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
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
Friday, August 15, 2008
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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 praises...how 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
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 seen...it'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.
Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication