Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekly Update: We the Animals & the P&W Calendar

72º ~ an overcast fall day, bird calls sounding through the open window drowned out by a plane, chances of rain & storms hovering to the north & west

This week, I redoubled my effort to find some time for poetry, which for me means, turning off the TV in the evening and refocusing, if I'm able.  Case in point, on Thursday night I fell asleep at 6:15 and nearly missed the first episode of the new season of The Big Bang Theory.  For this show, I will sacrifice my poetry time, but for few others.  The falling asleep should prove that the week had caught me by the heels.  Friday was a bit of a slug fest, but I did cut off the work day early and recharge.

This doubling down on my writing life resulted in two things.

1.  I read a book, yep, that's right, an entire book.  I picked up Justin Torres' We the Animals at the Arkansas Literary Festival back in April.  Having heard him read, I knew that this book would ignite in my hands when I opened the covers.  The novel follows the coming of age of an unnamed protagonist, a biracial boy discovering his sexuality in a rural town in New York.  He is the son of a Puerto Rican father and a white mother, and he understands very early that his homosexual desires will not be met with acceptance within his family, a family in which domestic violence and poverty rule.  The novel progresses from the time the boy is six until he enters his teens and is told in loosely connected, short, lyric chapters.  Still, the character developed is full and rich, the setting expertly used to support the larger themes.  It's a quick read, but one I know I will return to soon, to more fully understand just how Justin Torres pulls it all off.

2. I tried to catch up on my po-biz reading, which means reading the Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers.  I had started it a few weeks ago and then set it aside.  Like most people, I think, I might not read every article in P&W, but the ones that grab me tend to hold on and offer up something valuable.  In this case, the articles on VIDA, plans to create the American Writers Museum, 20th-Century American Poetry, and the in depth look at Natash Trethewey all offered up worthwhile efforts; however, it was the personal essay by Brenda Shaughnessy and Craig Morgan Teicher that kept me reading last night even as I was flagging & tired.  What a powerful account of a two-poet marriage and life as a writer with a child with special needs. 

As I read farther into the issue, I was actually happy to be able to by-pass the MFA section entirely.  While I think the idea of rankings and articles about whether or not writing can be taught are interesting, I've simply moved past them for now.  I know where I stand.  1) MFA/PhD/MA with creative emphasis...all worthy pursuits IF the students are made completely aware that those coveted wood-paneled offices & tweed jacket teaching jobs are few and far between.  2) Yes, most beginning writers can benefit from mentors. 3) No, a degree is not necessary to become a fabulous writer; it's just one way of buying time to write and perhaps gets some guidance along the way.

This led me to the DEADLINES section, and for the first time in my life, the P&W calendar saved me from missing a deadline.  I keep a rather extensive spreadsheet of book contests and reading periods; however, I nearly missed submitting The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths to a contest this year.  This contest alternates every other year and the deadline is tomorrow.  I missed it b/c I hadn't submitted last year.

Luckily, the book contest allows electronic submission, so I spent this morning creating my submission file and loading up a new fee on my credit card.  Here's a hearty bon voyage to the poems and a hoping that in the coming week I find more time for the writing life.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekly Update: Concocting, Paginating, & Annotating the Poetry Manuscript

70º ~ fall graces us, even days of brief heat are enjoyed, recent rains revived the trees and lawns, praise be

Remember this, dear readers?

This was the status of the sickly speaker's manuscript when last I posted about it.  In early August, I had spent much of the summer living with the poems in this state and finagling the order of pages, finally striking on the idea of using two appendices: one for the general order poems and one for the definition poems.  When I had tried to intersperse these with the voice of the sickly speaker, she refused, although I had originally conceived those poems as "breaks" for the reader.  Once I got them set up in the appendices, I struck on the idea of annotating the manuscript.  Alas, the school days began and the sickly speaker grew quiet, perhaps also because she had made her escape.

Today, after having several great conversations about the mss. with Traci Brimhall, who was in town Thursday - Friday, I woke once more with the sickly speaker's voice in my head.  This time she was poking at me to re-read the collection straight through to check the order again, and then to try out this annotation idea.

While the pages are no longer taped up on the bookshelves as shown above, I was able to see that one poem needed to be moved up a slot.  I also went back to the vexing question of the ampersand. I found myself putting the ampersands back in at the insistence of the sickly speaker.  However, there is a method to my madness.  She uses the ampersands when joining two nouns, two verbs, or two adjectives.  In a compound sentence or longer description, not so much. 

When I had the poems in place and the tweaking done, I printed things out, eager to see if the annotation would work.  I laid out the appendices and quickly figured out that I wouldn't want to footnote "whitecoat" every time I'd used it in the sickly speaker poems, just to point to "11 General Orders of a Whitecoat" in Appendix A.  So, I decided I would find the first usage of the word and annotate that.  (This all came about because I was worried the readers would arrive at the end of the sickly speaker's story and skip the appendices or find them cumbersome.  This way, the reader is directed to the appendices throughout the collection, hopefully making it more organic but without disrupting the sickly speaker's story.)

Now, I have the manuscript all prettified, with title pages, an acknowledgments page, and a table of contents, plus the dreaded page numbers.  I think I've finally ingrained in my memory the process for getting the page numbers to show up for the body of the book, but not the front matter.  In Microsoft Word, it's all about creating a section break at the end of the front matter and before the text begins.  Then, when formatting the footer/header, be sure the cursor is in the footer/header for the body of the text and open the formatting palette.  Then, insert the page numbers and click off (empty) the box for "Link to Previous" so that the two sections aren't connected. Also, click on the "format page numbers" icon and tell it to start at page 1.  Voila!

All praises to Word that the footnote feature is much easier to use!

I'm still mostly focused on the weather book, now called The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, but I also don't feel like the sickly speaker has anything else to say.  Oh my, I'm once again a poet without a subject.  Wonder what will pop to the surface next?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weekly Update: The Rain Returns

71º ~ the rains began Friday afternoon around 5:00 p.m. and doused us all night long and on/off Saturday, today remains gray, cool, and wet without the showers ~ we rejoice the return of more sensible temperatures, even if the rain is too late to save the farmer's from the drought

Classes are well underway, and this past week I felt like I might have my semester sea legs back beneath me. Why, on Wednesday afternoon, I wasn't even exhausted yet! 

This coming week is going to be poets, poets, poets!  I'm so excited.

First, we have Marck L. Beggs, an Arkansas poet and singer/songwriter who will be appearing at the Big Rock Reading Series (curated by yours truly).  I heard Marck read seven or eight years ago, but I haven't heard him perform any of his music, so I'm doubly thrilled for Tuesday night.  If you are in Central Arkansas, we hope you'll stop by! (6:00 p.m. Tuesday, PTC's Main Campus, Campus Center, 2nd floor)

Then, the wonderful & amazing Traci Brimhall will be in town for a reading at UALR Thursday evening (6:00 in the Donaghey Student Center, Room D).  On Friday, Traci is going to make an appearance in my creative writing class at PTC before heading over to Hendrix College to do a reading and shop talk with the students there.  I'll be her chauffeur on Friday, which means I get to hear her read THREE times.  Wahooooooooooo!

Traci Brimhall

In the meantime, I've been learning the ropes of co-editing a journal and reading the first sets of submissions to Heron Tree.  Remember, we take submissions through December 1, so if you haven't sent anything our way yet, you know what to do!  Check out our guidelines here.

Finally, a bit of good news.  Two more of the sickly speaker poems have found a home.  Endless thanks to Patty Paine and the good folks at diode for their support.  I'm super excited about this acceptance because the first of the dictionary definition poems has found a home.  I'll keep you posted for when they hit the web.

Sadly, no time for submissions today, since I need to hit the school work to prepare for the big week of poetry, which will take me away from some of my other duties.  Still, I'm feeling pretty good about the new work load (school, poetry, house/spouse/pets), except for the fact that I have so little time to be on the blogs!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekly Update: The Prairie & The Fever

80º ~ sweet relief on the back side of a storm, wicked & wild, on Friday night ~ 4 limbs down in the backyard, nothing damaged

The prediction held true for the past week.  No time for poetry Monday - Friday, or at least no time for poetry outside the classroom.  I confess that I assign Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" every semester just so I can read/perform it.  Reason #492 that I love my job.

Still, I've found time for peace and poetry this weekend. 

Saturday was devoted to The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, that new title for the weather manuscript, which now includes the prairie fairy tales.  I spent the morning reading the entire book once again, probing for weaknesses and tweaking where needed, and then preparing submissions for three publishers.  It's wonderful to be able to have renewed energy for this group of poems, but I'm slimming down the number of places I'll submit.  In part this is a time concern; in part this is a financial concern.  I can see that I'll be ready to submit the fever book in the spring, and, sadly, most poetry manuscript submissions require a reading fee.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, as long as a press is on the up and up and uses my fee to publish books I enjoy, I'll submit to them.  However, I will not go into debt to do so.  If that means it takes longer for my manuscript to find the right home, so be it.  Even with a full-time job, the money only goes so far.

Today (Sunday) has been given over to the sickly speaker and her fever poems.  I'm glad I'm not rushing to send the manuscript out, given the fact that as I've been working hard at getting more of the individual poems out there, I continue to find mushy spots in the poems that need to be addressed.

This morning, I sent one group of poems out to a non-simultaneous submission journal.  As I stated last week, this is a bit of a new focus for me.  I have a poet-friend who once said "well, I never simultaneously submit," and I remember being stunned by this and confused.  If one doesn't SS, then one must wait and wait and wait for the response from each individual journal before moving on.  Now, I'm beginning to see that this can be a good thing when the calendar is filled to the brim with other responsibilities.  It is much less daunting to sit down and prepare one group of poems for one journal than it is to have to sort through five - ten journals and re-read all of their guidelines.

That being said, I also tackled a packet for a SS-accepting journal this morning.  This journal just sent me a rejection on Sept. 1; however, the poetry editor included a wonderful note about the poems.  Because he did so, I replied with a "thank you for taking the time" email and we had a brief exchange.  I asked about submitting again, and he encouraged me to do so.  Not wanting to let the folks on the staff at the journal forget me, I had their folder on the top of my pile this weekend.

The pile: In the past, I would make a stack of my poem folders (those able to be submitted) and a stack of my journal folders (those accepting submissions).  Then, I would create groups of poems and journals and spend roughly two days sending things out into the world.  If I didn't finish and the pile remained on my desk, it would bother me and bother me until I finished.  Now, the pile seems to be ever-present, growing and shrinking as I have time to do the work.

This crazy life continues to remind me that we are all works-in-progress.  So be it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekly Updates: Summer Refuses

99º ~ feels like 110º with the heat index included = dew point at 74º ~ grab your oxygen tanks friends & neighbors

Happy Labor Day to all.  Summer here in central Arkansas refuses to let go its fierce grip, at least through the next five days. 

It looks like this blog will now become a weekly.  The build up of responsibilities at school, while not anything majorly different than in the past, have tipped the needle from the balancing point I'd established last year.  One of the benefits of being at an institution for seven years is gaining responsibilities within the department that require just a bit more time and effort.  I'm happy to serve as I believe, adamantly, in our mission.  (Who would have thought I'd find such a home in a community college when I was full of dreams of teaching in a small, liberal arts undergraduate college?)

My classes are off to great starts.  I've got Comp I, Creative Writing I, and Intro to Poetry on the books this semester, and I'm impressed with the energy showing in all the classes so far.  My creative writing class did the human knot exercise on Friday, which is always a blast.  If you don't know this ice breaker, here's a great link to explain more.  Basically, the students stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder and reach out and clasp hands with strangers (different folks for each hand).  Then, working as a team, shifting under and over and around each other, they have to undo the knot and return to the circle WITHOUT BREAKING THEIR GRIPS.  Yep, they have to get up close and sweaty with each other.  This forces them to know each others' names (we had done name ice breakers both Wednesday and before the knot on Friday), and they get to laugh quite a bit with each other.  It's also a great indicator of how different personalities will play in workshop.

This is an exercise I highly recommend for any and all workshop type classes.  It's hard to feel shy once you've had your face in someone else's armpit!


While most of the work week is taken up by classes & departmental duties, and the first part of the weekend was spent with family, I had some time this morning to turn to my own poems.  On the top of my list lately has been submissions.  I'm woefully behind in getting my work out there.  In the past, I've had a more steady flow of writing, revising, submitting, writing, revising, submitting, &etc.  Since I devoted so much time this past summer to the sickly speaker, I find myself with an unusual amount of material that needs to get out into the world. 

This turns out to be a good thing, as I'm not sure how much drafting time I'll have during the school year. 

In the past six months, I've broken from an old pattern regarding submissions.  I used to focus solely on simultaneous submission journals.  I still believe in these wholeheartedly, especially for emerging writers.  In the way back time, I would submit one packet of five poems to ten different SS-accepting journals.  In more recent years, as I discovered more success, I'd whittled that down to five poems to five different journals, to save time on withdrawal notifications.  This is not to say I had a 100% success rate anywhere, only my acceptances did get better, resulting in more WD emails & letters. 

Now, I'm focusing more on those "no simultaneous submission" journals.  These tend to be the higher tier places, although some of the highest still take SS subs. 

In any case, I managed to get two submissions "out the door" this morning.  That's the electronic door now, thank the stars!  If not accepting SS subs, at least I can save time and postage by submitting electronically. 

Still, I've got a huge stack of sickly speaker poems lined up for those wonderful SS-accepting journals.  Hopefully, I'll have enough steam some evenings this week to shepherd them out into the world as well.


In between getting poems ready to submit (and yes, still finding tiny areas to nip & tuck / revise), I've been exchanging emails with my co-editors at Heron Tree.  We are now officially open for business!  Wahoooooooo!

I know some of you have already submitted, and thank you for that!  If you are a poet, please send us some of your best work anytime between now and 1 Dec.  Our guidelines are here.  We do accept simultaneous submissions, given swift notification if poems are accepted elsewhere.

I know that reading submissions and discussing those poems with my co-editors will eat up some of my poetry time.  I'm fine with that.  I've long wanted to become involved in putting out a journal, so this is a bit of a dream come true.  Still, it will be another contributing factor in fewer blog posts.  When weighing the priorities of my writing time, it's clear that writing, revising, and submitting comes first.  Then, all the rest.

Even though I'll be here less frequently, I am ever thankful to those of you who read!  You help keep me motivated, and you keep me honest about the life of a working poet.