Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Problem of Going Digital (eBooks)

48º ~ bright sun, crisp breezes, all is well with the weather world as the year closes

Today, I have hit upon the one, true problem that I have with going digital, by which I mean switching to eBooks and internet journals.

The problem is this: there is no towering, life-endangering, stack of things to be read. At this moment, three stacks of books, mostly poetry hover over and around me. Add to that a stack of articles ripped from magazines, as well as articles and poems printed from the web, a slippery, slide-y kind of stack that makes a mess of my desk. While these stacks can sometimes inspire guilt and self-admonishment, they are always within reach, and I cannot "forget" that there is something I want to read.

Recently, though, I've been trying to cut down on paper and ink consumption by not printing as many things off the internet to read and by buying more eBooks or eSubscriptions to journals. My big exploration into reading poetry books as eBooks has been with Lucie Brock-Broido's latest, Stay, Illusion. I have access to it, and all the rest on both my iPad and my laptop; however, both iPad and laptop are slim, trim, and easily lost amid the clutter of life. Also, they don't scream "Read Me. Read Me Right Now" like a print version of almost anything else does.

Sidebar: C. and I recently visited a friend in the hospital. Said friend is slightly younger than we are, and when we arrived, he had a few other visitors of the younger variety. When I asked if our friend needed any magazines or anything, another visitor burst out laughing. He reminded me that with a smartphone, which our hospitalized friend had, there was no longer any need for magazines. I laughed along but a little part of me was so sad.

As for my desk and my "to-read pile," I don't know how this will all turn out. I suppose I will adapt to the changes, as humans are wont to do (or not, if we are the curmudgeonly kind). For the time being, I will search for some kind of visual indicator to remind myself of the eVersions waiting for me. Perhaps, I should print out color copies of the covers and tape them to my devices? Any other creative ideas?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Draft Notes: The Angry Sisters Make Use of the Swarm

55º ~ bright sun for basking in, a cold front on the way to knock us down to size

Today's draft came about as usual, from reading, word gathering, and then several words sparking on the page. In this case, it was the idea of "women," "seed," and "city." Of course, the women instantly became the angry sisters and then I had the sound of them "seeding the city," but with what? Well, the husks of cicadas, of course.

Confession: I find cicada husks to be horrible and slightly terrifying and wouldn't touch one unless given piles and piles of money. C., on the other hand, loves them and likes to collect them for the man cave.

At first, the angry sisters were going to seed the city with the bodies of the dead women/girls that are their obsession (those women/girls killed by men either in domestic violence or in those more infrequent stranger killings). However, that seemed a bit too unfeasible, as they are often searching for the remains. Perhaps it was the sound of "seed" and "city" that led me to "cicada" as it does not appear in my word bank.

However it happened, the poem begins like this.

All summer we thread
the shed husks of cicadas ...

The seeding of the city doesn't happen until the third stanza, when the sisters hang their "garlands" at the homes of "straying men."

The poem is in tercets with short, clipped lines that I'm made uncomfortable by.

I don't know if the angry sisters are going to work any more. They are so, so angry and accusatory. I found myself staring at my journal wondering what else I might have to write about, what other obsessions I might have. Nothing is calling to me now, and I'm not even sure the angry sisters were calling today or if I forced the poem out, knowing their obsessions.

In other words, where do poems come from?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Draft Notes: The Angry Sisters bury their mother

45º ~ sheer gray cloud-cover, no wind to speak of, my best window covered with a sheet to save a kinglet bent on attacking its own reflection

Today's draft did not come easy, and I'm sure I know the reason why. I had all the time in the world open before me, and I began as usual, by reading and gathering words. Then, I re-read all the "angry sister poems" that I had worked on (so sporadically) this past year. I fussed and faltered. I picked up another book to read, and wham, I knew I had to write a poem about the burial of the sisters' mother. In one of the poems I'd re-read in the series, the sisters proclaimed themselves "motherless," and that I suppose was the spark.

However, it became very hard to write the poem. The problem is that the angry sisters are a set of peronae based much more on my real life than the sickly speaker ever was. So, I had to keep reminding myself that my mom is alive and well (if socked in by snow and cold!). I also screwed up the process by jumping on the computer too soon.

Ah, well, at least there is a draft. The title bleeds into the first line, which is the reason for the odd capitalization in the title of this post as well. And, the first two lines are giving me fits so I won't quote them here, except to say that what follows the title is this, "in secret ... ." The burial takes place at night, and the last line explains why the secrecy and lack of a cemetery plot.

I'm hoping more reading and more quiet time over the next week will lead to more drafting. I'm hoping to figure out a schedule for the semester to capture more quiet/reading/writing time as well. Oh, the folly of a New Year's resolution!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Do You Read Poetry?

55º ~ on our way up to 70s for the next three days with stormy weather in the offing, for now the sun fights the gray, the breezes stir but do not rage, the rain holds off for a few more hours

How do you read poetry? This is an earnest question, as most of mine are.

Many of you know that I started teaching at the graduate level this past semester (for the low-residency program at the University of Arkansas Monticello). I taught a course in contemporary American poetry, assigning poets from the 1960s through today, and while teaching that course many things surprised me (for example, the vehemence with which several students took offense to Ginsberg). However, nothing surprised me more than how my students read the poems at the beginning of the semester.

As the courses in this low-res program are conducted online using the Blackboard LMS, I created weekly discussion boards where each student posted a response to one of the poets for that week, using one--three specific poems from our selection to illustrate the student's response in terms of poetic elements used by the poet and how the poet fit into American poetry (or didn't). I also required that each poet appear on the board before a student could repeat, which meant that sometimes, a student had to post about a poet with whom he/she might not be completely attuned.

After the first week of discussion, it became clear to me that my students were reading the poems in a completely different way than I intended, and this had everything to do with technology.

To go back in time to the late 80s and early 90s when I was an undergrad, for the most part, all we had was the poem on the page and a dictionary by our side. We were taught to read, at least at St. Ben's/St. John's, by reading out loud, by annotating (yes, writing in our books!), by looking up definitions and allusions, and by formulating our own personal response to the poem on the page. This, then, is how I've read poems ever since.

You see, back in the bad old days, we did not have the vast resources of the internet. To research a poet and/or a poem meant a trip to the library across campus (and remember CSB/SJU is in central Minnesota where the biting winds of winter knock a girl down from late Oct. through late March). Once we reached the library, there was a thick reference book to search for articles on the poet/poem, A Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (all hail, Michelle Holschuh Simmons for the reminder of the name) and then a set of stacks of print periodicals where we hoped to find the article itself. If not, then we had to inter-library loan the article (having it faxed from another library). If not looking for the most current articles, we could, of course, use the library catalog (which had just switched to a digital form) for books on the subject at hand and then go to the book stacks, perhaps stopping after all of this to copy a relevant chapter or article at the copier (10 cents a page) so we could annotate that as well.

And so, we could not access immediately the thoughts of critics and reviewers.

I confess that I am somewhat insular and often forget to think that others may have been taught differently, so imagine my surprise when the first week of discussion included references of what other people thought about the poets and poems rather than simply the student's take on the poet/poems. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this type of scholarship, and I did require research essays and class presentations that used sources. I was simply flabbergasted because I assumed the students would know that I didn't intend them to do research at the discussion level. (Yes, I am often beaten by my own assumptions!) I was also still thinking in terms of a face-to-face classroom at this point, where students don't usually go into that much depth of research before coming to class to discuss the reading of the day (or at least I didn't when I was an MFA student). So, two wrong assumptions in a row.

I quickly wrote a note to the class, explaining my expectations. I let them know that the reading should be time-consuming enough and that I didn't intend them to have to research as well (until they focused on their research essays), but, more importantly, I wanted to hear how each student met the poems on the page without the clutter of other critics or reviewers. What seemed simple enough to me actually presented a problem for several students, not an intellectual problem, but a problem of habit. They were so used to turning to the internet and "the experts" that they didn't trust their own instincts. It took us a few weeks to settle the line: feel free to look up definitions and allusion but do not read critics and reviewers until after you've formulated your own thoughts on the discussion board. After that, all was smooth sailing.

Now, I'm left to wonder, how do you read poetry? I simply can't believe that we should skip directly to the critics & reviewers. It seems to take the joy out of the reading for me, but am I just an old fuddy-duddy, stuck in the last century? Or have students been so trained in research and scholarship that they forget to read the text one-on-one, so to speak? Is this the difference between reading as a scholar and reading as a writer? What do you all think?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Draft Notes: One Confession

56º ~ sweet return of sun and Southern breezes, the joy of living beneath the snow line (with apologies to any readers feeling the weight of snow and icy bite of air) ~ what leaves that remain on any hardwood trees are brown and marked by last week's freeze, the privets though, go on waving their green leaves ~ taunt or celebration?

The last poem I drafted in all seriousness seems to be dated July 11. Holy quiet periods, Cat Woman! Today's return to drafting follows my every pattern from quiet periods before. I spent the last four days (since my grades were all turned in) dealing with pesky tasks, endless to-do lists around the house, and other mundane duties. One might ask, why not jump right in to poetry? For me, it doesn't work that way. After a long time away from the page, I have to clear the decks of as much dross as possible. Otherwise, it lingers in my peripheral vision.

In any case, I put on my instrumental music, gathered my coffee and watered down OJ, my dark chocolate topped butter biscuits, a random book from my to-read pile, and my journal, and I began. After reading several poems from a book I won't name because I wasn't reading it so much as using it to ignite the day, I thought I had a line or two, and I went to the journal. I scratched out most of a poem, one about the angry sisters. I turned to the computer and finished a draft, but per my usual experience when returning to the page after a long silence, it was painful, sluggish, stilted, more apt to prose than poetry. Still I pushed through and printed the dreaded thing off.

I made another cup of coffee, picked up the book again, and this time admitted my intent, gathering words instead of reading poems. Sure enough, after getting about thirty random words on the page of my journal (chosen from all different pages in the book and dropped randomly on the page), I started seeing sparks, started drawing circles and arrows around combinations, in particular the combination of "skull," "raft," and "detour."

And then, the real poem draft of the day presented itself. It begins:

His skull a raft, a wreckage,
our father plummets into fragments,
takes a perpetual detour to the past.

It is a poem that deals with a difficult subject, and it is confessional. In this case the drafting was hard because it caused me to have to admit something about myself that puts me in a not so great light, but there it is on the page just the same. And this time, I felt a satisfaction in the working of the lines, a liveliness in the words.

This poem, which I've titled "One Confession" for now, will need more revision and then it will take a bit of courage to send out to the world.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Notes from an Online Reading

42º ~ the casters of fore say that we should return to normal temps (low to mid 50s) for most of next week, sympathies to those north of here where the cold has been much, much worse ~ skies heavy gray, birds heavy feeding (robins, mostly today)

Thursday night, I participated in my first live online reading, in this case sponsored by Hayden's Ferry Review for the launch of issue 53. I've got two sickly speaker poems in the issue: "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country" and "I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep." (I've linked to the draft notes.)

I confess, I was a bit nervous about this reading, as I've only ever recorded for the internet before and this was LIVE! All thanks to Sam Marton at HFR for sending out great instructions and organizing the entire set up on Ustream. Sam provided us with an opportunity to check out the site the day before the event and get familiar with the set up, which was priceless for my nerves. He also sent out a schedule so we would all know when we were scheduled to hit the "Go Live" button on our end.

The day of the event was marked by two momentous occasions: 1) I hit "send" on my final set of final grades for the semester and 2) I received my contributor copies of the HFR issue. Wahoo! So, having submitted grades and now clutching the journal in my hands (and what a production this print journal is, 5-star quality!), I set about organizing my computers and the room in which I'd be broadcasting and practicing what I wanted to say and the poems I meant to read.

This meant moving lamps around, taking all the riff-raff off my bookshelves so that only the books showed in the background of the video, and finding a sweater that looked half-way decent. I logged into the site, where you can see what your camera is picking up without going live, so I could judge light and image. I tried to deal with the glare on the glasses, but, alas, failed at that. Also, I had my system set up so I could broadcast from my desktop, which is plugged into the internet connection through a hardline, and I planned to have my laptop going next to me to see the live broadcast, as there is a delay. The best laid plans and all that.

As the broadcast launched, I was in my seat listening to the readers before me on my laptop, when George the cat decided to check things out. He was distressed by the fact that my desk was askew (I had to turn the computer for better video quality) and did a hesitant tap dance across the desktop keyboard and then wound through cords and such behind the computer. Meanwhile, I listened on. Then, the reader scheduled to go before me, didn't appear and didn't appear and didn't appear (tech difficulties, luckily resolved so he could go later). Sam emailed and said, "Can you go a few minutes early?" Sure, no worries. I'd planned ahead.

I tried to hit the "Go Live" button on my desktop, and...nothing happened...oh god!, click, response. George the cat!!!!! He must have knocked something or pressed a key or something. Scramble, scramble, scramble...get laptop from viewing mode to broadcasting mode...fluster, fluster, fluster...and begin to broadcast!

I started to speak and prayed that I was broadcasting, as I now was in the blind (with Ustream, you can't have a broadcasting window open at the same time as a viewing window on the same computer or you get feedback) and on my laptop instead of my desktop, which meant relying on WiFi. As I read my thanks and then my first prepared poem, I panicked. Did Sam need me to fill time? I'd prepared 10 minutes as suggested, but then, he asked me to go 5 minutes early? Should I go to my allotted end time? Yes, I decided, or close. So as I was reading my first prepared poem, another section of my brain was scrambling. Luckily, I had the whole fever manuscript right there and picked two shortish poems I know well and blended them in. This is why I always, always, always rehearse.

Finally, I came to the end, and we'd been told to wait a bit after finishing before clicking the "stop" button or we would cut off the broadcast (which was on a delay). I did wait what felt like an uncomfortable amount of time, but, sadly, without my dual computer system working, I couldn't see the broadcast, so I cut myself off. Sigh.

It turns out that I probably shouldn't have added the two extra poems, as the reading ended up going long. I hope no one thought I was one of those horrid readers who disregards time allotted! Also, because I was on my laptop, using WiFi, my broadcast broke up a bit when the signal strength dropped. Sigh.

I do think I was the oldest person reading Still, I was thrilled to get a chance to try the technology.

Also, I was happy that friends and family far and wide (including a friend in England who stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to listen...thank you, Danny) could see/hear the reading. It was great to be able to call Mom afterward and celebrate the event. On top of all that, I got to hear some amazing work (in particular, poems by Benjamin Goldberg and Emma Sovich) and I didn't have to leave my house. In fact, I had sweat pants and slippers on! Lovely, lovely.

Again, thanks to Hayden's Ferry Review for the experience and to Sam for the organization and technical support.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hayden's Ferry Review Online Reading, 12/13/13 @ 8:00 p.m EASTERN

Here's the direct link to the channel. To hold you over until 8:00 EST, you can watch a video of Lydia Ship reading "Roar You" from issue 52!

There may be an ad (or choice of ads) before each reader. Simply choose an ad and watch for five seconds until the Skip button appears, and then you can go straight to the reading. Check out our roster below, featuring a last minute addition: the one and only Emma Sovich! Please join us in the cyberworld come 8 PM for a fantastic reading of poetry and prose!

8 PM—Introduction by Sam Martone
8:10—Kelsey Ronan
8:20—Brandon Amico
8:30—Benjamin Goldberg
8:40—John Holliday
8:50—John James
9—Sandy Longhorn
9:10—Ruth Joffre
9:20—Ray McManus
9:30—Kelly Magee
9:40—Chelsea Biondolillo
9:50—Emma Sovich

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Canceled Events and an Online Reading on December 12th!

27º ~ all is covered with a thin sheen of ice, trees stripped bare except for the sweetgum still clinging to 20% of its leaves and the infernal privets that never lose a leaf

Well, friends, I had the great disappointment of being iced in this weekend and having to cancel my trip to Benedictine University at Springfield. This meant canceling my appearance on The Midwest Radio Show and at the reading at The Dana House with Chad Simpson and Monica Berlin. And, I was especially looking forward to meeting Justin Hamm in person after years of an online friendship. Alas, I'm a good Midwestern girl who knows better than to try and beat the weather at its own game. And, let me tell you, when the ice comes down in Arkansas, it means business. This is not like driving in snow, not at all.

On the flip side, you can catch me on Thursday night (the 12th) on Ustream for the Hayden's Ferry Review 21st Century Reading for issue 53!  So cool!  Contributors from issue 53 will be reading from all over the country. As someone who doesn't have the financial wherewithal to jaunt about to different reading venues, I see great things for this type of reading in the future.  Plus, I can wear my sweats!

We aren't supposed to share the link to the reading until the night of the event, so be sure to friend me on Facebook for the link that night OR send me an email with a request for the link and I'll send it to you on Thursday night. At the moment, I'm scheduled to read at 8:10 CENTRAL time. The full reading will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. central standard time, and you can pop in and out as your schedule allows. Each reader gets 10 minutes, and I'll be reading the two fever poems that appear in HFR Issue 53: "Left a Refugee Here in a Sterile Country" and "I Have Gone Shimmering into Ungentle Sleep." I'll probably have time for one or two more poems and will read some others from the sickly speaker.

In the meantime, I'm trying to drum up motivation to grade and grade and grade and grade. Yes, I know the end is in sight. Yes, I know that the sooner I finish the grading, the sooner I can begin to write again, and collage. However, all I seem capable of during these days of gray and ice is sleep, eat, Law&Order on Netflix, sleep, eat, repeat. I can't even focus on reading, and I've tried! Brain = an icy mush.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shhhh.......Poems Germinating

44º ~ Dear Siberia, please recall this "arctic air" as it is far, far from home ~ after strong storms, many trees are close to bare with the sweetgum holding on for all its worth

Dear Reader,
I feel the stirring of words in the pit of me. Oh be joyful, but quietly, lest they run for cover again. Here are some reasons for the stirring.

Hayden's Ferry Review will publish two fever poems in the new issue (Issue 53), due out in December. The editors emailed a bunch of contributors about a special subscription project. This issue contains some work submitted around the theme of "Departure," although I believe I submitted the fever poems under the unthemed guidelines. In any case, the editors asked contributors to participate in a special subscription drive (which isn't being offered quite yet) that would include new subscribers receiving a paper airplane with something from a contributor.  The picture above might explain it better.

While I could have simply copied out the poems that are in the issue, I opted to try and generate something new. The result is a poem written under a time constraint, but it is something I think works, so I'm happy with it.


Reading journals. To try and get more poetry in my daily life, I've been trying to read the poems in journals as they arrive, and here are a few standouts.

from Gulf Coast 26.1 (Winter/Spring 2014)
"Fugue for the Sky Burial of Your Father" by M. K. Foster (winner of the 2013 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize)
"You Cannot Go to the God You Love With Your Two Legs" by Patrick Rosal
"Reprieve as Unlikely Baltimore" by Matthew Pennock
"I am not Gertrude Stein" by friend and fellow U of Arkansas alum, Stacy Kidd
"After Warhol's Rorschach, 1984" by friend Adam Vines
"Of the Swan" by Jericho Brown (who will be reading for the Big Rock in February!!!!)

from North American Review 298.2 (Spring 2013)
"Bad May" by Andrew Payton (winner of the 2013 James Hearst Poetry Prize)
"A Phone Line to Seven Generations" by Mark Wagenaar
"A Letter to the Coroner in the Voice of Marian Parker" by Jennifer Militello
"I Swam Where Johnny was Tarzan" by Heather Sellers

from Cave Wall 12
"Seen from Above" by Jennifer K. Sweeney
"What was Promised Me" by Cecilia Woloch
"Keepsakes from the Daily Route" by friend and fellow U of Arkansas alum, Alison Pelegrin
"First Shift" by Heather Cousins
"Morning Train" by Kathryn Stripling Byer


Reading, slowly, Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido. If you read me frequently, you know how much I admire Brock-Broido's work. Let's face it, I lap it up. I ended up buying this book as an ebook to see how publishers and programs were handling poetry. Brock-Broido tends to the long line and irregular indents, so I knew it would be a challenge. Sure enough, on my iPad, it is a disaster unless I choose "scrolling view" which destroys the sense of pages in a book. However, happily, on my MacBook Air, it does just fine, and I'm even learning to use the highlight and note function. It certainly isn't the same as cradling a paper copy in my hands, but I do want to give the new technology a chance as I can see the great benefit of being able to access the book from anywhere, rather than having to wait until I get home.  (Yes, I'm a greedy-gut that way!)


Reading, reading, reading submissions for Heron Tree. If you haven't submitted, we accept submissions through December 1. Remember, we read blind, so I won't know it's your work, but I hope y'all will send us your best poems!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Woe Unto this Poor Abandoned Blog

65º ~ slate gray skies, about half of the leaves blown down from the trees

Oh, this poor blog has born the brunt of the suffering this semester.  If there are any readers left around out there, here's some news, in no particular order.

1. For the first time in my life, I have poems out to only one magazine, and those were solicited.

2. For the first time in a very long time, I have not written a new draft in over three months.

3. I have been invited to participate in a roundtable radio interview/podcast on Midwest regionalism on December 7, sponsored by Quiddity at Benedictine University at Springfield (IL).  Fellow panelists: Justin Hamm, Monica Berlin, and Chad Simpson.

4. After the roundtable, we will read at the Dana House in Springfield.

5. The Central Arkansas Broadside Project has a new broadside out, featuring a prose-poemish piece by Tyrone Jaeger.

6. The Big Rock Reading Series wrapped up for the year yesterday with Diana Reaves (poetry) and William Pittam (prose), both graduate students at the University of Arkansas.  Will and Diana brought along two other MFAers, so we had a great lunch where I pestered them with questions about all the goings on up on the hill.

7.  I continue to send out the sickly speaker manuscript, although I think it will undergo a title change today.

8.  The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths is out there in the world!  There will be a Little Rock reading on February 11 at South on Main.  Wahooooooooo!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What to Do When You Have a New Book Out

57º ~ rainy days, cloud cover, trees beginning to turn to gold, red, and brown

Several times I've said how grateful I am that I had the experiences of Blood Almanac in my back pocket as The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths came out.  BA came out before I had a "web presence,"and it came out in May/June of 2006, meaning at the end of the spring semester so that I had several months to focus on having a new book out.

News of The Girlhood Book arrived just as one wickedly over-committed semester kicked off. The actual copies arrived right after midterms of the same semester.  What follows are some of the things I did to both bring the book to fruition and since it landed on my front porch.

1.  Proofed a) the text file one last time before layout and b) galleys of the finished layout, paying careful attention to the acknowledgments page on top of the poems.
2.  Collected an email list of contacts so that Richard Krawiec could send out an offer for pre-order. (Silly me, I should have had this list going in an Excel file all along.)
3.  Looked at cover images provided by RK and made final approval.
4.  Sent RK names for blurbs.
5.  Sent RK names and addresses for review copies.  Here, both RK and I are cautious and only sent to those folks where we thought there was a pretty good chance of a review.
6.  Posted on this blog about the goings on, and tweeted posts, which then showed up on Facebook.
7.  Set up a launch reading at a local venue.
8.  Waited for books to arrive.

I want to take a moment to thank my blurbers: Stuart Dischell (as judge of the contest), Traci Brimhall, and Al Maginess (whose blurb didn't make it on the cover, but I'm grateful just the same).

Since the books have arrived, I've done the following.

1. Posted news of the book's release here and on Facebook.
2. Mailed copies to blurbers with thanks.
3. Responded to a bunch of Facebook posts from folks who pre-ordered and received their copies.
4. Emailed news of the book's arrival to the journal editors for all of the individual poem publications in the book.  Some journals post such news on their websites; some journals ask for review copies. All share the joy.
5. Sold two copies, one in person, one via the post.
6. Created listings for both books in my Etsy Storefront, which was first created when I thought I'd be able to make and sell collages, but I just don't have the time.

Things I still need to do.

1.  Set up readings. Set up readings. Set up readings.

Now, what have I forgotten?  Anyone else out there have items for my to-do list?  Please share!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Book is Born! The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths has Launched

51º ~ finally, something akin to fall weather has arrived ~ leaves still green, watching for the first hints of color

While I knew The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths had made it back to Jacar Press from the printer, I didn't know it would land in mailboxes yesterday.  That is, until Facebook page lit up with folks sending word of the surprise arrival.  What a wonderful way to end another grueling week!

PR/Marketing break: To order copies, click here. Then, scroll through the menu to find The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.

I'm overjoyed to know this long process has finally reached fruition, and by "long" I don't mean anything having to do with the actual production and publication.  I found out that the book had won the Jacar Press Full Length Book Contest in the last week of August; seven weeks later, the book existed in physical form. Wowza! By long I mean the years and years and years of writing, revising, and sending out, much of which is chronicled in the archives of this blog.

All my thanks, sincerely, to everyone who has been part of the journey, both family and friends.  Your support during the lows and the highs and everywhere in between is priceless.  And now, we celebrate!

Angie Macri provides me a cameo with Buzz!

Marie Gauthier, selfie with TGBoPM

Amy Baldwin couldn't wait to get inside;
that's her front step under the book.

Poet-friend and Blogger-extraordinaire, Kristin Berkey-Abbott beat everyone to the punch and has already blogged about receiving her copy.    

With thanks and thanks and thanks!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gazing Grain Press Reading and Reception ~ September 22, 2013

69º ~ a beautiful fall rain storm tapering off, weak sunlight filtering through, leaves dripping

A two-week illness prevented me from posting these photos earlier, but I do want to thank M. Mack and the other fine folks with Gazing Grain Press and The Fall for the Book Festival for inviting me to read as runner up in the 2013 feminist chapbook competition.  It was a spectacular event, and I was blown away by winner Meg Day and her chapbook, We Can't Read This.

M. Mack

Meg Day and Me

Bobblehead Lincoln
The conference was in Fairfax, VA, which meant flying through DCA. With a US History teacher for a spouse, I'm always on the alert for presidential doo-dads.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Where I'll Be Sunday, Sept. 22: Fall for the Book

64º ~ joy, joy, joy, the heat has broken and we have two delicious days ahead ~ then, because the weather is a cruel dictator, the heat and humidity will return all through next week ~ living for today!

Friends in Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland, I'll be in your area on Sunday, September 22, to read at the Fall for the Book Conference.  As the runner-up to Gazing Grain Press' 2013 feminist chapbook contest, I'm slated to read at their party for Meg Day, the winner.  Cathy Park Hong selected Meg Day's chapbook, We Can't Read This, as the winner of the contest, and I'm so excited to hear Meg read.  We will be at the Sherwood Center from 4:30 - 6:00.  And, hey, Dave Barry follows us!

As the chapbook I submitted contained poems from my forthcoming book, The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, that's what I'll be reading.  It's going to be an extra delight to read these poems for the first time as part of a collection with a home.

This conference runs from Sunday through the following Friday, and I'm super jealous of all the amazing talent I'll miss and happy to be included!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Too Busy to Write!

95 deg ~ bright sun but possibly a wee chance of rain as a slow, slow, slow cold front moves in and lowers our temps by the weekend

Hello from the wild and wacky world of a poet who suddenly has an abundance of poetry-related projects to juggle.  I confess, I haven't even had time to think about writing a new draft in the last month, but I'm okay with that for now.  Eventually, the poems will arrive, no matter how busy I am, and push their way through. Or, eventually, things will calm down and I'll be able to make time for writing again.

Until then, please remember that you can find all of my process notes in the archives if you are looking for ideas on how to spark something on the page.

Today, you can read a glimpse into my writing process on Laura E. Davis' blog, Dear Outer Space.  Laura is a fabulous poet and the editor of Weave.  Interested in how other writers approach the writing process, Laura sent out a call for anyone interested in answering her interview questions.  Let me say, these were some of the best interview questions ever.

Next week, the Big Rock Reading Series kicks off for the 2013 - 2014 season at Pulaski Tech. Garry Craig Powell, author of Stoning the Devil, will read, take questions, and sign copies on Tuesday, September 17!

I've also been working with Richard Krawiec at Jacar Press getting The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths in the works.  It's amazing how quickly Richard and folks managed to bring everything together, and I can't wait to hold the book in my hands.  Watch out for more news on this soon.

As mentioned here earlier, I launched the Central Arkansas Broadside Project this month.  I'm happy to say that through a shared effort, we are spreading the broadsides all over the region.  You can read all about it on the project's dedicated blog, and you can see some pictures of where we've posted the first broadside.  Many thanks to my fellow poets in the area (and their students who are helping us distribute).

And, don't forget, Heron Tree is open for submissions, right now.  We are reading the first few submissions, and I look forward to reading many, many more over the next few months.  We accept submissions through December 1 for anyone interested, with the guidelines here.  In other exciting Heron Tree news, the first print volume is now available as well.

In the meantime, there is also and always teaching, which comes first, first, and first during the semester. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

And the Winner Is....

66º ~ bright sun on the horizon, not a cloud, a few days of peace and then the heat and humidity return...ah summer, don't you know when you're done?

Apologies for the lateness of this post. Life is overwhelming (but for all the right reasons!) at the moment.  And the winner of the free copy of Blood Almanac is


Michael, I'll be in touch for your mailing address. Thanks to all for reading the blog and helping me celebrate the good new for The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths.

We are flying through the production schedule and already have cover art, blurbs, barcode/ISBN, and layout.  I've proofed the interior, and we are on our way.

If you work at a journal that will seriously consider doing a review of the book, please send me an email (sandy dot 40 dot longhorn AT gmail dot com) so I can arrange a review copy.  If you work at a journal that receives tens of hundreds of review copies with little chance of reviewing this particular book, please take into consideration that a small press has a small margin when deciding whether to contact me.

Here's the beautiful cover, with art by Marilyn Ormsbee Strother.  This piece was painted around Urbana, Illinois, which explains why it leapt into my heart the minute I saw it!

Yes, Stuart Dischell calls my poem "sly."  "Sly" I can't get over it.  I had never thought of them this way before, but I see it now, and I love it!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Heron Tree Print Edition Launch!

94 degrees ~ heat index = 100 degrees, cold front coming through Monday into Tuesday, until then, the A/C runs continuously

It's here, it's here, it's here!  The first print edition of Heron Tree is now available at Lulu. Volume One collects all of the poems which will have been featured on the website from January 2013 through September 2013. To celebrate our first print edition, we are offering it at cost to everyone: $4.38 plus shipping.

Note: Resolution in Lulu's preview is low and not reflective of the volume as printed.

Now, help us gather the poems for Volume Two.  Our new reading period opens today!  You can read the complete guidelines here. If you did submit last year, please take a look because we've changed a few guidelines for this next round. We are ready and eager to read your poems, so send on!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Heron Tree Opens for Submissions on September 1

74º ~ but at least the dew point is staying low for the moment, the obnoxious, heavy air should arrive in time for the long weekend, Labor Day in the Mid-South, wahoo?

Hello, poet friends!  Here's a gentle reminder, nudge to get those poems ready to go.  Heron Tree will start accepting new submissions as of September 1. You can read all of our guidelines here, but for those who submitted last year, notice that there are a few changes. Since we read blind, we are now asking all submitters to strip their names from the poems themselves. Just include the list of poems you are submitting in your cover letter, which should be the body of your email. Also, please don't put anything in the headers/footers of your documents. Thanks!

We read in batches as the poems accumulate in the submissions inbox, and we notify as we go. I'm looking forward to another round of reading, discussing, and accepting!

Also, watch for news soon about the availability of our first print anthology of the poems published online!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Book Coming Out, New Semester Starting Off: Catching Up and Holding On

86º ~ hot, hot, hot, humidity that makes you want to wring your skin out, all for the next 7 - 10 days, summer holding on tight

When life gets this busy, something's always got to give, and for me that's been blogging. I'm hoping, hoping to make blogging a once-a-week activity this semester, and since I've got so much poetry news to convey, I think that will happen. That means the posts may be longer, as I sum up the goings on of the week.  I hope you'll hang in there and read all the way through.

Updates on The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths
First and foremost, my work with Richard Krawiec at Jacar Press continues on at highly caffeinated speeds. Like most small, independent publishers, Richard is doing amazing things for poetry and poets. If you haven't checked out the list of books he's published, I hope you'll do so now, and consider supporting a great press by ordering something. The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths will have an official release date of early 2014!

We are already planning a reading tour in North Carolina for February 2014, which means getting to see Al Maginess and meet his family as well as visiting Michelle and Bob Holschuh Simmons and, hopefully, meeting their boys.  (Surprise!)

Many of you have already gone through the publishing process with a book or a chapbook, but for those who haven't, the things I learned the first go-round have been invaluable this time. If you've got a manuscript out at a contest or under consideration in any way, you will be well-prepared if you have the following on hand:

~ a brief paragraph description of the book (sounds easy, can be super hard)
~ a current bio and headshot
~ a list of journals where you'd like review copies to be sent
~ an email list of folks who might be interested in news about the book
~ an address list for PR postcards
~ the names of fellow writers who might provide blurbs
~ an email list of all the journals in which poems in the collection appeared
~ contact information for your local paper, arts organization, employer, etc. for when the press release is ready

Updates on The Fall for the Book Conference Appearance
In the rush of the new semester, I'm also planning a trip out to Fairfax, VA, and George Mason University for the 2013 Fall for the Book Conference. While this is a week-long celebration, I'll only be able to be there for the Gazing Grain Press Reading and Reception on the afternoon of Sunday, September 22.  Meg Day, the winner of the chapbook contest, and I will be reading. For those in the area, this will be at the Sherwood Center from 4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.  It's FREE! And, hey, we'll be followed by Dave Barry at 6:30, so yeah, wow!

As part of being runner-up for the Gazing Grain 2013 feminist chapbook contest is that two of my cautionary tale poems will be published as a "mini-chapbook." These will be available at the reading and will ship with any orders for Meg Day's winning chapbook.

I'm super excited about this event for so many reasons!

Updates on the New Semester
Things at Pulaski Tech are off and running. I'm so lucky this semester to be teaching Creative Writing I and Creative Writing II on campus, as well as my usual Composition I online. In between teaching and prepping, I'm also curating the Big Rock Reading Series again, as well as serving as managing editor of our journal of academic writing, Milestones.  Whew!

I've also begun teaching my first-ever graduate level class.  I'm teaching Contemporary American Poetry for the new low-residency MFA at the University of Arkansas Monticello. This has been a super blast! The class is a combination of graduate students and upper-level undergrads, which adds an exciting twist to all the prepping, but I have to say I've been incredibly impressed with everything about the program, the faculty, the students, UAM, everything.  So, so thankful for this opportunity!

PS: If you know anyone searching for a low-residency MFA, the deadline for applications for students wanting to start in January is 15 October!

Updates on Heron Tree
Chris Campolo and Rebecca Resinski, the creators and owners of Heron Tree Press, have been hard at work getting the print volume ready for purchase. Soon, I'll post information about how to get your hands on the collected poems for volume 1.

We continue to post one new poem a week on the website, and we are eager to begin reading new submissions starting September 1.  Please send us your best work for consideration (but please wait until Sept. 1, so we don't have to reject anything out of hand for not following the guidelines). Also, if you sent last year, take a moment to look at the guidelines again, as things have changed a bit.

Updates on the Central Arkansas Broadside Project
I'm thrilled to announce that I have the first broadside, featuring a poem by Hope Coulter, nearly ready to go. The file is finalized, and I'm just working on getting copies printed this week.  I'll be launching the project the first week of September with the help of the contributors and their students.  We plan to plaster Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Conway with poetry.  Wahoooooooo!

For someone who spent much of the summer wondering where she fit in the poetry world and so much time NOT writing poems, things have certainly gotten a lot clearer and a lot busier!

Finally, for those who did read all the way through, I'm going to give away one copy of Blood Almanac in celebration of all the good things happening these days.  If you've already got a copy, consider playing along and if you win, pass the copy along to someone else.  To play, just leave me a comment. On Sunday, 1 September, I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner! If you don't have a blogger account, please provide a way to get in contact should you win.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What I'm Reading: Spoke & Dark

66º ~ 9 a.m. in August and 66º, some kind of weird joke going on here, right?  don't panic, the heat shall return on Monday, just in time for school to start

This post is super easy because my response to Carolyn Guinzio's Spoke & Dark (Red Hen, 2012) is now up at Atticus Review. Carolyn is a good friend and an amazing poet and photographer. She also edits the writing side of Yew: A Journal of Innovating Writing and Images by Women.  

Click on over to the Atticus Review site and read all about Spoke & Dark. Then go buy yourself a copy!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book #2 Finds a Home: Whirling & Twirling with Delight

72º a bit cloudy but not overbearingly so, beautiful breezes and open windows

*warning: exclamation points used with abandon beyond this point

Dear Friends, it has finally happened. The good news email arrived yesterday morning from Richard Krawiec at Jacar Press, just as I was about to enter one of those amazing professional development meetings that clutter the week before classes begin. The poet Stuart Dischell (oh my gosh, Stuart Dischell!) chose The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths as the winner of the 2013 Jacar Press Full Length Poetry Book Contest!

Yes, this is the press that I mentioned here. I had learned in June that the manuscript was a finalist and had set about waiting out the news of the results. In a strange twist of coincidence, I had just announced to C. and to my mom last week that I was resigned to the news being negative, sure as I was that someone else must have won. The coincidence part is that just before I heard the good news from Rick Campbell at Anhinga about Blood Almanac, I'd said the same thing. Hmmmm, patience not my strong suit? I think not. Also, this "preparing for the worst" mentality is very much a Midwestern trait.

Aside from that, I can tell that this adventure with Jacar is going to happen quickly. I'm set to proof the text, and Richard and I have already started having those conversations about cover design, press releases, review copies, readings, and etc. that go into making and launching a book. I'm so glad I've already had the experience once, so I know what I'm talking about. I'm also thrilled by the speed given that this manuscript has been the bridesmaid for so long that the quicker I can get her down the aisle as the bride, the happier I will be!

In addition, yesterday was incredibly different from finding out about Blood Almanac because my poetry world has grown considerably thanks to this blog and Facebook. When I found out about BA, it was 8:30 p.m. on a school night, and C. was already "resting his eyes" in front of the History Channel. He woke long enough to absorb the news, and then I called my mom, who was also headed for bed. Then, I wrote a group email to a handful of close friends and failed to sleep at all that night b/c there wasn't anyone who wanted to stay up all night and celebrate with me. (In C.'s defense, having to face a full day of high school teaching the next day, he needed to sleep.)

Yesterday, the news came mid-morning and Richard had announced it on Facebook before I could blink twice, and re-read his congratulatory email for the tenth time to be sure it was real. C. was then able to interrupt a PD meeting of his own to announce the news to his colleagues and administration (blush from afar), and my mom was ecstatic, especially later in the day when we had a chance to really talk it all over. Many of you were on FB and helped celebrate with me. All thanks. It really does make the moment sweeter. Special, extra thanks to all of you reading this blog and on FB who have shepherded me through these rough last few months of book despair! I am so lucky to be a part of this big, wide world or poetry!

It turns out Jacar Press is perfect for me; after all, it defines itself as a "community-active literary press" and part of the profits of the book will go to a non-profit, and I get to help pick the group.  Wow!  The press funds writing workshops in underserved communities and does all kinds of other fantastic things to promote literacy and poetry. (Can I get a Wahoooooooooooooooooooo, sister?) I am eager beyond words to begin, and so I shall.

While I do not wish the long wait and many years of submitting on anyone, I'm here to tell you that persistence almost always wins. When you get that positive feedback time and time again, but just miss the goal, keep going!

Friday, August 2, 2013

More Bits of Good News

76º ~ with a dew point under 70, all is passing fair outside for now, forecast calls for mid-90s for the next seven days, a stormy Sun/Mon on the outlook

Today started off with all kinds of over-stimulation on Facebook as posts about some recent good news exploded, but first, some good news not about me but about a poetry friend.

Amanda Auchter's new book The Wishing Tomb (Perugia Press) won the 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry!  Now that is a mighty wahooooooooooooooo!  This book is on my to-read pile, so expect a blog response soon.

Last night, I found out that a panel on which I am a participant was accepted for AWP 2014 in Seattle. Wahooooooooo!  All thanks to John Bell for bringing together "Here We Gather: History and Advice on Setting Up a Writers Conference, Festival, or Colloquium at a Two-Year College." I'm looking forward to sharing information about the Big Rock Reading Series at PTC and to learning how to make it even better from my fellow panel members!  (Hat Tip to Tawnysha Greene who tagged me on FB to tell me that she saw my name in the program before I even read the email from John!)

Earlier in the week, poet and blogger Diane Lockward emailed me to give me a heads up about a poem of mine appearing on Verse Daily today.  All thanks, Diane!  Apparently, Verse Daily sends out an email on Monday with the list for the upcoming week.  I'm now signed up for that email!  In any case, stop by Verse Daily today and check out "Small-Time Rapture," a sickly speaker poem that appeared in the lovely & magnificent Barn Owl Review 6.

Finally, I'm thrilled to announce the creation of the Central Arkansas Broadside Project.  I followed through with my intent and have enlisted a handful of local poets and writers to contribute.  Each will send me a poem that I will format into a broadside.  Along with the poems, I will publish the writers' traditional bios, but I will also publish a list of recommended poets on each broadside.  I imagine someone stopping for a couple of minutes at a coffee shop, gallery, library/bookstore, even a hair salon, and reading a poem.  Perhaps, the reader may like the poem, and perhaps, like many non-poets out there, the reader will want to read more poetry but not know where to start.  The author's bio is one place to start, but the list of recommendations just sweetens the pot. The timeline looks like the first broadside will go up in October, and I've got a fine baseball-reference poem from Hope Coulter as the lead-off batter.  Soon, I'll have a web presence for the project and will keep you all posted.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Not Writing Poems, But Immersed in Poetry Just the Same

79º ~ the sound of cicadas drilling the air comes through the open windows, all bright sun and sweet breeze, a few more days of this before the heat returns to lock us in

As my constant readers know, I haven't been writing poems this summer, having hit one of those fallow times that I'm learning to live with as I age. In the meantime, I haven't abandoned poetry all together. I am, in fact, continuing on with all my other non-writing work as a poet. Here's a brief list, numbered for my own organization, but in no particular order:

1. I'm prepping to teach my first-ever graduate level class. This fall, I'll be on the faculty for the University of Arkansas at Monticello's new low-residency MFA. I'm teaching Contemporary American Poetry, and I'm psyched! So far, I've built my syllabus and written my first lecture. It's an online course, so writing a lecture means more than making notes. It means trying to translate the energy of a spoken lecture onto the page. I do this by abandoning MLA conventions and using indents, bold font, white space, and asterisks liberally. (Having taught online at PTC for five years has been a big help!)

My first lecture is "a brief history of Western poetry" and starts with Aristotle's Poetics, travels through the centuries hitting the high points, coming to land on the Romantics for quite a while, before pausing on Dickinson and Whitman, and then ending up in the 1970s when all hell breaks loose and American poetry finally begins to resemble America. The class reading begins with a brief look at some of the key poems of the 1960s and 1970s and then sinks deeply into the 80s through today.

My next project for the class is to lay out the beginnings of the readings. We are using A. Poulin, Jr. and Michael Water's anthology Contemporary American Poetry, and it is a bear trying to narrow down what we can do in one semester. *Have you ever tried to define "contemporary"in terms of poetry? It's one slippery sucker of a fish.

2. I've been keeping up with reading books of poetry and commenting on them here. Just search "What I'm Reading" and you'll get a list of posts. However, I've also just been asked to write a review for an online journal, so the post I wanted to put up over the weekend has been waylaid, as it will appear as a formal review later. I'll let you all know when and where.

3. I spend quite a bit of time each day keeping up with the blogs and Facebook. Yes, some of this means losing a bit of time to cat memes and outrageous political moves that make my blood boil, but for the most part, I've been reading about what others are doing, leaving comments of support and congratulations, and checking in on the ever-overly-reported death of poetry. The latest reports are that poets no longer put any feeling in their poems and are all about showing how smart they are with linguistic tricks. (Insert dramatic sigh here.)

4. In relation to my posts about the current state of poetry publishing, I've been brainstorming ways to get poetry into my community. I have two ideas that seem viable so far. A) I will contact both of the local papers (one daily and one weekly) and see about doing a column. There are many iterations of what this column could be, and I'm open to whatever might happen, although there's a strong chance those contacts may not go anywhere. B) I am contacting some local poets to ask for poems I can publish as broadsides to hang up in coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, galleries, etc. around town.

5. In two days, I'll start the August Poetry Postcard Project. Well, truth be told, I already wrote my first poem on the back of one of my collage postcards and mailed it because one of first seven names is someone who lives in Singapore. This is the 7th year for the project, in which poets sign up with names and addresses to write a postcard-sized poem a day in August and mail them off to the next 31 names on the list. A giant poetry chain letter, and you've got one day to sign up if you're interested!

6. I participated in a manuscript exchange with a fiction writer! This was awesome, as I got to read a great novel and exercise some different brain matter, and I got some helpful comments back on the angry sister poems that I wrote this past spring.

And now, I have to get on with the keeping on. The poems will follow when they must.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Some Wee Good News

77º ~ cloud cover & cool breezes ahead of the rain we've been promised

I think it is safe to announce this here, since it's already on Gazing Grain Press' blog.  A chapbook version of manuscript #2, The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, is the runner-up for Gazing Grain's 2013 feminist chapbook contest.  Cathy Park Hong selected my work, mostly my Midwest fairy tales combined with my handful of saints, as runner-up to Meg Day's, We Can't Read This.  I'm thrilled!

As the runner-up, the chapbook won't be published, but I've been invited to read alongside Meg Day on Sunday, 22 September 2013, in Fairfax, VA, during Fall for the Book!  Wahoo.  I think at least one of the poems will also be produced as a "miniature" through Gazing Grain Press and I'll have an interview on their website.

Many, huge thanks to Cathy Park Hong and all the folks at Gazing Grain.  I confess, the name of the press caught me first (in The Writer's Chronicle or on CRWROPPS), and then their feminist focus held my attention.  I can't wait to meet everyone in September!

As many of you know, in May, I decided to chop up manuscript #2 into three chapbooks.  I sent the fairy tales & saints to GGP because it seemed such a perfect fit and it had a June deadline.  I have held off sending out the chaps anywhere else, because sometime in June, I learned that mss. #2 has one more chance at success, having made it to the final round at a publishing company I'm not allowed to name (so please don't ask in the comments or by email).  If mss. #2 finds a home there I will be delirious b/c it is a press that does all of the things I've been hoping for / asking for in my posts about the state of poetry publishing today, and I adore their mission.  If mss. #2 doesn't find a home there, then I'm ready to overwhelm the chapbook publishers of the world with these three new versions.

Thanks to you all, as well, for reading along and offering up such great support along the way.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Diminishing House

76º ~ ah, breathable air, a delight after the storms, clear skies, every living thing covered in green, green, green, on the flipside (because there is always a flipside), it's been a good year for all the creepy, crawly, flying things as well

Yesterday, I read Nicky Beer's The Diminishing House (Carnegie Mellon 2010) and I've been processing its waves of emotions ever since. This is another book that I meant to buy the year it came out; however, by the time I got to the CMUP table at AWP 2010, they were sold out. Three years later and I finally accomplished my mission, buying a copy on the first morning of the bookfair in Boston.

The Diminishing House is an elegy for the speaker's father combined with poems that explore the human body via a copy of Gray's Anatomy, according to the notes in the back. Interspersed are poems of awe and wonder at the natural world, especially insects, birds, snakes, and things oceanic. In my list of notes scribbled on the back of the last page I have noted this:

fossils / extinctions / artifacts / genetics / inheritance / language

These are the tropes that Beer uses to navigate a loss as massive as that of a father. The book is divided into five, untitled sections, and the opening poem of the third section, "Cardinal Virtue," poised at the midpoint, offers up a clear view of Beer's ideas on death.  As the speaker watches a cardinal swoop down and land, she states:

Bird, your life would terrify me.
Bones full of air, belly full of hunger,
the underbrush dense with murders.
Death is a twist, a pinfeather lost,
a stumble over a slow pebble.

Later, the speaker imagines the bird's death at the claws of her cats and vividly describes the physical results of that attack.  Then, she addresses the bird:

remember that we dreamed our radiant dead
would become more like you,
Incomprehensible thing, drenched in the color
of something we call joy, 

I'll save the last few lines for any reader to savor first hand. This poem is one linked to elegy and the natural world. Alongside these poems, and others set more specifically during the death of the father, are the poems of human anatomy. Here are some titles to give you an idea.

"Note on the Xiphoid Process"
"Variations on the Philtrum"
"Lobe of the Auricle"
"Cubital Fossa"

"Patellae Apocrypha"

While these poems weren't necessarily at the top of my list for dog-earing and underlining, they play an important role in the book, offering respite from the elegies and the weight of death.

I'll end with a bit from what might be my favorite poem in the book, "Erosion," although it is a close tie with "Floating Rib." In both of these poems, Beer's expert use of sound shines. "Erosion" is a long poem for this collection, at three and a half pages, and its lines vary from Whitmanesque to Dickinsonian.  Here are two examples.

From the first section:

A fossilized car's wreck with a tree spares the beach from total anonymity.
How the gastank must have bloomed into the night like a rakish handkerchief.

Wow.  All those a's and hard k sounds offset by the sweetness of the s's in "fossilized" and the low o's in "bloomed."  Then, in the second section, the speaker describes a windchime made of shells, shells

... born of beauty and warp,
bastards of moon and rock,
spit up as loose change,

Again, I'm stunned by the soundplay here, especially the consonance and assonance, my two favorite poetic elements. It wasn't hard to find examples of this attention to sound throughout the book, and I could have listed so many more, but I don't want to spoil the joy for other readers.

While The Diminishing House might appear to be a slim, trim volume of poetry on the outside, I've found the poems to be dense and lingering, in all the best ways.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Another Related Post to the State of Poetry Publishing Today

89º ~ feels like 99º (heat index), the rain finally fell for a bit last night, but nothing like the 2-3" they got to the north and west of us, this morning all the rain hovers just to our east, we are beginning to feel cursed (at this point, rain = lessening of the heat index, for which we all rejoice...yes, it's a WET heat and SCUBA gear would come in handy for breathing when out of doors)

So after the big discussion about poetry publishing today here and here on the Kangaroo, I had a great comment from a writer new to me, C.A. LaRue.  C.A. pointed me to a post on the Ploughshares blog written by Tasha Golden, "Why Poetry Can't Find its Public."

I highly recommend clicking and reading it before you continue on here.  Golden addresses, head-on, an issue I hear all the time: only poets read poetry, therefore poetry is dead or elitist or boxed in or limited in some way or etc.  I love that Golden bashes the myth that poetry is harmed by popularity (remember all the articles you've ever read about that dirty word, "accessibility").  Time and time again in my life as a poet, I have met non-poets who read poetry or are interested in it and want to talk about it.

Thanks again to C.A., I just read Golden's follow-up post, "Why Poetry Can't Find its Public, Part Two," and this post is the most exciting for me.  Here, Golden gives real-world examples of ways we can broaden the poetry audience.  Check out this list of DIY activities.  I know I plan to use some!

Of course, not every person who encounters a poem in the wild (aka in a public space like a coffee shop or a topic-specific, non-literary blog or art gallery or even the library for goodness sakes) is going to become a reader of poetry, but I guarantee you that there is very little chance of growing our audience if we do nothing beyond what we are already doing.  (This connects back to the idea that poets must subsidize publishers with reading fees, because they don't sell enough books to cover their expenses, which seems to me to be saying the audience is too small, no?)

So, let's all go out there and put some poetry in the world, in any way we can figure.  If you send me a picture or link of what you do, I'll be happy to post it, along with links to you and your work.  In that way, the world of poetry will keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keepsswimming, swimming, swimming (a la Dory from Finding Nemo) and eventually, good things must happen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Scabbard of Her Throat

76º ~ "rain-cooled" but so far no rain, it surrounds us even as it refuses to fall on this particular patch of dirt, I search the radar and fume...5 minutes lapse and aha!  it rains!...ack, it stalls out...and stops...the wicked witch of the weather, she toys with me ... and now, the sun returns to steam us all

This morning, I spent some time with Bernadette Geyer's The Scabbard of Her Throat (The Word Works, 2013). Bernadette and I first met, briefly, at AWP several years ago, and had a chance to cement a friendship over a pre-reading dinner at this year's conference, where The Scabbard of Her Throat debuted.

This book is filled with delicate poems that seem, on the surface, full of fragility.  It is only as they accrue that the strength emerges.  Here are poems of girl, woman, wife, mother, and widow, poems that confront fairy tale myths and expose the pain and the joy of living.  Divided into four sections, each section begins with a sonnet "Thumbelina's Mother Speaks," and each sonnet is addressed to someone different from the tale: Thumbelina herself, the Witch, the Toad's Mother, and Hans Christian Anderson.  In these re-tellings and new explorations, Bernadette sets the stage for the rest of the poems in each section, poems of nature's threat (a wasp kills a cicada, a gust of wind nearly capsizes a boat, clouds descend and obscure, etc.) and poems of love (intimate love, familial love, and love of self).

As I set out to crack the book open, I paused to absorb the title of the book again.  Scabbard: a sheath for a sword.  And this, as in "her throat."  I found myself transfixed by the implications of this connection, of all the dangerous things a woman might consume, of how this implied language trapped, scarred, or sliced, of how we are impressed by the sword swallower's skill and magic, and how women are often like this, but in the every day mundane.  In fact, the title of the book comes from the poem "The Sword Swallower Finds a New Calling," which begins:

She swallows stones, now --
throat like a creek bed.
Started with pebbles. Palmed
several to warm them
before she plucked one ...

It is not much of a leap to think of all the metaphorical stones, those heavy life lessons, we are all forced to swallow, and unlike the sword, not so easily removed.  While there are these poems from the world of Thumbelina and from the world of magic (a la the sword swallower), the vast majority of the poems arrive directly from the every day world and what it offers us (good, bad, and in between).  One such example comes from the poem "Echo," about an echocardiogram.  Here is the opening:

It's like she said Here, have some pain,
and when I adjusted to that she said Here

have some more, ratcheting up
the transducer's pressure against my chest

to find not just my heart, but each valve --

In these poems of the every day, Bernadette approaches life with the keen observant eye I look for, I hope for, whenever I read poetry.  She lets nothing slide and confronts this mad, chaotic world head on, eyes and heart at the ready.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What I'm Reading: Far From Sudden

85º (heat index = 92º) ~ the heat dome touched on Arkansas but didn't really deviate us from our normal heat and humidity, our sympathies to our northern kin who aren't prepared for such assaults, heat and humidity pretty much sums up the foreseeable future here in the mid-south

Putting my money where my mouth is, this month I bought two books of poetry, one of which is Brent Goodman's Far From Sudden (Black Lawrence Press 2012).  I wrote about Brent's debut collection, The Brother Swimming Beneath Me, also from Black Lawrence, here.  While Brent and I haven't spent much, if any, time together in the "real world," I feel as if we are connected, loosely via Facebook and blogging and such, and more deeply via the poems.  So, I was stunned to learn that Brent suffered a heart attack in 2009, just as I was beginning to know his poems and therefore outside the time of our poetry friendship.  While others may have come to Far From Sudden having already processed the near miss the poetry world suffered, I came to it without that knowledge; this clearly influenced the way I read the book.

Far From Sudden begins with quiet, meditative poems moving between the natural landscape and the more urban world, focused on mortality, but in a general way.  For example, in "Madison, New Year's 1999," the speaker describes:

Freezing rain. Shivering past
the tagged bus stop, walking home,
my knees two broken dinner plates,
stomach a tumble of stones, tonight
each house memorizes the inner shape
of its heart.  Every tree understands
the blood's difficult passage from this world
to the next. Trees are the slowest rivers.

The poem goes on to describe the rest of the speaker's walk home and his attempt to wrap his mind around the fragility of the body, of life.  This is indicative of the poems in the first section of the book, and the first few poems in the second section, until we hit "The Ground Left Me."  This poem opens with:

The morning I had a heart attack,
gurneyed pale and shirtless O2 mask

past my coworkers.

Suddenly, the speaker and the poet merge, and here, I had my first jolt.  Often, I am one of the loudest champions for reading contemporary poetry without assuming that the speaker is the poet.  I do this in part because too often I've had readers confuse the speakers in my poems with me, with my reality. Brent's poems, here, are clearly threaded through with the reality of his "sudden" heart attack in 2009, and the title of the collection helps point us to this, if subtly.

I read on through the book, breath catching at descriptions of medical procedures and a body slowly healing, at explorations into how a person confronts mortality with dignity and grace, or at least with honesty.  A great example of this is "What to Do With My Body," a catalog poem of directions, such as:

Slingshot my eyes back into the sun.
Unpuzzle this heart from my ribs.
Tuck my left scapula into an owl's nest.
Fashion my feet to furrow a field.

If you read my work, you know that the fourth line here is one I've underlined with emphasis, the sounds! the image! Then, the end of this poem contains a zinger that I savored over and over, and so do not want to give away.

The poems in Far From Sudden tend to be short, but they build to a greater contemplation of the human body as a fragile vessel.  With the speaker as our guide, we cannot help but contemplate what it is we are doing with this "one wild and precious life" (as Mary Oliver says).  I am relieved that Brent remains among us, doing the work.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The State of Poetry Book Publishing in America Today, Redux

84º ~ good fortune weather continues today, all hail summer in the South, everything green and thriving, clear skies and sun shining down for miles and miles

When I wrote my recent post about the state of poetry book publishing, I clicked on the "publish" button with great hesitation.  Was I shooting myself in the foot with publishers? Was I creating bad karma for my own manuscripts?  Would I get a mangled and heated argument like the one that cropped up on HTMLGiant at about the same time? Or would I get a level-headed discussion?

I am so happy to thank all of you who helped make it the latter.  The comments on both the Facebook thread and on the blog post have been helpful and insightful.  We might not have solved anything directly, but I truly believe that open and honest dialogue is the only way toward a solution.

Given that spirit, I thought it might be helpful to recap and regroup here.  (I present the following information simply as information.  If I've mis-stated something, then please, feel free to correct the mis-information.)

The traditional way of publishing works like this for almost every other genre (literary novels, mass market fiction, self-help, academic textbooks, general interest nonfiction, etc.).  The writer writes; the writer submits either a full manuscript or a synopsis to either an agent or editor at no cost; if agents are the norm, once the mss. is picked up, the agent then works to sell the book to a publishing house and the agent takes a percentage of the author's advance and/or royalties; if no agent, the mss. gets picked up by a publishing house and the writer gets either an advance and royalties or just royalties.

The current state of poetry (and some short fiction) publishing relies heavily on the contest model or reading periods with submission fees.  More and more rarely, poetry publishers will host truly open reading periods in which they consider mss. for no fee.  Very few poetry publishers are willing to read mss. all year round and without a fee.  Here, things go like this.  The writer writes a complete book and attempts to get individual pieces published in lit mags; the writer then pays $15 - $30 for each contest or reading period to submit the mss., along with 100 - 800 other writers.  (There is no such thing as an agent, unless a poet has worked in another genre previously.)  If the writer's manuscript wins, the writer receives a cash prize of $500 - $3,000 (with most being in the $1,000 range).  Sometimes the writer receives a certain number of author copies and/or the chance to purchase at 50% cover price, and the writer might earn royalties after the publisher recoups that prize or sells the first press run, which can be over 1,000 copies, depending on how the contract is written.  Note: Some publishers do award royalties on top of cash prizes.  If a mss. is chosen during an open reading period, perhaps there is a royalty awarded; this information is not included in the reading period guidelines (or in contest guidelines for that matter) in most cases.

When questioned about these fees, publishers often state that poetry doesn't sell well enough to be self-supporting.  Fees are used to pay overhead and production costs.  (**Reminder:  I'm pretty much okay with the contest model, as I know there is a cash prize at the end; however, I struggle with the fee-based reading period when the terms of publication are not spelled out for the author on the front-end.)

**There do seem to be more books of poetry than ever being published, perhaps as a result of this system and poets being willing to spread the cost among themselves.

**Publishers work for the love of poetry, and I don't dispute that.

Let me say that I know I'm speaking in generalities and we can all think of exceptions to the above; however, in general, many poets end up spending hundreds of dollars on fees with very little in return.  The low chances of being that 1 in 500 whose work is chosen does lead to feelings of frustration. The comments on my previous post and on the FB thread have helped me see more clearly what is happening.  I apologize for not naming each contributor to the conversation.  What follows are some questions and some calls to action, sometimes listed specifically by a commenter to the previous post and sometimes something I'm already thinking about our doing.

What is the responsibility of the publisher?  What is the responsibility of the poet? How does money, (i.e. financial profit for both the publisher and the author) fit in? What is the goal?

If we accept as true that publishers cannot sell enough books of poetry to pay their overhead, are publishers accepting and printing too many books of poetry? (I know, sacrilege!)  If publishers aren't selling enough poetry, why aren't people buying?  Who is our market and how do we reach it? (Anecdotally, we hear that poets don't buy contemporary poetry, but when I poll my friends, it turns out we are buying lots.  Are we the minority?)

Most folks agree that each individual poet needs to decide how he/she feels about all of these issues, and I agree with that.  However, I do think there are things we can all be doing to get more poetry into the hands of more readers, increasing the number of book sales along the way.

Calls to Action, in no particular order, after the first:

1. Contribute to the American poetry community in any way you can.  While a person may be able to write in a vacuum, if that person expects others to read and buy his/her work, then that person is obligated to do so in kind.

~ Subscribe to literary magazines and journals.
~ Buy books of poetry
These two do require us to commit dollars to our beliefs; however, I argue that these dollars hold the real power.  If we do not invest in the product, then publishers truly do have no other way than charging reading fees.
I recognize that grad students and others with family obligations may not have much loose change.  One action item here would be to lobby the local libraries (both academic and public) to subscribe or buy.  Another action item is to spend a month tracking your money, dollar by dollar.  At the end, you may be surprised at what you spent on coffees, eating out, movies, popular magazines, etc.  Of course, we all enjoy relaxing in these ways, but could you cut out one or two and buy a book that month instead?

~ Read poetry being published today
Again, if money is the issue, there are some fine librarians out there just waiting for you to inter-library loan request some books of poetry.
With the advent of online journals and even books of poetry being offered online for free, there really is no excuse for not reading, unless you lack internet access and access to a public library that offers such.

~ Talk about poetry
If you participate in social media, blog, tweet, or FB about a book or poem written by someone else that excites you.  If you've found something online, send out the link.  If a poet is willing, do an online interview about that poet's work.
If you'd rather kick it old school, volunteer to write formal reviews for your favorite lit mag.
If you teach, hand out reading lists (or email them to save on trees).  Take that reading list with you to readings and conferences and refer to it often.
For that matter, carry around the book you are currently reading, and if friends or strangers asks about it, tell them, gently so as to lure them in rather than scare them away.

~ Give books or lit mags as gifts
If you spend some time thinking of the recipient deeply, I bet you can think of a book that person might like.  Remember, it might not be the exact kind of poetry you write.  Still, I've given or sold my own book to countless numbers of people who are not poets but who expressed an interest.  I've done it simply by being myself and talking about poetry, by being a poet without apology.
If you run a reading series, consider giving books of poetry (or copies of lit mags) as door prizes.
If you teach, do the same in the classroom, or just select a particular book that seems to match a particular student and pass it on.
If you've finished with an issue of a lit mag and don't know anyone else who wants to read it, leave it on a table at the local coffee shop, on a seat on the bus, or in any other public area.

~ Form a poetry book club
This can be done locally at a bookstore or library, or it can be done globally using Google chat and other social media.

~ At readings, read a poem by someone else
If you are giving a reading, open by reading a poem by a poet you admire.
If at an open mic, do the same and encourage others to join you in the practice

~ Encourage publishers to offer a book from their backlist in exchange for a reading fee
This serves the double purpose of getting more books into more hands and helping the publisher with warehouse costs (did you know part of the overhead is housing all those copies, paying for the (climate-controlled) space and paying insurance on the stock)?  *Another reason I'm an advocate for small print runs, which are much more affordable now that publishers can print from digital files.

~ Consider presses that read for no fee and support the books they've already published
Some are listed here and here (with those requiring fees marked as such).

~ If money is not the goal, and simply finding readers is, consider publishing online for free
You can read more about this option here.

~ Be generous to one another
Exchange poem drafts for workshop comments with a fellow poet.
Exchange manuscripts for revision comments.
Say "yes" when asked to blurb or otherwise support someone whose work you admire.  If you don't know that person's work, ask for a sample before you say no.

Viva la poesie!