Sunday, November 25, 2012

Weekly Updates: Heron Tree, Family, & Sister

50º ~ bright sun, clean skies, trees at about 1/4 leaves remaining, highs around 60º, lows around 40º for the week to come

The biggest news on the block is this:  Heron Tree accepts submissions through December 1 (next Saturday).  If you haven't sent us poems, we really, really, really want to see your work.  Remember, we read blind, so I can't tell if you've submitted yet.  We are sending decisions on a rolling basis but had so many submissions in September, that I think we are still responding to poems from the beginning of the reading period.  Our guidelines are here.

We will start publishing poems the first week of January 2013!  So exciting!

I have to say, serving as a co-editor has been a game changer.  I plan to blog about that exclusively after the reading period (meaning after the semester is over!).  Still, if you have any inclination to help read for a journal and get the opportunity, I highly recommend it.


Most of this week has been filled with family, so not too much poetry going on.  My folks were down from Iowa and Mom & I planted pansies, which she just couldn't get over, since they are a summer flower in Iowa.  She has been such a huge help in the front yard as I did not inherit her gardening skills!  This year we were especially thankful for my dad's surgery, which happened a year ago in December.  He now has a fully operational Deep Brain Stimulation Therapy computer running through his brain and it has improved his quality of life by leaps and bounds.  Parkinson's can be such a frustrating disease, but this has made a world of difference.  (Disclaimer: This is not a miracle cure and does not alleviate all PD symptoms; however, the change in his demeanor and mobility has been wonderful.)


I did manage to finish a book of poems Tuesday morning.  Nickole Brown's Sister has been on my desk since April, when I picked it up at the Arkansas Lit Festival, and it is a stunner.  Nickole moved to Little Rock 18 months ago to teach at UALR, and having her in town has been wonderful.  On her website, Sister is referred to as a novel-in-poems.  It traces a speaker's relationship to her mother and her sister who is 10 years younger.  The speaker is at a loss for who her father is and envies her sister for that knowledge, all the while hating the man who fathers her sister, as he sexually abuses the speaker.  It is an emotionally complicated journey but the poems never succumb to relying on that emotion alone.  They are finely crafted, in fact, so finely crafted that the pain cuts that much deeper.

The most prominent thread woven throughout the collection is the idea of sex, pregnancy, and the fetus in the womb, then birthed.  Here is a bit from "Sticky Fingers."

Unborn we...........listened.

We were covered
with an okra fuzz of hair.........fed cravings
of white bread.........fried chicken..........tomatoes
straight from the can...............all through
a pulsing straw.....a braided beam of light
to our navel.

While the speaker feels a great distance between herself and her sister whom she both loves deeply and envies just as deeply, it is often through imagining these similarities in utero that she manages to cross the distance between them.

And because the speaker's mother plays as important a role in the story as her sister does, here's a bit from "Somniloquy."

Mama sleeps, her jaw knocking all night on the same
..........closed door, her canines worn flat with the pop and grit
..........of chewing a thing impossible swallow.

Sister is a difficult book on the emotional side but a necessary one.  These poems take all the speaker's pain, regret, and longing, and create something startling beautiful in the end.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekly Updates: Dickinson's Letters, Pigafetta, Collages

56º ~ glorious sunshine, a few pleasing clouds wafting, the leaves that remain moved gently by a small breeze

For those keeping score, I started the week off well, keeping up my 2 hours in the morning.  I've slowly inched the alarm clock back a bit each week, so that I'm able to be at the desk before I'm needed on campus.  C. has been amazing at accommodating this new shift in the schedule.  (Another thankfulness: a spouse who understands the writing life.)  The urge to write new poems is creeping along in my veins nicely.  I may even have stumbled across a new obsession as I drafted a poem Tuesday morning.  I don't want to say anything more about it yet, lest I scare it away.

I will say that what prompted me to the draft was reading Joe Hall's Pigafetta Is My Wife (Black Ocean, 2010).  Based on the recommendation of a dear poet-friend, I picked up this book over a year ago, but just got to it.  This poet-friend raved about the book and how much it had changed her writing life.  While I found a lot to admire in the book, I was sad that it didn't have quite the same powerful effect on me.  Hall's book is a loosely crafted braid, part historical poems from the voice of Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler and one of only 18 sailors who survived the trip, and part contemporary love letter. 

I confess that I loved the historical poems exposing colonization the most and had trouble shifting gears from time to time, although I think this is more my failing than any misstep on the part of Hall.  The poems are filled with images ripe and succulent, images that are strung together in a fragmented syntax that conveys just how difficult it is for the speaker to put into words his struggle.

In one section of the long poem "Knife & Mirror," Hall writes:

On one island, the Captain gave the gift of chains
More often, he preferred the rough equivalent
knives & mirrors

jumping back from their own startled expressions--
artillery shaking the coast

After I'd read the book through, I went back and collected words for a rough word bank in my journal, my poor lonely journal left untended for so long.  Very quickly the words began suggesting lines to me and arrows/circles soon linked groupings all over the page.  It felt great to shift to drafting full lines and eventually to what became something that resembles a full poem.  For that, I am indebted to Hall.

All week, I've also been reading from Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters (Belknap Press, Harvard U P, 1986).  I've had this book for ages but no longer remember if it was once assigned in undergrad or in  a grad school class or if I picked it up on my own.  In the past, I read mostly from the letters to T. W. Higginson and of course, I've combed over the three master letters endlessly.  Now, though, I feel compelled to read from the beginning.

The first few letters come from a young E.D., just 12 years old, and I couldn't quite turn off my composition instructor brain as I read run-on after run-on after run-on.  Already in the poems, I see the woman and poet Dickinson would become, obsessed with nature, struggling with a body prone to ailments, and questioning the strict religious society that surrounded her.  What was more surprising was to read the hints of loneliness, low self-esteem, and social doubt.  In my mind, she is a giant and her poems so self-assured & steady (even when questioning), it is sad to realize that she felt many of the same things I felt at that age and still feel today more than I'd care to admit.


Finally, I did some collage work yesterday and here is one of the results. It might be a little hard to tell, but I've moved into a 3-D phase, raising some images off the page with "risers" made out of old mat board.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekly Updates: Election Fever, Big Rock Reading, Submissions, & Acceptance

71º ~ a cold front moving across the northwest section of the state, solid gray skies, gusts, and leaves falling like snow ~ after a solid week of amazing fall weather we will downshift to cold & rain for a few days

one of my collages

This week began with a bit of a frenzy of submissions.  After having a pile of folders on my desk for the past two months, a pile from which I would pick and choose poems and journals, I decided it was time to get ALL of the sickly speaker poems out into the world.  So I matched up the remaining poems with some journals and put the rest of the folders away.  Love a clean slate / clean desk. 

Then, there was the election.  Like many Americans, I sat up as late as I could (and that's not as late as I used to be able to) to watch the results come in.  I am happy with the results nationally, but disappointed in Arkansas, which seems determined to cling to a Republican platform with which I disagree.   While we have a democratic governor for now, our state legislature is now in complete Republican control for the first time since the late 1800s.  While President Obama leads the charge for health care, education, and forward-thinking / equality-based job creation, I'm fearful of what will happen here, especially for those first two categories. 

It turns out that staying up late is not so good for productivity.  Wednesday and Thursday required all of my focus to keep doing what I need to do as an instructor, with no time for writing/poetry.  The reward for this was Friday's installment of the Big Rock Reading Series.  We hosted Kathleen Heil and J. Camp Brown, both MFA candidates at the University of Arkansas.  When I created the series, I marked off November as a time to host a grad student reading, and now with the addition of the program at UCA, it looks like we might expand our pool.  We had the reading at 10:00 a.m., which made me a bit nervous.  It turns out, we had 60+ folks show up, nearly all students.  Three instructors brought their students (including me).  This made me happy because for many of our students getting back to campus in the evening is a hardship due to jobs or family responsibilities. 

As for Kathleen and Josh, well, they rocked the house.  And after the reading, I got to take them to Vino's for pizza and not only talk about Fayetteville but also offer advice as they face the nerve-wracking future that is graduating from a grad program in a dismal job market.  I've got my fingers double crossed for all the writers up on the hill about to head out into the world.

Yesterday, saw me sending out The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths and taking that big leap off the high board with Fevers of Unknown Origin as well.  Once that was done, it meant that every single poem available for submission was out at one journal or another and both books were out there as well.  Ack!  This morning, I was rewarded with an acceptance from a journal waiting in my inbox.  Wahoooooo!  At the moment, I have high hopes for all things poetry and have recovered from the sting of the NEA rejection (finding out that a good poet-friend received one of the fellowships went a long way to soothing my wound).

Later today, we have an editorial meeting for Heron Tree to work through more submissions.  If you haven't sent us anything, remember that we read through Dec. 1. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekly Updates: Fairly Random & Disappointing

58º ~ after a weird run of days in the 80s, settling back into our amazing & beautiful fall weather, a gentle line of t-storms brought down a cold front last night, bright, clear sun

So, after my post on Tuesday morning, things pretty much went downhill this week.  It was a combination of misadventure and feeling low. 

C. was home from school all week with the pink eye, contracted from one of his students no doubt.  Teaching, the job that keeps on giving.  While I avoided conjunctivitis, I just ended up feeling achy, grouchy, and exhausted, coming home from teaching and sleeping each afternoon for several hours and then sleeping each night as well.  (Yes, I KNOW I am lucky beyond words to have a job with this kind of makes up for it when I'm grading non-stop.)  Normally, if I even dare take a 20-minute nap, my whole night's sleep is off.  My body may have been fighting something off, but I think my mind was also worn down by the mid-semester blues. 

On Friday, I received that lovely NEA email so many of us received: "sorry, try again in 2 years."  I was more able to keep the rejection in perspective this year, given all the misery left in Hurricane Sandy's wake, but it still hurts.  FB was extremely helpful as I felt less alone in the disappointment.

Speaking of destruction in the northeast.  I tried to get on the Poetry Society of American's website today and no luck.  Their address is Gramercy Park, NYC, so I'm wondering if they sustained damage as well.  Sending positive vibes to everyone in the path and especially those still without power.

Yesterday, I did summon the courage to send out The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths to three more publishers.  Today, I spent an hour sorting through poems from the fever book that are available for submission to journals.  I ended up sending out only one packet, but I'm good with that.  This whole process has been so different from the past.  I've never had the whole collection of poems written while sending out individual poems.  It brings a different light to the revisions I make, and I feel like the manuscript as a whole will be the stronger for it.  I'm hoping to start sending that mss. out in January.

In good news, that extra hour of sleep last night was reviving, and I think having more light in the morning may help me bounce back from the blahs. 

Here's to a better week ahead!