Sunday, January 29, 2012

Of Blessings and Luck: Gonesongs to be Published!

Robert Ward, my long-suffering editor at Bellowing Ark who published my first and second books, and never holds my long-delayed email responses against me, will be publishing Gonesongs, my fourth book of poems. (Look for it at the end of 2012, or early 2013. Don't worry, I'll let you know when it is available!) The collection is close to my heart, as it was my creative thesis for my MFA degree, and includes a number of very personal pieces. So, hooray!

And related to that, holy cow. Book FOUR. I am a hell of a lucky poet, in a time where poetry presses are struggling to survive, and poets are willing to sell their eyeteeth to be published.

In celebration, and in a display of complete cheeky brashness, today I submitted my application for an NEA Literature Fellowship in Creative Writing. They are awarded every two years; out of more than 1,000 applications, the judges pick about 45 poets to receive the $25,000 fellowship. It is, in a phrase, a Very Big Deal. All the judges have to review are the ten pages of poetry you submit - they receive no other information. And so, I chose what I think are my ten best poems, though distinguishing "best" from "favorite" is no mean feat, and I may well have flubbed it. But not applying *guarantees* that I wouldn't be winning, and at least now my name is in the hat. The deadline is March 1, and the fellowship begins in 2013.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

CFP -- Mythology and Modern Women Poets: Analysis, Reflection & Teaching

Mythology and Modern Women Poets: Analysis, Reflection & Teaching

(Call also available in .pdf format here)

Book Publisher: McFarland

Contributors needed for book chapters on modern women poets and mythology, including the following topics:

  • The use of myth by modern women poets
  • Women poets and world creation
  • Myths most commonly appropriated by women poets and critical commentary as to why
  • Critical analyses of modern women poets utilizing myth in their work, including (but certainly not limited to) the following women poets:
  • Olga Broumas
  • C. J. Burns
  • Audre Lord
  • Anne Sexton
  • Louise Gl├╝ck
  • Carol Ann Duffy
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Diane Wakoski
  • Hilda Doolittle (H. D.)
  • Joy Harjo
  • Judy Grahn
  • Lili Bita
  • Catherynne M. Valente
  • Other women poets working with aspects of mythology
  • Comparison/contrast of women poets whose work utilizes the same myths
  • The challenge of feminizing traditionally male mythological perspectives
  • Critical reflections on, and recommendations for, developing courses for/teaching mythology and poetry in the K-12/undergraduate/graduate/workshop levels
  • Critical reflection by women poets on their own creative work related to mythology
  • The challenge women poets face in re-visioning commonly understood myths
  • Scholarly inquiry into why women poets are attracted by mythological structures
  • Other topics relevant to modern women poets and mythology
The above list is not exhaustive; prospective contributors are encouraged to be creative. The above list is not exhaustive; prospective contributors are encouraged to be creative. The intent of this collection is to fuse, in the same volume, critical analysis by scholars, critical reflection by authors, and best practices for teaching topics related to modern women poets and mythology.

No previously published, or simultaneously submitted material.

Editor Colleen S. Harris is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, author of three books of poetry, including The Kentucky Vein (Punkin House, 2011), These Terrible Sacraments (Bellowing Ark, 2010), and God in My Throat: The Lilith Poems (Bellowing Ark, 2009), and co-editor of Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012). Her fourth book of poetry, Gonesongs, is forthcoming in 2013 from Bellowing Ark Press. Colleen holds an MFA degree in Writing and an MS in Library and Information Science. Her poetry has appeared in The Louisville Review, Free Verse, Wisconsin Review, River Styx, and others. Her work has been included in Library Journal, Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (American Library Association, 2010), and Contemporary American Women: Our Defining Passages (All Things That Matter Press, 2009). Colleen works at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as a full-time member of the library faculty and occasional adjunct in English and other departments.

Please send titles and abstracts for up to 3 topics for chapter topics you would like to contribute, as well as a 75-90 word author’s bio. Please send in a .doc or .docx Word file attachment by April 30, 2012 using MYTH/your last name in the subject line to You will receive a confirmation response with guidelines if your topics haven't already been taken. Contributors should plan for each chapter to be between approximately 2000 and 3000 words. Those included in the anthology will receive a complimentary copy as compensation.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Magic of Twenty-six

Thought: I have largely lived my life within the bounds of twenty-six letters.

Sitting in the specialist's office today, reading Louise Erdrich's essay "Two languages in Mind, But Just One in the Heart" (in Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times), I was struck by something.

Well, I was struck by two things. The first was how eloquently she put her love of a second native language in harmony with writing the essay in English. The second was, when she noted how verbs and nouns differed, that most of my lived experience, and my reading experience, and my feeling experience I can express, happens within the bounds of twenty-six characters.

Thought: There are only three letters difference between "I love you" and "I hate you." Only three between "I love you" and "I loathe you."

There are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet. The things we build from twenty-six letters. Novels, poems. Newspapers. All the things that come from language, our stories. Many of us live out our lives in twenty-six characters. An arbitrary number. Slightly more if we start adding accented letters so we can steal words and phrases from other tongues, for the things English has yet to find a concise way to say. More than that if we start to include punctuation, considering the mad growth of emoticons entering the language in the age of digital communications. And languages like Chinese and Japanese with their thousands of characters and nuances...but let me stick with my native tongue, and limit myself to the capacities of the twenty-six I know.

In twenty-six letters, you can read Nabokov's Lolita. King's The Stand. Stan Rice's Red to the Rind. Vampires and werewolves and eighteenth century drama and erotica and war and death and sublime beauty and bodice-ripping romance and the history of centuries and the parts of a tulip, all in twenty-six letters. My dissertation-in-progress. My grocery list. Most of my music collection.

And what mastery of those simple characters can do! I vaguely remember learning to write in those lined booklets they give (gave?) children, where the middle dashed line dictated the size of the small letters, and the solid top and bottom lines dictated where the letters should stand and reach to. The struggle to make letters look uniform. The way I beamed when I could make my own name; how my mother hung it on the refrigerator as a statement of accomplishment. The wonder at equating the words I could write with the words in the books my mother read to me. The magic of being able to name myself and everything else in an indelible way, in a way that could tell others after me "I was here, and this is what I saw, and this is what I have to say about it." This led to a love of reading what others had left behind. Which led to a love of libraries, and my eventual career.

Thought: there is only a one-letter difference between "don't" and "won't."

I am convinced there are two kinds of writers in the world - those of us born with stories to tell, and those of us with a love of language so deep that only writing, building new realities with words, gives us an outlet for it. The first kind, I think, become novelists, journalists. The second, if they never learn to really structure themselves, become poets. There are all sorts of other divisions that can be made, on different lines. But this one feels true for me - I am a poet mostly because i love language and the beauty that comes from pairing certain words, just so, without worry of how I am going to carry a plot or character development or any of those other things requiring a much deeper commitment to a story. My commitment is, as Richard Hugo might say, to the music.

And still, it comes back to those twenty-six characters, and what mighty castles and pitiful houses we can build with them.

And what happens when people are given these letters? Why, they tell stories. And their stories ring of truth, and a story written down is a story that refuses to die. A story written down outlives the bearer of the story, and killing the bearer does little to stop the spread of the story. Violence becomes less useful as a silencer, and morphs into something meaner, something smaller, a punishment that has no hope of stopping anything, a spiteful tantrum with a goal but no chance of real lasting success. These people make songs. Because when we conquer a people, we can steal their language and forcefeed them ours, but eventually, they build their stories and recast their songs. I think of the African American authors, women writers, accounts of Holocaust survivors, the war-torn, the ignored, the invisible, the exiled and dispossessed. The ones who did not, in the end, get to write the histories, but who grow to be the ones to add the details the conquerors would forget.

The story wants to be told. All we need is the will and the tools.

Thought:Give people a camera and the word will see them screaming their stories on the news, faded by next week. Give them literacy, and pen, and ink and their stories will live forever.

And so books are burned, and schools are bombed, and children are scarred and maimed. And they may have more or fewer than my twenty-six, but I would build them blocks and carve their characters. I would give them to all the parents and the children, and I would have them build stories with their languages, borrowed or stolen. I would have them build music and stories and bridges.

No wonder there are grown men in Afghanistan willing to throw acid in a young girl's face for the crime of attending school, where she might learn to read and write. Let her cook for her family, and nourish them quietly and in silence. Let her learn the feel of a weapon, perhaps to load bullets, and aim, and fire. Or to pull a cord or push a button, to detonate herself and leave her legacy splashed on bricks, to be baked dry and fade under the sun. But to allow her a pen and paper, the time to put letters together, to form words, to record her own thoughts, dreams, desires and outrages...that, my friends, is what danger is made of. *That* is what kills empires and builds nations. *That* is power.

Welcome to 2012: Back to a Writing Life

Hello, world, and happy new year!

I am sad to see I've let this blog languish since last April.

I've been battling an illness that hasn't given me much leftover energy after work and school; an autoimmune arthritic disease called ankylosing spondylitis. In addition to severe fatigue and nasty joint pain, it has come hand in hand with a yet-undiagnosed nasty GI tract buddy which makes life uncomfortable and unpredictable. It hasn't made me inclined to be social, and I didn't fight it hard enough to retrieve the time I needed for my writing life. In fact, last April was probably also the last time I seriously thought about creative writing.

No more, I say! The year is new, a week at home in New York with mom resting helped me feel better than I have in months, and I am reprioritizing. Reading and writing are top of the list, just under work (since writing does not yet pay any bills). And so, I'm back, making a conscious effort to do more reading, more writing, and to chat with you about both via this blog. (I do hope you haven't abandoned it in the deafening silence of the past few months.)

Because I intend to tackle the fantasy novel that has been haunting me despite my lack of training in fiction, the last book I read in 2011 was Martha Alderson's Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. (A bit too much hoodoo woo-woo spirituality beefed up the page count, but the author's take on plot progression and structure seem pretty sound.) To kick the 2012 year off on the right note, I read Charles Baxter's Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, and am midway through Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times, both excellent collections that have me ruminating on everything from culture to language to imagery, and what differences there are, if any, between poets and novelists as writers. (Expect more on these later.)

But know this: I have books on writing waiting to be read on my shelves, melodic lines haunting me that are begging to become stories, some ideas that want to become essays, and images that are jockeying to become poems. I'm not going to give up on 2012 with these still inside my head and not on a page somewhere.