

Today's draft is "Having Been Outside the Body" and is another epistolary poem to the speaker's female mentor.  It begins:

Dear Madam--

The progress of August is past.
The chart reads relapse.

In terms of form, the poem contains both couplets and single-line stanzas.  The bruise makes an appearance in stanza two.  I first searched for images of bruises, but they were too ugly to share.  Instead, here's an image of a the rhinovirus, cause of the common cold, damn it!

from Science Photo Library, click for link

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nickole Brown & David Jauss at the Big Rock Reading Series

57º ~ cold air coming in the windows, yep, cold air, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

While I wanted to post this yesterday, it turns out that I was flattened by exhaustion and a busy day at school.  Still, the glow of a wonderful event lingers. 

I'm thrilled to say that our first reading in the Big Rock Reading Series was a definitive success!

Nickole's poems and Dave's short fiction balanced each other well.  The images from both linger in my brain as I return to my senses. 

During the reading, I made a big point of the fact that these two writers live among us right here in Central Arkansas.  I made this comment for the sake of our PTC students, many of whom encounter literature for the first time when they enroll in an ENGL class with us.  For many of those students who attended the reading, it was their first chance to hear writers at work.  We had the audience fill out a survey so we could collect data for more fundraising.  Their comments blew me away.

Nickole Brown & David Jauss

Based on the data we collected, we could identify those in the audience who were PTC students.  Here's what a few of them had to say (anonymously) for the question, "What did you most appreciate about tonight's event?"
"The way the readers seemed to open up from a sacred place with there [sic] work."
"This is my first time attending a reading.  I enjoyed it a great deal.  It is inspiring to hear people share themselves in a setting like this."
"It is just wonderful to have local writers present their works in person."
"True honesty in there [sic] stories.  So real!"

Ok, so we still need to work on the there/their/they're error, but the sentiment here is what counts.   Wow.  This is why we do what we do. 

Many thanks to Nickole and Dave for helping us launch this series!  Next up will be Alison Pelegrin, a poet from southern Louisiana and a good friend of mine.  I can't wait to grow the literary community even more on October 11th!

Monday, September 12, 2011

So Seriously Beside Myself

68º  ~ what's that on the horizon? a high of 91º for today and 96º for tomorrow, yep, that's right, summer 2011, the summer that would not quit!

Dear Readers, it's hard to convey exactly how excited I am for tomorrow to get here.  Tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m., we launch the Big Rock Reading Series with readings by Nickole Brown and David Jauss.  While, I'm the chief cook and bottle washer of the operation, I've had tons of help and support from colleagues, friends, and family, for which I am thankful.  (It's amazing how many tiny details there are to getting a reading series up and running, especially one that is run on donations only so as not to infringe on anyone's line-item in the school's budget!)

I couldn't be happier that Nickole and Dave are reading for us.  They both teach creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  As the two-year college across the river, we send a lot of students over to UALR, so it will be a great collaboration, and I'll get to see many former students in the audience.  Wahoo!

Rest assured, I'll have my trusty Flip camera there and will try to post some clips in the days after (if I can pick myself up off the bed of exhaustion!).  Until then, let this amazing poster whet your appetite (designed by Amy Green of Pulaski Technical College's Department of PR/ Marketing).

Find us on Facebook, too!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Draft Process Beginning with Revision

77º ~ all bright sun, a soft breeze, windows open, may have to water the lawn

A day late, but there's a draft on the table.  Not sure if it will "live" to become a poem, but it's there.

There's a lot of chaos in my world right now.  Still not 100% health-wise, re: sinus infection.  Lou-Lou got some disappointing results in her most recent blood work.  Some difficult issues both at work and with my family.  Nothing dire, but those normal life moments that require a lot of mental & emotional energy to sift through and decide how to move forward. 

Again, those could be excuses not to write.  I wasn't sure I would today.  Instead, I began by revising all of the drafts from the past month and a half.  (Thus the title of the post today.) 

Here's the process.  I keep a folder with printed copies of each draft.  This is where a piece stays until I feel like it is a poem strong enough to be submitted to journals.  I start with the draft on top, which would be the most recent.  I read each poem out loud, often many times.  I listen for extra words that could be trimmed.  My biggest issue is over-writing; I'm especially fond of unnecessary adjectives.  I cut and trim, usually a word here or there, sometimes a whole clause or sentence.  I try to be objective about how the poem works.  Sometimes, I need to add a stanza or more likely cut one and rewrite it from scratch.  As you might guess, the most recent poems need the most revision.  The older ones have been through the process once or twice and usually move out of the folder to be readied for submission. 

In doing this today, I realized that I've written some really strong poems and I'm feeling good about sending a lot of them out into the world.  This surprised me since I wasn't exactly feeling all aglow with positive vibes as I began.  However, the positive energy that I had when I reached the end of the folder translated into trying to draft a poem. 

Continuing on my recent process, I picked up the new issue of The Journal that arrived a few days ago. 

Cover art by Krista Drummond

Wow.  This issue is chock full of good stuff.  I started to read and jot down nouns and verbs that jumped off the page.  As I filled up the page in my drafting journal, I started looking for lines that might make a good title.  (That sickly speaker continues to haunt me.)  As I was reading Jeannine Hall Gailey's "[Experiment in Sleep Deprivation]" from her series The Robot Scientist's Daughter, I came across this line:  "They try to tamper and tame her piece by piece."  Voila! 

I drafted "To Tamper and Tame Me Piece by Piece" and my sickly, yet rebellious, speaker had more to say again today.  I'll keep listening to her until she's done.  The draft begins this way.

They try.  They plot behind charts burgeoning
with multi-colored papers.  Etched results
of specimens removed from the rubble

of my body.

As I said, I'm less sure of this one than I've been of others in the past, but I have hope it will become a poem through some serious revision.  It's written as 6 tercets for now, although a lot of the poems from this speaker have been coming out as couplets.  When I look at the larger project, I may have to think about the form in the bigger picture. 

For now, I'm just glad to have some new poems to send out into the world as the September floodgates of new reading periods open.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tsk, Tsk, Tsk, My Draft Will be Late

80º ~ so gorgeous outside I'm doubly angry that I'm not feeling 100% health-wise

Well, no draft today, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  I had to take C. to work this morning as he has some plans with a colleague after work for which they will carpool.  Then, Lou-Lou had to have her two-week blood work done.  (We check blood every two weeks while we slowly decrease her meds, ever mindful of the chance of relapse.)  Once I got home it was after 10 and that meant having to check in with my online classes.  Oh, and I'm still fending off that sinus infection, but feeling like things are moving in the favor of health.

Yes, this is a long list of excuses.  Today, I had to admit defeat, but I'm not deterred.  The first thing on my list for tomorrow morning is "draft a poem."  Then, I get to organize my September submissions.  Woo hoo!  Look out editors, here I come.

I'll also spend the weekend putting the finishing touches on our first event for the Big Rock Reading Series.  I'm fortunate to have the support of folks at PTC, so I'm able to launch this series on campus.  Tuesday night is the big night.  I am super excited about this, but I forget every semester how many tiny details there are to nail down.  We are doing three events per semester.  Amy I crazy?  Time will tell.

Finally, go read what Laura Davis, editor of Weave magazine has to add to the poetry community discussion.  (Read my rant here.)  My favorite new thing from Laura's post:

4. BRING your non-writer friends to the next lit event.

This is a big one. Next time you head to a reading, bring along you BFF from college or that friend from work you've been meaning to hang out with. You never know how people will be affected by a reading. This will help open the poetry doors to a wider audience and strengthen the community.

If you live in Central Arkansas, I hope you'll come out Tuesday night to hear Nickole Brown and Dave Jauss read for the Big Rock Reading Series.  And, I hope that you'll bring a non-writer friend along!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Practicing What I Preach

63º ~ still beautiful, but darn it, those 90s are coming back, boooooo

So, yesterday, I got up in the pulpit a bit.  To back up those words, here's a picture of the four books I purchased in July/August.

I Stand Here Shredding Documents    Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Finishing Line Press, 2011
The End of the Folded Map   Matthew Nienow, Codhill Press, 2011
Fat Girl   Jessie Carty, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011
Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair   Sarah J. Sloat, dancing girl press, 2011

Yep, these are all chapbooks.  That's just pure coincidence.  I buy large and small, heck, I even buy broadsides when I get the chance.  And while I've fallen down a bit on my "What I'm Reading Posts," rest assured that I talk up the poets I like here and yonder on the campus.  If a book doesn't match my taste I simply don't write or talk about it because there is enough ill-will in the world and I do not choose to be a professional critic writing professional book reviews.

Of the four, I've read Nienow's already.  LOVED IT!  Wonderful poems of landscape in the 21st century and comments on the human condition.  I look forward to sitting down with the other three soon.

**Remember, if you buy the book directly from the publisher, they get a much better profit margin than if you buy from Amazon.  If you really want to buy from an online bookstore, try Better World Books, where much of the profit goes to aiding literacy efforts here and abroad and you can purchase carbon offsets for your shipping for a nickel.  (BWB doesn't always carry books from the smaller publishers.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Buy or Borrow a Book of Poetry Today: Not a Post on the BlazeVox Kerfluffle

57º ~ still dark out so hard to report conditions, the casters of fore have all fat suns in the next seven days, no rain, no clouds, no storms, and no highs above 85º, uhm, wow!

I'm up earlier than normal, unable to sleep for all of the tasks to be done.  These are good tasks that I'm excited about for the most part.  I just can't seem to get my brain to turn off and quit tasking and trouble-shooting for a few hours so I can sleep.

In matters of poetry, I've been thinking a lot about the fallout from the BlazeVox kerfluffle.  Read all about it here.  I'm not interested in rehashing what happened or in any pointing of fingers and raising of voices.  What I am interested in is poetry.

First, everybody just calm down.  Poetry has been around, according the brilliant Lucille Clifton, since the first human being walked out of a cave, looked at a sunrise/sunset, and said, 'ahhhhhhhh.'  It's not going anywhere.  It's part of the human condition.  How we get our words out to our audiences will change, of course; it has to as technology and communities change.  There is nothing devastating in that change.

Second, who in their right mind thinks that poetry is going to earn anyone besides a few Billy Collins and Rita Doves anything substantial in terms of monetary profit.  Look at the long history of publishing since the invention of the press, and you will find a long history of authors self-publishing or paying in some way to get their books to market, whether that payment be in cash exchange or favors.  I, for one, am not doing this for the money, although I hope to break even and usually do so every year in terms of strict dollars and cents.  I do this thing, this poetry making, because I have something that needs to be said and poetry works for me.  If you are jealous of the money-making fiction writers, go write a best-selling novel.  I've heard it's not as easy as you might think and many prose writers struggle to break even as well.

Third, (yes, I'm listing my points in exactly the way I tell my students not to; it's early, cut me some slack), third, as long as any publishing entity is upfront about their methods, then I'm cool with that.  Let the interested parties work out the details with their eyes open.  And here is my closest contact with the BlazeVox kerfluffle.  It seems to me that information wasn't communicated at the right time and then everyone lost their minds.  I'm glad it seems to be settling down, maybe.

Fourth, as I said on Facebook, if you are a poet and you would like people to buy your book, please ask yourself this: how many copies of contemporary books of poetry have you purchased lately?  If you don't have a lot of loose change, how many copies have you checked out from your public or school library (you can inter-library loan almost anything these days)?  By doing both of these things, you help insure the continuation of your art form AND YOUR AUDIENCE.  By not doing them, you contribute to its diminishment, although it will never disappear forever.

Fourth and a half, as I said on Facebook, if you are a poet and you aren't actively working to get poetry off the floor of academia and into the hands of regular readers, then you aren't growing the community.  Sure, for some of the most experimental work, this isn't a sure thing, but how do you know until you've tried.  Have you asked your local art space if they will let you display books?  Have you requested a table at your local farmer's market and sold poetry?  Have you created a broadside of one of your poems and stapled it to telephone poles around town?  Have you hosted a poetry event during April or some other time of the year?  Have you read for free just because you love it?  After over a decade of teaching, I know this much for sure: if you bring your passion to the audience, some of it will rub off on somebody.  (I've created English majors out of former business majors this way, god help them!)

Finally, do not be too quick to dismiss the audience of people who are not "professional" poets.  At one reading I did several years ago, there was a couple in the audience in their early 60s.  They weren't poets, writers, or professors.  They showed up because the reading (which was held on a rural university campus) was advertised in their tiny local newspaper.  My poems resonated with the man's own experiences on the land.  As I read, I saw how engaged he was; I watched his head shake in acknowledgment that, yes, this is a way he sees the world, too.  They bought a book.  Also, even more magical, there was a rural route school bus driver in the small crowd.  He was shy about approaching me and waited until almost everyone else had gone.  When he did, he pulled out his pocket journal filled with his own poems.  There was a time this might have sent me shrinking backwards.  Instead, I talked with him for five or ten minutes about the joy of writing poetry and encouraged him to keep writing.  Then, he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his other pocket.  On it was a child's poem with marker decorations.  One of the little girls on his bus loves poetry and they talk about what they've written during the long ride to the consolidated school.  I almost cried.  The man didn't have enough cash to pay the full price for my book.  I sold it to him for $8 instead of $14.  Best, $1 profit I ever made. 

I do not make money from my art.  I try to help my press make as much money as possible, since they are the vehicle for my words making it to my audience.  To that end, I give the press a small donation every year (they are a non-profit and grants are harder to come by than ever).  I work hard at marketing my book and I encourage folks to buy directly from the press or the distributor so that more money will go into the publisher's pocket.  I work hard at promoting poetry in as many ways as possible in the hopes the audience will grow and grow and grow.  I do that because I believe that poetry (and all art, really) has the power to make us better human beings, to help us come to terms with our lives, and to help us come together as a global community, which is really the only hope this planet has, in the end.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Children's Books Needed

58º ~ cool breezes, all the windows open, A/C shut down!

Ok, I know that the fans of the Kangaroo are also fans of helping children in need, so here's one way to do that.

Erin Dionne, author of Notes from an Accidental Band Geek has a great project that needs new or gently used children's books (picture, easy readers, & chapter books).  Read all about the amazing gift her family made to the children and families of Rhode Island in the name of Dionne's grandmother.  I'm stunned.

The books will be used during supervised visits conducted by the Dept. of Children/Families of RI in a home that Dionne's family purchased and donated to be used in conjunction with the Providence Children's Museum, which also hosts supervised visits.


And what a great reason to go visit my local independent bookstore!

Monday, September 5, 2011

We Interrupt This Labor Day Sloth

67º ~ the Weather Channel website says it best

You may remember the day I posted a clip from the same website that proclaimed temperatures at 114º.  This is the opposite of that.  This is perfection.

I've had to take the weekend off as I'm fighting back a head cold that wants to be a sinus infection when it grows up.  Right now, I'm winning the battle.  Thank god for Labor Day with the extra day of rest. 

I'll be back at it soon.  In the meantime, there's been more interest in my fairy tale poems.  Cynthia Reeser of Prick of the Spindle interviewed me and the results are up on the blog Plumb.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Draft Process: Exhaustion Induced Poem

79º ~ one more day of upper 90s with heat indexes near or over 100º and then, and then, I can't quite believe my eyes, the forecast calls for highs in the 80s and on Tuesday I see a 77º, oh sweet relief from the heat, please be true

I offer only a brief draft process today for two reason.  1) This week did me in, so it's just a miracle that I was here at the desk today and I drafted what looks like a poem.  2) I'm using the same process I've been using for two weeks, so very little new to report.

Today's draft resulted from the same word gathering & title finding that I've describe for the past two weeks.  Today, I used Matthew Nienow's wonderful chapbook The End of the Folded Map, which I've read three times now.  The gift of the chapbook, so short a read, so easy to re-read and re-read and zero in on the poems.  I suppose I should approach full-length collections the same way, but I'm more easily daunted there.

I liked gathering the words from poems I've read a few times recently.  I didn't get caught up in Nienow's voice or in the intricacies of the poems.  I zoomed in and grabbed the strong nouns and verb.  Looking for a title, I went back and looked at the lines I'd underlined on previous reads.  I came up with two possibilities: "the rough question of her tongue" from "Lupa" and "the wine shows a blood's sheen." 


I went with the latter and now have "The Wine Shows a Bloody Sheen" drafted out.  I'm still stuck on this speaker who is hospitalized for some illness that could be both a mental illness and a physical one.  In any case, she sees the world through an unusual lens.  The poem begins:

Above this metal bed, there is a window.
I crane my neck for a view of the boxed sky.

It's is written in couplets, of which there are twelve, all with lines about this long.  I was definitely feeling the influence of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and the Rest Cure as I wrote today, although I tried to not be too literal about the reference.  I haven't taught the story in several years, but I've taught it so many semesters, that I have it nearly memorized. 

Oh, there are geese and wolves in the poem.

In re-reading the "sick bed" poems I've been writing, I've noticed something interesting.  There's very little weather or Midwest landscape in them.  Hmmmmmmmmm.  Has that obsession gone to ground?  Time will tell.