Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Random Flights of Monkey Mind

55º ~ oh dear weather gods & goddesses, they say it might reach 71º today (with rain for good measure), the last day of January? 

I am suffering from great fits of monkey mind today and wish I had some cohesive post to offer up to the loyal readers of the kangaroo.  (See, now I've got a monkey and a kangaroo...there's a lot of hopping and screeching going on in there.)

Forester Kangaroos, click for link

Red Howler Monkey, click for link
I knew this shift to teaching on MWF was going to be hard on my poetry mind, and that is bearing out.  So far, Thursdays have been okay for drafting and spending dedicated time in with my "butt-in-chair" for poetry, but Tuesdays are more of a struggle.  I'm in the thick of things with students, the journal I edit on campus, and the reading series I run.  All of these things make me happy and fulfilled, so I'm not complaining, just observing.  That's all you can really do with monkey mind.  Observe and try to re-center, re-focus.  (No, I don't meditate regularly, but I've been to a few classes, so I know the lingo.)

Flitting around in my self-talk is the fact that yesterday while browsing the blogs, I read, out of the corner of my eye, so to speak, a blogger who stated that he was going to try to focus more on the poetry world and less on himself because readers were sick of bloggers talking about themselves.  Uhm, yikes!  That's what I do, talk about my own process, my own successes and failures.  Oh no!  Readers are sick of me!  I should give more and take less! 

What I am reminded of in times like this is the need to be gentle with myself.  To accept that every one of us has a different process, different interests, and a different time line.  Here I am.  This is me, imperfect, but whole.

On a happy note, I'm in the midst of reading Blood Dazzler and eagerly looking forward to Patricia Smith's reading at the University of Arkansas Little Rock next week.

On another happy note, my creative writing students are stunning me with their raw literary energies. I've just read over their first two weeks of free-writes & exercise prompt responses.  Holy buckets!  I cannot wait to read their workshop pieces.  Wahoo!  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reader, I am Resolved

44º ~ a drop in the temps last night reminded us it is winter, but a return to warmer climes and bright sun today fool us again

Yesterday, I spent several intense hours with my weather manuscript, the title of which is now in shortened form: Such Weather as This.  Here is a brief outline of those hours.

~ take current manuscript out of binder and toss on the futon
~ print any fairy tale poems I might consider including & toss on the futon
~ check on any random poems that don't fit the sickly speaker series that have not been included in the weather book previously, print a couple & toss on the futon
~ mix well (this was harder than I thought as papers like to stick together, esp. those that have been grouped in a binder for six months)
~ reform (hah! re-form?) poems into stacks of like-minded work
~ remember that all of the folks who have seen the manuscript have advocated a non-linear approach to themes and arcs, go for some "random" element to order
~ pause to take care of some laundry
~ get out the card table and begin re-grouping the poems, giving no thought to previous order (this was last part was easier than I thought, as I was able to ignore the page numbers already printed on certain poems more than I thought I would be able to)
~ become greatly frustrated with self for wanting to tell a linear story
~ weave in a few fairy tale poems but keep noticing how different they are in texture and tone, being that they are solidly narrative and the rest of the book is lyric
~ finally gather up the new order
~ pause to return to the laundry
~ return to desk and do a "save as" on the last version of the mss., creating the next version and inputting the results of my manual labor
~ copy, cut, & paste; copy, cut, & paste; repeat, repeat, repeat, & etc.
~ notice again how the fairy tale poems don't fit, except one -- "Midwest Nursery Tales," which is the most lyric of them all and the least reliant on the "Once upon a time" opening
~ abandon new version of file and go back to the one before
~ make toast with butter & peanut butter because that's how I like it and "gluttony" is my middle name
~ remove three poems that didn't make the cut during the "new order"
~ add "Midwest Nursery Tales"
~ move three existing poems around given what was learned from the "new order"
~ revise table of contents (something I always do by hand b/c it helps me see the order of the poems in the big picture)
~ print out new version of the version before the big shuffle and call it a day
~ reward self by going to neighborhood frou-frou salad & pizza restaurant & get a "Santa Fe" with extra dressing

19th c. weather balloon, click for link
And now, Reader, I am resolved.  I will send out this manuscript for six more months to finish out the academic year of reading periods & contests.  If there are no offers for publication after that, then these poems are going in the drawer for a bit.  After all, the manuscript is in its third year of circulation, and while I have changed the order and the title and shifted a few poems here and there, it is largely the same book.  It is hard to justify the time and expense of sending it out over and over to places that have already seen it.  Yes, I've made it to the semi-finalist and finalist phase a few times, but at some point, I feel I need to give myself completely to the next project (the sickly speaker).  Also, I do know that many contests change readers each year, but I'm guessing that the overall aesthetic remains about the same. 

So, today, I will prepare my packets for five publishers and send this chunk of poems out into the weather once again.  Hopeful & pragmatic at the same time.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Draft Process: The Radiant Shimmer of Supplication

46º ~ rainy, cold, & gray, a repeat of yesterday, much fog this morning

Getting into the swing of my new routine at school means shifting my drafting day to Thursday, and I confess, I had a bit of a rocky start today.  I tried and failed to call up the voice of the sickly speaker last night and earlier this morning, although I did remind myself that this was going to be a drafting day.  I did manage to figure out what the speaker might be thinking about at this point in her treatment, so I had a wee grip on something as I started.

I decided to read through all of the sickly speaker poems and see what might shake loose.  I did know that the speaker was itching to write a letter to her mentor (the Dear Madame letters that appear once or twice a month in the series), and I knew that I wanted to continue to make clear the distinction between the mentor and the other major woman in the speaker's life, "the woman [she] called mother by mistake." 

After I'd read a handful of the existing poems and checked to see when the last letter poem was written, the first few lines came to me.  They survived into the actual draft.  Here they are.

Dear Madame--

Have you heard from her,
the woman I called mother by mistake?

She visits me at night, I swear.

The rest of the draft explores the speaker's absolute surety that this woman has been visiting outside her window at night, but as always, they are unable to communicate.  The speaker worries that this woman will somehow see her as radically changed by her blood transfusion and wants her to know she remains connected to her.  Also, the speaker believes that her mentor can somehow complete the missing link between the two and she begs her mentor to seek out this other woman and explain.

We've had a lot of wet and cold weather here lately and that seeps into the poem in the form of hoarfrost on the window.  Sadly, it hasn't been cold enough for hoarfrost to form here.  Instead, here's a picture of the beauty I imagined for the speaker (remember, she only has a tiny window above her bed and no other connection to the natural word).

from Science Photo Library, click for link
I said above that it was a rocky day of drafting.  After I had those first few lines, I flitted back and forth between a word bank from Quan Barry's work and the draft.  Somehow the words from the word bank did not slip easily into the draft as they have done in the past.  I suppose this is a good thing, as it means I'm learning the speaker's voice more clearly; however, I still held at the forefront my desire to use evocative language, charged with energy.  The draft also took a wrong turn about 2/3 of the way through, and I spent a good while figuring that out and righting the forward progress, so to speak. 

I'm not on solid ground with this one, but I'm thrilled to have been able to set aside the uproar of other duties for this little bit of time and to have crafted something new. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where I'll be at AWP: 3 Off-site Readings

32º ~ no complaints for today, good sun, highs around 60º, rain to return tomorrow

Adanna Literary Journal: Off-Site Reading

Saturday, March 3, from 7:00 P.M. to 8:15 P.M.,
in the Hilton Chicago Hotel (the conference's "headquarter" hotel),
Private Dining Room 1. Despite the rather distinct name of this dining room,
our reading is public.

Readers Include:
Jennifer Arin (Reading Coordinator)
Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Debra Bruce
Sarah Busse
Maryanne Hannan
Ann Hostetler
Kathleen Kirk
Jacqueline Kolosov-Wenthe
Sandy Longhorn
Julie Moore
Christine Redman-Waldeyer (Founder, Editor)
Helen Ruggieri
Christine Stewart-Nunez
Ingrid Wendt
Laura Whalen

Sunday, January 22, 2012


45º ~ thick fog persists even this far into the morning, gray gray gray gray gray all around

Today I offer a bit of this and that.

Many thanks to Adam Tavel and Eric Anderson, poetry editors at Conte for including my poem "Prophecy" in the latest issue (7.2).  It's a wonderful, compact issue full of both humor and foreboding.  A quick note on the poem must include a hat tip to Luke Johnson.  I drafted this poem based on a word bank collected from Luke's book After the Ark, which I responded to here


Another set of thanks to the editors of Crab Creek Review and Weave.  Both journals recently sent me happy emails to kick-start 2012 in the right frame of mind.  I'm thrilled to have finally made it into these journals after several rejections in the past few years.  Revise & try, try again, is my ever-faithful motto.


Huge thanks to you all, dear readers, for voting on the title for manuscript #2.  I realized that What Blooms in the Marrow is probably more apt for a title to my sickly speaker poems, although it does come from a line in "It Matters, the Kind of Wound," which is in mss #2.  The poem opens with an image of "minor cuts" and how that blood "renews itself-- / tiny blooms in the marrow."  There are two or three poems in mss #2 that point to the poems in the sickly speaker series but don't fit with the series as they feature completely different voices/speakers. 


I've been thinking about tinkering with mss. #2 and adding the best of the fairy tale poems to it, since they are grounded in the Midwest and the sickly speaker is not.  Big project.  Gathering strength.


February is going to be a BIG MONTH for poetry in central Arkansas.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Draft Process: A Dark and Gelatinous Ruin

29º ~ the sun rising and burning off a thin cloud layer, predictions of upper 50s, maybe 60 for the next few days, a small breeze to the south, even smaller to the west,  my robin has been replaced by the cardinal, who does not hurl himself at the window, thank the stars

A brief interjection before the process notes: many, many huge thanks to Traci Brimhall for mentioning the Kangaroo in one of her posts, "A Little Delirium," at Her Circle.  I was only sorry that I didn't have a draft note up a few days ago for anyone who visited.  My patterns have been upended by the beginning of the semester, and I have a new teaching schedule this time around.  I'll be teaching on campus MWF (along with my online sections) and am now scheduling my drafting day for Thursday.  For any new readers, I schedule BIC time (butt in chair time) four times a week during the academic year, but some of that time is given over to other poetry business and reading.  My goal is to draft one new poem per week when I am teaching. 

I'm happy to say that the sickly speaker (my current project, a series of poems whose speaker is a woman with a difficult to diagnose/treat illness, who is hospitalized) did not let me down.  Last night before bed, I did my self-reminder about using this morning to draft.  Sure enough, an hour after laying down, the sickly speaker spoke up.  I fumbled for my journal (someday, I will remember to move it from the desk to the bed before I lay down) and scratched out what she had to say.  This time it was about how she is learning to predict her fevers based on a certain type of headache that appears first.  In other words, she is learning the course of her disease. 

The draft today begins much as it began last night:

Before the fever replenishes and returns,
the pain advances on the hollow spaces
behind each eye. 

For the time being, the poem is drafted in four stanzas of five lines each.  This is very uncomfortable for me, as I love the couplet and the tercet.  However, after the first stanza appeared as one unit and then the next stanza developed, quite naturally, as five lines again, I tried to listen to the poem and not to my comfort zone.  Time will tell.

As the poem developed, the whitecoats (what the speaker calls the doctors) inserted themselves as a disapproving force.  Here, I should retrace my steps and say that before I turned to drafting the poem, I gathered words from Quan Barry's Asylum.  One of the things that Traci says in her blog post, linked above, is that she was advised to "revise toward the strange," and then she includes Yeats saying that in the later years he revised only "in the interests of a more passionate syntax."  Those two things were percolating in my brain and I thought they were good advice for initial drafting as well.  Also, one of the things I love about Barry's work is the "passionate syntax" and "the strange" combinations of images that work so well for her.  So, I wanted to borrow some of her energy by making a wordbank.  I gathered words until I came upon the word "alms."  Instantly, in my head, I heard the rhyme with "balm," something my speaker craves.  That worked its way into the second stanza, with the speaker trying to prove herself worthy in the scathing eyes of the whitecoats. 

Some bee balm for my sickly speaker (click for link)
When I reached what felt like the end of the draft, I went searching for the title.  For any new readers, when I began writing this series back in August, I started using bits of lines from Lucie Brock-Broido for my titles.  I don't always use the bits word-for-word, but often as a jumping off point for the title.  Today's title comes from Barry's poem "lullaby" (one of my all-time favorites from Asylum).  The line that leaped out at me is "...your kisses dark and gelatinous.  They ruin things."  I used the word "jelled" in the poem, so "gelatinous" fit really well.  I tweaked the line to "A Dark and Gelatinous Ruin."  I'll let things rest for the time being and see what rises.


And now to turn my attention to that unwieldy NEA application!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Where I'll Be at AWP: F114 Redefining Lyric

62º ~ a fierce wind, gray skies, heating up to 70º today, chance of storms to follow

When one of the original participants had to step aside due to a timing conflict, I was lucky enough to be asked to join Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum's wonderful panel for AWP.  I'm humbled by the company and thrilled to be among such wonderful poets. 

F114. Redefining Lyric: Five Poets Featured on Read Their Work
(Robert Wrigley, Nicole Cooley, Tim Seibles, Daniel Khalastchi, Sandy Longhorn)
Waldorf, Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor
Lyricism, most commonly associated with poetry, is applied to nearly every genre of narrative writing: plays, essays, music, stories, film, nonfiction, and novels. But what happens when it works the other way around and narrative elements of these forms are applied to lyric poetry? Join for a celebration of its first five years with a reading by five of its award-winning and emerging poets whose work explores this question, redefining lyricism and poetry itself along the way.

 *If you aren't a subscriber to Poem of the Week, check it out ASAP.  Pure awesomeness.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Help! Should I Change the Title of Manuscript 2?

46º ~ beautiful, beautiful sun, strong breeze trying to become a wind, forced to re-drape the window due to the return of the robin (aka, my personal Angry Bird)

This morning, another rejection for manuscript #2 arrived, so, based on much advice last month, I've been sitting with the book and trying to decide how I can improve it. 

I've just spent the last hour re-reading the book.  I'm at a loss for re-ordering the poems AGAIN.  If there is some magic key that will unlock the "right" way to do this, I don't have it.  Grrrrrrr....

One suggestion from all of the great advice was that I might have been trying to do too much with the title.  It has been "In a World Made of Such Weather as This."  Several people cautioned against using such a long title, but I was certain that was IT.  Now, I'm less certain.  So, in my re-reading for poem order, I also collected some new phrases that might work as a title.  The interesting part of this exercise was reflecting on the phrases and seeing if they covered the book as a whole.

With these phrases, I created a poll (see right column at top), and I would LOVE to know what you all think, Dear Readers.  Please vote!  The poll will be open until noon on 1/22/12.  (I'm getting the book ready for some February deadlines.)

To vote, you might want to know more about the book.  Here are some thoughts.

1.  It remains rooted in the Midwest, the landscape and the people.
2.  It explores death through elegies for that landscape and those people.
3.  There are a lot of birds in the book.
4.  There is a lot about the wind in the book (see #1).
5.  There are some made-up saints and their penitents.
6.  A glacial erratic is a large rock moved by a glacier, so that the Midwest is dotted with these looming giants that don't belong geologically, but can't be moved (i.e. we are a stubborn people).
7.  There are many poems about the body and mortality.
8.  There is a lot of grass in the book, and not that 'hippie-hay' kind of grass.  Prairie grass, my friends.

Okay, please vote.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Where I'll be at AWP: Launch of A Face to Meet the Faces

58º ~ welcome back oh brilliant sun and warmer temps

Here's just one of the events I'll be attending at AWP in Chicago!

Book Release Party
Thursday March 1st
6-7:30 pm
The Jazz Showcase
806 S. Plymouth Ct.
(4 blocks from the Chicago Hilton)

Featuring readings by

Tara Betts
Eduardo C. Corral
Nina Corwin
Matthew Guenette
Quraysh Ali Lansana
Marty McConnell
Tomás Q. Morín
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Patricia Smith
Brian Turner

Friday, January 13, 2012

Winner: Best Spam Ever

30º ~ the bright sun has fought over the overcast shroud

Best piece of spam I've ever received as a comment on this blog:

"I think kangaroo costumes are best for carnival festival..."

I think so too! :)

Draft Process: That Which Blooms Beyond Where it is Planted

26º ~ hazy, whitish overcast sky, a very weak sun after a bright shot of it to start the morning, central Arkansas is bundled up against the cold, all hats and gloves that last for years from such infrequent use, a male cardinal just lit on the tree, his black mask stark against red feathers

She has done it again, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  The sickly speaker spoke up this morning to the point that I had to interrupt my normal routine and grab my pen and journal.  I confess that I began thinking of drafting a poem within a few minutes of waking, needing to remind myself that this was the time I had carved out of the week to put my butt in the chair.  (It's also worth noting that I was in a foul mood for much of the day yesterday and it slowly dawned on me as to why: after several weeks of being on my own time and being able to put my BIC each day, I am now on school time and I didn't balance myself well enough Monday - Thursday.  A lesson I often need to repeat in order to remember.)

In any case, what bubbled to the surface this morning was a continuation of recent drafts, the speaker's state of mind and body post-transfusion.  I continue to ponder the questions listed in the last few process notes, and here is what she had to say as I was trying to put on my socks (for heaven's sake, it's cold, how rude a time to interrupt!).

This new blood has taken root,
my donor replete and replicate.
I felt it first as a flutter in the womb

The poem goes on, in seven tercets, to explore the way this surge of health has the speaker sinking back into her body, from which she has become a bit dissociative.  The whitecoats have a huge role in the poem and are kind of creepy, which I like.  The poem also deals with the speaker feeling as if she is a host to a parasite in her acceptance of this donor blood.

As I read the draft again, one interesting parallel is that if the poem is read on its own, outside the sequence, it could easily be read as an unwanted pregnancy or at least a speaker who isn't happy about what a pregnancy will do to her body or maybe a speaker who has had trouble becoming pregnant and has had to rely on doctors and such.  Still, I know in my heart that the speaker MUST feel those donor cells in her womb.  I want there to be this notion of a new life because a transfusion (or transplant for that matter) does mean the body being regenerated by another body, a marking of something new.

As for a title, I still had Quan Barry's books on the desk from yesterday's post and picked up Asylum after my own struggle for a title went nowhere.  Flipping through, I found this line from part IX. NAPALM of "child of the enemy," "Like all effective incendiaries / I won't only bloom where I'm planted."  (So, yeah, I bow down to Barry's prowess!)  That idea of blooming went right along with my first line and the idea of those donor cells replicating, so I tweaked it to: That Which Blooms Beyond Where it is Planted.

Here is a picture of a pot of hyacinths that a friend surprised me with on my birthday.  I am transfixed by how the weight of the bloom bends the stalks.  They definitely seem intent on blooming somewhere other than where they were planted!

**I do know that a blood transfusion only supplies a healthy dose of cells and that they don't replicate (that would be a bone marrow transplant), but I'm working with how the speaker's mind is thinking of things.  Perhaps this is fodder for further exploration.  Yes, I'm now thinking that she definitely needs to have had a marrow transplant and I need to learn more about that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What I'm Reading: Water Puppets by Quan Barry

36º ~ 2 p.m. and just a nudge above freezing, low tonight = 20º, we are lucky that it is only for one night and the warmth returns soon, a brisk wind = wind chills, not something we deal with often here

A decade ago, I was browsing the poetry shelves at The Tattered Cover in Denver, CO, one of the best independent bookstores in the country, when I came across Quan Barry's first book Asylum.  It had a fantastic cover and had won the 2000 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, one of the top contests on my list.  I added it to the stack of books growing on the floor at my feet and eventually cracked the spine when I'd returned to my apartment in Fayetteville, AR, at the conclusion of the trip.  As I read, I remember being transformed and knowing I had found a new poet to love.  To my delight, the book was actually assigned later in a grad school class. 

In 2004, when Barry's second book came out, again from the University of Pittsburgh Press, I ordered it ASAP.  While I love Controvertibles and see the same shimmering language and agile poet there, I confess to loving Asylum more. 

Last year, Barry's third book, Water Puppets, came out, again from U Pitt Press, this time winning the 2010 Donal Hall Prize in Poetry.  I have been gradually reading it over the last month or so and am so happy to say that the book lives up to its predecessors. 

If you haven't read Barry's work, what you need to know up front is that these are political poems while also being deeply personal in the sense that they struggle with what it means to be a "person" in this chaotic, war-fraught 21st century world.  The tenor of the poems reminds me of that classic, "The Colonel" by Carolyn Forche.  While the poems are not necessarily autobiographical, they do reflect Barry's history or having been born in Saigon and then being raised in Massachusetts.  The Vietnam War permeates the pages, but these poems are not historical relics.  Barry also touches on popular culture, often referencing popular films and current cultural figures.  Of course, there are references to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the way those poems echo the poems that center around Vietnam just blow me away.  I have to read these books slowly, as the poems will not allow me to look away from the tragedy of war.  That may be Barry's greatest gift, her ability to take on tragedy and transform it into something with a "terrible beauty" (a la Yeats). 

As to the craft in these poems, I am swept away by Barry's language, which dances from common diction to elevated academic phrases, and by the way the poems move on the page.  There are poems here that are composed of short lines and only a handful of stanzas, and then there are poems with long, Whitmanesque lines that run for several pages, and there are also prose poems, that form that always makes me wonder (in Barry's case, a positive wonder).

In fact, it is one of those prose poems that gives insight into the title of the book, Water Puppets.  The prose poem is one of several toward the end of the book that are simply titled "poem."  This one begins: 

The stage knee-deep and so blue it looks solid.  Then a pod of dragons surfaces, their golden bodies lithe and playfully skimming the surface, the water beading on their backs.  

This led me to make one of those wonderful discoveries where poetry teaches me about some new thing in this world.  I learned about the long tradition of water puppetry in Vietnam.  (Just google the phrase and check out the videos on YouTube.  Amazing.)  However, the poem isn't simply an attempt to describe a traditional art.  Instead, it moves beyond that and leaves me gasping.  After a description of the puppets and their movements, the speaker says this:

Know that the United States considered using nuclear weapons against these people.  Close your eyes.  Imagine the guilt-free life you might live someday, then remember why you don't deserve it.  Eventually the puppets whirl down into the obscuring blue water.

Being Vietnamese and American, Barry is positioned to expose both sides of the war and its aftermath.  She transforms that experience into an empathy for the global community as it struggles with our current conflicts.  But before I get to that, I want to say something about the craft of the poem I've just quoted.  Look at the first sentence.  We first get 'the stage' juxtaposed against 'knee-deep' and the knowledge that it 'looks solid,' which forces us to realize it is NOT solid.  With that sentence and its sounds, its phrasing, I am hooked.  I am transported and willing to be told something new.  Also, do not underestimate the skill it takes to weave nuclear weapons into a poem about a puppet show and pull it off.

Now, here's a poem that moves to a more global view.  "If only I had been able to form the idea of a substance that was spiritual" begins:

The soul is segmented.
Even in the dark it glows, each thoracic bulb
brilliant, pastel, both primordial & futuristic.
Once I saw a pod of sperm whales sleeping

in the long night of the sea, their bodies
vertical like a forest, tails to the surface,
the massive trove of their heads 
like stopped pendulums trained down straight

toward gravity.  It too was a vision 
of the corporeal rendered faultless.
What else is there to say?  That I should have
loved more?

The poems in this book open up all of the complicated relationships between people, poems that question how we justify violence, not only against each other in a formal war, but also against the flora and the fauna and the planet itself (the cover photo is of either an oil derrick or a natural gas derrick burning off some excess).  The long poem "Meditations" takes us through the justifications for the invasion of Iraq, the release of Nelson Mandela, persecutions in China, back to Vietnam, to Haiti and Afghanistan, and elsewhere while the speaker engages with a group of people clearly having some culture shock.  Another long poem, although with a completely different form, "History," exposes the male gaze / female object relationship and openly discusses how this can't help but effect a woman's sexuality.  And then, there is this very short poem, which I will quote here in its entirety.


I dreamed of this--each night the image of it
Burning on the ocean, Lima's great white cross
With its thousand lights, its truth.  What I prayed for:
Make me a better person, make me forget you.

Now, there's no one I'm praying to forget (although I remember those times in my life vividly); however, that first part of the prayer "Make me a better person" seems to be what the speaker grapples with throughout the book.  It echoes how I felt after reading almost every single poem in the book, and that feeling provided the hope to balance the tragedy exposed in many of the poems. 

Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Water Puppets
Quan Barry
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Please Bear with Me

50º ~ 90% chance of rain today, although not started yet, this marks the fourth day with no sun and I'm about to go crazy...have become a weather wimp

Please bear with me, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.  I have a bit of a cold and this is prep week before classes begin on Saturday (online) and Wednesday-next (on campus), which means I have that slight anxiety that every beginning of the semester brings, but also, with it, a great burst of energy to be back doing the work that I love. I have a great line up of classes and I'm super excited about this semester, although with two trips up north thrown in, I may be a little frazzled (and frozen!) by April. 

Never fear, the poetry posts shall return.  To whet your appetite, I'm planning a reader response of Quan Barry's three books.  She is one of my top 5 contemporary poets.  Okay, now I want to stay home and write that post, which means I better get up off the chair and into the car!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Four Amateur Collages

49º ~ the abnormal highs have taken leave of us and we return to the 40s and 50s, still quite nice for January, heavy gray overcast sky today

Sometimes, when I'm not reading or writing, I make collages.  Here are four recent attempts.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Draft Process: Vessel in Which an Ancient Urge Rises

42º ~ the forecast says the high will reach close to 70º ~ a bit stunning as the first week of the new year ends, good sun but a thin haze, the robin continues to haunt the tree but no longer approaches the window, the world understands this is the bird's territory, keep away

A couple of ideas about the sickly speaker have been tumbling about in the background.

1) continuing to mull over how she feels about her inability to participate fully in her own treatment, the distance between patient and doctor/nurse
2) wondering about her love life
3) wondering about her thoughts post-transfusion

In the meantime, checking in with my own body, I've been "suffering" from my usual bout of winter dry skin and annoying hangnails.  Not a very pleasant topic, but it plays into the poem and I want to be honest, so there you go.

As I was playing with the cats after breakfast, the first few lines of a new poem wormed their way to the surface.  I confess I cut the playtime a bit short to get to my journal.  A few treats and I'm sure the cats will forgive me.  I was thinking about how the speaker might feel about the donor who gave blood for the transfusion (I touched on this in one previous poem) in the days after the procedure.  Suddenly, I knew she would want to taste her own blood...which hints a bit at how some people who self-harm do so to feel anything at all or to override some deeper pain.  I'm not sure the speaker is someone who self-harmed in the past, but I do know that the medical staff would not allow her anything with which she could draw blood, which leaves only her own body.  Combine this with my hangnails and voila.  I knew the speaker would taste her own blood because she had peeled her own cuticles to bleeding.  Then, I had to figure out why she would end up with the hangnails in a controlled medical setting.  So the poem begins:

The furnace here is faulty, heaves a dry heat
past the needle of the thermostat.

My lips are prone to chap.  At night, I peel
my cuticles, gnaw & pull, cannot resist ...

A 19th century furnace for gas lighting, click for link

The poem goes on to explore this connection the speaker now has with her anonymous blood donor which opens the door to a question of intimacy, in particular bodily intimacy.  The speaker continues to be frustrated by a lack of connection with her medical staff and her lack of connection to the outside world. 

Today's draft was a bit different than the others in that it didn't fall instinctively to a close.  I'm not saying that when I draft, each poem arrives neatly in a package, but I'm usually able to work through to what I consider a naturally ending during the session.  This poem flipped and flopped and gasped like a poor fish in the bottom of the boat.  In fact, in the middle of drafting this post, I stopped and tortured the poor thing some more.

Then, there is the title.  I've been slowly making my way through Quan Barry's Water Puppets, which feels much more political to me than her past books, or to be more precise, the political nature of the poems is much more urgent and blatant.  In any case, I first cast about for a title on my own and then began letting my eyes drift across the lines from Barry's book.  Eventually, I saw this line from "lion," "the ancient drive rose up in only one."  As I used an idea of intimacy and the urge to connect in a bodily way in the poem, this struck a chord.  I fiddled a bit and came up with "Vessel in Which an Ancient Urge Rises."  I am not trying to be coy by using "vessel" instead of "body."  The speaker is slowly but surely separating at the mind / body level and because of her disease and the treatments beginning to see her body as a vessel separate from her "self."  This question of identity and the body is age-old and complicated enough in a healthy person, adding disease to the equation muddies the water even more.  And so we swim through.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Draft Process: The Calendar is Turned

40º ~ several chilly days have set in, warmer air promised for tomorrow, my body refuses to let go of the cold this morning even though I sit inches from the heater, the sun is making a valiant effort to defeat a thin cloud cover, there is a crisp wind

I've been thinking about the sickly speaker a lot the last few days and wondering how I might find her ~ recovering or regressing?  The answer: regressing.  The arrival of the answer: an hour after I'd gone to bed, which meant turning on a light and scrambling for the journal to catch her voice.  It turns out that her eyes have been wrapped with gauze again, something that came up in an earlier poem during a spike in a fever.  I have no idea why that tidbit came back, but there it was.  Another mysterious part of the mysterious illness & its treatment.  I scribbled down a handful of lines and fell back asleep.  This morning, I was excited to have a beginning already formed.

In this case, the whitecoats (what the sickly speaker calls doctors but not nurses) have also ordered her arms to be bound and that is a new development.  This proved to be a bit of a problem, since the whole vibe of the poem began as a letter to the speaker's mentor, known only as Dear Madame.  But if her arms are bound, then she couldn't actually be writing, so I had to deal with that as well.  I tried taking the letter form away from the poem and it fell apart.  So, it became a letter dictated in an empty room and the speaker must grapple with the knowledge that this line of communication is closed to her (she receives no visitors). 

The draft begins:

They've wrapped my eyes with gauze
forcing the lids closed against the fevered light.

They've swaddled my arms to my chest,
attached more tubing and more alarms.

What's interesting is that for most of the drafting process, once I got to the computer, there was another stanza at the beginning.  The line I have here as the first is the one that I scribbled out last night, and by taking out the other "first" stanza and condensing it, I was able to create the title, "The Calendar is Turned, the Year Anointed."

Oh, and I was able to use a recent incident in the poem.  About a month ago, a young robin began attacking its own reflection in the window above my computer.  We had to hang a sheet over the outside to "break the reflection" as the website we consulted advised.  On Jan. 2, at 8:58 a.m., the robin returned and began the cycle again.  (Yes, I looked at the clock.)  We were more quick with the sheet this time and the robin cussed us out from another tree while we were scrambling through the branches of its territory.  So, without giving too much away, I was able to use this idea in the poem.  Wahoo!

from Science Photo Library, click for link
On another note, one of the threads that seems to be developing is the speaker's frustration with her lack of agency in her own treatment.  In some cases, this is due to a lack of communication from the whitecoats and in some cases this is due to her own lack of trust in her own mind & body.  Does she want to get well?  I have no idea, but I'm enjoying the ride to discovering the answer.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Making Up with the Old Manuscript

54º ~ sun fighting through overcast skies now and then, keeping the faith, a slight breeze, bright orange-red berries on the bush outside the window

Two weeks ago, you all saw me through the messy mess of the manuscript blues, as I detailed here.  THANK YOU!  After days of eating, napping, & watching Law & Order, and after hearing about my dad's improvements post-surgery, I was feeling more in the mood today to take a look at the book again, with all that wonderful advice simmering beneath the surface.  Oh Happy Day, the book and I made up!  I did take out two poems that I had stuck in there the last go 'round, but other than that, I didn't mess with it.  I actually read it through and remembered why I loved the poems before.  Yay!

Some thoughts, especially for those who left comments and sent emails.

In the past, I have sent the manuscript out to several trusted readers, and they made great suggestions about re-ordering things (you know who you are and you know that I am deeply grateful!).  The book went through a major re-ordering for the 2010 - 2011 season of submissions.  That's when it got great responses after an initial tepid year. 

In the late summer of 2011, I tinkered with the ordering again and began sending out what I call version 7 in August of 2011.  What strikes me about this is that I've only heard back from three of the 15 publishers to whom it was submitted (yes, I'm submitting more widely this year, as I'm either terrible at market research or this book is not a niche fit).  So, my frustration and whining from two weeks ago may have been a bit, ahem, premature to say the least.  One should at least give the folks some time before leaping to the conclusion that the book sucks, right?  Impatience has been one of my personal gremlins from day one...just ask my mom!  In any case, I'm laughing at myself a bit for throwing my fit in December. 

Switching tracks, one of the suggestions that came up was changing the title.  As some of you know, I've been firmly attached to In a World Made of Such Weather as This for quite some time.  Several knowledgeable folks have suggested tightening it or changing it.  Today, I'm fooling around with Worlds Made of Such Weather as This, which only lops off two syllables, but it's a start.  I do worry that the same readers might get the book this year who read it last year under the same title and chuck it aside b/c they rejected it last year.  This would mean, they wouldn't see the re-ordering and the addition of a few new poems and the subtraction of a few older ones.  (I know the odds of this may be a bit low, but it's still something that worries me.)

In the end, I'm feeling much better about the book and so, so grateful to have such a wonderful support system out there to prop me up when I start to falter.  You all are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.  I send you endless thanks and a photo of a channel along the Arkansas River.  Rivers are the epitome of revision and patience, and they make me happy in all their various forms.