Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear 2008

Dear 2008:

It's been real. I've learned a ton, I've gotten much done, and am leaving you wiser, better prepared for life, and healthier than I've been in a long time. While much of that might be attributed to the gym habit, I truly believe that a lot of it has to do with the writing I've gotten done and the writing that's sitting just over the horizon waiting for me. My main motivator used to be my friends, who I love and admire, but the power of that motivation fades when I live so far away from most of them and see them so seldom. I replaced them with work, and while I love what I do for a living, it's not enough to keep me going through both daylight and nighttime hours. Even writing isn't my main motivation, though it's a lovely engine and I feel like I'm doing something right.

I want to be happy. This is my new motivation. And this year I've found that what makes me happy is balance. A balance between work and play, between thought-work and physical work, between hermiting and socialization, between splurging and being frugal enough that I can address my debt, between obsession and affection. Writing happens to help me achieve this balance, and I am excited to have found a home in my pen.

So, 2008, I have a lot to thank you for. A job I've loved, and the the gumption to take the new job I'll start in 2009. A bevy of new friends on both the writerly front and the librarian front. The upcoming book and other pubs. A reminder that I do indeed have good friends who will both save my bacon and take me to task when necessary. The seeds of ideas for books I'll write next year. The chance to travel and meet some of my invisible internet pals. The eventual (and hard-earned) good health of my wunderhund Otto. My mother's recovery. My health and increasing fitness. My growing ease with the person I've become over the years. Listing all of this seems very petty, but I glow with each one. Thank you so very much, and goodbye.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mellifluous Tones (or not): WUTC Interview

Well, Mike Miller had me in this past Monday to interview for WUTC's Around and About feature on the local Chattanooga radio. I missed the airing of it because I was working the reference desk, but am happy that Mike came over to give me the file. We talked about poetry, the writing process, the revising process, various bits and pieces. We talked for quite awhile (Mike is also a writer, though I think he usually works with fiction), but he edited my ramblings admirably (though he couldn't do much about altering my voice to make me sound less like a lumberjack with a sinus infection).

Because I don't actually have hosting anywhere (LibrarianFAIL - I'm working on it, once I get moved), my favorite systems dude, InfoSciPhi has set me up so I can share the audio file with the masses.
You can listen to the interview here - if you click the link, it'll open in your media player or in a browser tab and play, but you can also right click and download the file. It's about six minutes long, and I do hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Small Triumphs

Why yes, I did just finish writing my extended critical essay - the Spalding MFA version of a master's thesis (though a short one, since the main focus is in the 4th semester on our creative thesis). It has irked the everloving *crap* out of me that all of these folks pursuing a graduate degree were whining and bitching about a 20 to 30 page scholarly-type paper. C'mon,folks. Say it with me: graduate degree. I suppose I'm enough of an academic snob to feel like you shouldn't get one of those for just the creative writing part, especially since a lot of MFA programs can't very well fail you if your stuff is swill, so long as you jump through all of the hoops. A creative writing degree - an academic degree, now - should also imply that you've got training in critical thinking.

Sigh. Anyway, very happy that mine is done, since technically the final draft isn't due til packet 3. (And packet 1? Oh, due December 11. That's right. Nearly 2 weeks from now.) I'm hoping Phil Deaver (mentor for this semester, and all-around lovely poet and fiction writer) will okay this one right off, it's a very polished first draft. So, I may ask to see if I can send packet 1 early and get "The Female Epic Hero: Reclamation of Helen of Troy in H. D.’s Helen in Egypt" out of my hands. Yee haw and full steam ahead.

Oh, and I also completed a full second collection - Arguments Against Sleep is done and sent off to the Cider Press Review for its first crack (and yes, I know all about the shenanegans that went on with last year's competition). A Convocation of Goddesses is rolling, but slowly at this point. But hey, Arguments was written in a grand furnace of two weeks. My muse is a sadistic and demanding bitch. I love her.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Listen for me on WUTC!

A pal of mine from workshop a couple of semesters ago, Mike Miller, has invited me onto our university's radio station for an interview and to read some of my work. I'm excited! I'll be meeting him in the studio on Monday at noon. Here's to hoping I don't completely bomb on-air! (It's about time my low voice was good for something, but I'm afraid I'll end up sounding like a man with a cold. harrumph.)

Post MFA Residency Report

I spent 11/13 through 11/23 at the MFA residency for Spalding University in Louisville. It's been a stressful time with work piling up at the library and the impending move and due dates for graduate classes, but I had a wonderful, wonderful time. As much as I love being a librarian, it was a lovely chance to get into an artist headspace and pretend I was a real, live poet for an extended period. (Not that I'm not a poet, but for a living, eating and breathing the work and the lectures and the teaching.)

Residency was interesting and productive for me, though I question some of the choices that were made this round. Spalding had Patricia Gaines in with her assemblage "Strange Beauty - Blind Genius." (The pdf of the news release is available here.) She was patently unprepared for her presentation, which was disappointing. The graduating student lectures and readings were wonderful, the faculty were warm and helpful, and workshop was excellent this go-round. I got (and, I hope, gave) a lot of great input and suggestions for some pieces I had stalled out on and wanted to salvage, and it was simply a good group with good chemistry and tact, but a willingness to take up the difficult areas of work.

I did a great deal of writing this residency, which I usually don't have time to do. In fact, I've started two new collections, and have each of them about half done. This is great, given that I have to have a whole new book by October 2009, since I won't be able to use God in my Throat for my creative thesis since (hopefully) it will be published by then. And so, in addition to the in-progress collection Gone Things, I'm now also working on Arguments Against Sleep and A Convocation of Goddesses. Convocation was an idea I had quite some time ago but never really made a start with, and Arguments cropped up as an idea after a workshop session. Each of those three titles currently has about 20-25 poems in it, which is not terribly shabby. I prefer to have multiple projects going at once, so if I'm not in the mood to write in one vein, I can move to another. Here's to hoping they turn into something people want.

Finally, a note on the extended critical essay, which comes due for me on 12/11. It's our MFA program's concession to scholarly critical work, but shorter than a regular MA thesis, as it's only to be about 30 pages. The happy news: mine is about half-done, and I know quite a few folks who haven't started theirs. The not-so-happy news is, well, having to finish it. I really should have written it in its entirety earlier, but things have snowballed lately. All in good time, I have until the 11th.

Anyway, it's good to be back on track with writing, and good to be back in Chattanooga. I love the Brown Hotel and my MFA peeps, but I'm a hermit at heart, and I missed being able to crawl away for some solitude.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

AWP Pedagogy Forum: Colleen FTW!

Just got confirmation! My paper, "Poets Rewriting History: Researching for the Authentic Persona Poem," was accepted for presentation at the Pedagogy Forum at the 2009 Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference. Huzzah! This was my attempt to forge my librarianish interests with my creative writing interests, and I do have a particular affinity for the persona poem.

I'm really looking forward to this (though I may well need a place to crash, so if you're going to AWP and have some extra floorspace the night of February 12th, do let me know) - I've heard about AWP but have never been. I also appreciate the ability to expand my presenting into something that is very personal to me. I love librarianship and never plan to leave it, but writing I find personally fulfilling. It's nice to have my personal side validated in addition to my professional side *smile*

Another "Almost" at Black Lawrence Press

I'm thrilled that God in my Throat has found a home with Bellowing Ark Press, and I'm hoping to get on the requested revisions over Thanksgiving. I also just received word that the manuscript came in as a finalist in the Black Lawrence Press 2008 St. Lawrence Book Award competition. I'm a constant finalist over there, between my chapbooks and this collection *grin*. Ah well. I'll have to stick to chapbooks to send to them now, since my first book will be out of the gate next year. I will now be excluded from all "first book" contests. Funny how that doesn't sting at all...

I now have a serious case of the happy and will be setting aside my moodfunk. Also, Alabama poetess Jeanie Thompson has offered to give me ideas and tips on marketing for the upcoming book, and I'm excited to get to talk to her about it at my upcoming residency next week.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Bit of This, A Bit of That

I'm behind on getting my things for the MFA residency together, which is disturbing since I'm driving to Louisville Friday morning. I also just realized that my first draft of our extended critical thesis is due December 11. Eep. I have all of my sources and a good idea of what I want to write...hopefully whatever mentor I get agrees.

Just got notice that the Adirondack Review accepted a second poem - hurrah! The first one they took is out in the Fall 2008 issue, so with the quick turnaround by their staff and their editor Diane Goettel, this one may be in the very next issue.

Looks like God in my Throat is definitely a go! Robert Ward (guru and editor over at Bellowing Ark Press) sent me two titles from his backlist that I'm tucking into right now, and I like both the construction and the content of the books. They're done in simple non-glossy paperback - it's the sort of book that forces the text to speak for it, unhindered (and unhelped) by any flashy cover art. I have zero problem with fun, glossy covers, but I also like minimalist work. And I very much like the stance of Bellowing Ark on what they do and do not publish, and Mr. Ward's superprompt responses to everything I've sent him both via post and via e-mail. I'm really looking forward to learning the publishing process, and am expecting Ward's revision suggestions shortly. I'll keep you posted on how the book moves.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Forthcoming Poem in War Anthology Against Agamemnon

Some wonderful news! You ever get attached to a poem that gets treated a bit like a redheaded stepchild? I have one of those - "Tysketöser." I love that poem something awful. It's not even, I don't think, the best of my work. I've revised it umpteen times. It's been ripped in workshop, and Jeanie Thompson and Debra Kang Dean both tried to help me improve it at my very first MFA workshop, but I was left with the feeling they still thought it was rather misshapen.

And still I love the thing, my ugly little progeny. It's a raw piece - pure emotion in a monologue by a Norwegian women being prosecuted by her countrymen for sleeping with German soldiers to keep her children fed during World War II. It's probably unfit for general consumption - I use the word "cunt" in it - but the poem required it for the sound of that line and the tone of the piece, and I refuse to take it out. I figured that, if not the roughness of the poem itself, would keep it from ever finding a home on its own, unless I buried it deep in a collection, away from an editor's prying eyes. It's a strong statement about the place of women, about the horrors of war, and about survival and spirit. I think it's worthy of being called a "poem." but again, on this one, I'm biased.

Which is why I am more than I am happy to report that I was wrong about her never being published. "Tysketöser" will appear in an anthology of war poetry titled Against Agamemnon out of WaterWood press, edited by James Adams. I am thrilled, and "Tysketöser" will finally be in print, where I think she deserves to be. And yes, I'm doing the happy dance :)

More Manuscripts in Progress

Merrily steaming along, I have two other manuscripts underway, though neither are quite near the finished stages. One is tentatively titled Gone Things That Stay or just Gone Things (not quite sure if that's a keeper of a title yet - "Things" is a word that tends to annoy me for its vagueness - but it captures the theme of the collection nicely so far, and I hate not having a working title). The other is still very much a work in progress, there are only about 12 pieces in it so far. It's in a rougher voice than I usually use, more rhythmic and spitfire style - not sure if there will ever be a market for that one, but I figure I need to get those pieces out of my system anyway, and they may as well be collected together. No firm working title for that second collection yet, though Love Letters from a White Woman or Train Track Child Comes Home may end up the working title.

I'm thrilled at the prospect of God in my Throat coming out with Bellowing Ark, and as soon as I have more news on that front, I'll report it here.

For now, I'll leave you with a draft of "Train Track Child Comes Home." The prompt that started this one was that it had to be a love poem (with "love" defined however you wish), exactly 21 lines long, with the lines as evenly matched as possible length-wise. I took some liberties on the length of the lines and broke the prompt a bit, and I'm not thrilled with the long tercets, so the next revision will change the form a bit. (Actually, the long tercets didn't fit into this blogform well, so I've broken the 21 line rule. The wording is much the same but the line breaks are different.) I wrote a second poem that I'm not including here that is more of an actual love poem - this one was an attempt at writing a love poem for a place that I both despise and am drawn to, the place where I grew up.

Train Track Child Comes Home

I’m lucky like a quarter left on the tracks, coming back
to the dull glint of nickel, the feel of a cold, sharp coin
against my wrist, the smokestack smell of a just-passed train
and the howl of cars jolted from the safety of the rails.

Warm metal tastes like a punch in the mouth, and I’m home,
where powdered sugar from the Entenmann’s factory mingles
in morning air with cocaine and our cigarette smoke halos, back
where love is cold, hard and brittle like weak iron. Home,

where I spent years chasing dragons, held hostage by scuffed
peddlers of temptation offering spoiled salvation neatly wrapped
in Ziploc from lice-infested pockets where train cars go to die.
We were brilliant as fog, riding bareback down dirty streets,

eyes closed, arms open, serenading the homeless, singing love songs
to dim streetlights while our fathers beat our mothers in silence.
I can see the self I left here to die, a half-ghost drifting across
Brentwood Road, two blocks past the carnicería, wearing slutty clothes,

cracking cinnamon gum in defiance. She waits, chases me
around concrete corners, reminds me of old crimes, dares me
to find the milky shadows of possibility spelled out in the I-Ching maze
of track marks I let scab over when I left, when I let myself forget.

But Brentwood never forgets, she rips those raw scabs open
and they’re thirsty as soon as I cross her borders, I can feel her whisper
echo in my bones - eso si que es, mi hija, nadie puede escaparme.
Tarry rail ties stain the landscape, pointing the way out,

but the firewhistle moans that it’s too late to leave this time,
I’m home for good and she doesn’t plan to let me go. I sit like a coin
on the tracks with a needle and flame, waiting to gain an edge.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An ISBN in my Near Future!!! OMGBBQ

Apologies for not having much to say lately - my creative writing has taken a bit of a backseat to life. If you follow my other blog, you know that I just accepted a new position at NC State University, and will be joining the Wolfpack in January. I've got a number of papers due (this week, actually) for the MA Lit classes I'm taking, my MFA residency is fast approaching in mid-November, and I've been trying to polish off the Lilith manuscript and form another manuscript out of some poems that seem to have a family theme to them. I spent the last week in Monterey, CA, at a librarian conference where I presented twice and was able to meet a number of my online pals in person. It's been a thrilling, if exhausting, few weeks.

Last night, after attending a friend's gymnastics exhibition (is there anything sexier than watching a buff guy carry a standing chick in one hand?) I attended a party thrown by the inimitable Sybil Baker as part of the Meacham celebration, which was great fun. I went with fun author-ly news in hand - I received an email from the editor at Bellowing Ark...and with some revisions and edits, he says he wants to publish the Lilith manuscript! A book! Of mine! With it's own ISBN and everything! insert happy dance here

From what I've found in my research, Bellowing Ark's authors love the press and its editor, Robert Ward. From looking at not only the journal but also the books BA puts out, it's a lovely - and most notably, hopeful - press, where writers push back against darkness through the act of Creation, a place of contemplation and balance. I am very much looking forward to working with Robert to get God in my Throat into print as an entire manuscript.

And once it *is* in print, I will pander it mercilessly and beg everyone I know to buy a copy. *grin*

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chapbook "Carving Your Name" is a Semifinalist!

Happy news! My chapbook "Carving Your Name" came in as a semi-finalist in the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook competition for the Spring 2008 submission cycle. This is the second time I've hit semi-finalist status there. Grrr. I think in December I'm going to go ahead and revise the hell out of those chapbooks and send them back to see if I can't break into finalist/winner tiers. But I'm very happy about it, as this collection addresses some personal themes, as opposed to the last chapbook I sent them which was war poetry. It's good motivation at least *grin*

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hey Now, You're a Poemstar....

The lack of posting here reflects how ridiculously busy things have been lately. I am merrily finished with my second MFA semester (huzzah!) and officially halfway through the program. Party in Louisville next November upon graduation, make a note!

In addition to finishing up that semester and getting my material together for November's residency and workshop, I made some final edits to the God in my Throat manuscript and sent it off to Robert Ward at Bellowing Ark Press. He picked up nine of my pieces from the collection for the last issue, so I'm crossing my fingers he likes the entire thing as much. Cross your fingers/toes/ankles/whatever for me if you think about it. At the very least, Robert has been super supportive and happy to dialogue about my work, his own work, and the state of poetry at large, and it's made for great conversation.

Right now I'm gearing up for some conference presentations at Internet Librarian in Monterey (in less than two weeks!), but after that, I have some revisions I want to get done, and it's about time to send out another batch of submissions. Right now I'm in sort of a holding pattern until December when some pressing deadlines are past. And then I'll be hoofing it to complete my extended critical essay for the No break in sight, really.

In other news, a very good friend of mine (we grew up together) just got his proof copy of his very first book of poetry, which I will splash all over this blog once it's out and available for purchase - I even got to write one of the back cover blurbs. He's a poet whose energy really dazzles from the page, and I am incredibly proud of him - expect to see more about this guy here soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Acceptance in Adirondack Review!

I am in receipt of an email from the Adirondack Review that they want one of my pieces! *happy happy poetess dance* I've heard such wonderful things about this journal that I'm excited. Stay tuned for details.

"Poverty" Appears in Blood Orange Review!

Happy news! "Reclaiming Poverty" is up at Blood Orange Review. If you like, you can read it here, as well as my bio here, which was a response to their prompt of "What keeps you moving forward as a writer?"

On the Pleasures of Reading Aloud

Two weeks ago, I attended a reading here on UTC's campus by one of our creative writing faculty members. Part of the "Works in Progress" reading series, Sybil Baker read from her novel-in-progress. I also had the pleasure of hearing Sybil read from her short story "The cape of Good Hope (the story will appear in upstreet 4) during the Spring 2008 Meacham Writers' Workshop.

First, let me say that it's a pleasure to hear Sybil read. Her stories are engaging and detailed, she's sprightly and energetic, and she edits through her material well to fit in the time frame for her readings (a rare feat in a writer who offers readings, and one much appreciated by the audience!).

It's been so long since I've been to a reading (months and months) that I'd forgotten how pleasant it is just to be read to, sitting back, enjoying the wash of words and the story. Now, I *love* to read. A lot. To the detriment of other areas of living an active life, really. But it is completely different when you don't have to put forth any effort but to listen and simply become engrossed, unable to cheat by scannign to the next paragraph. Very relaxing. I find it extraordinarily soothing. (Could it be because Mom used to read to me constantly as a child? I don't know.)

I still, however, can't bring myself to purchase books on tape (or CD, or mp3, or what have you). I like the intimacy of feeling the written page in my hands (one more reason why, as awesome as the Kindle is, I will not be getting one anytime in the near future, unless they can make it feel and smell like paper. There is a different kind of intimacy at a reading, surrounded by people you may not know, but suspended in the same bubble of imagination and story by the author. There is something about that sensation that I love that just isn't recreated with a CD alone in my home.

Dear everyone: if you would like to woo me, find me at a tired time, and offer to read to me on a cozy warm couch somewhere.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The result of the Prompt "Twenty Little Poetry Projects"

A few packets ago, my MFA mentor sent me Jim Simmerman's Twenty Little Poetry Projects as a prompt to shake my style up a bit, since I tend to stick quite firmly to a particular rhetorical structure when I write poetry, and find it difficult to break out of it. It was mind-bending, and difficult, and interesting and fun - the best sort of prompt. (I'm actually going to send it to my online group of pals I workshop with on occasion, it was that much fun.) My result, "Brilliant as Fog," is below. it's not quite up to snuff, but I think there are some very nice salvageable gems in here.

Brilliant as Fog

I’m lucky like a quarter left on the tracks.
I was never born.
The dull glint of nickel, the feel
of a cold, sharpened coin against my wrist,

the smokestack smell of a just-passed train
and the howl of cars jolted
from the safety of the rails - - home.
Warm metal tastes like a punch in the mouth.

Talia never came back to Brentwood once she escaped.
She could never leave, either.
Powdered sugar from the Entenmann’s plant
mingled with our cigarette smoke halos

(and only punk-ass bitches didn’t smoke).
We chambered our rounds
with ruthless efficiency,
so we never feared cancer.

Bootin’ black tar heroin, held hostage
by the scuffed peddlers of temptation
offering spoiled salvation neatly wrapped in Ziploc
from lice-infested pockets

where the train cars went to die.
We were brilliant as fog –
we rode bareback down dirty streets, eyes closed,
and sang the world flat again.

Roadhouse broke all the rules – some of them twice.
She’ll always be waiting around the next concrete corner
until we answer for our crimes,
until we find the Greater Pattern,

until we find the milky shadows of possibility
in the I-Ching maze of our track marks.
Our addictions set us free.
Eso si que es, mi hija.

The tarry rail ties stain the landscape, pointing the way out.
The whistle moans that it’s too late to leave
because even now, a coin sits on the tracks
and waits to gain an edge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Letter to Self at 14: A Prompt

Hello all! Well, if you read my last post, I decided to bring the Oppenheimer poem to workshop, and it gets shredded tonight, so I'll report on how that goes. I'm revamping "Tysketoser" and will likely use that as my next piece for the class. Thanks for all your input!

We have an essay prompt due to hand in tonight, and we were to write a letter to ourselves at 14. The catch: it has to be about your 14 year old self, and not about telling them about how life turns out, so much. It was an interesting exercise - I rarely think about my high school and younger days very much, and not very in-depth. I recommend it to everyone. My result is below.

Dear Me,

This year you're starting high school - but not, really, since the 9th grade center is separate. Be careful with yourself - it's a lot rougher than middle school. It'll be okay, though - you'll create a silent little shell, and do other people's homework, and make your way through. This is your first year of entrepreneurship - you'll make your small job working in the guidance office profitable by selling lockerspace to drug dealers, keeping them off your back. It's necessary now, but you'll regret helping them later. But you already know that. You'll also make a good dollar or three doing homework for your peers, but a quick note on that: don't do it too well. You don't have many close friends, just Nishi and Jen, but you've got a rich internal life. You're already preparing for college, and have been since last year, since you figure it's your only way out. I'll tell you this much: believe in it - you *will* get out. You won't go where you had hoped, but you'll go where you need to be and finally get to be yourself without so many restrictions. You'll like the person you become, and the people who know you now as the quiet pushover won't recognize you much. You'll shed Brentwood like a snake sheds it's old, too-snug, now-dry skin, and leave it behind just as easily.

This is your first unsafe year, lost in a sea of 1600 other 9th-graders. The only thing you are good at is school, and so you'll tuck your head and muscle academics into submission. This will serve you well later, and you don't need much coaching here, other than to not take it so seriously - you don't need ulcers at 14, those can wait. This is the year you find out just how much you like having assignments, and due dates, and a nice structure that you can understand with a reward system of grades. You're not much different than a rat with a piece of cheese, you with your homework and good grades. It doesn't provide much physical armor - this is the year Yvette will be shot in the neck in math class, and no number of theorems were going to help you then. Luckily, your penchant for sitting at the front of the class - you big nerd - kept you clear of the line of fire. Don't fret over it too much. It'll make you tougher, though, and you need that. In a few years, this sort of thing will happen all the time, and people will be numb to it, and it won't matter so much. Consider yourself well prepared for the millenium.

This is the first year it actually matters that you're a girl. One boy you don't like will try to kiss you - I'm impressed by your moves as you duck under his outstretched arm. One boy you do like will ridicule you in front of everyone you know, and you'll generate the bad habit of pining over someone who isn't worth much for far too long. The teachers won't catch the boy who is lurking in hallways and shoving his hands down the front pockets of girls' jeans until he tries it on you. You're overweight, and he can't pull his hands out quite fast enough - they get stuck there, on your chunky thighs, long enough for you to twist away in disgust and break his fingers, to leave him in snotty tears in the hallway, defeated by your fat. It will be the only time you are happy with your thighs - enjoy that moment.

This year you will make yourself proud when you talk back to Daddy when he asks why you're bringing a nigger into his house as you mention Nicole is coming over to study. You thought about not saying anything, but you were tired of his talking about your friends that way. He does it all the time, like you don't live in Spanish Harlem, like *you're* not the minority in school, like he doesn't pack you off to a school where he knows damn well that 40% black and 55% hispanic means that you'll have few white friends to bring home to meet his approval. You will say all of this over the dinner table, where you are expected to be seen and not heard, and Daddy will turn a shade of brick red that scares you to your molars. You'll take sanctuary down in your bedroom in the basement and count the horrible, thudding heartbeats, waiting for him to slam open the door and throttle you like he must want to. Try to breathe. He's not coming. And your choice of friends - and the color of their skin, or the language they speak - will never be brought up again.

You should cut dad some slack, though. He was raised in a different time, in a different house. You don't know as much about him as you think you do, though mom hints at it, and will tell you later about how he used to come home from school to put his alcoholic mother in the shower to sober her up before Grandpa got home from work and beat them all. By the time you know these things, it won't matter. You'll have spent most of your life dodging his quicksilver, random bursts of anger, and being wary of his good humored moments. Do try to enjoy them - he means everything he says - at the time. Enjoy him - the weekends of watching westerns you've seen hundreds of times, the popcorn out of the old popper, learning to pour his beer with exactly three quarters of an inch of foam like he likes it. When things finally break, you won't be able to fix them - twenty one years of normal family life will be snuffed out by a midlife crisis that involves cocaine instead of a new boat. Concentrate on what dad is teaching you that you'll keep - a good work ethic. He taught you to mistrust people who don't earn their own living, that no one is going to help you if you don't help yourself, and that country justice is the only justice that counts. He taught you that a promise is everything. Some other things you don't need to keep - like the idea that depression is just a case of too much time on your hands that can be cured with getting a second - or third - job. Or the idea that you are snubbing your family when you want to build a life that doesn't belong to Long Island. Remember that the good things he taught you don't become untrue just because in the end he doesn't follow them, and the bad things are not branded into your marrow just because you share blood and his last name.

You are strong enough to stand up for what you want, as well as for what you believe in. Just remember - your dreams may change. It's not good, or bad, just natural, so don't marry yourself to one idea of happiness. In your haste to get out of new york, don't forget that there are still people you'll be connected to for life - try to heal things with Meaghen, or she'll be as much a stranger to you in eleven years as she is now, and that's not right for sisters. Thank Mom as often as you can - she does most of the work that keeps your life running smoothly, much as you resent her for staying in this place, she's made her choices for reasons you know nothing about. You'll understand more as you have to make your own choices. Most of all, don't be so self-centered - if you pay even just a little attention, you'll notice that everyone else has their own sorts of pressures and stresses that they're dealing with. You're not the only one three steps away from blowing a gasket. I won't tell you to slow down, because I think your intensity is your ticket out of where you don't want to be, but try to enjoy it more. You don't think so now, but occasionally (even if only VERY occasionally) you'll miss this and the simplicity of it all.



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Aside

Hi, all. Apologies for being away so long - with the beginning of the semester, I haven't been doing much creative writing. But, I have workshop this evening, and am torn between two poems. Which should I turn in? The options are "Tysketöser" and "Dear Doctor Oppenheimer." See below, and vote away!

(* Tysketöser – Norwegian women who slept with German soldiers during World War II. They were denounced as traitors by the Norwegian government, arrested, and sent to labor camps after the war.)

****Edit: Poems have been removed due to their pending publication

Friday, August 22, 2008

Birmingham Arts Journal FTW!

I am pleased to report that the Birmingham Arts Journal has just notified me that they'll publish my poem "Things I Learned When You Left" in their January 2009 issue. Hooray for poem placement! Hip hip hooray! This one was workshopped at the Spring 2008 residency (with Greg, again - he's my lucky charm).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prompt: Political Love Poem

Yesterday was the first meeting of Earl Braggs's poetry workshop here at UTC, which I'm pleased to take again. The prompt? Write a political love poem, however you may define 'political' and 'love.' I thought this would be a great opportunity to re-cast my poem "The House That Falls Down," the title piece of my chapbook of war poetry. It's a piece I wrote while my brother was at war as a marine, but I needed to recast it because originally, there was no soldier, and there was no "I" personality to the poem. The rewrite turned out to be pretty long, but I'd love to get some feedback on this draft:

Edit: Poem removed due to submission for publication

Blood Orange Review Takes a Poem

Merry news! Blood Orange review took my poem "Reclaiming Poverty," one of (I think) the sassier pieces I've written. More news on this once I know which issue it'll be in!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Concho River Review Also Decides I'm Worth Publishing - W00T

Quickie update on this one: if you decide to subscribe to the Concho River Review, you'll see a piece of mine in the Spring 2009 issue. Thank you, Jerry Bradley, Poetry Editor. You just made my Friday! If you were closer than Texas, I would buy you a beer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Update (Again): Bellowing Ark

These past few days have really been a whirlwind. Placements in Gentle Strength Quarterly and in Paradigm, as well as another solicitation from Bellowing Ark to round out their selection of my Lilith pieces for the Feature section of the Fall 2008 issue. I also just got notification that a grant proposal I wrote to help me get to a library conference in October was approved to the tune of $1000. As a pal on Friendfeed mentioned, it is raining awesome all over me.

Anyway, in addition to the general awesome mentioned above, I just received the latest response from Bellowing Ark. In addition to the pieces they've already accepted ("The Book," "God in my Throat," "Retrieval," "Drawing Board" and "Original Sin" from the Lilith collection, and "I Want a Man," "July Night in Hoptown," "Ice Storm" and "Flash in the Pan"), to round out the feature of Lilith pieces, they've chosen "Occupying the Children," "I Will Not Lie Below," "Temptation" and "It Would Not Have Been Well."

A deserved shout-out to Greg Pape, this semester's poetry mentor, who has seen and commented on all of these pieces. Dear Greg: at the rate the revisions you suggest are getting accepted, I will totally owe my first book deal to you. I hope your wife doesn't mind if I say I love you.

Anyway. Yes, woo for the coup at Bellowing Ark - I was really concerned that these poems wouldn't find a home, being such a related series. I am *so happy* that Editor Robert Ward turned out to be a fan of this sort of exploration of traditional roles and of a female speaker who refuses to fit into those preconceived roles. It's been a very personal journey for me (and one that's not quite over, I think), and I've been hoping that someone would see the value in the collection.

Imagine how thrilled I am to get a request for the full manuscript.

Oh, yes. You read that right.

A request for the full manuscript once I read the journal and see how they do their thang. Go ahead and gimme some intarweb high-fives, people. Poets go lifetimes without getting that sort of affirmation. And if it doesn't pan out, someone still asked for it. I think that's a thrill that will never go away.

Another Publication: Paradigm

W00t, yet another e-mail in my inbox that sparked the Happy Dance. The editors of the online quarterly Paradigm have picked up my poem "Unwanted," which is the very first of the Lilith poems. (I think it kicks off the collection nicely). It should appear in the Fall issue of Paradigm - once that issue is up, I'll be sure to post here about it so you can read it.

I'm really thrilled the Lilith pieces are finding homes - I was beginning to worry that they wouldn't. Thanks, all you awesome editors with good taste out there!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Holy Shite: Bellowing Ark Update

Can I get a quick "Holy Shite" from the world? An email from Bellowing Ark's editor just informed me that he'd like a bevy of those solicited non-Lilith poems for a future issue of Bellowing Ark, as well as some more of the Lilith pieces to round out the selection of my pieces that will comprise the "Featured Poet" spread in the upcoming issue.

Forgive me while I do the Big Yee Haw Funky Publishing Dance of the Poet. *does ridiculously unflattering and un-coordinated body-jerking dance*


So yes, Bellowing Ark will be publishing a great deal of my poetry. The titles accepted last time around were "God in my Throat," "Retrieval," "The Book," "Drawing Board," and "Original Sin" - all pieces from the Lilith collection (which I've tentatively titled God in my Throat). This time, the editor has chosen (from my non-Lilith selections) "I Want a Man," "Ice Storm," "July Night in Hoptown" and "Flash in the Pan." These are, except for "Ice Storm," all pieces from my first semester when I was working with Jeanie Thompson, and she has to get credit for taking these from the pretty rough places where they started to the nicely revised, publishable pieces that I'm really proud of. "Ice Storm" I have to thank Greg Pape and the folks in my second residency workshop for helping me revise - their feedback and suggestions were very helpful.My faculty mentor-poets and my writerly colleagues (both students and non-students) have really been an invaluable resource in helping me refine my work.

Expect a post soon on my opinion on the value of the MFA in Creative Writing - it's a hotly debated topic with a lot of naysayers, and being the opinionated minx that I am, I'm darn well going to have my say about it. As soon as I know which Lilith pieces will round out my "Featured" section in Bellowing Ark, I'll post on that, too. (Is it inappropriate to promise an editor a big wet kiss if they've already accepted your work?)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Good News from Gentle Strength Quarterly

Happy news! I just got an e-mail from Leilani Squire, editor of Gentle Strength Quarterly saying that they'd like to pick up a few of my pieces, and are trying to determine which issue they'll appear in. Yippee! I'm excited about this placement, particularly because I sent them three pieces I like a lot: "A Visit with my Mother after the Divorce," "Recovery," and "The Labor of Birthing and Burying my Sorrow." They're all really personal pieces written after I had major surgery and during my parents' breakup. I also worked very hard on these revisions during my first MFA semester while I was working with Jeanie Thompson, who helped me grow tremendously. Because of all the work Jeanie put into these with suggesting revisions, as well as the work I put into them, I'm thrilled about this set getting into print.

Happiness. Every day should end this well. I'll post again on this as soon as I know for sure what will appear where. Until then, come. Share in some Happy Dance!

Revision of "Dear Doctor Oppenheimer"

Revision is my weak point - I generally find it difficult to re-conceive a poem once I've got it down on paper, and generally what i do is "edit," not really re-envision a totally new writing of a piece. This one is a poem I like the idea of - it's a letter from Lilith (though it could be anyone, I suppose) to Dr. Oppenheimer - the one who invented the atom bomb, who tested in the desert and is reported to have said "I am become the destroyer of worlds."

I received packet 2 back from my MFA mentor last night and he had some good critique for the original version, so I gutted it and started over. There are a few lines that I held onto, but for the most part it's a complete revision. I'm digging it, though it's still in draft form, and am looking forward to working with it a bit more. here you go:

Dear Doctor Oppenheimer

Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Unsent Letter to a Love

This is something I've been meaning to do something with for a good long time. I had intended to turn it into a poem at one point, but never got around to it - it was originally written as a letter. It's not particularly good. It's not particularly "new" or original image-wise, but when I wrote it, I meant it. Looking back on it and reading it, it's still powerful to me even if it *does* read like any angsty woman's diary entry. No, I never did have the courage to say any of this, much less send it as it was written. It makes me happy to read it even as it's still a little bit painful - mostly because I meant every word, and it was nice to feel this sort of thing. I hope the next time I feel something similar for someone, I have the courage to say it. Until then, let all my former loves tussle over who gets to be the one I loved this way *grin*

You showed me where to put my arms so I wasn’t all strangulated. Warm and safe, I would have given you space – but you pulled me closer and wrapped me up, stroked my skin softly until I couldn’t stay awake to worry about squashing you, if my rolls were showing, if I should pull the blanket up higher to hide myself.

Remember the first time you stayed the night?

You kissed me to sleep. Didn’t slink away when morning came – pulled me close for a bit, smiled, everything was okay. Still not mine, but that was okay too. Since then, the occasional night, you stay. It’s not odd, and I don’t have to lie awake wondering when you’ll push me away.

We let our hands roam for hours, you never push; I’ve never been given such freedom, such a gift. Foreplay isn’t always foreplay – sometimes I just like the feel of your limbs, the crisp hair on your arms, the warm heavy weight of you against me.

You made me feel beautiful, wanted, lovely, and cherished – what the movies promise that never really happens. Most of the way to thirty years, I had let go words like ‘lovely’ and ‘cherished.’ I put them to rest, at least as they applied to me. You gave it to me honestly, no ‘forever’ promises. I could wrap myself around you and nestle my nose in your shoulders.

I woke up and we were holding hands, back to back, asleep, I could have cried, but my heart was full and I didn’t feel the need.

Still, you weren’t mine to keep, just to hold, and I made that enough. I tried to.
When you touched me, the simple light touch of your hand on my thigh, the run of your fingers down my throat awakened my senses, and I drowned in you. I rarely feel like a whole woman, power and softness; you coaxed that from me. Your touch is an affirmation.

I wanted to ask if you wanted more, to let you know you were welcome to stay not just for the sex, not just so I could hold your hand and take you and touch you and want you, but just to come and stay and be,to lie there next to someone in the darkening shadows, just you as man and me as woman and nothing else much mattering.

I wanted to ask you if you ever get lonely.

Sometimes I get lonely with other people an arm’s length away, so that I just want to hang my head and cry. Occasionally I come into contact with someone who reminds me why I should care, but I have no great anchor – nobody I can go to and say, “Hold me, and I will hold you, and let’s be solid together for a bit.”

You’re the one I’ve wanted to crawl to when I wanted to be held, and you’re the one I wanted to see when I wanted to lavish affection, when I was pleased with the world for what it was; when I was pleased and wanted to let a man know I appreciated him, it wasn’t a movie star, or a rock star, or someone famous or artificially beautiful I wanted to run to and wrap up in my arms and kiss and maybe laugh with, it was you.

I never told you these things; I never will in my lifetime. We’re not that close.

But it hurts to think of it, because you should know.

You should know that someone notices that your eyes can go from black to chocolate to tawny brown depending on your mood.

You should know that your face is just right –for frowns, and smiles, and talking and kissing and sleeping.

You should know that you can cause a thrill by just holding someone’s hand, that you are strong enough that you feel like shelter, and human enough that someone likes to hold you tight and wish she could shelter you from the storms of the world.

Someone should tell you the timbre of your voice is just right for whispering or speaking or anything; that your hands are as kind as they are deft, and that you smell good – like clean man, no cologne stench, just you.

Someone should tell you this, but I don’t think I can.

Of Poetry and Research

I submitted a paper to the 2009 AWP Pedagogy Forum. I figure it's as good a way as any to break into writing and presenting in English/Writing in addition to librarianship. I hadn't actually planned on going to AWP in Chicago next year, but I figure that one, my little brother now lives just outside of Chicago, and it would be a nice way to combine business and a visit; two, if I am going to take my career as a writer and teacher seriously, attending only librarian conferences will be severely limiting; and three (and perhaps most important), it provides the impetus I need to work on combining my interests in writing and librarianship into something with a decent agenda to it. Creating a confluence between these two interests helps me out tenure-wise if I can start getting published and presenting, and it also makes me a more attractive candidate once I decide to apply to adjunct some English classes.

Other than cost in terms of time and money, there's really no downside, and this is exactly the sort of thing that manages t reflect my myriad interests in such a way as to benefit me both as a writer and librarian. (That's the hope, at least.)

The title of the paper I submitted (which is short, at one page per the requirements) is "Poets Rewriting History: Researching for the Authentic Persona Poem." I think it's a nice introduction and activity demonstrating how research skills and information literacy are important even (and perhaps especially) to creative writers. There seems to be this idea among students that because poetry is "creative" it should all be done sans research. I would argue that in order to have a compelling, authentic persona poem written about a character from the past or a particular locale, about the past, etc., you have to do research. I'm not talking a full-on dissertation style research habit, but if you decide you want to write about Persephone, you'll want to read not only the myth that features her most prominently, but also how her character has been treated by other authors, both ancient and contemporary. This broadens your view not only of the character, but of literature's treatment of her character, and may open the window for you to find a gap, or what you consider a misunderstanding, and give you as the writer a foothold to essentially rewrite history - or legend, or myth - to reflect how you think it would read if told from a differently conceived perspective.

It's not enough to be creative. Writing is rewarding, but it's also hard work if you want to do it right. Katy Yocom, discussing her research for her novel Tiger Woman, mentioned at Spalding University's last residency that she felt she could hardly write convincingly about India if she had never been there, and so she got a grant that allowed her to do some traveling. It's the same for writing from the perspective of a particular locale, time period, or historical figure: to be authentic, you have to do some research. Not only because the critics will pick you apart for anachronisms and things you get wrong - the primary motivation should be that you want it to be the best writing you can produce. Given that so many libraries have literary criticism, historical databases, biographical dictionaries and even special collections containing manuscripts and letters (as well as photos and more), there's no reason that writers should not take advantage of such treasure troves.

All of which is the long way around of saying that I've found a nice way to combine my love of librarianship and research with my love for writing and teaching. So if you know someone on the AWP Pedagogy Panel, let them know you're intrigued to see my paper, and that you hope it's one of the papers that makes it into The Best of AWP The Pedagogy Papers 2009 *wink*

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's in a Name

Thinking about things tonight instead of writing an essay on Jane gentry's book Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig. I don't find this collection particularly impressive, though there are a few poems I think are stellar (like "The Concept of Morning"). It's just uneven - many leave me flat, uninterested, and walking away thinking, "So what?"

Which is, in my opinion, the worst sort of reaction.

Anyway, I'm also reading Maxine Kumin's How to Make a Prairie, which is an interesting collection of interviews and essays and such. In one of her answers in an interview with Virginia Elson and Beverlee Hughes, Kumin says, "Naming things is a way of owning them, I guess" (page 5). And she's right. In a world where we are all too stressfully aware that our "things" can be destroyed, repossessed, or lost, the writer - and I would argue, particularly the poet - has a special power as a Namer of Things. There is a comfort that comes from the ownership of language to the degree that you can take a thing - any thing - and slap a moniker or description onto it that works just as well, if not better, than the original.

I've been trying to think of examples of this, and the first thing that comes to mind, for me, is fog. Fog appears in innumerable poems, I'm sure, but I remember two poems describing it so vividly that I cannot think or hear the word fog without them coming out to peek from my memory. The poems are Carl Sandburg's "Fog" from his Chicago Poems:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
on harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Admittedly, I only actually immediately recall the first two lines and had to look up the rest. But still, it is a poem that stuck with me. The other fog mention in a poem is, of course, T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock" and can be found in his The Waste Land and Other Poems:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle upon the windowpanes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. (pages 3-4)

There is a power in naming a thing so well that upon calling a thing by its name, someone remembers your description of it. There is an immortality in that. And there is a power that comes from the hubris of deciding to re-Name a thing yourself. It is a matter of imposing your will onto the world. Besides, the question "What's in a name?" does have an answer. Everything - and nothing. "Colleen" works if you know me, because it offers a bit more of the whole of me. "Librarian" leaves a good deal out, but so does "poet," and "daughter" and "lover." There is infinite room to re-Name things, including people.

It's a godlike power, because naming a thing is, in essence, re-creating it. God, after all, made the world by speaking, didn't He? It is a comfort when you cannot afford to buy a country or an island, when you cannot command an army, and generally when you can't make the world bend to your will. And I am always thrilled to find a writer who accepts this mantle of power and uses it well. I aspire to be one of those writers, and I wish you all well in becoming one of the Army of Namers.

Friday, August 1, 2008

On Angels and Long Lines

For a poet who usually hates working with the long line, I sure have spent some good time steeped in it these past few days. Maybe it's like exercise - it sucks the first few times you do it, but eventually you become okay and even comfortable with it, and maybe - eventually - good enough to do it in full view of a gym full of beautiful people and mirrors without looking like an absolute moron. Sort of a convoluted metaphor, I guess, but there you go.

The long line is a really nice tool to let me wander in my own mind and get very think-y about things instead of worrying overmuch about rhythm the way I do in more short, clipped lines (which I still consider cleaner). But it has been interesting, since working with the longer line makes me think more in terms of telling a story, and gives em the mindspace I need for thoughtplay, where I really just want to wander and see where certain ideas go.

This time around, I was thinking that the angels pre-date the Making of the world, since they were already around and singing God's praises. (You can also make the argument that if the Snake in the garden is Lucifer, then Lucifer - who was an angel - had to fall before the whole Garden mess, *still* predating Creation.) Which means, if you buy the Christian myth, that the angels were around to watch the whole shebang - God making the world, God creating Adam and Lilith, Lilith leaving. God also sent angels to fetch Lilith back after she left Adam - Sanvi, Sansanvi and Semangelaf were the angels' names that cajoled and threatened her to return. I'll likely get to those fellas later, but just think: if you were an angel, who had just spent literally countless years (because there *was* no time) singing God's would you feel if He felt the need to create himself some new pets?

Anyway, that was the impetus for this one, though I feel the lines are so long they lose some rhythm, and I'm going to have to work with some of the images to polish and tighten them up. The other problem with the long line is that I let myself get sort of fast and loose with language, and it takes discipline for me to tighten it if I'm not working the short line. (Mind you, this is actually in tercets, but some of the lines break due to the restricted space of the blog. My apologies for not knowing how to fix this!)

Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication

The Softer Side of a Brazen Woman

Women are complicated creatures. I feel I have the right to say this, since I *am* one. Yes, certainly, people are complicated creatures, I don't mean to leave out the men, but in my female friends, acquaintances, and relatives, there is always this varying degree of tension I feel from them - the clash between who they want to be, who they used to be, who they have become, and how they want to be's a lot to carry around in a small little person-package.

Working on the Lilith collection has me thinking about this as I realize I was focusing on one small facet of Lilith's character - that of the angry woman still a wee bit pissed about the whole Adam thing, about the whole God lettign her leave and never coming after her thing, about the whole permanent exile thing while God's other children are offered forgiveness on a constant basis.

I've been struck by wondering about her other selves, though - you know, we all have more than one. I mean, I'm a librarian - and a poetess, and a sister, and a daughter, and a survivor of my particular high school. I'm a hardnosed badass (sometimes), but I also cry at the occasional well-timed hallmark commercial, and am a sap for furry things and a soft word from the right man. Think about it in Lilith's spot: she was born into the Garden of Eden. it couldn't have been *all* bad *all* the time, even though she left shortly after her arrival. She's bound to have her share of sappy, good memories that leave her in tears, even if she is a big, bold woman with more than her share of chutzpah. It's something I've been thinking about as I remember that for my own self, even in the case of exes that I wouldn't like to be in a room with now, there were really good times. Eradicating those to focus on the strength and power of anger - which I do tend to find preferable - is unfair, and portrays the past as one-dimensional. I wanted to try to capture some of that wistful memory of Lilith's.

The Remembering

Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Of Love and Loyalty

Reading Merwin had me wanting to play around with the long line, since I ordinarily despise it so much. This is more of an exercise than a poem I'm planning to keep in the collection, though I *am* interested in comparisons between God's children: Lilith, Adam, Eve, the Jews, Jesus. Heh, given that sort of company, no wonder Lilith feels like an outcast.

Of Love and Loyalty

Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Contemporizing Language

One of Greg's concerns with the pieces I sent him from the Lilith collection was that the language was too mythic/biblical for a contemporary audience, and that I should throw them a bone every once in awhile to keep them interested.

Admittedly, my first response was a snobbish, "Well, if they can't remain interested in an awesome female character who *is* mythic, they can bite my left buttcheek. let them read Shel Silverstein if what they want is rhymey babble." (No offense meant to Shel Silverstein, whose work I enjoy quite a bit.)

Then I looked at it as an opportunity. I mean, if I contemporize the language a bit, I can let Lilith take what she wants from *all* time periods, which could be sort of fun. I'm having trouble making this happen in the pieces that rely on the mythic tone for their delivery (like the rewrite of the Hail Mary and of the Apostle's Creed), but in other places, it's a fun experiment, like in the the piece below, "Lilith: The Interview":

Lilith: The Interview

We didn't have proper clothes
back then. But I'm a fan of black
leather, purple eyeshadow,
and sky-high fuck-me pumps.
I like to appear taller than men.

No, I don't eat babies. I'm not
a succubus (don't you wish!).
I do enjoy a rare prime rib,
paired with a delicate cheesecake.
Ooh, and a nice, bold red.

I have no problem with Eve.
I think her taste in men is poor,
but the woman's got spunk,
eating the fruit God forbade.
I like women who break rules.

If by "rutting with demons"
you mean fun sex with men
who let me be on top
and enjoying it immensely,
then yes, mark me as guilty.

Well, God made me, after all.
Perhaps we should talk less
about bowing to human judgment
and more about accepting the demoness
God himself allows to roam free.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Letter from Lilith to Eve

This is the poem I've had the hardest time starting: a letter from Lilith to Eve. Is she condescending? (The poem sort of starts out that way, with the "I hear you bought into the rib tale".) Forgiving? Does she understand why Eve made the choice to stay and play the role of subservient helpmeet? Is she proud of Eve for tasting the forbidden fruit and showing some spirit even as she stayed in voluntary servitude that Lilith herself wouldn't have stood?

I conceived it as a letter from a rebellious older sister to a more obedient younger sister - a few secrets about hidden pleasures, some advice, some respect, and a grudging admission that their roads are likely permanently divergent, but a raw reminder that they're not so terribly different. And yes, this is definitely informed by my relationship with my sister, from whom I'm pretty much estranged. My hope is that the complicated relationship between sisters - the frustration, the love, the envy, and the tenderness - all shine through. A tall order, I know.

Update: poem removed because I've sent it out for competition after some additional revisions. If interested, either comment or email me and I'll shoot you a copy!

The Lilith Collection

The Lilith collection is coming along. Greg has had some great critique that is helping me with revisions, as have my buddies in the SWING writing group. Drew in particular, who really pushed the idea of creating a collection and encouraging me on the project, has been a great help. happily, now that the creative juices are not as blocked, I've been wrestling with a few new pieces. I started out with the impetus of "What stories would Lilith want to tell?", and that engine has slowed a bit for me. Now, I'm turning more to "What would I ask her if I had the chance?", and that's where this new one comes from. I mean, talking to the first woman, wouldn't you wonder what the first man looked like?

Still not certain about keeping it in tercets, though I think it works well enough to propel the poem along. I sort of like this one, because I know I've caught myself remembering a loved one and been somewhat horrified that I could have forgotten the details of their face.

Update: the poem "The Forgetting" has been removed because I've sent it out. If interested, comment or email. (Yes, I know that's a pain in the butt, but if it appears on a blog, it is considered "previously published" for a lot of lit journals and they won't consider it.)

Harnessing the Power of the Line Break

One of the fun things about working in poetry as opposed to prose is that you have the opportunity to harness the power of the line break. I find it very frustrating when folks read straight through a poem without any (even minor) pause at the end of a line. It's a poem. If it were meant to be read without paying attention to those breaks, you may as well just chunk it as prose. The line break is essential to a poem - it creates a specific rhythm (truly - read Nikki Giovanni and then read Merwin. The difference is startling, and it's not just because of the difference in subject matter. The length of the line makes a great difference in the delivery of a piece and how you must breathe to get through it. Yes, you may be reading it to yourself, but the true experience of poetry is aural, and you should think about that that as you read, and even read some pieces out loud to yourself to see how they work with your breathing rhythm.) Anyway, yes, a giant peeve of mine is folks ignoring the break.

The line break. It provides the opportunity for the poet to not only play with rhythm, but to play with language as well. I attended a small group discussion led by Trish Jaggers, a Kentucky poetess and soon-to-be Spalding MFA grad, where she discussed syntactic doubling, or creating multiple meanings through judicious use of words at the end of a line. I find myself fascinated with line breaks, and how those breaks create multiple meanings within the language. I'm currently working on a piece I'm not certain about keeping, but have been really enjoying working with the line breaks to create something more powerful. One of my favorite lines is "God says I am" followed by the self-affirmation of "worth more than rubies. I am" - but of course, I'm biased. And this is a new piece, so I couldn't even tell you if it's worth keeping yet or not. For your critique (and hopefully your enjoyment), I offer "I Am":

Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chapbook Semifinalist and More

More news! (I do love it when the news starts coming in - even if it's rejections, at least it lets you know the wheels are turning and something is happening.) I received an email from Diane Goettel, editor of The Adirondack Review, to let me know that my chapbook manuscript Warsongs came in as a semi-finalist in the Fall 2007 Black Lawrence Press Black River chapbook competition. I also made semifinalist for the Spring 2007 competition with The House That Falls Down. I'm particularly pleased because they're both collections of war poetry, which I know is sort of a no-no for a non-soldier chick to write about. But I did make sure to vet them through my brother, who is a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He shared them with his buddies (without my knowledge or say-so) and said the guys thought they were good...and if it's good to the folks who experience it, I count them as not half-bad.

But yes, two semi-finalist position for the chapbooks, so I feel like I'm close. Unfortunately, hand grenades and horseshoes and all that. Either way, it gives me the gumption I need to actually work on revising those pieces, and I believe I'll send a bevy of them to Greg in my next packet along with some Lilith pieces. Poor Greg. I hear of other people who struggle to fill a packet with 8 poems, and here I am sending the man chapbooks every time. Ah well, if he wants a break, I do hope he'll let me know. I should be getting packet #2 back from him any day now, as I'm due to mail packet #3 out next Friday.

I should also be hearing from Diane Goettel again soon, since it says the Spring 08 competition should be judged (or at least the finalists announced) by July 31, and I did submit three different chapbooks for this round. sheepish I know, I know. But, I mean, I have a number of chapbooks, and it does me no good to have them sitting and collecting dust instead of out at a publishing house. And semi-finalist status made me think maybe they like me. (Unless they only had a handful of people in the competition and everyone who didn't make it got called a "semifinalist." But let's not think that way.)

So yes. Plans include polishing up the Lilith collection, hoping to hear back from Bellowing Ark (I just sent out those solicited materials), going back and tearing through the war poems to get them hale and hearty enough for journal submission, and getting through the rest of the MFA semester, which is rapidly drawing to a close.

I have also been considering approaching the woman who directs the freshman writing program - apparently in the MA program you can adjunct and teach a course if you have 18 hours in. I was biding my time since I'll only have 9 hours of MA work done by the end of this semester, but I forgot that I've already finished 16 hours of MFA work (and it'll be 32 hours in October). I wonder if that'd count and they'd let me teach, given that I already have the MLS and can teach the kids not only how to write decently, but how to do research as well. Must ask, and then must run it past boss to see if I'd even be allowed. But I think it would be a great idea to have a Literary Librarian teaching the incoming kids.

So, yes, much on the plate, and choices to be made as to what I want to write my MFA critical thesis on - I'm currently considering doing it on Komunyakaa, but we'll see. My next post here will be an attempt to sketch out my idea for designing an independent study on national epics that read as poems - more research required on that front though.

So, in short, very happy at semi-finalist status even though in the end that means I'm just the first (or thirty-second) loser. Also happy to have solicited work out of my hands - at this point, the editor either likes it or he does not, and there's little I can do about it. And now, for the waiting...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Draft: In the Dark of the City

New working draft. It's interesting - when I write about something that turns to nature, I inevitably return to Kentucky (where I spent nearly 10 years), or to Long Island and the ocean where I grew up. And my distaste for the cramped, loud, too-much of the city always shines through. I think this one will be salvageable with some work.

In the Dark of the City

The dark has come and eaten its fill
of my familiar life. The lawn
is an oildark sea of strangeness,

and the street beyond a dimlit river
patrolled by strangers ensconced in steel
and glass. Even the safe corners

of my home are stained with tarry night,
it saps the warmth from my kitchen, seethes
under my bed waiting to slip beneath

the blankets and curl behind my knees,
a faithful hound. In the city,
the dark is thicker, stars that shone bold

in the vastness over horse farms and cows
are become shy friction sparks between
the layers of abandonment cloaking the world.

Bellowing Ark FTW!

After an extremely long day yesterday, I received an email from Robert R. Ward, editor of the literary journal Bellowing Ark. It was a lovely e-mail, for a number of reasons.

Reason #1 is not just because he requested to pick up all five of the Lilith pieces I sent him (though that was enough for me to do a little dance in and of itself. Bellowing Ark does a "Featured Poets" section where they present multiple poems by a single poet, and I think I may have scored that section if they're taking all 5 - but we'll see).

Reason #1 is also not because editor Ward asked to see more of my work, though this reason is definitely #1a. That's never happened to me before, and I'm ecstatic about it. Just think! Someone soliciting more of my poetry! Excuse me while I do a happy dance here on my couch...

The nicest thing about this email is that is was just damned kind. As a writer, I work with words on a constant basis, and I try to always be mindful of the impact my words have on others, though admittedly I'm more conscious of this when writing poetry than when dashing off an email or a FriendFeed message. What I don't pay as much attention to is how much other people's words affect me. Let me share the first line of the email with you, and I hope Ward doesn't mind:

"Your poems came as a delightful surprise and brought some enjoyment to a tedious workday."

How wonderful is that to read? That is exactly how I want people to feel when they read my pieces, and I am beyond thrilled that I could engender that sort of reaction from an editor of a long-standing lit journal. It's more than that though - I am ridiculously grateful for those few words - it makes me feel as though the sweat and tears I put into my writing is worth it because someone enjoys it. And telling an author you've enjoyed their work...well, other than buying a copy of their book, if they've got one, that's just about the nicest thing you can do, as long as you're saying it sincerely.

The titles picked up by Bellowing Ark are "The Book," "God in My Throat," "Retrieval," "Drawing Board," and "Original Sin." These are all pieces from the as-yet unpublished manuscript God in my Throat, that Lilith collection I yammer on about at length. I have never even heard of anyone placing a whole submission anywhere, much less had it happen to me. Whee!

So, thanks to editor Ward and Bellowing Ark for making my weekend a very happy one. I'm looking forward to seeing these pieces come out in a good lit journal home, and will be thinking about what other (solicited!!) pieces to send editor Ward's way. Huzzahs and warm fuzzies all around!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fastest Ever Rejection

Had to duck my head in and report the fastest ever response from a journal: I mailed my submission to Beloit Poetry Journal on July 15, and received their rejection slip on July 24. Yowch. Apparently I don't just suck, I suck so much they sent me the notifications on wings.

Monday, July 21, 2008

On Loving Men

Struggling to write a new piece for the Lilith collection, but hey, any start is a good start, right?

On Loving Men
Note: Poem removed due to pending publication

July Update

Last week I mailed out packet 2 of 5 for my second MFA semester. I haven't gotten the chance to do any gnarly revising, but am coming to that now that the hectic traveling part of my summer is done and I can unclench my brain.

Let's see, what's new on the writing front... I'm part of a writing group that works via GoogleGroups, and that has allowed me to get feedback on some pieces that are far different from my usual writing and a bit out of my comfort zone, so that was useful - these folks don't hold back and it's the best way to get honest critique. And Greg has given me some feedback I need to get cracking on for the Lilith collection, which I've mostly been sitting on, though some new energy is now simmering for it. I've been receiving a steady stream of rejections from the pieces I sent out in April, so I sat down last week and sent out another batch to - count them - forty-one journals. I feel slightly less like s slacker now. I also applied for an assistantship for next semester, since my bootstraps are no longer quite long enough.

Workwise I've been relatively productive, too, but am mostly pleased I got a grant application in under deadline, and am praying that they approve it even though I just got a grant in April. Once I hash out my presentations for Internet Librarian (an October conference), I plan to concentrate on one article at a time until I've written the three I've got percolating in my head. Chasing the tail of the tenure dragon, yep, that's me. My creative writing doesn't count at all in this venue, but I'm really tempted to report it in the 'semester accomplishments' for faculty the University puts on the web.

In addition to the 16 hours of MFA coursework, I'm signed up to take a poetry workshop with Earl Braggs and a class on critical theory with Matthew Guy here at UTC towards the MA in Literature, which I may manage to finish the semester after I finish the MFA. (Which really begs the question, what do I do after that? The EdD? The MSCJ? So many choices...) Fall semester should be nice and busy, just the way I like it, and I'm dying to get back into the classroom. As a teacher, you smartasses *wink*

Anyway, am planning to seriously dig in on some revisions of the Lilith collection, maybe bang out a few new pieces, which are desperately needed. I feel like my blood has turned to clay in my veins when it comes to writing on this anymore. Time to ramp it up and fire the kilns, folks.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


One of my prompts from Greg was to write about an object for which I had great affection. I don't have many (I mean, I love my books, but I can rid myself of most of them without tears). The few things that came to mind were Duchess, a stuffed white persian cat my Nana got me when I was 5 (she is currently in my closet so Otto the Basset Hound of Doom does not eat her), a Claddagh ring I received as a baby from my grandfather that I never take off...I'm sure I could come up with others if pressed, but these are really my most prized possessions. (A monetarily worthless old grayed stuffed animal and an un-bejeweled ring that would impress no one, I'm sure. I need to work on hoarding better stuff, I suppose.) A bud vase I received from my father when I was very young was on this list, but it fell and smashed when I was in my teens. (And yes, I'm still devastated about that.)

This is also not to say I don't have anything else of value - my mother has given me more than I can count. Shout out to the mom-ster! Just not one particular object that holds everything she means to me.

Anyway, I felt silly writing about the cat (though the vase is likely a good idea, will set that aside for later consideration), so the ring won out. This is literally a first un-revised draft that I sat down and spat out. As always, all criticism welcome:


I’ve had it for as long as I can remember –

ten carat gold, no gems, diamond-cut to glitter.

He gave it to me when I was a baby;

I was too small to wear it so my mother kept it

in a velvet box in the safe dark of her dresser.

He asked about it when the cancer started

gnawing at his bones,

and I was allowed to wear it

on a chain around my neck.

I liked the weight knocking on my collarbone,

like a bevy of Irishmen

stippling a family history onto my heart,

a summons of Papa’s memory

when it warmed against my flesh.

I was proud to own something that glittered,

proud to call something precious mine,

I would slip my finger in

to the first knuckle and tug,

that reassuring circlet as good

as when Papa held my hand.

He was an O’Reilly.

The ring made me Irish, too, I was sure.

When the chain broke in gym class,

I defied the teachers and blackened my knees

until I found the ring camped out

befriending dustbunnies under the bleachers.

The very next day, I went to the kiosk

in the mall, and had it resized. Twenty years

ago, a man stretched the small band

to make a snug fit,

my flesh has had to move

to accommodate the gold,

no longer a perfect circle, dented

by softball and hard work. I can count

the number of times I’ve taken it off

on the same hand I wear it:

the skin beneath is young-girl white,

unblemished and always new.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Poetess Works on Getting Her Groove Back

So, as I sit back down to write, I find I can't start right back into the pieces I sent in my last MFA packet. At least, not right now, not on a laptop. I need to do that with paper, ink, and enough space to surround myself with copies of drafts and Greg's notes and such. By the time I got myself set up for all that, it'd be time for bed, so I decided to take a different route and leave that for the weekend. Instead, I thought I'd turn back to a project I've put on the way back burner, mostly because it's rather in a similar tone to the poem in my last post, sort of a sassy, rougher rhythm than my usual work, a little bit raw, a little bit bitchy. It's a fun way to work, if not as natural as I'd like for it to be. My best piece in this vein (in my opinion) is called "Love Letter From a White Woman," but no one has picked it up yet. I'm thinking about calling the collection "Muse Made Me Her Bitch," and that's the piece I'm working on right now.

What I'm really trying to do is get my mojo back. It's been a hugely hectic two months, and I feel completely off. I'm off my writing schedule, I'm off my sleep schedule, I'm feeling wonky and both under- and overwhelmed. So, here's to me trying to get my groove back: that's how the upcoming weekend will be spent. For now, I'm getting back to writing about my muse. And how she wears kitten heels and a purple duster jacket and keeps a bottle of Beam at hand. You know, just in case.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

To the Guy at the End of the Bar

This poem was originally incarnated (enpaperated?) as a short, innocuous thing. Then I got into a bitchtastic mood today and pretty much rewrote it into this. Liking the rhythm & snarkiness of it, personally. What do you think?

To the Guy at the End of the Bar

look at me

look at how hot I am

sitting here

like a big plate of YES

with my legs crossed

and my eyes narrowed

in my black skirt

and my good bra

look at me

sitting here

on this fake-leather stool

tracing your name in the air

with my sharp high heel

sitting here

waiting for you

to smooth your cowlick down

to brush off your shirt

to forget how the last woman

sent you slinking back

to your piss-warm beer

and your fish-cold wife

look at me sitting here

looking just like you fear

your daughter will look

looking at you the way you fear

your daughter will look

at that guy at the end of the bar

look at me

A Great Mentor is a Great Thing

I just received my first MFA packet back from Greg Pape, and it was a doozy. I sent far more original poems than I should have, and he was utterly gracious about it. Greg works by annotating the packet, sending a letter, and speaking into a cassette tape. Can I just say - - Best. Evar. If you've ever met Greg or heard him read, you know he's got a mesmerizing voice. Getting his advice both in writing (which I require for academic processing, because that's how my brain works) and via audio (which lends a wonderful personal note to the packet exchange) is wonderful.

Greg is also one of the most diplomatic workshoppers I have met so far. He manages to blend his critique (always to the point and very useful) with non-pandering praise so that you really do feel you have some worth as a writer and that there's something salvageable in whatever you sent that needs work. I sent Greg a goodly chunk of my Lilith collection, which none of the other faculty has seen yet. It's been niggling at me, and I've been stuck - something seems off, although I'm still enamored of the project, and this rut has really derailed my writing.

Greg hit the nail right on the head. I was paying so much attention to rhetorical structure, language and rhythm, I got lost and forgot about how essential crisp images are. (Um, yeah. IMAGE, Poetess. How do you forget a thing like that? Idiot.) There were other criticisms that were also on the money - like that staying too deep in mythic language without dipping into the contemporary is overwhelming, and some other things, but the overarching fixable thing is image. D'oh. Anyway, Greg pointed out some of the weaker areas that can be shored up or rewritten, and now that I have a handle on the areas of suckitude, I feel empowered and able to write again, and do some serious revision work.

I'm frustrated that it is something so obvious (though pleased that it's something fixable and not a flaw with the idea of the project itself) that has been holding me back on this. Then again, it's a nice reminder as to the importance of having an outside reader who is willing to wrestle with your work on its own terms and ferret out exactly what it keeping it from being excellent. I'm lucky enough to have not only friends who are willing to read and critique for me (and friends who write in different genres at that!) but that I've got access to great mentors through Spalding's MFA program. Every once in awhile I ponder at the selfishness of pursuing an expensive degree that doesn't net me much other than personal satisfaction and better writing...and then help like this comes along, or a kind comment from a fellow writer who understands the frustrations of being a writer, and I realize that my life is better for this.

I'll admit that my anti-hippie stance led me to laugh at all the self-actualization hooey you hear about from life coaches (and, um, Maslow). But I'll tell you what - absolutely nothing beats having a career you actually love, and pursuing the things that are important to you and make you feel whole and right. And if that's selfish, well, then let's count it a good thing that I don't have kidlets.

And back to the mentor topic - yes, get someone who reads your work. They don't even have to be a writer, or in your genre - just genuinely interested in helping. I'm always amazed at the great insights that the quote-unquote-untrained come up with. It's often more insightful than what you can get in a workshop because they're not constrained by 'rules' or what they think they should say. Go for it. Can't hurt!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hard to Write

Ugh, I've been violently ill these past few days (and this post is also being written in between bouts of unpleasantness). Been wrestling with some decisions I've made in the past, and someone I know online was also mentioning how difficult life's choices are. Good fodder for poetry, though I'm not much a fan of confessional mode. This'll likely get chopped up and the pieces used in separate poems, but here's a first shot at it.



He swept twenty-six years aside

in a bout of midlife crisis fueled by crack

but he calls every night between ten and two

in the grip of paranoia just to hear my voice

and to ask if I sent them if I sent these

low men to watch him through the walls

and every no I send hurtling over the line

gets lost in the fury in the shadow of a life

and he tells me he’s coming he’d like to

take a trip he’ll drive so when I buy the gun

he can take it back to New York with cops

none the wiser not knowing a thing

and the images of broken glass and mom

cowering in a corner while Meaghen called the cops

haunted me in the hours it took to choose sides

to place the call that made him call me

lucid enough to know what he meant

when he said aloud You are not my daughter


I stopped taking the pills from the beginning

they didn’t help the pain they dulled me

I didn’t want to be dull when you came to me so seldom

so seldom in the night when I left the candles lit

and you loved me in vanilla light

I thought maybe a miracle maybe a chance

maybe some small sign God is kind

could cure me and bind us and fix things

you kissed my throat and I wrapped my legs

tight around your waist wishing

for a different ending with tiny fingers a different

cure than tears and the great wide emptiness

and I loved you and the thought of you

as a father as mine I thought of us forever in the morning

but I bled and the doctors took my womb and you left

and now the only crying at night now is mine


My mother is never sick but she called

sounding like she had hauled water up a bridge

sick so sick she said she couldn’t move

when she hasn’t missed work in three years

in tears when the doctor pooh-poohed her away

but I knew I knew it was more when she was so weak

and a new doctor found the thyroid wrong

which was more than nothing but less than cancer

and she always sounded so strong I was new

at work I was broke and tired and far away

and a trip to Anaheim breathing down my neck

so I accepted her fine because I needed it

and when she had to swallow the iodine pill

that was radioactive I didn’t ask her if she dreamed

of her mother and father and uncles and aunts

and all of her cousins who died after chemo

and Anaheim called right after mom did

and she gave me the fine a bit stronger like a gift

so I could believe and I could look at myself

without too much hate that was her gift and when

I stepped onto the plane it was not to go home