Saturday, March 30, 2013

Draft Process: In Our Time of Trial, Our Wounds Resisted

55º ~ spring storms have settled in, gully washing away the morning, all gray and wet

Well, praise be!  My hope from Thursday materialized, and I did find time this morning to draft a new poem.  There's not a lot to tell about today's process that is new.  I sat with my journal and a book and a little instrumental music on soft, soft, soft.  I had my cup of coffee.  I listened to it rain.  I caught hold of a line from the book I was reading and thought I had a beginning.

After scratching through some hard-won lines, I feared that maybe I was pushing this angry sisters thing too much.  Maybe they only had a handful of poems in them.  Maybe I've grown addicted to the idea of a persona leading me through an entire book. 

Then, I remembered that earlier Eduardo Corral had put out a call for favorite words on his Facebook page, hoping to use some of those words given to him by others in a draft of his own.  My word was "cauterize."  Remembering it snapped today's draft into focus.  I confess there's a bit of fever in it (ah, you sickly speaker, haunting, haunting).  The angry sisters seem to also have a thread of burning/fire/ashes underlying many of the drafts so far. 

Oh, I forgot.  Before I started drafting today, I read over last week's draft and realized that I had to cut an entire stanza, which contained one of my favorite phrases.  Guess what?  Most of that stanza worked to make the last stanza of today's draft.  This rarely happens for me.  In this case, I kept trying to use that left-over stanza as a beginning, and then gradually realized that it had to be the end.  Again, I rarely begin working on a poem knowing the ending, but there you go. 

As for the title, it began as the first line at some point in the draft, and when I realized that I needed to add a bit of information to the first stanza, something had to give.  Cutting the first line created an instant title. 

In the end, I'm still not sure about the angry sisters and if I'm pigeon-holing myself or forcing too much, but I do know that April looks to be an insane month and I'm happy to have this draft in case I'm derailed for the next few weeks.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What? No Draft Today?! (How To Not Heap on the Guilt)

48º ~ desperately seeking our normal beautiful spring temperatures, still there is sun and all the trees are at some stage of budding out with the sweetgum running last and the bleepity bleep privet winning, those tiny pale-yet-neon green flags are a heartening sight

Today, no draft for me.  Sigh.  I am struggling to avoid heaping on the guilt.  It seems that re-entering the semester after Spring Break has been a challenge for all involved this year and I am not weathering it well.  The last six or seven weeks of the semester are always hectic, and I'm trying to take a lesson from my friend RR who is also trying to go with the flow rather than getting pushed and pulled along.  But to the draft.

Today is one of those days when the Big Rock Reading Series and Drafting Day overlap, so I've spent the last few days putting things in place for tonight, only to wake up in the middle of the night thinking of three or four things I've totally neglected and need to add to my checklist.  Yes, I have a checklist that I print out each time one of these events approaches.  I'm a geek like that. 

So, how am I avoiding the self-punishment of feeling guilty about not drafting.

1.  Remembering student responses to previous BRRS events.
2.  Remembering that today is still going to be about writing and sharing, just not about my writing.
3.  Remembering that the angry sisters (my current drafting obsession) will still be there, just below the surface, and hoping that they won't be angry at me!
4.  Looking ahead to the weekend and thinking that maybe, just maybe I can shift some grading and do some drafting Saturday morning.
5.  Remembering that teaching is my paying gig (and one that feeds me in other ways as well) and that I'm fortunate to be able to take the summers off (please do not mistake me here, this means NOT getting paid for three months) and write for days on end.
6.  Chocolate & coffee, always, chocolate & coffee...and in the a.m. that chocolate is delivered in a candy bar disguised as a fiber bar.  Hah!


Tonight, we are going to have a wonderful time with local author Carla Killough McClafferty, who writes nonfiction books for middle grade children.  She began writing with a book about her spiritual journey in the wake of her young son's death, and then she turned to what has become quite a lineup of these nonfiction books.  We are going to hear about The Many Faces of George Washington, which McClafferty likens to "C.S.I. meeting the biography channel" as it follows a group of historians, scientists, and artists trying to recreate the most accurate renderings of George Washington.

If you live in the area, I hope you can come out to enjoy!

See you on the flip side!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Draft Process: In the Aftermath We Became Prairie Sirens

38º ~ sliding backward into winter temps, but at least we have sun and not the sleet predicted, rain is in the offing through tomorrow, highs only in the low 40s ~ cruel, cruel

Today's time at the desk of the Kangaroo is a tale of both failure and what might be counted as a success. 

Last night, I remembered to remind myself that this morning I would write a poem.  I remembered to remind myself all through my morning routine of shower, dressing, breakfast, coffee, &etc.  Alas, no spark of inspiration like last week.  Instead, I sat down at the desk with all of my necessary ingredients (a clear desk, my journal & pen, some instrumental music [today, Thelonius Monk], and a window), and NOTHING.  So, I went back and read all my new drafts since finishing the sickly speaker.  The fall was mostly silent, with a few poems drafted in November, but things picked up in December and onward, so I have a nice little handful.  Luckily, I still like many of the drafts, and luckily, I didn't get sidetracked with revisions, just jotted down any notes that struck me so I could come back to them later. 

Once I finished reading the work in progress, I expected something to happen, so I opened my journal and scratched out a few forced lines.  Bleck.  Then, I decided I would open up Traci Brimhall's Our Lady of the Ruins (my personal response to the book is here) because she uses the plural first person in many of the poems, and several of my newer poems (the angry sisters) use that point of view as well.  After reading two poems, I thought I was inspired; I thought I was beginning a draft.  I dutifully wrote out ten lines or so of really terrible narrative, the most non-poetic stinkbombs I've written in a long time.  Those lines languished on the page and did not give me the excitement, the tingle (yes, the spidey sense) that I needed to switch to the computer and finish the draft.

Le sigh.

So, back to the book and back to a process that has yet to fail me: word gathering.  I started at the first poem in Our Lady and gathered (i.e. stole) a bunch of nouns and verbs from Traci, with all respect and admiration.  Once I got abut thirty of them scrawled in ramshackle fashion across the page, connections began to spark.  I drew my arrows and circles connecting words (it's important to note that I never collect two words from the same line and make sure to place words from the same poem far apart on the page in my journal; my intent is never to plagiarize).  The two words that sparked today's real draft, the one that might be a successful poem someday were "honey" and "hourglass."  I suddenly had an image of the sand in an hourglass replaced by honey and what that would mean in terms of time.  In that moment, the angry sisters snapped back and started singing. 

We filled the bedside hourglass
            with honey, slow slurry
to time our ill-fated rendezvous...

Another important note about word gathering: I usually only end up using three or four pairs from what I've scribbled in my notebook.  As the draft takes off and gathers to a critical mass, I'm able to access my own word store and find my own interesting clashing together of language.  I guess I'm a bit like those old engines that need priming before they fire to life.

As for the title, this poem takes place after the family catastrophe, and the draft ended up taking a really quirky turn with the angry sisters becoming these pulsing, sexual bodies, and I had an image of the sirens of mythology, but this time the setting is on the prairie (oh, how I missed it while I was away with the sickly speaker!).  I hope folks will get the allusion in the title when they read the full draft.  I know that sirens on the prairie are usually associated with tornado warnings, so I'll have to see.

Until then...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where I've Been: Harding University

48º ~ bright sun, tiny breezes, a massive drop in temps predicted after today (snow forecast in the northern tier of Arkansas counties for Friday) and through the next week  ...uhm...hello?...spring???

So, this is Spring Break.  A little bit of sleeping in; a lot of catching up on household tasks waylaid by the semester and AWP.  Oh, and yes, there is grading being done as well.  It never stops!

In terms of poetry, yesterday I had the great fortune to read for and talk with Dr. Nick Boone's Poetry Writing class at Harding University in Searcy, AR.  While I love to do readings, combining them with class visits is my absolute favorite thing to do, and Dr. Boone's students did not disappoint.

For the reading, Nick had me email him a file with my poems and as I read, the poems were projected onto the class screen.  This was the first time I'd done something like this and it was interesting.  First off, as I finished each poem, I needed to scroll down to the next one.  I read from printed copies and then leaned over to maneuver the mouse.  What I liked about this was the forced break between poems.  When I read, I definitely try to give each poem its due by pausing after the last line. (Pet Peeve: when at a poetry reading and the poet rushes to say something almost before the last word of the poem is out of her mouth.)  Having to manipulate the computer made a natural break between poems.  Second, as I read, the students were following along on the screen.  This was a bit of a difference for me, as I practice my readings a lot and really try for eye contact with the audience.  Luckily, there were a few students who seemed focused more on me than the screen.  I do see the value of the printed poems as I read, especially for beginning writers of poetry, as they could see linebreaks and stanza breaks and all the white space on the page.  

After I finished reading, I had some craft notes prepared, but I really just love to talk with students and opening up the room to questions worked perfectly.  The students were bright and articulate and asked all the right questions so that I was able to incorporate my craft notes into a more free-flowing discussion.  We talked about poetry being part inspiration and part craft and that the craft comes along from reading a lot and writing a lot.  In particular, I covered sound and form, form in terms of free verse still needing structure and how important linebreaks and stanza breaks can be, even when not using a formal method.

All in all, it was a great day focused on poetry and students, two of my favorite things!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Four Poems from the Sickly Speaker @ Connotation Press; Two @ diode

54º ~ oh yeah, baby, 54º and the sun is just starting to come up...hello spring!, hello Spring Break (in four hours!)

Many thanks to Kaite Hillenbrand and Ken Robidoux over at Connotation Press for showing the sickly speaker so much love.  These four poems are from near the end of her journey.

And earlier in the year, the irreplaceable Patty Paine and Jeff Lodge over at diode gave her a bit more encouragement.  Two poems that also appear near the end.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Draft Process: Home Ec 101

45º ~ headed for 70º today and nearing 80º for Fri/Sat ~ wahooooooooooo! ~ bright, clear skies, spring breezes tease the tattered remains of the privet tree outside the window, beaten down by the Xmas storm, new leaves are budding

Credit this draft process with chaos. The first line struck me from out of the blue, on one of the planes home from AWP 2013 (Boston).  I saw either an ad or a typographic poem that featured the image of a hive in cross section with words on it, now I'm thinking it was definitely a poem.  In any case, out of nowhere, I heard in my head, "The angry sisters were born with no hive mind."  I scribbled it down in the back of my Zone 3 notebook (see earlier post about forgetting my journal).  And then, chaos ensued.

I hit the ground running Sunday evening and haven't stopped until this moment, catching up on student emails, doing laundry, restocking the kitchen, teaching, prepping, grading, &etc.  Somewhere in there I caught a few hours of sleep each night.  Last night, as I was thinking about today, I planned to go into campus a bit later because I will be attending a fund raiser tonight that will keep me on campus until 9 or so (with a silent art auction, where I always SCORE!)  In any case, the point of this is that in all the chaos, I wasn't even really thinking that Thursday morning = drafting time.  Somewhere around 5 a.m. when the cats started wanting their breakfasts, it dawned on me that YES, I was going to draft a poem, come hell or high water.

As I went through my ablutions (can't do anything until my [non-religious] ablutions are through...blessings to those who can pop up and start to write!), the line came back, "no hive mind."  Hmmmm.  As I was pouring my cereal, but before I'd gotten to the milk, a whole ton of lines just cascaded down on me.  So, I went back to the desk, sans cereal, and started writing, quickly b/c I was STARVING.  Once I'd gotten to the end of the initial rush, about ten lines, I went back and ate my breakfast.  Those ten lines were waiting for me when I was ready to draft, and with a bit of pushing, a bit of prodding, I turned out a three stanza, 19-line poem.  The stanzas are four lines, seven lines, eight lines, and the lines are all around eight syllables and between four and five stresses. The title, "Home Ec 101," did not come easily and I'm not sure it is a fit.  However, this subject matter is so very different from the sickly speaker, who lent herself to my lifting titles from several poets I love (aka Lucie Brock-Broido, Mary Ann Samyn, and Emily Dickinson), that I'm not really able to follow the same method here.  Instead, I'm back to sifting through the dark for a title.  Minor complaint, given the fact that amidst the chaos, I did, in fact, draft a poem today.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

AWP 2013: Pictorial

34º ~ spring is reticent in Little Rock, but trees are budding and birds & bees are doing their birds & bees thing

**I wish I'd taken about 100 more photos, as there are so many friendly faces missing from this post.  Next year, I'm attaching my camera to my lanyard!

Steve Schroeder, nacho killer

Traci Brimhall, duck lipped texting

Alison Pelegrin, Louisiana beauty

Eric Morris (BOR), concentration face

Stephanie Kartalopoulos, in the nick of time
Marie Gauthier with Georgie, Rose Carlson, my Tupelo Press touchstones

Yep, that panel is SRO

Mary Biddinger (BOR) & Helen Vitoria (Thrush), bookfair queens

Allison Benis White, I bought the first copy of her new book!

Missing Tara Bray!

Seth Pennington & Bryan Borland (Sibling Rivalry Press), Newlyweds!

The writers go up, the writers come down.

Attempting to part the writer sea.
Tawnysha Greene, finally meeting in the flesh!

Traci Brimhall & Chad Sweeney, off-site banter

Laura McCullough, lovely lady in red light

the amazing Ken Robidoux, Connotation Press

Laura McCullough, this is AWP for me!

My brother, Al Maginess

Cutest picture of Al ever!

In the trenches at Dunkin' Donuts, Hynes Convention Center

Boston snow
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, her book is out and she flew all the way from Alaska!

Josh Robbins, his book is out from UARK, woo pig sooie!

David Clark, my Little Rockian-in-law (32 Poems)

Andy McFadyen-Ketchum ( and Matt Guenette (with Mark Sptizer)

Jim May (with Adelyn)

Lisa Fay Coutley, in the flesh, shouting it out, Adam Vines approves

Greg Alan Brownderville, preaching to the masses

Sunday, March 10, 2013

AWP 2013: Part 2: Friday-Sunday

54 degrees with bright sun in D.C. for a layover

Friday morning at AWP, I discovered that Dunkin Donuts does not have soy milk.  What?  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one in the world who can't drink cow's milk.  Hmmmm.  Luckily, there was a proper coffee shop/bakery in the Prudential mall, just a 3 minute walk away.

Coffee fulfilled, I made my way to one of the best panels.  I don't have the full title here but it was on the "Colloquial Baroque," a term coined by Lisa Russ Spaar, whom I dearly wanted to hear.  Alas, she was snowed in.  Brinda Hillman, Brian Teare, and the other panelists were amazing.  This was a panel on what Keats calls "the fine excess" and on the blending of dictions in contemporary poetry.  Bingo!  Bullseye!  It's definitely going to take me a few days/weeks/months to sort through my notes and thoughts on this one.

More bookfair encounters occurred, followed by a lunch with Carol Berg, whom I'd only ever known by her poems and by her blog/Facebook.  Sadly, after lunch I realized that I'd completely overdone it on Wednesday afternoon/evening and Thursday all day.  I managed to go to Adam Prince's and Charlotte Pence's signings at the Black Lawrence table before stumbling back to my room and falling into a deep, dark nap.  This revived me enough to be passing fair for a dinner with the lovely women of Tupelo Press, Marie, Dylan, Rose, and Georgia (Marie's dear baby girl).  Much laughter and good conversation accompanied California Pizza Kitchen.

By Saturday, I was running on Fumes, but managed to get up for a breakfast meeting with poet Martha Silano.  Martha is coming to Little Rock in April to be part of the Big Rock Reading Series and the Arkansas Lit Festival.  Wahoooooo!  I spent some more time in the bookfair before attending a panel reading from the University of Arkansas Press anthology Breaking the Jaws of Silence, in which 60 American poets were asked to write poems in response to the protests in Iran and the death of Neda Agha-Soltan.  I was bummed that Quincey Troupe got snowed in, but the rest of the panel blew me away, including and especially, Yusef Komunyakaa.

Then, there was lunch and shipping books home to Arkansas.  I shipped home 16.2 lbs of books and my suitcase was 15 lbs underweight, so I could have save the $$ and lugged the books home, putting two more in my carry on, but I was tired and didn't want to have to wrestle the big suitcase.  While I had spent a few moments here and there with good, good poet friend Al Maginess, we didn't manage to find some time to sit and catch up until coffee Saturday afternoon.  Such a great benefit of AWP these small moments of calm with an old friend.

I wrapped up AWP with an off-site reading where I got to meet a few more friends previously only known via Facebook and blogs, and then I put myself to bed early.  Yes, this means that I did not attend any of the major evening events sponsored by the conference.  I had hoped to see Lucie Brock-Broido read with Anne Carson, but my body betrayed me.  These readings don't start until 8:30 and are often attended by great swarms of people. Too much.

This morning, I slipped out of the hotel and due to a clock fumble, wound up at the airport unbelievably early.  I thought my AWP moments were over, when lo and behold, Kerry James Evans woke me from a Facebook stupor and I managed to have one more good talk over a cup of coffee as we both waited for our plane.  By a stroke of luck, Kerry's plane had been changed.  AWP blessings?

And now, now I'm just ready to be home, to see Chuck, play with the cats, and sleep in my own bed.  AWP 2013 was definitely a success!  (Pictures wouldn't load from my iPad, so expect those in the next few days.)

AWP 2013: Part 1: Wednesday - Thursday

29 degrees with thin filmy clouds at Logan Int'l in Boston

My AWP began before I even left Little Rock, as it turned out that John Vanderslice, Mark Spitzer, and Robin Becker, all of the University of Central Arkansas (Toad Suck Review), shared my flights with me.  Once on board the plane, I realized that I forgot my journal.  Wow!  That's a first.  I ended up tearing out the few blank pages at the end of the two lit mags I had with me and using those.

When we landed in Charlotte to connect to Boston, I met fellow blogger Jessie Carty for the first time.  As she and I stood chatting waiting to board, our conversation turned to AWP, and wouldn't you know it, the person next to us was going also.  This was my first introduction to Katie Booms, who would pop up several times in Boston.  On the flight to Boston, I eavesdropped on several conversations all around me.  Yep, writers bound for AWP.

Once settled in the hotel, registered, and de-airplaned, I enjoyed my regular AWP kickoff tradition of sharing drinks with fellow Arkansas alum Adam Prince and the lovely Charlotte Pence.  Sadly, I forgot to take their picture (and they are stunning!).  Then, it was off to dinner with Bernadette Geyer, whose new book is out from Word Works, and Steve Schroeder, before our off-site reading for Barn Owl Review and Thrush.  Many, many thanks to super editors Mary Biddinger, Eric Morris, and Helen Vitoria for inviting me to read, even though I don't write those entertaining, sexy AWP poems.  :)  The only thing missing was the wonderful Stephanie Kartalopoulis, whose flights were delayed by the storm.  Lucky us, she arrived in the nick of time, baggage in tow and with airplane mouth, but undeterred.

And that was Wednesday.

On Thursday, I started in the bookfair, and the first thing I did was scope out a notebook.  Luckily, the folks at Zone 3 had a deal: a back issue for $5 got me a handy little notebook.  Cruising the bookfair is one of my favorite AWP activities.  Before I arrive, I actually plot out all the tables and booths I intended to visit for sure.  I stop by the tables of journals that have published me and give thanks, shaking hands with editors and readers.  I pop into the booths of certain publishers and grad school programs to hug old friends and buy books just coming out.  If I tried to list all the folks I hugged or met this year, you'd stop reading.  Suffice it to say, these interactions are invaluable and they re-energize me for the rest of the year.

AWP has grown to such large proportions (11,000 writers > the number of people in Monticello, AR where I taught for 18 months after grad school), that the conference is now held in convention centers, and the one in Boston is attached to an upscale mall.  I am not a shopper by any stretch of the imagination, but I definitely enjoyed the foodcourt as an alternative to the long lines at the Dunkin Donuts closest to the convention center.  It was also great to watch the masses of non-writerly folks try to figure out just what alien population had descended upon them.  We writers are known to sprawl haphazardly, tossing bags and books here and there, moving chairs and tables as needed, etc.  Our conversations, when overheard, must seem quite strange.

Each year, I seem to attach myself to a doppelganger or two, and this year was no exception.  Oliver de la Paz, Steve Schroeder, and Katie Booms seemed to cross my path with greater frequency that anyone else, and I am happy they did!

Thursday afternoon, I attended a great panel on fundraising, information I hope to take back to PTC and use for the Big Rock Reading Series. Then, there was more bookfair and what was, perhaps, the most important panel for me this year, a memorial for Jake.  Everyone who spoke brought Jake's spirit alive in that industrial conference room.  We all cried and we even managed to laugh a few times as well.  And while I will still mourn my friend, I feel, at last, that his death is real.

In the wake of the memorial, I really didn't feel like going out; however, I had several friend reading at an off-site.  It was Jake who gave me the energy to go out.  I thought on the times I missed a chance to talk with Jake, and I remembered that this life is fleeting.  I went out, enjoyed good friends and good words, and slept well.