The adventure begins

December 2nd, 2014

I’m dusting off my blog. A new adventure is about to begin. I’ve been accepted to the low-residency MFA program in poetry at Pacific University in Oregon and my first residency begins in January.

I want to use this space to write about the experience – both logistically, as an international student; and intellectually, as a place to think out loud about what I’m learning and to share poems and poets I find exciting.

I’m expecting a lot of hard work and not enough hours in the day. I’m expecting to be doing homework during the boys’ hockey practices and waking up before the rest of the family. I’m expecting a lot of packages in the mail and international shipping charges. I’m expecting to be challenged. I’m expecting a lot of revisions.

I’m expecting to have the time of my life.

Poetry roundup: Maxine Kumin

February 7th, 2014

I was saddened to read of Maxine Kumin’s passing at 88 yesterday; and grateful that her long life gave us so much of her poetry. In her honor, here’s a selection of her poems I was able to find available online in the short time since I read the news and which I am fairly confident have been reproduced in the public domain with permission.

From Poetry Magazine, July 2002, “Getting There.”

At the Poetry Foundation, “After Love,” “How It Is,” “A Calling,” “Finding the one Brief Note,” and “Together.”

At Poets.org “Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year,” “In the Park,” “Jack,” “Purgatory,” (which you can also listen to), “The Hermit Goes Up Attic,” and “Woodchucks” (also available as audio).

From The Writer’s Almanac, “Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief.”

From the archives of The New Republic, “History Lesson” and “Saying Goodbye.

At The Hudson Review, “Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts I,” “Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts II,” and “Old News.”

From The Poetry Center at Smith College, “Waterboarding, Restored.”

From Poetry Daily this essay by Kumin “Metamorphosis: From Light Verse to the Poetry of Witness” originally published in The Georgia Review, Winter 2012.

And I’ll leave you with Kumin’s words from a 1973 conversation with Pearl London as recorded in Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America’s Poets, edited by Alexander Neubauer (if you don’t have this book, get it!):

Because, you see, this is what I conceive the function of the poet to be. Not to moralize, not to polemicize, not to grieve, not to praise, and not to damn. But to name, to tell, to authenticate, to be specific, to report what he [sic] sees and what he [sic] feels. I suppose if I have a credo, that would be the credo that I have.

Poetry roundup

January 24th, 2014

I first read Danusha Laméris in The Sun magazine and knew I’d found a name to watch for. So I was delighted this week to see her poem “Fictional Characters” appear in The Writers Almanac this week. For those of you who also love her voice, here are some more poems from her:

The Lord God Bird” in Rattle, from 2010.

The God of Numbers” in The Sun Magazine. “Eve, After” is unfortunately not available online, I enjoyed that one even more.

The Bugs of Childhood” from The MOON Magazine.

Horse” at Connotation Press.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful poet!

Poetry Roundup

January 17th, 2014

Some reading for you this weekend:

Deer” by Deborah Miranda. I confess that this is the first I’ve read of Miranda’s work, but after reading “Deer” I can’t wait to get my hands on some more from her!

Love Poem for Naming” by Corrie Williamson is up at The Missouri Review. You do know to check their website once a week for a new poem, right?

Because I love Traci Brimhall and scour the web regularly for works of hers I’ve never read, this piece published at The Rumpus in 2012: “After The Plantation Fire.

Likewise, I’m always on the lookout for Joe Wilkins and this week I stumbled upon “The Fragments of the World Seek Each Other” at About Place Journal.

Poetry Roundup

January 10th, 2014

Whenever I read a poem by Linda Pastan I am reminded that I don’t read enough of her; here’s her poem “The Poets” up at Plume.

Up at Cave Wall, Katherine Maurer’s “Field Survey.”

I always admire poets who can pull off the traditional forms. Last week I gave you a sestina, this week I give you Aileen Bassis’s “Bulgarian Pantoum” at Literary Bohemian.

If you’re not signed up to receive a poem from the Academy of American Poets every day, you should be. Then you won’t miss out on poems like “Another Country” by Ryan Teitman. (Go here to sign up for a poem every morning.)

Carry on anyway

January 3rd, 2014

“Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen on my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.” – Ann Patchett, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life

“Our poems can never satisfy us, since they are at best a diminished echo of a song that maybe once or twice in a lifetime we’ve heard and keep trying to recall.” – Stanley Kunitz, The Collected Poems

And yet I keep at it. One day, one line, one word if only for a second it will be like clear water. Like Schwarzeis. Just once, I will be transparent, and the thing on the page will be the thing in my head.

 

A poetry roundup for the new year

January 1st, 2014

I’m back. I won’t bore you with where I’ve been – dark night of the poet’s soul and all that, we’ve all been there – but will tell you what I’ve been reading.

I’ve been reading these two poems in Four Way Review by the incomparable Traci Brimhall.

I’ve been amazed by this sestina at Heron Tree: “Sestina: Two Names” by Sharanya Manivannan.

I’ve been visiting “The Isle of the Narrator” by Amy Breeder, up at Plume.

And fittingly, I’ve been reading “The End of This Year” by Jack Ridl at Writer’s Almanac.

Here’s to another year of reading and writing!

New poem up

September 10th, 2013

I’ve been having a long dry spell of a summer, the kind of dry spell between new poems that has passed unsettling and has moved on to disturbing. So having my poem “The Kindness of Ravens” up at Heron Tree this week is a real shot in the arm (even if I did write the poem some time ago – you know how long it can sometimes be between completion and publication). Many thanks to the editors at Heron Tree for including me!

A house full of boys

June 11th, 2013

I didn’t have friends over to my house when I was a kid. We lived on a block with a fair number of children in a pretty close age range – on any given evening we could muster up to a dozen kids for kick the can or bloody murder. Summer afternoons my brother might play running bases with the boys from up the street, and I would play on the swing set in the neighbor’s back yard – and for a few years kids would come to the slide in our back yard, until the Blizzard of ’79 when our garage collapsed sideways from the weight of the snow and crumpled the slide. (My brother and I were getting older by then, and our parents didn’t replace it.) In the winter we went to the sledding hill or the ice rink. I often think of myself as having been a solitary child, but the more I think about it, the more I see it’s not so much that I didn’t have people to play with, it’s that I never brought friends over to my house.

It might be the first thing a child of alcoholics learns: having people over is a risky proposition. Bringing people home spontaneously especially so. This was never articulated or discussed; my parents did not forbid house guests nor did my brother and I agree to some pact in which we didn’t have friends over. There were not outward signs of chaos that we might have been ashamed of – my parents didn’t argue or shout more than the average harried parent might, the house was always clean, the yard always well-kept, the kitchen well stocked, our parents appropriately dressed, my brother and I had bedrooms that were nicely decorated and perfectly normal kids’ rooms, it all seemed pretty standard. But we knew, the way kids know such things, that it probably was not such a good idea to have friends over to play. Adult children of alcoholics reading this might understand that internal alarm bell, the sixth sense that picks up the invisible wrongness underneath the seemingly regular suburban home. Whatever it was, I had it.

The boys have friends over a lot, especially Small Boy. He’s finishing up his second grade year and has the type of long-standing friendships with kids now that Boychen, as a first year Kindergartener, only just is beginning to forge. Small Boy and his friends are also more independent – they can get to each other’s houses on their own and only have to ask for permission but do not need to be accompanied back and forth the way the 5 year olds do. So they arrange their own plays among themselves and then, at the last minute, remember to ask a parent if it’s okay. (Usually. Small Boy has been known to come home from the playground with an unannounced friend in tow. Saying they’re really hot and need popsicles.)

SB had two friends over yesterday afternoon (Mondays SB has afternoons free from school but Boychen has Kindergarten in the afternoon), and as the rain kept coming and going they ended up playing inside most of the time. They were loud and crazy and running from SB’s room to Boychen’s room shooting Nerf darts at each other. When the boys left (after shaking my hand and saying goodbye to me, because they’re good Swiss boys), I told SB that I like his friends. I do, actually. And I like that they come over here to play, and I like that the boys feel comfortable having their friends over. I like the wild rumpus of boys everywhere. As my parents’ daughter, as the adult who grew out of that kid with the sixth sense, it means a lot to me to see that my kids know their friends are welcome here.

It means that I am my parents’ daughter, but I am not my parents.

It means that my boys aren’t me.

It means that I need to stock up on popsicles.

 

So you think you have a chapbook; now what?

May 13th, 2013

I’m starting to think about where and how to publish a chapbook, and I thought I would think it through out loud and share what I’m learning. If it helps somebody else, that’s wonderful and if not – I find that writing things out really helps me clarify my own thoughts on the matter. The standard caveats apply, of course; I’m no expert – I’m muddling through this for the first time myself – and obviously if you’re thinking about publishing a chapbook you’re going to want to do your own legwork, but maybe my questions for myself will trigger some questions of your own, or a I’ll mention a press you hadn’t come across and want to investigate further.

It seems to me the first question regarding publishing a chapbook is, should I enter contests or not? That’s one you really have to answer for yourself, but in my opinion a poet should ask herself the following big picture questions:

  • Is my manuscript ready to go? Really ready? Really, really ready?
  • Where am I in my life-cycle as a poet and where do I want to go next? Would winning a contest help me with that goal, and if so, how?
  • Are the costs worth the potential rewards?

It can be a little hard to imagine that there’s a downside to entering contests. If you have faith in your manuscript (and if you don’t have faith in your manuscript you shouldn’t be sending it anywhere yet, contest or otherwise), what’s to lose? You could win, and most contests come with a cash reward, a print run, and bragging rights. What’s not to like about that? And if you don’t win, you’re out your entry fee but there’s no harm done and your entry helped support a contest that contributes to a healthy poetry community. I’ll confess that my own first reaction is that contests are a win-win situation – if you set a budget and stick to it – so why not?

And I think that gut reaction is exactly why a poet needs to ask the big picture question Where am I in my life-cycle as a poet and where do I want to go next? Would winning a contest help me with that goal, and if so, how? For me – and remember, this is just me thinking out loud about if I want to enter contests or not – that’s the key question. When would winning a contest be particularly helpful, helpful enough to be worth the entry fees and the waiting for results and keeping track of all the various rules and regulations and submission requirements? (I don’t know about you, but I find the practicalities of trying to get published – cover letters and proof-reading and submitting and submission tracking – take up an awful lot of time and occupy too much space in my head so I definitely consider this part of the cost of a contest.) Bragging rights are great, but are bragging rights alone worth several hundred dollars in entry fees?

Here’s when I think contests would be particularly helpful:

  • If you’re getting ready to apply to MFA programs or other advanced programs, and if the results will be out in time to include on your application package, being the winner of a chapbook contest could be pretty nice.
  • You’re applying for a fellowship or residency (I suppose that falls under the above).
  • You’re looking for academic jobs.
  • You’re already half-way through a full-length manuscript; having an existing publishing track record, as a contest winner no less, might be helpful shopping the next project.

It seems to me all of that is a way of saying, if you’re in a position to genuinely take advantage of the momentum winning a contest might provide then contests could be especially worthwhile. The more prepared you are to take the next step, to see where you want a contest to take you, the more worthwhile it becomes. Of course, not everybody can win a contest and probability dictates that most entrants won’t, so the benefits of entering a contest are only potential benefits whereas your costs are set. It will never be bad to be a contest winner so the question each writer has to ask is if the potential benefits are worth the certain costs.

If you’ve thought about the big picture issues and you decide to enter contests, here are a few more questions to consider:

  • What’s my budget? Fees vary from contest to contest; my limited research at this point shows a lot hovering in the $25.00 range. And don’t forget about postage costs: like fees, page limits vary from contest to contest, so your manuscript could be 16 pages or it could run up to about 30. Once you’ve finished your really, really ready to go manuscript, print it out on the paper you will be using for your entries, include a cover letter and any other pages of documentation required (for example some contests want two title pages, one containing identifying information and one with no identifying information), and bring it to the post office and find out how much postage will be. That is part of your costs. Personally, I think a poet should set a firm budget first and then see what contests look interesting; there’s the danger of “oh, just one more, it’s only $25.00″ and before you know it you’ve sunk a lot more money in contests than you thought you would.
  • What are the simultaneous submission policies? Is entering this contest going to lock up the whole manuscript and for how long?

Now you’re down to the nitty-gritty and you need to ask some specific questions about the contests you’re looking at:

  • Do I meet the eligibility requirements? (Age, gender, race, residency or citizenship status but also if the contest is limited to poets who have not yet published a book or chapbook.)
  • What are the possibilities regarding simultaneous submissions?
  • How is the contest judged? Are entries read blind? Does the organization adhere to the contest code of ethics established by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses? Basically, are the contest’s policies transparent?
  • Is there a named judge? Am I familiar with the judge’s work?
  • Is this a new contest or does it have an established track record? Who are some of the past winners?
  • If winning comes with obligations such as giving certain readings or attending a ceremony, can I fulfill those obligations? (Probably not a big issue for most people, and more likely to be a condition of book prizes than chapbook prizes, but still worth looking into.  Writers living abroad especially need to think about these things.)
  • How long will it take for entrants to be notified? Will all entrants be notified or only the winners? Do I want to have my work out for that long?
  • What is the prize? What is the print run and distribution plan?
  • And finally, set up a tracking system to keep track of what contests you’ve entered and when, who judged them (if known), fees paid, and expected notification date if known.

Poets & Writers includes a special section on writing contests every year in the May/June issue; this year’s issue should be on the newsstands now so if you’re at that stage with your work (in any genre) you should run out and pick that up. And as always, search engines are your friend.

I’ll be posting on and off as I continue to look into my options. Happy submitting!