Sunday, May 27, 2012

Draft Process: Red and Reeling with the Journey

86º ~ conditions much the same as yesterday, the air weighs heavy but with more heat than humidity, more wind today as the breeze reaches the lower branches

Each of the last three or four days, I've started my time at the desk by re-reading the sickly speaker poems I've accrued and ordered.  I am disappointed that she hasn't woken me up at 3 a.m. with news.  Instead, I've mulled over where she might be in her journey toward health.  It's shaping up in my mind that the transplant should be the middle of the narrative and so I glanced at the number of poems I'd written that occur prior to that procedure and the number after.  I was afraid the post-transplant poems outnumbered the previous.  I was wrong.  So, I'm still focused on the healing time. (It's looking more and more likely that she will recover and leave the hospital/institution.)

In the meantime, I've been wondering about her period.  For many women, a health crisis will prevent a normal cycle, and that's what's happened to the sickly speaker.  Today's draft began with the idea of her period returning, a sign of her return to health but also a new anxiety, as the disease has been in her blood and she's afraid of losing this new healthier blood that is a mix of hers and the donor's.

I confess, this was a difficult draft because of the subject.  I know it is silly but I feel the social pressures of my youth to not discuss such things openly.  I say this because it resulted in some hesitation at the beginning of the poem before I found my way in.  That way in was through the moon.  The sickly speaker has often mentioned the moon in previous poems, so it was a natural way into a poem about her menstrual cycle returning.  The poem begins.

Three nights after the full moon passed
its white sleeve through the bars of my window,

I feel the first cramp in my belly.  No, lower.

The poem is in couplets again (12 of them), and I begin to worry about an overuse of this form, as I see that the last four drafts are also in couplets.  Still, there is time to question whether the form matches the content when I get to the revision stage of each draft.

In the poem, the speaker has to reveal the return of her period to a nurse, as she has no access to the supplies she will need to deal with it, which then results in a group of whitecoats, more tests, and a call for a mystic (what the sickly speaker calls anyone who isn't a whitecoat, one of her normal doctors, or a nurse).  The speaker ends the poem resigned to the poking and prodding most women are used to undergoing on a regular basis; however, she is also troubled, as I stated earlier, about the loss of any amount of healthy blood, which could mean a loss of strength and a longer wait until she gets released.

For the title, I turned to Traci Brimhall's Our Lady of the Ruins, since I'd just read it yesterday.  In the last poem of the book, "Jubilee," I found this line: "I am red and reeking with the journey."  It matched the poem very well; however, the speaker has had little chance to "reek" lately, as she is fever free and fairly contained in a clean space.  So, I tweaked a bit to get "Red and Reeling with the Journey."

Love this chart, all Latinate on such an ancient process.

In the meantime, my computer screen has now gone gray on me twice in the past week and both times I've been on Blogger.  I'm sure the gods of technology have mislaid the memo, so let me remind everyone: This is the Summer of Sandy.  No unexpected blips are allowed to occur.  That is all.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What I'm Reading: Our Lady of the Ruins

87º ~ I am become a creature of shade, the breeze exists in the highest branches, near the windows not so much, we are percolating up to 95º today but the humidity remains mid-range at 48%

Frequent readers will know that I'm a huge fan of Traci Brimhall's work and recently became her friend as well.  Bias revealed.

Traci's second book, Our Lady of the Ruins, which won the Barnard Women Poets Prize, has been my most anticipated read for 2012.  Today, with a cup of coffee and Yo-Yo Ma's recording of the Bach cello suites as accompaniment, I dove into the book.  As the contest winning book is published by W.W. Norton, I wasn't surprised by the high quality cover and the quality of the paper for the pages.  (Yes, this still matters to me, although I'm not opposed to e-books.  However, when I read a traditional book, I want the object itself to be worthy of the content.  In this case, it is!)

This book is a startling excavation of a war-torn world through the eyes of a group of women in search of health, peace, and a religion that makes sense in this nearly post-apocalyptic environment.  The book does not point to any specific war, and while the references to religion do contain many elements of Christianity, there is a more universal quest here.  The poems in the book take several approaches in terms of speaker.  There is the choral "we" of the group of women; there is the "I" of one specific woman; and from time to time there is a more distant, third-person telling in terms of describing some other group, a "they."  I find this fascinating.  The majority of the poems move between the "we" and the "I," with the long poem in the middle "Hysteria: A Requiem" providing both.  In that poem, the "we" speaks in lines with staggered breaks and deep indents on the top 3/4 of the page, while the "I" speaks in prose poems on the bottom 1/4 of the page.  Very cool.  By weaving the choral voice with the singular speaker, Traci provides an insight into how women as a group are ravaged by war or plague or being the less empowered of the two genders, along with how one particular speaker survives her specific sufferings.  Yet, this is not necessarily an anti-male book.  Rather, it is an anti-patriarchy book, and both war and religion have long been the bastions of patriarchy, with women and children's voices often unheard.

In this book there are repeated images of fire/burning/branding/embers, failed motherhood, death by violence, new religious rites, the ocean, the forest, and the plains.  There are birds and foxes, wolves and whales, and there is a lion threading through, a constant threat/challenge.  There are dead children, plagues, curses, and litanies to any god who might listen.  There are also two key themes of opposition.  The first is the idea of nostalgia battling it out with the desire to purge the past and make a new beginning.  The second is the main theme of the book: faith versus doubt in a world wounded and scarred. 

Here's a taste from "Sans Terre."

We navigate the dunes by stars and sidewinders.

It's not the grail we want, but to journey toward
our longing.  We want to find the tomb empty.


And this from "Pilgrimage."

The grass repeats its eternal rumor
that everything which dies grows

a new body.  We are faithful pilgrims
seeking your unfaithful hand, trying
to journey farther than our doubt,


Finally, here's the ending from "Late Novena," one of the single speaker poems.  In the poem, the speaker is listing the things she could tell the dead.  I'm picking up in the midst of a list, so imagine the phrase "I can..." before this bit.

..., or tell you the force tugging
planets toward a star is called longing.  A black hole
is called beautiful.  I tell you a word's sharp edge

can split the stitches binding your unrepentant lips.
Come back.  Tell us what you've seen.  Tell us
you met a god so reckless, so lonely, it will love us all.

Support Poetry!
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book TODAY!
Our Lady of the Ruins
Traci Brimhall
W. W. Norton, 2012


Friday, May 25, 2012

The Sickly Speaker: A Problem of Logistics

87º ~ the heat is on, externally, the amount of time for open windows in the a.m. shortens daily (poor kitties!), some cloud cover today ~ not enough to stop the heat, not enough for rain ~ rumors of a drought begin to simmer

The Sick Woman by Jan Steen, click for link

Having been away from drafting for a bit, I felt drawn to re-read all of my sickly speaker poems to immerse myself in her voice, to see if there is more to be learned.  I put in several hours yesterday morning and got through ten poems, the oldest of the bunch.  As I read, I tweaked.  I hemmed and hawed and thought a lot about the arrangement of the poems.  As I've been writing the drafts in some semblance of chronological order, one would think this would be a no-brainer.  Still it requires some shuffling, especially of those poems at the beginning, which came about before I knew there was a book-length narrative at work.

This morning, starting again from the beginning I read through the whole of them, these poems that have now become this new manuscript. 

A note about my process in moving from individual poem to placement in the manuscript.  As each poem was drafted, the printed copy sat in my "in progress" manila folder for anywhere from a month to six months.  During my time for revision I would work on the poems.  Once the poems felt "set," I created individual manila folders for the printed copy of each poem, and I added duplicate copies to another manila folder marked "sickly speaker." (I stress, these are tangible folders, not icons on the desktop.)  Today, while working through each poem's minor revisions, I also thought about the big picture of the narrative and began to seriously order the poems.  After another two hours, I'd made it through the stack of "set" poems, all 27, shuffling them into what I think of as the narrative so far.  I have four left in my "in progress" folder, giving me 31 in all.  I spent the last half hour creating a new document in Word and setting each poem in its place.

Herein lies the logistical problem.  These poems are evolving as a group with a singular voice.  The epistolary poems provide the backbone of the chronology.  Yet, each poem must be read and revised as it stands on its own.  So, I have two computer files and two printed files for each poem: one, the file of the single poem and two, the newly created file of the budding manuscript.  The problem is this, I must remember that when I revise in the single file, that I must copy and paste into the larger file of the manuscript.  In fact, I'd already begun this sort of system in hard copies with my "sickly speaker" manila folder.  Several of the hard copies I read from were not the latest revisions, which rested in that individual poem's own manila folder.  Dizzying.  I was pleased, though, that I ended up re-creating a near exact revision of one of the poems when I failed to read the updated version.  After figuring this out, I started with what was on the computer and went from there.

That's all a minor issue of organization.  I found another "problem" of interest.  As I wrote each individual poem, I used whatever time of the year I was experiencing for any reference to calendar time, especially in the epistolary poems.  Now, I see that the result most likely won't work.  The speaker will have been hospitalized far too long of a time.  I say this not so much b/c I'm worried about reality, but b/c I'm now so familiar with her voice and situation.  Where the poems began with August, and the transplant/transfusion took place sometime in January, I think I'll need to condense that timeline a bit and maybe start in September.  I will also, most likely, spend some time going back to March - May and filling in some there.  The letters to the speaker's mentor are broken up by her ramblings and musings about her body and her situation.

Another surprise occurred today.  I'd drafted a poem that indicated it took place after the transplant/transfusion.  On re-reading it today, I realized that it had to come earlier than that.  Then, I noticed that there was really only one clause in the whole poem that referred to the procedure, so I cut that and rearranged a bit and then put it where it belonged.  This kind of revision is so new to me, never having dealt with a sustained speaker/narrative before.  Weird.  In the past, I wouldn't even be looking at the manuscript level until I had at least 50 poems that seemed to hold, loosely, together, so none of this revision trouble would have occurred.  Each poem would have been taken on its own.

Finally, I paid attention to form.  As frequent readers may know, I'm a bit addicted to the couplet when drafting.  Having had some time pass from the initial draft to the revision, I was able to really ask myself if the couplets worked.  In several poems, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that they didn't!  I had to re-craft at the stanza level rather than at the word/line level.  OH!  And I also got read of all my double spaces after the period if a sentence ended within the middle of a line.  I tell you, it is a hard, hard habit to break for those of us trained up on ye old typewriter machines.

All of this is to say that I've been working hard and now feel poised to draft whatever's coming next.  I hope I will find more to say on the sickly speaker's behalf, as she is still institutionalized (tho healing).  I must see if she will be released or languish there.  I must see what becomes of her relationship with her mentor and the woman she calls mother by mistake.  Also, I've begun to wonder if I need a few "interludes," poems that would provide a glimpse beyond the speaker's room/pt. of view, something to supplement her voice.  Who knows?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Y'all Come! A Face to Meet the Faces Reading ~ Tuesday, May 29, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO

82º ~ brilliant sun, cloudless skies, nice breezes ~ praising the folks who planted these trees as the temperatures are rising into the mid 90s after today and the humidity will follow ~ grab some shade, y'all

Some home improvements / gardening and a visit from the folks has kept me away from the desk, but I'm back and see no interruptions through the Fourth of July, save the reading announced in today's title.  Wahoo.  I've spent the morning preparing for the reading and ironing out some travel plans.

For those folks in the St. Louis area, here are the details.

Readings from A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry
Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Ave, St. Louis)
Tuesday, May 29, 7:00 p.m.
Featuring:  Co-Editor Stacey Lynn Brown and poets Jennifer Fandel, Sandy Longhorn, Angie Macri, Claire McQuerry, Steven D. Schroeder, and Shane Signorino

Each reader will read his/her poem and give a brief glimpse into why they chose persona as a vehicle for the poem.  Each reader will also read one - two poems by other poets from the book and read their contextual notes on the use of persona.  **These contextual notes are just one of the things that make this a fabulous anthology, especially if you teach and are looking for an adoption (I can say this without bias, as I receive no funds from the sales of the book!).

I spent some of my desk time this morning reading through the poems that will be read on Tuesday night, and I have to say, this is going to be a kick-ass reading!  I was so happy to sit down and go through the set list and look for my alternate poems to read, since I haven't had a chance to really delve into the book.  The spine is now well cracked and creased and I'm looking forward to diving in for more of the good stuff soon.  Kudos to the University of Akron Press and Amy Freels for the great design of this packed-to-the-gills tome.

Here's a brief list of some personae you may meet if you can make the reading.

The Lotus-Eater's Wife
Marianne, a Native-American slave in southern Illinois
Calamity Jane venting at Wild Bill's grave
A waitress navigating the murky waters of love
Walt Whitman on his birthday
The Hulk (SMASH!)

And that's just a few!  Hope to see you there if you live in the area.  Plus, Left Bank Books ROCKS the independent bookseller world!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Draft Process: The Body Itself Become the Narrator of the Message

73º ~ the casters of fore predict a heating up toward the 90º mark, but still, a beautiful blanket of green surrounds my windows and the sunlight filters through

As predicted, Friends and Fans of the Kangaroo, I returned to the drafting desk this morning primed and already working based on the scribbles I'd made in the last few weeks in my journal.  A few days ago, the sickly speaker made an appearance (although my other scribblings are not from her and predict two new PROSE projects...ack...PROSE!).

The speaker gave me words of being "weaned from the machines" and went on to tell me about how she would sneak around in the wee hours of the morning while the night nurse dozed.  The sickly speaker takes great pleasure in entering the whitecoats' offices and messing around.  I think there will be several poems that follow this line.  For now, I had to rearrange a bit from what I scribbled, as she had some extra background to give me before we got to the breaking and entering.

The draft begins:

In the days of my healing, they sent a mystic in,
and I was weaned from the machines one needle

at a time. ...

image from Wikimedia Commons, click for link
It came out as eleven couplets of roughly this line length.  That opening phrase surfaced as I remembered that I'd lost writing time in March/April and needed to backfill to the days of her healing after the transfusion/transplant procedure.  The mystics have solidified into any personnel who are not regular nurses or whitecoats that she sees regularly.  As a group, they treat her with indifference, as she is just one more patient in their normal work routine, but to her, they are a chance at connection with the outside world.  Another interesting dynamic in the health care industrial complex I'm exploring. 

For the title, I popped open the latest issue of Orion magazine, one of my all-time favorites.  I opened to "Sand County, the Sequel" by Sandra Steingraber and my eyes fell instantly on this line: "To narrate the message... ."  In the second half of the poem, after the sickly speaker is free of the machines 24/7, she begins her creeping about at night and she leaves "offerings" of herself in the "nearest whitecoat's den."  These are bits of skin and hair or something torn from her gown.  This is the room in which she prays about her future health (a new twist in the series).  I hooked on "narrate the message" as a way of saying prayer and added more to the phrase to fall in line with the heavy titles most of the other poems have.  Thus, "The Body Itself Becomes the Narrator of the Message" as the speaker leaves bits of herself in offering of prayer for health.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Submitting New Work: Wahoo!

71º ~ another blissful spring day lingering past its time here in central Arkansas, the cats and I enjoy open windows and gentle breezes filled with birdsong

To cross-pollinate, here's my status update from Facebook this morning:  I feel like there should some kind of dramatic opening ceremony for The Summer of Sandy, like the Olympics. Hey, Universe, where's my military-precise marching band, my thousand dancing children, my parade of poets & writers? Where's my flaming arrow being shot over the heads of the audience and into a ball of flammable liquid that suddenly lights up the night sky?

From my last post, y'all know that I sent the book out on Thursday.  I spent Friday continuing to whittle down the stacks of papers that had amassed on my desk in the last two months, some that simply needed filing, some rejections to record and file, and some articles I'd set aside to read later.  Once I got down to the folders of poems I'd set out to submit in March...March!...I got busy and prepared a few submissions.  Saturday/Sunday were spent celebrating my niece's graduation in Fayetteville, AR, and today, I returned to the submission process.

As a reminder, this is not as easy as picking up the poems and deciding where to send them.  Inevitably, as I read over the poems and make decisions about which 3 - 5 poems I should group together, I come across minor revisions.  Usually, I decide to snip a few more "flabby" words, often conjunctions, articles, or prepositions that aren't completely necessary.  Here is where poetry stands out from prose.  It's all about compression, at least for me.  Then, when I start writing prose, things get all wordy again.  In any case, this minor tweaking takes time.  Also, now that I'm working on a series with a narrative arc, the grouping of the poems lets me see if I've been inconsistent with the narrative or, even if I haven't been, if this group presents too much confusion when taken out of context.  All new things for me to cipher through.

Still, I'm making headway and I'm happy to know that the poems are circulating again.  That two month downtime really leaves a gap in my communication with the poetry world and reminds me that I need to rededicate my efforts at a more balanced life when school rolls around again.

In the meantime, I've finished up one journal and opened up another in my 3 - 4 a.m. scribblings.  This is exciting because when I get ready to draft (tomorrow I think), I'll have all this new material waiting for me.  (WAHOO!)  Here's a shot of the cover.  As many of you know, I can't stand drafting on lined paper, so I bought eight of these soft cover, unlined pages journals when I found them at my local independent bookstore a few years ago.  This one is the 7th of the eight.  I must begin a new hunt!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

With a Renewed Sense of Optimism

80º ~ near perfection in the late afternoon, this our high for the day with a small breeze moving through the open windows and sun, sun, sun that doesn't burn

Dear Fans of the Kangaroo, I have returned with a renewed sense of optimism.  The last few days have involved the wrapping up of the semester and tonight will be the tying of the bow that is graduation.  I'll have continued work over the summer for the reading series and for the academic journal that I edit, but all of this is manageable.  What I'm looking at now is six weeks of what should be fairly steady writing time.  I resolve to make the most of it as July will bring two brief excursions out of state with family and friends and August the return to school. 

Today, I felt a settling into that summer pace, that realization that there is no need to rush, that much may be accomplished in the day that stretches out before me.  So, I spent a good chunk of today with the book I'm still set on seeing published, In a World Made of Such Weather as This.  Yep, I'm back to that long-winded title.  It's what sticks to my heart.  I spent a good bit of time yesterday reading it through and attempting to be critical of the order and presentation of the poems.  I actually added back in four poems that I'd taken out a year ago, but the rest held together well.  For what it's worth, this is the book as I see it. 

Coming to the desk today, I did another read through and then began the task of reading submission guidelines and following them for five presses that are either in the midst of contests or reading periods.  Of the five, three allowed me to submit online (wahoo!), one required the mailing of the complete manuscript, and one a query with a ten page sample.  The last is the hardest of all, as it requires being able to capture the book in one or two sentences and to pick the ten poems that might stand out the most and also represent the arc of the book.  While it is the hardest, it is also quite rewarding and helpful.

So, I send you off, beleaguered manuscript, into the fray once more.  May you find your way to the top of the pile somewhere, somehow.

how today feels, weather-wise (click for link)

Friday, May 4, 2012

What I Heard Last Saturday: Improved Lighting Reading Series, April 28

80º ~ headed for a steamy 92º, near calm, beautiful watery green light filtering down through the leaves, stepped outside for the paper and reached for an oxygen mask in the heavy air

Dear Friends of the Kangaroo, I am returned from the depths of the academic year and eager to return to regular updates.

To begin, I'll travel back in time a few days and give you all a mini-review of the latest installment of the Improved Lighting Reading Series housed in Fayetteville, AR, and the brainchild of Matthew Henriksen and Kaveh Bassiri.

The lineup from last Saturday:  Chris Wong, Tom Andes, Corrie Williamson, and Traci Brimhall.

Chris began the night by reading from his book-length poem, Songs for Margaret Cravens, New American Poetry Series Number Two from USPOCO Books.  This is Chris' first book and judging by the poems I heard Saturday night, I'm in for a stellar read!  The book explores the essence of Ezra Pound through the lens of his companion Margaret Cravens.  That companionship lasted about nine months and ended with Cravens' suicide in the summer of 1912.  Still, the poems are not bio-histories; the poet is there and his world is there, twined with Pound's and Craven's.

Here's a taste from one of the poems Chris read on Saturday night.


A bird in the house is an omen of death
But death follows all things.  All things in life
are omens of death.  There is no dearth
of ill omen.  The reappearance of a leaf

was omen to Eliot, who lamented and muttered
of rebirth and fertility.  Even the spring 
was an omen of death!  Not that it matters
but Eliot died.  All die. Some hang by a string.

Next up was Tom Andes, who wove a tale so deftly with his short story that we were all transported to that bar and wound up in that dysfunctional relationship in "Donegan's Lost Year."  What I admired so much about the story was the attention to the right details.  This is something I struggle with all the time: what to leave in, what to leave out.  It seemed like every detail, from the sticky bar top to the verb describing how the main character passed a joint back to the bouncer were the only possible choices.  I was lucky enough to pick up one of the few remaining copies of Tom's chapbook Life Before the Storm and other stories, which was published by Cannibal Books, sadly now defunct.

After a musical interlude, featuring The Rhubarbs covering Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, and the like, Corrie Williamson took the stage and delivered some powerful poems in her graceful, gorgeous way.  Frequent readers may remember that Corrie read for the Big Rock Reading Series last fall.  I was so excited to see her name on the lineup for the night.  One of the things I admire about Corrie's work is her ability to layer images from the natural world with human interactions in a way that feels completely right and unforced.  There is nothing heavy handed about her poems.  She was generous enough to let me have one of the copies from her folder so that I could share a bit with you all.  The poem "A Sparrow's Life's as Sweet as Mine" (after John Clare) is a narrative about the speaker and her father cleaning the chimney each fall.  It ends this way.

... .  In lucky years, we'd hear too
the thrum of wings, the sparrow navigating
past the chain and out of that puckered
black mouth, past our pale faces
and into the chilled air, wings soft
with ash, nest knocked free into the empty
space our fires would safely lick.

Finally, the evening ended with Traci Brimhall, author of one of my favorite books read in 2011, Rookery, and on tour with her new book Our Lady of the Ruins.  I posted a personal response to Rookery here and can't wait to do the same for Traci's second book soon, soon, soon!  Fair warning: I am completely biased about Traci's work, but I come by that bias honestly.  I picked up Rookery after reading a set of her poems in Copper Nickel.  Only after reading it and posting about it did she and I strike up an online friendship via blogs, Facebook, and email.  I was lucky enough to be her pseudo-host in Fayetteville, as we decided to meet earlier in the day on Saturday so we could sit down and have a good poetry talk.  I can't say enough how wonderful our time together was and how much I had needed some good poetry time after a rocky end of my semester.  It was also great fun to share my college town with her, especially the Dickson Street Bookstore!

But this is about the reading, and let me tell you, Brimhall knows how to give a good reading!  She connects with the audience with poems of honest vulnerability, frustration, joy, and questioning.  She connects through her eyes and her voice and her body language.  Because Chris read from the poem I quoted above, Traci read my favorite poem from Rookery, "Aubade with a Broken Neck," and I'm pretty sure I cried a bit there.  And then, she introduced us to poems from the new book that set me spinning.  Here's a glimpse of one, and watch for my longer post soon.

To My Unborn Daughter

They will try to make you read it, the book of plagues,
written by the dangerous one behind the stars.  Do not

believe their dusty proverbs.  I am a good woman.
They'll tell you we are banished, but this isn't exile.

It's a refuge from a nation of titans.  Know that a man
does not have to be bigger than the tower he builds,

but a battlefield must be wider than the bodies below it.

So, if you're in the Fayetteville area, become a fan of the Improved Lighting Reading Series.  Matt and Kaveh are doing something wonderful there!  I hope to make the drive up for more of their events.