Saturday, July 17, 2010

First Draft: Persephone

I'm liking this one a lot, though I have the feeling I'll be revising her a bit. I've heard it said often one should never love one's own work - pah, I say. You had better love your work. Sometimes that's all that gets you through rejections, revisions, and the long haul from poem to manuscript. That said, I would venture to say that you need to be able to take your lumps and critics seriously, too, or you'll never learn to improve your craft.

In any case, I offer you a first draft of "Persephone," and I'll admit to liking the last few lines quite a bit more than is proper. Here's to hoping this one grows into a keeper!


Persephone by Colleen S. Harris

There is nothing so faithless as
a girl left on her own among the other
green and growing things. Brimming

with life, carelessly killing the field’s
flowering army so she can wear
ribbons of bluebells in her hair,

she has no need of forgiveness
or prayer, no sense of life’s fraying
hem. She has no idea she’s dancing

over death’s own head, bare feet
knocking at his soil door until he rises
hungry from the pit, the field a gaping

maw, his sudden hand a vise
on her ankle as she falls. Landing
in a heap, tangled in her own long

locks, trapped between his body
and the earth, she looks up
at him and finds the need for faith.

Now she believes, and prays.
When the dark hand of a god slips
up your skirt, how is a girl to say no?

Aaaaauugh! it's the Blob Blurb!

So, my first book, God in my Throat: The Lilith Poems, was unblurbed. On the back it's just a pic of (a much thinner) me and my bio. Easy-peasy. The only thing I worried about was making sure I caught everything in the galleys, and then promoting the hell out of her.

This go-round, I asked my editor if he'd like for me to beat the bushes for some blurbs for These Terrible Sacraments. He enthusiastically replied yes, and that he could put my "About the Author" bio and pic inside the book at the end. It sounded like a grand idea at the time.

And now here I am realizing that I haven't the foggiest idea how to go about begging a blurb. Because I really think what I am asking for is for a well-known poet that i admire to read the manuscript, and *then* if they like it, if they wouldn't mind saying so in a short quote. I feel very foolish, having just sent out my first "I really admired your books X and Y, and used them in a lecture I gave on Z. I was wondering, since you are someone whose work I admire greatly, if you would have the time to read my forthcoming manuscript. I very much hope you'll enjoy it, and I would appreciate your time."

And there are poets I know well who I have workshopped or otherwise known well - should blurbs be only from folks who don't know you personally? I don't know. I do hope that if I gave my manuscript to someone that they'd be honest no matter how I knew them and just say "No, thank you, no comment" if they didn't adore the book and want their name on it. I know it's not personal - there are a lot of writers I like a lot whose writing I'm not enamored of, and your name in print is a funny thing. It's awfully permanent. I want whomever is willing to blurb me to be proud to have their name on the jacket.

I should have kept my mouth shut and just left my author info on the back of the book. Pppfffflllllbbt.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let-tuce Buy Books!

Karen Gowen, author at Coming Down the Mountain: From Reclusive Writer to Published Author, has a great contest going on right now. Let her know about your published book, and you're in the running for her to read, review, and publicize it! A great opportunity, and very generous. All of us should be so happy to promote our sisters and brothers-in-ink!

Caveat Scriptor: PublishAmerica Scam

Ah, writers. We're like puppies. We're so accustomed to rejection and the hard road that when someone offers us praise, or that great golden ring of book publication, we're likely to leap first and look later. Today, I urge you to beware the PublishAmerica scam, with shady contact info, shady contracts, and shabby treatment of both authors and their work.

I urge you to read books by a prospective publisher, talk to their other authors about their experience with the publisher, and do your research. Not sure where to start with research? Talk to your local librarian. We're *very* friendly, and we're dying to help you find answers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Neutering “Poetess” – Why Calling Myself a “Poet” Doesn’t Fix the Problem

Recently, a generous reader (Rosemary N-W) commented on a post:

Oh yes, and there is that *shudder* word 'poetess'. Do you hafta? The old feminist in me cringes; we in my generation insisted on being given equal status, arguing that one doesn't, for instance, say 'doctoress;' or lawyeress'. You are SUCH a briliant poet, why not claim it? Self- denigration is inappropriate for your talent, believe me.

I will admit, as I replied to Rosemary, that

I hadn't considered the word "poetess" as at all denigrating - hardly anyone uses it anymore, truth be told. I don't consider it an unequal term - perhaps an antiquated one. No, we don't say "doctoress" or "lawyeress" - everything is sexless nowadays. But I had many, many years of romance language training, and I'm rather enamored of the richness of a language that allows you to gender nouns. I don't mind being gendered - I'm a woman, I'm happy to claim that, despite whatever judgment comes with it.

I understand that a large part of this is that I missed the years of struggle for the measure of equality I *do* have, which it sounds like you were engaged in. I certainly don't take it for granted, and I do know there's still a long way to go. If a woman poet is going to be considered unequal, in my opinion, it's not the word "poetess" that does that.

I’ve been chewing on this comment-conversation for awhile now. My first (admittedly ungenerous) reaction was that calling oneself “poet” is hardly setting oneself up for admiration and grandeur. It’s a (very) wobbly few steps above “homeless” when claimed as a profession, and less prestigious than any number of other professions. In fact, I’ve rather had to beat myself out of mumbling it, and I work VERY HARD, when folks ask what I write, to stop at “poetry” or “I’m a poet,” and not add “but I am also a librarian. You see that? Full time job and contributing member of society. I HAVE A REAL JOB.”

Society (and parents) may prefer the “I have a job” admission addition, but to the poet (as I imagine it might be for any artist), that job that pays the bills is, in itself, an admission of failure. “Yes, I am a poet, but I’m not a rich or famous or even middle-class poet. In fact, if I were to try to make a living with my writing, I’d get thinner than I did on the South Beach Diet and ask you if I could have the box your new computer came in so I could add a dormer to my homeless un-house.” That’s no way to impress a crowd.

And so I don’t think “poetess” is any worse off than the word “poet” itself. There’s enough baggage these days that comes with being any kind of creative sort that poeting isn’t any more prestigious or less value-laden than its sisterly form. Personally, I am enamored of the way romance languages gender their nouns, and I like the chance to get a bit frilly on occasion. I’m not particularly interested in neutering my title for form’s sake, and it has no impact on the quality of my work – you either like my work, or you don’t. I don’t take offense. There are many fine poets I can’t quite stand to read, though I appreciate their contribution to the craft. And I’m happy that they write, and consider them family of a sort, even if it’s the crazy drunk uncle kind of family.

Other poets don’t look at me sideways if I say the word “poetess.” They might think I’m a bit wonky or unnecessarily flamboyant, but, please. That’s NORMAL in the writing world if you hang around poet circles. It’s practically a competition. And to be quite frank, I didn’t like the swallowed stop of “Peripatetic Poet” – I much preferred the rhythm of “Peripatetic Poetess” as the title of the blog. In true poet form, I eschewed propriety in favor of what I considered a better mouthfeel of phrase.

It may also have been the case that "Peripatetic Poet" was taken as a name on Blogger (and hasn't been posted to since its inception in 2005), so I had to do something so as not to lose my lovely phrase as a blog title.

It’s not a matter of differential status based on womanhood. Well, perhaps it is – I have the choice of calling myself a poet or poetess as I please, whereas I imagine a man would have a harder time getting away with the feminine form. In any case, it’s a status I chose, as I named the blog, and to me, it is a source of pride. Hell, anyone can get a job. But me? I am a writer. I am a poet. I break off little pieces of myself and my truths and offer them in the hope that someone will find them interesting, useful, or songlike enough to remember.My name is in print, I am in the Library of Congress, and I have an ISBN. That's about as successful as it gets for a poet of any stripe, unless you hit the Really Awesome Jackpot of Writerly Life and get Billy Collins or Kay Ryan famous.

So feminists, fear not. I’m not reverting, I promise. Hell, if I could get away with it, I’d call myself a bard, but I’ve neither the instrumental nor the metrical talent to go that far.

In any case, I’m just very happy someone reads the blog, and gives me the opportunity to think these things out loud.

On Stretching the Poet-Brain with Other Writing

Lately I have been swamped with work-writing. As a tenure-track faculty member, and not in a creative writing or English capacity, I have a responsibility to contribute to my field (which happens to be librarianship). This means that I choose to present at conferences on the work I do, and often, I write about it, or of other areas of librarianship that interest me.

It's a wonderful opportunity to stretch my brain in different ways than my creative writing stretches it. I think more about structure, and most of the time it requires more in-depth research, since scholarly articles and research-based book chapters have a longer bibliography than my poetry does. It also requires that I grapple with reality, as opposed to what I can create with brain gymnastics. I would argue that it is not less creative, it is just very different. Given the prescriptions we tend to follow for peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and even newsletter articles, to me it is akin in poetry to writing in strict form, without the occasionally-making-words-up part.

In any case, I consider it the flip side of the coin of my writing life. You'll mostly hear about my creative writing on this blog, but I am also thrilled to report that my first-ever peer-reviewed academic journal article is forthcoming from Journal of Access Services. "Matrix Management in Practice in Access Services at the NCSU Libraries" is slated to be out in the October 2010 issue. I also have a book review for Cliff Landis's A Social Networking Primer for Librarians in the same issue. For the November Brick & Click conference, I've just sent in the write-up of my presentation "Leveraging Technology, Improving Service: Streamlining Student Billing Procedures" for the conference proceedings. And finally, I sent in " "The First Thirty Days: A Playbook for the New Library Manager" which will appear as one of the LISCareer newsletter articles in October.

And so, though I've been feeling guilty about not writing any new poems (I've just been doing some last minute fiddling with These Terrible Sacraments), I have been writing. I've also been reading - Marilyn Hacker and Joy Harjo are the poets of the week on my coffeetable, beside some reading on leadership I have to do to prep for my doctoral program that starts in August. I haven't fallen off the poetry wagon, I'm just percolating, and hoping to get back to my more creative side this weekend.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Confession" appears in New Verse News

I am thrilled to report that another piece from These Terrible Sacraments has been picked up. "Confession" appears here in New Verse News.

This morning I tinkered with the "finished" manuscript a bit more and sent it back to my editor. I need to stop looking at it at some point, just wait for Robert's suggestions and then fiddle with it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Identity Crisis!

As a librarian, I'm pretty well versed in social networking, and the possibilities for creating different persona for different pursuits. Until now, I've made the choice to essentially blur everything together - professional libraryland life, personal life, and writing life. As the newest book releases approach, however, and as I succumb to the draw of drowning in web 2.0-ness and alienating all of my audiences (though everyone is relatively good natured about seeing posts they care not much about) as well as cross-postnig to the point of ridiculousness, I've decided to try to separate things a little bit.

As ever, this is the writing - mostly creative writing, though I'm bound to mention my professional nonfiction stuff occasionally - blog. However, if you were following me as "warmaiden" on twitter but would rather just see tweets about writing, you can follow me as colleensharris there.

And because I was feeling froggy, I set up an author's page on Facebook. You can become a fan and get the latest announcements about publications, book progress, and more if you go here.

Thanks for your patience as I experiment with unraveling the threads of myself!