Thursday, January 31, 2013

Draft Process Unexpected

34º ~ bright sun, a sweet relief after clouds & storms, calm

The other day I wrote about my ugly re-entry into the drafting process, and today, today I had the unexpected reward for that messy work.

As I sat at the desk this morning, I wasn't really thinking of drafting; in fact, I'm all-consumed with the work of putting together our student journal of academic writing and nit-picking at MLA documentation.  I woke up at 5:15 a.m. realizing that I could shorten the in-text documentation for a source in a particularly pesky essay.  That's how consumed I am at the moment.  (The text is due to the designer on Monday.)  So, after a groggy wake up routine, I had gone through my emails, read my blog list, and checked out Facebook, and there I was, confronted with an empty desk and an hour of time before going to school.

As I cast about, I saw the most recent issue of The Journal, which I've been working on reading in bits this week.  In fact, I was reading the issue when I started writing on Tuesday.  As I read today, I simply let the poems wash over me, and yes, every now and then I thought about these new voices I'm hearing in my drafts.  Somewhere in my reading, one word, "deceived," got stuck in my mind and tumbled there, even as I continued reading.  Then, for no apparent reason, the voices wanted to be listed out in a character list.  The list got my pen moving and offered a bit of clarification.

Then, a really shitty draft of something I know will never see the light of day manifested itself in my journal (burn baby burn!).

And then, bang...voila...shazam, a line about the first "voice," which is actually a plural voice, a "we" chorus" made up of a set of daughters.  (I know I'm being vague here but I'm not ready to reveal too much yet.)  And then, once that first line was out, the rest fell to the page rather quickly, and I turned to the computer to actually draft something I had a little confidence in.

While I'm not ready to reveal content, I have something to say about form.  Frequent readers will know that the sickly speaker (and much of my work prior to that series) came out in medium to longish lines and lots of couplets or tercets.  Well, this little chorus sang out in very short lines (for me), lines of only three or four words, a thin column down the left side of the page.  At first, I thought it would be one long, skinny stanza, but then the subject matter demanded several breaks. 

Ah, form & content, content & form, you are inextricably linked.

And speaking of such, I must away to the world of MLA and searching for embarrassing typos.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When Drafting Looks Like (Write It!) Like Disaster

67º ~ sharp wind gusts already kicking up ahead of a squall line that should sweep over us this evening, bits of spitting rain now with a deluge up ahead, a high of 75º predicted...for Jan. 29...stormy weather, indeed

Apologies to Elizabeth Bishop for today's title.

True confessions: I wrote a draft today, and it is terrible.

As frequent readers know, I’ve been out of the habit of drafting new poems for several months, but I feel ready to begin again.  The sickly speaker has had her say and her book is finished.  I know with certainty that there isn’t another poem in me that belongs to that manuscript, which was relatively complete by the end of August.  The fall semester was a fallow time for writing new drafts.  I tinkered with the sickly speaker and fine-tuned that manuscript.  I read poems for Heron Tree, feeling my way into how to be an editor rather than a poet.  I had wonderful conversations about poetry and publishing with my co-editors.  But, I didn’t write, perhaps because the sickly speaker had been so strong a voice that it took a while to put her to rest (or let her go), perhaps because I was awash in the words of other poets.  

Regardless, each time I go through a quiet time of no new drafts, I have to remind myself that this is normal for me.  This is part of my process.  It is all going to be okay.  Do not panic.  Rest and recover.  Reboot and re-energize.  Let it be.  Don't poke.  Don't pick.  Don't make it worse.

Now, after the quiet time, a new subject is taking root, and like the sickly speaker, this subject is taking root as a whole "project."  For books #1 and #2, I was definitely a "mix-tape" writer, gathering poems loosely connected to obsessions with the land and the people of the Midwest, with gender and family, with confession.  The sickly speaker changed all that and offered me her one voice, for which I will be forever grateful.  Now, without saying too much and scaring them away, I'm hearing multiple voices surrounding one conflict, and I can envision multiple speakers as I work through this new (difficult, personal, painful) material.  Unlike the sickly speaker, I'm dabbling in a more autobiographical area with the few poems that came about in November & December and now here at the beginning of a new semester.

So, I'm committed to writing a draft a week as my goal (excluding AWP week!), and today I began the journey with something that is truly awful.  But, I remember, this is part of the process as well, and this terribly, ugly draft is worth every minute I spent on it.  I am shifting gears in my brain and transferring my energy back over to the nebulous center that generates words, lines, stanzas, and yes, whole poem drafts.  Each attempt will get easier, just like with a physical workout; I will be rewarded by training and repetition, and while I am loathe to exercise my body, I love to exercise my poet-mind.  (I have an image of my poet-mind in leg-warmers, head band, and leotard a la Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical" video from the 80s.  Now, that's an inspiration!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Where I'll Be @ AWP 2013: Wednesday, 6 March

34º ~ a light (freezing) rain, really light, full clouds for the next few days but warming temps

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Barn Owl Review & Thrush, I've been invited to participate in a group reading on Wednesday, 6 March 2013 at the start of this year's AWP in Boston.  Is this not the prettiest poster? 

Many thanks to Helen Vitoria of Thrush for publishing "You Taught Me Devastation" in the November 2012 issue.  At AWP, "Awash in Hunger for the Pistil & the Stamen" and "Small-Time Rapture" will appear in BOR 6 (an annual print publication).  All thanks to Mary Biddinger, Jay Robinson, and the other readers/editors of BOR for another vote of confidence in the sickly speaker.

Each poet reading on the 6th will be limited to 2 - 3 poems, and I confess that the first few years I attended these mass readings it was hard for me to get into the swing of things.  Now, though, I've come to love the buffet of words buffeting my brain (see what I did there with the clever word play...hee hee).

And look at that lineup?  Thrilled to see so many friends and looking forward to hearing/meeting some folks "live" for the first time.  Wahooooooooooooo!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Poetry: The Reports of Its Death have been Greatly Exaggerated

36º ~ a bit of a wind kicking here and there, an even chance of rain, the high of 45º was reached at 12:01 a.m., all downhill from here

Apologies to Mark Twain on today's title.

I tried to ignore it; I did.  In true internet wildfire fashion, the report spread of an asinine and ignorant blog from a reporter at The Washington Post in the wake of Monday's inauguration, proclaiming that poetry is dead. Others have commented on the post with fiery passion and poets all over the world have jumped up to defend our craft.  The point in the blog that has stuck in my craw the most is Alexandra Petri's assertion that the poetry of today does not create change.

First, when did poetry in America every create the kind of change it has created in places like central and eastern Europe, the Middle East, or certain Central & Latin American countries.  In those place, poetry has proved to be a call to revolution; poets have been imprisoned (and in some cases still are) for writing poems of revolution.  In America, while there might have been a flare of popularity for the Beats, their poetry didn't stop the Vietnam War, at least not in and of itself or instantly, and the authors were never in danger of going to jail.  We had the McCarthy and the Second Red Scare in the 50s, but outside of the small community of writers that effected, much of America went on as normal, outside of New York and LA.

One of Petri's complaints is that poetry "might not be loud enough any longer."  Please, show me a time when poetry in America was "loud" outside of New York City and San Francisco.  When my grandparents went through their education and were required to memorize poems, they weren't memorizing poems of revolution; they were memorizing the canon, which in America tends to be filled with dead white guys memorializing nature, war, and love, but not spurring anyone to radical change.  (FYI: Based on the books they've passed down to me, my grandparents were not memorizing Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson.)  By the time my parents got to school, poetry had pretty much fallen by the wayside to a unit or two sprinkled here and there, and that is how it remained for me and my siblings.

Petri is also careful to repeat throughout the post that she is talking about the "kind of poetry" that gets read at inaugurations or published in established journals, and yes, she also makes that glancing blow against MFAs.  While the MFA debate rages on, let's at least admit that there are hundreds of journals out there (both in print and online, which she also takes a dig at) that offer a counterweight to what appears in The New Yorker and Poetry.  But, most importantly, Petri misses the point of an inauguration poem; this is an occasional poem and the poet is set a daunting task.  He or she must write a poem that will address ALL Americans in a time of celebration for the peaceful transfer of power.  Then, the poet must stand before the nation and deliver that poem, and whether Petri likes it or not, that takes a lot more courage that publishing a blog or writing for a national newspaper.  And hey, if Petri really believes, "These days, poetry is institutionalized. Everyone can write it," then I'd like to see her attempt at an inaugural poem.  What would her "loud" poem look like? 

Finally, I want to address, directly, Petri's challenge that poetry doesn't create change.  No, poetry in America does not create sweeping political change, but I would argue that this is not its mission.  Instead, poetry creates small changes in its readers; it calls its readers to deeper critical thinking, which is the real work of sweeping political change.  We have reached a stalemate in American politics because folks like to get loud and shout slogans that often sound a lot like poetry.  Yet, we've proven time and time again, that getting loud doesn't get things done.

Poetry is personal, even when it is political.  When I was an undergrad reading Carolyn Forche's "The Colonel" for the first time, those images of the ears at the end began to make me a pacifist and a liberal Democrat.  When I read Denise Levertov's "What Were They Like?" I began to question the idea of enemies and allies.  I began to think more deeply about the bigger, global picture.  Today, poets like Brian Turner in his book Here, Bullet and Quan Barry in her book Water Puppets offer poems that question more contemporary conflictsThese are just the examples of war that sprang to mind.  I could provide just as many examples for issues on gender, sexuality, race, and class, to name a few.  However, most of the poems aren't shouting from the rooftops; they are meeting the readers where they are, quietly on the page, or more loudly in public readings, and if the reader is engaged, then the poems will make them think and thinking is the only way I know to lasting change.

In the end, the political is personal.  When Richard Blanco read "One Today" and got to these lines "sometimes praising a mother / who knew how to give, or forgiving a father / who couldn't give what you wanted," I said "oh wow" out loud.  I said it because I knew one tiny bit about Blanco's life, but I said it more because it went right to the heart of something in my life, personally, and it made me think, and in thinking, a tiny change happened in my heart and in my mind.  One tiny change.  But that's how poetry works; all those tiny changes add up, if the reader is willing to go beyond assumptions about what poetry is "supposed to be."

As for Petri's obvious hyperbole that "There are about six people who buy new poetry," well, that I'll save for another post.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Submission City

36º ~ as with most of the central swath of the country, temps diving by 15 - 20 º today and tomorrow, sky equal parts sun and cloud, trees bare and a few limbs, branches, twigs still peppering the yard as those weakened by the Xmas storm continue to fall in bouts of wind

Over the past three days, I've made it my mission to send out poems and manuscripts in an attempt to clear the decks for some serious new poem drafting this semester.  My friend and co-editor at Heron Tree, Rebecca, recently talked about that good feeling one gets when the physical space is cleared and the mental space opens up as well.  That's how it is for me.  I've got a few more poems to shove out the door and then...bring on the new words!

I've blogged about my submission habits quite a bit here at the Kangaroo (just use the search function at the top to find numerous old posts), but I thought I'd take a longer view today as some realizations bubbled to the surface.

1.  Simultaneous Submissions
I've always been a fan of the simultaneous submission, and I've noticed that some long holdouts have come around to this way of thinking as well, including, most notably, The Southern Review and Shenandoah, which has also become an online journal as well.  In the meantime others have switched to not accepting SS.  The New England Review (for poetry) comes to mind.

When I was just starting out, my acceptance rate was so dismal that it didn't make sense to send to a non-SS accepting journal if that journal was going to keep the poems for eight months to a year.  There are a few exceptions to this time frame, but I've been burned quite a few times by sending out poems and having them sit and sit and sit only to be rejected a year later.  However, by sending out the same packet of poems to 10 different journals, when one poem was accepted, I had to send out 9 withdrawal letters (and most of this was pre-email/online submission managers).

As my acceptance rate grew stronger, I narrowed my markets and now only send a packet to three or four journals.  This cuts down on the withdrawal emails I have to send and also cuts down the risk that another journal is in the final stages of considering my poem(s) for acceptance.  Even though journals accept SS, it's still a disappointment for the editors to find out that a poem they were seriously considering has been withdrawn. 

2.  Non-Simultaneous Submissions
Through much trial and error, and meticulous reading of guidelines, I've discovered a few of the non-SS accepting journals that really do respond quickly.  To my way of thinking, responding in a few months should be the norm for non-SS journals.  I understand (now more than ever) that reading submissions takes time, a lot of time; however, if the journal is going to limit the writer on what he/she can do with the work in the meantime, then they need to move quickly. 

Usually, the non-SS journals are the ones that get swamped with submissions as they are well-established and have long-standing reputations.  Here, I think of American Poetry Review and Field, in particular.  In this case, the poet needs to have done the work of researching the markets and making sure a submission fits the journal.  Otherwise, it's just holding everyone up with little chance of reward.

3.  Online versus Print.
I no longer even really think about this.  Both have their advantages, but as far as I can tell, there is little difference in the quality of the work being published by reputable editors.  Again, though, I've done the work of reading, reading, reading all the current and past issues I can get my hot little hands on.

4.  Books of Poetry
In regards to the simultaneous submission discussion, most contests and open reading periods note that the publisher will consider SS manuscripts, along with immediate notification.  That is as it should be, as far as I am concerned.  However, as always, reading the guidelines to be sure is a must.

5.  The Emotions
I've been submitting work seriously since around 2000.  (True confessions, I once sent a poem to The Atlantic when I was in high school...think the 80s... and got the nicest "you should read our magazine before submitting" form rejection.)  Let me just say that even with one book under my belt, the emotions don't get any less intense.  A rejection still stings; an acceptance still fills me with joy.  In some ways, it's like being trapped in junior high forever; in other ways, it thickens the skin and helps me fine-tune my craft.

And now that the desk is almost clear, I'm off to soak up the Inauguration madness.  I'll be back playing with words and drafting new poems as the week progresses, and I'm re-instituting my goal of a poem a week for the academic semester.  Wahooooooo!

Friday, January 18, 2013

O Be Joyful!, Or Cracking that Tough Nut

36º ~ clear skies and the promise of full sun today, warming to mid-50s, not too shabby, driving around town these days, storm debris from the Xmas weather remains lumped along the curbs, word is it could take the city 2 months to clean up and waiting on FEMA for extra funds to help out

If you were on Facebook last night, you know the source of my joy.  If not, prepare to be bombarded with wahoooooooooooooo-ness.  After 12 full years of submitting to Hayden's Ferry Review, I got the call from the dugout last night (well really an email, but I'm into baseball analogies); they are putting in two of my poems for the next issue.  Insert wahoo here.  These are two more of the sickly speaker poems, poems that have been generating a lot of interest from editors but often "just missing."  In fact, that was the case with my submission to HFR last fall.  I sent a group of fever poems that were rejected but the editors took the time to compliment the project as a whole and to ask me to submit again.  I did submit new poems over the break and, well, insert another wahoo here.

Now, to build off of the rejection post from Wednesday and the other two literary journal landscape posts here and here, here's a look at my history with this journal.  (This is beginning to feel like a ME, ME, ME kind of post so feel free to quit reading if that bugs you.)

Rejections, lots of rejections.  In fact, I submitted 12 packets to HFR over the years, starting in 2000, when I was just a wee grad student.  So, we can write off the first four rejections or so as I was sending off very premature work, work where I hadn't really found my voice, my stride, my style as separate from an imitator.  (I'm not saying this is true for all grad student work, just that it was true for some of mine.)  I took a break from submitting to the journal from 2004 - 2007, perhaps I was a bit afraid at that point.  I jumped back in during the fall of 2007 and from that point on, I received both "regular" rejections and those personal "oh, so close" rejections.  I kept at it.  I persisted.  I did the work of writing the poems.

*Most importantly, I kept reading the journal.  I've subscribed in the past, but I have to share the love so don't usually keep up long standing subscriptions.  When I'm not subscribing, I read online (HFR has a FANTASTIC blog), I take note if a poem on Verse Daily or Poetry Daily is from this journal; in other words, in baseball parlance, I scout, I learn the ins and the outs of the playing field, and to stretch the analogy a bit further, I plan my pitches.

Along the way, I learned that HFR is a journal with a revolving set of editors and actually points out on its website that this leads to a more eclectic collage of styles and aesthetics.  While this can mean a submission is more a shot in the dark (I heard someone on NPR use the term "spray and pray" which comes from war/guns but was used in the context of something non-violent when I heard it), one thing I learned by reading the journal over and over was the level of quality and that this was a journal in which the poetry always had language that set my hair on fire and did interesting things.  They tend not to be quiet poems, which may be why some of my earlier work didn't make it.  Nothing against quiet poems (I've written hundreds), just maybe not for this particular journal.

So, I've cracked one of my toughest nuts.  Some folks on FB commented that they don't usually persist that long, that they give a journal 2 or 3 tries and then step back.  I get that.  It's brutal to receive rejection after rejection after rejection.  In fact, there are one or two journals from which I've stepped back as well.  These tend to be journals with established editors and styles that I've finally figured out just aren't going to like my work.  In the end though, I'm nothing if not stubborn and determined to meet the challenge.  This is not for everyone, and it certainly adds to my emotional roller coaster ride in poetry, but it's how I work at this time in my life.  And while I could do it all alone in the world, that ride is certainly much more fun with the family and friends I have cheering me on or offering comfort.  Thank you all!

Insert several yawping wahooooooooooooos here.  Happy dance, happy dance, happy dance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why a Poem Gets Rejected

34º ~ (wahoooo, I found the right key to make the degree sign) ~  wahooooo! it's above freezing ~ early out for both PTC and LRSD yesterday due to ice ~ definitely some hockey puck driving out there on the way home ~ 34º means less chance of that on the drive in this morning ~ some sun creeping through the blanket of clouds

from Science Photo Library, click for link

As promised, here's a bit more about why a poem might have received a rejection.  This is the type of post/article that I have read many times in the past as a poet actively submitting my work, trying to find a tiny sliver of a edge toward publication.  Now, as an editor, I can say that yes, this information is true and knowing it will help, but only to certain degrees.

Poems might be rejected because:

1.  Sloppy presentation, typos, misspellings, etc.
     It's true!  People send in poems that haven't been proofread carefully.  I saw several of the same mistakes I see my students making.  For example, there is a big difference between "where" and "were," but spell check and grammar check won't catch that error!
     Yes, if the poem is spectacular and there is one typo, we will accept the poem and ask the poet to fix it.

1a.  Editors can't tell if a lack of certain punctuation or a weird change in line breaks halfway through the poem is for form (intentional) or results from #1.
     If the poet intends to break the rules of form/grammar/usage, then that needs to be clear to the reader immediately.  As an editor, I don't want to publish something and have the reader of the journal question whether I'm a bad proofreader.

1b.  There is no 1b. but form requires I put it here.  I can't indent b/c of Blogger format issues. :)

2. The poems do not match the aesthetic of the editors.
     I admit that since we were a start-up, it would have been a bit difficult to know our aesthetic; however, Heron Tree did offer information on this on our website and we included a mini-anthology of previously published work that we love to try and help out.
     For journals that have an established publication record, read, read, read. 

3.  The poem comes close and might "wow" the editor on first read, but it doesn't stand up to closer scrutiny.  (i.e. the poem needs one more round in the revision cycle)
      At each of our meetings, we always had several "near misses."  In this case, one or more of us was wowed by an image or a string of language within a poem, but as we looked more closely at the poem and considered it for publication, we noticed weaker moments, moments in the poem that caused confusion or that didn't rise to the level of language/image/meaning in the rest of the poem.  Often, we discussed how the poem might be made stronger through a bit more revision, but usually that involved something too complex to require of the author for publication.  (If we could see an easy fix, we would email the poet and ask for that easy fix.)

3a.  No, we really don't have time to write out our critiques of the near misses.  We do this "for the love of the game" (to quote a not-so-great Kevin Costner baseball movie), and we don't receive any compensation for our time as the journal is not affiliated with our teaching institutions.

3b.  See 1b.

4.  This is a great poem, a fine poem, but we already accepted X number of poems on this topic (nature, love, elegy, etc.).

5.  The most unfair reason to the writer: the editors are real people with real lives and sometimes something goes wrong in our lives and we aren't ready for a particular poem but we have to keep reading and keep making decisions to stay on our schedule.  (Yes, that run-on is intentional.)  I stand by all of the decisions we've made, but go back in time and shake up the ball of events that happened to each of us on any given day (our stress load, our caffeine load, our family/pets-being-crazy/sick/weird load, our oh-god-not-again load) and one or two decisions might go the other way.

What does all of this mean for the writer receiving the rejection?  It means the writer needs to look at the rejected piece and decide between the following scenarios.

Is this piece in need of another go in the revision cycle?
Is this piece sound and just not a good fit for journal X? 

I know, this is a confounding position to be in.  Still, this is the work of the writer.  Inspiration, Draft, Revision, Revision, Revision, Consideration of Audience, Submission, Acceptance? (wahoo!), Rejection? Rinse and Repeat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Heron Tree & More Notes on the Literary Journal Landscape

26 deg ~ switched to an off-brand, ergonomic keyboard and it doesn't have the right shortcut for the degree sign...sigh...the sky is a mass of bruises, thick gray cloud cover, but no precipitation

Yesterday, Heron Tree launched "Last Night in the Chair Museum" by Leah Browning, and it's a stunner, if I do say so myself.  You can follow announcements on when poems are posted by adding us to your blog reader, liking us on Facebook, or following us on Twitter (@Heron_Tree).

We are rapidly finishing up with reading submissions and sending out our responses, so if you submitted and haven't heard from us yet, give us another week.  Our goal was to have everyone notified by today (1/15), and I'm pretty happy with how close we are to meeting that.  As we had no idea how many folks would submit or how long our process would take, we estimated fairly well.

All of this leads me to some added thoughts on the literary journal landscape, a conversation I started here.  Along with knowing a journal's affiliation and aesthetic, it can be important to figure out the process of reading submissions.

1.  A tiered system with one reader per submission.  In this case, a group of first-readers may divide up all of the submissions for the first-read.  At some journals that read a huge number of submissions, your work might only be seen by this one person, who may be a junior member of the staff or a graduate student.  I do not mean that in any kind of negative.  All it means is your work will need to click with one person, and it's often impossible to predict who will get your packet, before it gets passed up to multiple readers in the chain and gets seen/discussed by the editor(s).

2.  A tiered system with multiple readers per submission.  Here, you have a system much like that described in 1, except each submission gets read by multiple first-readers.  In this case, submissions might have to impress a certain number of first-readers before moving up the chain; however, given the increase in readers, there might be a better chance that the piece clicks with someone who will advocate for it and you get your shoe at least a little way in the door.

3.  A graduate program journal where all of the staff read the submissions and make recommendations, but the faculty-editors also read all of the submissions before making final decisions.  I love this model as it actually helps train the grad students in what it means to be an editor and helps shape the aesthetic of the journal more fully.  (I wish I had had access to this as a grad student, as much of my work with Heron Tree has involved a steep learning curve.)

4.  A journal where certain editors have the right to accept pieces without a consensus.  In this case, if you can connect with the right decision-maker, there may be a better chance of acceptance.

5.  A small-staff journal (like Heron Tree) where there are no tiers, no first readers, and no single person making decisions.  In this case, the entire staff must come to some consensus on each acceptance. 

Figuring out the process at a journal is not necessarily the easiest thing to do.  Some journals post about their editorial work on their blog, or an editor might blog about it on a personal site (such as this).  However, the best advice is still research, research, research.  First, READ back issues or samples before submitting.  This will save everyone a lot of time.  Second, go to the journal's website and find the MASTHEAD.  This is often under a link labeled "About" or "Who We Are" in the website's menu.  Find out how the editors/readers are organized.  If you see a familiar name, consider addressing your submission to that particular person.  It won't guarantee that your work winds up on his/her desk, but it betters the odds. And by all means, if you've met one of the editors in person (beyond having a book signed at a reading), address your submission to that person and mention your meeting in your cover letter.  Again, not a guarantee, and some journals don't read cover letters until after the piece has been read (as at HT), but it never hurts to try.

**If an editor asks you to send work to his/her journal, do so in a timely manner and definitely address the specific editor and mention the request.

At Heron Tree, I've learned so much about both sides of the table: writer and editor.  In the past, I've been curious and a little frustrated when I've gotten a rejection from a journal and a particular editor has singled out a poem or two but said that the group couldn't reach a consensus or something like that.  Now, I completely understand.  At HT, all three of us read every single poem submitted.  We do so "blind," meaning that after the submissions come in, one of us strips off the identification and creates a numbered packet of poems.  There are so many submissions that the person stripping the ID info really can't keep up with remembering the names.  We do not look back at the names of the poets until our decision on the pieces have been made.  As we began reading submissions, we quickly decided that we would not publish a poem unless all three of us agreed.  This doesn't mean that we all three have to agree to the same degree, but it does mean that we won't publish a poem if there is one of the three who wouldn't want to see it on the website or in print. 

What this means for me as an editor is that I've had to sharpen my skills at arguing for the pieces that I've chosen (and even if only one of us has "paused" on a certain poem, we talk about it).  It also means that each of us has had to sacrifice poems we've loved because we couldn't get a 'trifecta,' what I say when we all agree.  Through this process, we are establishing the voice of our journal, and it is not my voice or Chris' voice or Rebecca's; it is OUR voice. 

While I'm not sure any of this knowledge makes me more likely to be published in any particular journal, it does help me better understand the many different reasons a poem may be rejected (more on that in a later post).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Heron Tree: Carol Berg's “The Ornithologist Searches For A Shared Ancestry”

34º ~ a promise of sun as dawn arrives and the skies seem clear

Today, I'm thrilled to post this link to our first offering at Heron Tree, Carol Berg's poem "The Ornithologist Searches for a Shared Ancestry."

We've chosen to present the poems as stand alone PDFs to protect and preserve all formatting from the original work and to present each poem as cleanly as possible, with no riff-raff noise from a menu bar. 

All thanks and praises to my co-editors, Chris Campolo (king of the submission inbox) and Rebecca Resinski (queen of the nest...ahem website).


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Adventures in 2013: Teaching in the New Low-Res MFA for the U of Arkansas Monticello

49º ~ finally, THE SUN!

Last year, Diane Payne and Mark Spencer, both writers and professors at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, contacted me as they were preparing to propose a new low-residency MFA program in Arkansas.  I taught at UAM right out of grad school and was honored to be considered as a possible faculty member.  In late fall, we got word that the program had been approved and will welcome its first group of students in Fall 2013. 

Here's the official blurb from the website:

"The UAM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing provides opportunity to talented and highly self-disciplined individuals to earn an MFA tailored to fit their lifestyles, interests, and goals at an affordable price relative to other MFA programs and to develop their creative-writing, critical-thinking, and literary analysis skills to an exemplary level through study under successful and dedicated writer-teachers from a range of backgrounds and aesthetic perspectives."

As the proposal for the program was in progress, I had to think about that ever-present question: Are there too many MFA/PhD programs out there?  In the end, I came back to the same answer: As long as students are well-informed about the economics of the degree and the lack of a guaranteed tenure-track job in the quickly fading ivory tower, then I'm good with it all.  In the end, if there are earnest people out there who want to improve their writing, then I want to help them do so.  I do not refute the idea that people can become great writers outside of academia.  For me, however, those few years of concentrated study were crucial to my development.  I needed guidance, deadlines, and peers.

Here are a couple of other points in UAM's favor.

1.  The program will be considerably less expensive than other low-residency options.
2.  The traditional residency may be fulfilled by attending any of a number of pre-approved writing conferences (think AWP, Napa, etc.) and completing an intensive assignment about said conference.
3.  This program will offer qualified students a chance to be trained and then to teach online.  (One of my reservations about low-res programs for folks who want to teach is the lack of teacher-training at many programs.)  Whether anyone likes it or not, online learning will be a major part of education at all levels by the end of this decade.  Once vehemently opposed to this idea, I've now embraced it after teaching the entire range of ENGL courses online for five years. 

and, of course,

4.  I'll be mentoring students in poetry!

If you are an instructor of undergrads and you have folks interested in the low-res option, I hope you'll direct them our way.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Davis McCombs: Laman Library Writers Fellow 2013

48º ~ a fine temperature for 5 Jan, but again, all clouds, no sun, bleck

Davis McCombs (author of Dismal Rock, Tupelo Press, and Ultima Thule, Yale U Press, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets) arrived as a faculty member at the University of Arkansas midway through my time there as a graduate student; he arrived during the murky period when I was just beginning to find my own voice, and he was crucial in nurturing that voice.  I owe him a debt that may never be repaid. 

All of that is to say that I was thrilled to learn that he had been named the 2013 Laman Library Writers Fellow.  This fellowship began three or four years ago (apologies, the website doesn't seem to be linking up) and is awarded to an Arkansas writer (of any genre) to support a current project.  Past fellows include Grif Stockley, Mara Leveritt, and Kevin Brockmeier.  I believe Davis is the first poet to receive this recognition. Wahoo!

Last night, Laman Library hosted a reception and I was able to spend a bit of time with Davis, his wife Carolyn Guinzio, the poet & photographer, and their two children.  It was great to see their faces and hear their voices, as we normally keep in touch through email and FB updates.  Davis spoke eloquently about the task of the poet and read two poems, which proved to be a tasty preview.  On February 19, both Davis and Carolyn will be reading at PTC as part of the Big Rock Reading Series.  When I get back to the office on Monday, the PR/marketing machine will churn into action with full details. 

I'm definitely looking forward to an exciting new year and happy to celebrate with my friend!