Saturday, February 25, 2012

When Something's Gotta Give...

59º ~ absolutely gorgeous weather here these days, filled with lovely sun and a few breezes, a time to file away and remember in the heat of summer

I am stunned by the time that has gone by since my last post. This time, when something had to give, it was the blog and the internet.  Knowing that AWP is only a few days away, I know I won't be able to get back to my routine until the second week of March.  As many of you know, I'm a creature of habit and being outside of my routine is a challenge.  Still, it is good to be challenged now and then.

My apologies to fellow bloggers who have shared good news and good posts that I have missed along the way. 

Dear Readers, I hope you'll still be there in two weeks when I return to the Kangaroo.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Celebrating the Life of Mabel Longhorn: 1921 - 2012

Early this morning, my grandma, Mabel Longhorn, passed away.  She was 90 years old and, until this past November, she lived on the farm where she had spent the majority of her married life, even after my grandfather died several years ago.  One of my uncles lived there with her, and while others farmed the land she was able to watch the passing seasons in the fields around the house and keep track of the cardinals (her favorite bird), robins, blue jays, bluebirds, hummingbirds, orioles, and more from the big bay window in her living room.

She loved her family, her dogs and cats, her garden, the Chicago Cubs, and the Minnesota Twins, and she made the best cinnamon rolls in the world.  In the summers when my sisters and I would visit the farm, we all took a break after lunch to watch her "stories" and take a nap.  Grandma often kidded me that I ate one meal a day when I was visiting her; it started at breakfast and ended with a snack before bed.  She was worried that I might develop "kitchen elbow" from opening and closing the door on the refrigerator.  What can I say?  There was always a cookie jar full of candy on the counter and good eats in the fridge.

While the farm was mostly about row crops, when I was young, Grandma and Grandpa often raised two or three cows to butcher for the family.  I learned early about the cycle of life and where my food came from.  Grandma named the cows and we would help feed them when we visited.  Then, later in the year, when we ate, Grandma would joke about our "Sweetie burgers," with Sweetie having been one of the cows we'd petted that had been sent to slaughter.  This may sound harsh to those not used to farming, but it was natural to us, and I'm thankful for having learned those lessons.  

My grandpa, Bud, worked the farm and a job, second shift as an electrician at the Sara Lee plant in town.  Because of the plant, their small town had a Sara Lee discount store, and I remember countless holidays, birthdays, and vacations spent eating slices of Sara Lee cake or pumpkin pie, sprawled out on the floors with my countless cousins.  One Christmas, among that brood and with the advent of the VCR, I watched It's a Wonderful Life for the first time; already known as a "cry baby," I wept openly when the town rallied around George and the money to save the Savings & Loan came pouring in.

Times weren't always easy for my grandparents, but there was love and laughter, and in the summer we had fresh sweet corn and whatever strawberries we could wrestle away from the red-winged blackbirds in the garden.

Rest in peace, Grandma.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Poems Available Online & Other Good News

49º ~ a cold rain has been drizzling down all day with frequent outbursts of downpours, all is gray and sloppy

I cannot promise a new draft tomorrow, but I will try and see what happens.  I'll be doing full-time reading series host duties starting at 10:30 tomorrow morning through the end of the day. The balancing game is getting precarious, friends and fans of the Kangaroo.

To tide you over, here is a link to two poems recently published in The Collagist, Issue Thirty-One.  This issue is packed full of amazing work, and I'm so happy to be among such good company. I love the editors over at The Collagist for their dedication to publishing great prose and poetry and doing it well.  They also may win the quickest turn-around time from acceptance to appearance.  The poems "Autobiography as Cartography" and "Autobiography as Cartography II" (clever multi-use of one title!  hah!) were both written last summer.  One of the benefits of recording my draft notes on the blog has been the ability to go back and see where the poems began.  Both of these went through some fairly extensive revision after the initial process, and both were read by one of my trusted friends during that revision (thank you, Friend!).  Here's the link to the draft process for the first poem, and oh, bummer, I didn't record the notes for the second one.  Drat!


While that acceptance turned to publication quite quickly, I've also had some recent acceptances from print journals that will take a bit longer to see the light of day.  I've already thanked those editors in a previous post, but I have a new thank you to add today.  I came home to find an acceptance letter in the mail, yep, in the mail, Old School.  I'm thrilled to have a poem coming out in an upcoming issue of Big Muddy because it is "A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley," a place near and dear to my heart.  The journal comes out of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, MO.  Hat tip to the Scrapper Poet, Karen J. Weyant for alerting me to this publication.

Yay for acceptances to offset the swarm of recent rejections, and yay for poetry friends far and near.  Yay for days of longer light, even when the skies are clouded over.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thursday Night: Stacey Lynn Brown @ the Big Rock Reading Series

40º ~ we survived the coldest weekend of the winter, with lows around 18º and then a snow-sleet mix yesterday, today warming back to normal (50s) but still gray

Dear Reader, I'm holding on to the reins with a firm grip, but poetry time is getting squeezed once again.  This is to be expected as we are now a fourth of the way through the semester, and the first event in the Big Rock Reading Series is this week!

This morning, I spent my little bit of time recording rejections.  While receiving three rejections in as many days can be a bit overwhelming, I'm happy that one of the rejections from a top-tier journal included this line: "This is not our customary rejection.  We hope you will keep us in mind."  Silver lining, anyone?  Still, these are the first sets of rejections for the sickly speaker poems and so a bit of my faith is shaken.  I placed two of the poems quite quickly this past fall, so I guess I overdid it on the faith and the rejections are a good reminder that nothing is a sure-thing in the poetry world.  Also, I'm wondering if these will be harder to place for the very fact that they are part of a larger project.  Lots to think about. 

Now it's off to school to put the pieces in place for Thursday night's reading.  I am incredibly excited to host Stacey Lynn Brown.  If you are reading this in and live in central Arkansas, I hope you'll come out.  Feel free to email me if you need directions.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Draft Process: Resurrected as a Refugee

40º ~ a dipping down of temperatures into the 40s for the next few days, nearly a dead calm, must stare hard to find a hint of breeze in the leaves (leaves on bushes only, trees winter-bare as should be the case), graygraygraygraygraygraygraygray

18th c. apparatus for reviving the apparently dead! Click for link.

A strange thing happened on the way to the draft this morning, dear reader.  I did my self-reminder last night and then again after the alarm went off and I snuggled back under the covers for 10-more-minutes-please.  I confess, I had a hard time clearing my brain for poetry.  There's been a lot of intensity at work lately surrounding a large project.  Problem-solver that I am, my monkey mind kept wanting to go back to that knotty subject and try to find a way to please everyone and still be realistic (tilting at windmills, anyone?).  But, this is not the strange thing to which I refer.

As I rested in the aftermath of the alarm and focused my energies on my sickly speaker, I knew I wanted to chart that time when her disease seems to be responding to treatment but before there is a definite sense of "cure" or at least "management."  (The quotes are for the way health care professionals use those words.)  This is a time of hope but also of disbelief and fear.  At the same time, the donor cells keep coming back into the conversation, and so I came up with the line "the donor cells infiltrate my dreams."  I'm loving exploring the speaker's connection to the anonymous source of her donor blood / cells and how she feels changed by this donation/transfusion/transplant not only in body but also in personality.  So, I started thinking about how the speaker might have unfamiliar dreams, the dreams of the donor.

And here's the strange thing that happened on the way to the draft.  After going through my morning routine, I sat down with my journal turned to the page where I'd scribbled the above line after getting out of bed.  But, for some reason, I didn't start the draft with that line.  Why?  I have no idea.  Normally, I would re-write the line a bit more neatly and see what happened from there.  Instead, I got sidetracked with the idea of the sense of healing and started the draft this way.

Monitor, needle, and chart,
each new diagnostic hints
that I am healing, ...

I ended up drafting a total of eight tercets and only got back to the line about the dreams in the seventh tercet, and then it became "They infiltrate / my sleep." Amazingly, this led me to a surprise ending that I love (of course, I usually experience a rush of love right after drafting).

So, here's to letting go of the reins a bit and listening to the speaker and the poem and "learn[ing] by going where I have to go." (Roethke)

Turning to the title, I still have Blood Dazzler on the desk after Patricia Smith's reading Monday night.  By the way, she mentioned that as she drafts, she reads each line aloud and lets the sound help craft the next line.  While I don't go line-by-line, I do read aloud, a lot, in the process, once I have a critical mass on the page/screen.  I highly recommend it.

In any case, I flipped open Blood Dazzler, and after only one false start, I hit upon the title of the draft, a line from "Golden Rule Days": "and was resurrected as a refugee."  No real tweaking required, all I did was trim off the first two words and voila.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What I'm Hearing: Patricia Smith @ UALR

37º ~ some sun, some clouds, chilly mornings and cool days, winter in Arkansas 2012

Last night, I had the great good fortune to attend Patricia Smith's reading at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, sponsored by the UALR English Department and flawlessly planned by Professor Nickole Brown.  I knew the Smith came from a background of slam competition before turning to poetry of the page, so I anticipated an exciting night.  I was not disappointed.

No demure and docile poet here, no staid professor intoning with great seriousness.  Smith's voice soared and dipped as she captivated us all.  While I was looking forward to hearing poems from Blood Dazzler and was a bit sad that Smith only read two from that book, I thoroughly enjoyed each poem she presented.  Smith is an expert with the persona poem, taking on the voice of John Lee Hooker, Tyrell (a barbershop owner in Chicago), Ethel Freeman (a woman who died outside the Convention Center in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and, in the book if not last night, the voice of Katrina herself.

The best thing about Smith's reading style is that she does not sacrifice the poetry for the performance.  Throughout the poems, the attention to language, rhythm, and sound shines through, even while Smith brings the words to life on the stage. As a page poet with little background in theatre, I found a lot I might learn from Smith, most importantly, another affirmation that it is okay to love the words and let that love come through in the reading.  During my days in graduate school, there was a way of thinking that tried to stomp this out of us.  We were told to read "straight" and not let our voice rise and fall, not caress the words or add extra emphasis with body or timbre.  (This, the kind of reading that brought me to poetry in the first place, when I heard the likes of Joy Harjo, Quincy Troupe, and Li-Young Lee and they drew me into their magic spells.)  Slowly, I'm shaking loose that straightjacket, and I am more than thankful for Patricia Smith for showing me the way, again.

Finally, I'll be looking forward to April when Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, Smith's new book, comes out from Coffee House Press.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bleary-Eyed but Satisfied: A Weekend in Review

50º ~ nearly at our predicted high for the day, a week of 50s on the horizon

I'm bleary-eyed, mentally exhausted, and ready for a break from these words, word, words!

Still, I'm satisfied.

Cool computer graphic of the human eye.  Click for link.

Yesterday, I spent roughly six or seven hours proofreading and entering corrections for the journal of academic writing I edit at school.  According to Microsoft Word, there were 16,407 words in the document. I had read each essay three or four times over the course of the last six weeks, but yesterday was the final proofread before sending the text to our designer for layout.

Each essay had been read by multiple faculty members during the selection process and global revisions were suggested then.  Once we settled on the selections, I read and did the heavy-lifting of suggesting revisions to the student-writers, who had the chance to agree with our suggestions or disagree and make their own suggestions, with me being the guardian of the files, inputting final decisions.  Then, the faculty members on our editorial board each did close proofs of two essays before everything came back to me to put in a certain order (a fascinating process) and to proof again.  After all of that, I still found two surprising mistakes ("altercation" for "alteration" and one subject-verb agreement error with an is/are situation) along with a half a dozen questionable commas and many cases of uncertainty that had me going back to the MLA Handbook and The Little, Brown Handbook just to be sure. 

I must say, my brain was quite sufficiently scrambled by the early afternoon yesterday, and I was reminded again that while this kind of activity does not require manual labor, it is still WORK and there is a kind of exhaustion that sets in, a fatigue of the eye and brain that pleases me.  (Also, the tendonitis in my rand hand is out of control, particularly in my thumb.)

Today, I began with doing the readings for my Creative Writing I class for the week.  We are still at the beginning when we are reading established writers rather than class-generated material, and I've read the stories and poems many, many times in my life.  Still, I go through and remind myself why I've picked these examples and what I hope my students will learn from them.

Finally, finally, I was able to get to some poetry time at the desk of the Kangaroo.  I've spent the last two hours submitting three packets (all to journals with New in the title).  Yep, two hours and only three packets.  This is because I've taken the leap off the non-simultaneous submission board.  Starting in December, I've kept a list of the top-tier journals I'd like to try this year.  Most of these top-tier journals do not take simultaneous submissions due to the overwhelming number of writers sending work their way.  For these journals, I see the need for this and am willing to bend my rule of only sending to places that take simultaneous submissions.  If any of these places keep my work for over a year without a word to me, I'll know to scratch them off the list in the future.

So, my submission days usually end up with the packets being sent to more journals, but the time spent at the desk averages out to be about the same.  The biggest time-eater of the process is the review and revision of each poem.  Here are the fine-tuning revisions.  Do I really need that "the," that "while"?  Can I tighten that line, that stanza, this poem? & etc.  Then, there is the sort through the guidelines and the compilation of the submission packet.

Again, I'm bleary-eyed and mentally exhausted, and again, I feel that sense of a job well done. 

Now, to collapse in front of a few episodes of Law & Order as a reward.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Draft Process: A Sluggish Dullness Sacrificed or Shed

48º ~ we continue on our path of upper 60s, lower 70s as we usher in this new month, and while I celebrate the warmth and the lower than normal utility bills, I worry and mourn melting ice caps & glaciers, the great self-created migration of the climate that may destroy us all (feeling a bit apocalyptic?)

Dear Reader, here are my notes on today's draft, which was a slow and steady process rather than any rush of inspiration.  Today I offer an example of the work to pull each word from thin air.

I did remind myself last night that I'd be drafting today, and I wondered if the sickly speaker had more to say.  However, I didn't dwell on it and drifted off to sleep with no new lines offering an interruption.  This morning as I bathed and readied myself for the day, I thought of the speaker and her frustration at the doctors and their lack of communication with her, and, perhaps more importantly, I wondered if she was healing.  It turns out she is, and the first few lines appeared to me: "Some days have passed without a fever."  I spun out the scenario in my head and then lost track of it a bit as I moved into the kitchen for breakfast and was interrupted from my reverie by two cats intent on being fed.  Luckily, I noticed my own distraction and grabbed the grocery list notepad and scribbled down my thoughts.  Then, I was able to feed the cats and eat my own breakfast without worry.

Some of you may wonder why I didn't just run to the computer and get to work.  Here's the deal: I do not work well without quiet and calm.  Also, I do not function well if I haven't gone through my routine for the morning.  (A little OCD perhaps?)  Also, each weekday, I make C. his breakfast to carry with him to work.  I do this because I love him not because I feel any sense of wifely duty. I make no apologies.  So, once I am showered and fed, the cats are fed and exercised (played with), and C. is prepped and out the door, then, then I am able to clear the desk, and get to work.

So, once I got to the desk today, I had my scrawled notes.  I opened my journal and transcribed/revised until I had a sense of where the poem was going.  I did not stop to do a word bank today.  I suppose I have a much stronger grasp of the speaker's diction, which relies more heavily on Latinate usage than I might and a more baroque (although sometimes broken) syntax.  With the draft gathering weight, I turned to the computer and fleshed it out.  In the process, the opening lines changed a bit.  Here's how it begins for now.

Six days have passed without a sign
of fever. I keep my own chart,
pulling loose six fragile threads

So, I'm already getting to the speaker's agency in her health care.  What the poem explores is the fact that the whitecoats refuse to share her results with her, and the nurses just go about their routines.  I suppose some of this stems from a recent visit I made to my own doctor.  I was only having a prescription refilled and didn't need an exam, but the nurse still took my temp, pulse, and blood pressure and duly noted these in my chart.  However, she did not offer to tell me the results.  The nurses never do and neither does my doctor when she comes in.  This always frustrates me, and sometimes I remember to ask, all the while trying to be polite.  So, the sickly speaker has developed a way to tell if her temperature really is gone by noting how many numbers the nurse writes in the chart. (Three digits before the single dot of the decimal point means fever is back.) 

Also in the draft, the speaker feels cut off from any offer of hope from the whitecoats, so she embraces her own feeling of recovery and begins her own exercise regime at night.  Yes, images of Sarah Connor from The Terminator (what was it, T2?) in the psych ward doing pull-ups on her bed frame ran through my head, as well as the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper creeping around her room's perimeter.  I tried to re-invent these images, and my speaker has to contend with being attached to machines, so there's that, too.

A whitecoat with his records via Science Photo Library

I said earlier that this was a slow and steady process today.  What I mean is that the answers to "what comes next?" in the poem didn't immediately surface.  There were a lot of stops and starts and "wonderings."  Finally, I arrived at something I'm happy with for now.  For a drafting day, that's a victory.

Turning to the title, I followed my old routine of seeking inspiration from other writers.  This time, I happened to pick up Louise Gluck's (forgive the omission of the umlauts!) book of essays, Proofs & Theories.  This is the first time I've turned to prose for a title, but Gluck's essay style is definitely Latinate and full of complex syntax, so I thought I'd take a chance.  It didn't take long to find this quote "What has been sacrificed or shed seems only opacity, a sluggish dullness" (from her Introduction to The Best American Poetry 1993).  I pushed and pulled at that until I came up with today's title: "A Sluggish Dullness Sacrificed or Shed."