Friday link roundup

February 16th, 2018

I’ve been in Montreal and Quebec with my son and his teammates as they play in the Québec International PeeWee Hockey Tournament on the Swiss Eastern Selects, so I’ve been getting very little reading or writing done. The team did a great job adapting to the smaller North American ice and faster Canadian style of play, and it’s been fascinating to watch them learn and adapt in the middle of a match, but unfortunately they were eliminated from the tournament last night. Between the hockey and the travel and the social outings, I don’t have a lot for you this week but I can recommend:

Amorak Huey’s new Tiny Letter One Poem at a Time.

Pretty much everything in the February issue of Glass: A Journal of Poetry.

This interview with Vievee Francis in the Los Angeles Review of Books. In my view, Vievee Francis is without a doubt one of the absolute best poets out there, and everything she says or writes is worth reading.

For anybody who hasn’t read it, and everybody who has, and for all of us who need it now, and for the sorrow of it all,  “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish, which first appeared in Jellyfish Review.

I’ve been re-reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker and thinking about rhyme and sound and how the music of a poem, the way the sounds of the words resonate with each other, transmits as much emotion and depth as the meanings of the words.

Friday link roundup

February 2nd, 2018

Some of what’s caught my eye this week:

The poem “Firing Squad” by Ilya Kaminsky. I cannot wait for his forthcoming Deaf Republic.

Speaking for forthcoming collections, check out this 2018 poetry preview from Craig Morgan Teicher at NPR. Li-Young Lee! Tarfia Faizullah! Ada Limón! So! Many! More!

This list of journals that pay for poems, from Jessica Piazza.

This essay on writing (and reading) book reviews, by Elisa Gabbert at Electric Lit.

Friday link roundup

January 26th, 2018

Some of what’s inspiring me this week:

Dangerous for Girls” by Connie Voisine at poets.org.

This interview from Between the Covers with Ursula K. Le Guin, who died this week. I found Ursula K. Le Guin a bit later, I think, than a lot of people – the first book of hers I read was The Left Hand of Darkness in my freshman year in college and it was only after graduation that I went on to read more of her work.

Rocket Fantastic by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and this interview with her on Commonplace Podcast.

Pretty much everything in the most recent issue of Adroit.

The poem “Hoodie” by January Gill O’Neil in Green Mountain Review, shared by Kelli Russell Agodon (@KelliAgodon) shared on Twitter.

 

Friday link roundup

January 19th, 2018

Some of what’s inspiring me this week:

I can’t remember the first poems that made me aware of Chelsea Dingman’s work, but I do remember reading them and immediately adding her name to a running list of “poets to keep an eye on” I have. My heart does a little leap each time I find a new poem by Chelsea, and this week’s find is this stunner, “Notes on Inheritance,” in Guernica.

If you want more poetry than I can possibly throw at you, follow Kaveh Akbar on Twitter (@KavehAkbar) (if you’re a Twitter user. If you’re not, it might be worth setting up an account just to follow him, it’s that good.)

Only Bread, Only Light by Stephen Kuusisto.

Love Poem Without a Drop of Hyperbole in It” by Traci Brimhall in The New Yorker – the link goes to directly to The New Yorker so if you’re not a subscriber it will use up one of your free allowed monthly articles, but I say it’s worth it. But I wanted to give everybody a fair head’s up.

The poem “Stings” by Sylvia Plath.

This interview with Jericho Brown at New Letters On The Air. His generous spirit comes right through my speakers, I think I’d be blown over flat if I ever got to be in the same room as him. (GOALS!)

Even Pines Have Crowns” by Hannah Vanderhart in Cotton Xenomorph.

I’d very much like to attend a writers’ residency this year, so this article at Brevity on how to prepare for a future residency is very helpful right now. You should read the whole thing (and follow their fantastic links to more advice) but some big take-aways are: even if you don’t have anyplace in mind yet, get your CV and list of publications up to date and start formulating an artist’s statement. That way if you suddenly find a great residency with an application deadline rapidly approaching, you’ll have the solid basics of an application in decent shape already.

 

My post-MFA-graduation year

January 18th, 2018

I graduated from my low-residency MFA program at Pacific University a year ago. (Shameless plug from a happy graduate: if you are considering low-residency programs you have to look into Pacific. You have to at least research it. Especially for poets, the faculty is drop-dead fantastic.) I officially completed the program and received my MFA in January of ’17, but returned for the June ’17 residency to participate in the official graduation ceremony. (I’m so glad I made that choice, but that’s another post.) And now it’s been a year, and our private Facebook group is full of students posting pictures of their stacks of books to read for the coming semester and full of the excitement-bewilderment-joy-fear of students entering thesis semester and full of pictures of graduating students standing at the lectern delivering their graduate presentations. And though there are many things I miss about Residency, and above all I miss the dear friends I’ve made along the way, I also feel ready to be on this side of things, the post-program side.

I won’t pretend I didn’t have a rough landing in June when teary-eyed and maybe a little hung-over I boarded my Portland-Amsterdam-Zürich flight for the last time. I won’t pretend I didn’t land here in this non-English speaking country wondering how in the hell I was going to maintain my writing life. Would I continue to read as widely and as critically? Would I keep up my creative output? Now that nobody was watching, how hard would I keep working?

The best thing I did, and something I urge everybody who’s closing in on graduation – whether from a full-time or low-residency program; whether you live down the block from three writers or an ocean away from everybody; whether you write prose or poetry – was to become part of a small group of writers who continued to exchange work after graduation. This is my number one piece of advice for the post-graduation year, perhaps the only useful piece of advice I have. Before you leave your final residency, sit down with a small (altogether I’d say any larger than 5 is going to be hard to manage – my group consists of 4 poets) group of writers who you connected with during the program and make a formal arrangement about exchanging work. Seriously, no casual oh we should keep sending work business in the hallways. Have a meeting, get out your calendars, and set your first deadline. Make a plan. Agree among yourselves in advance what kind of feedback you want (this can always be re-negotiated); what date of the month you’re going to send your work; set an expectation about how much work to send (poets, set a number of poems; prose writers think about a page- or word-count); decide in advance if you want to share writing prompts each month or give each other reading assignments. Basically, set out the kind of arrangement those of you in low-residency programs are already used to with expectations for what will be sent in each “packet” and when they’ll be due.

This plan was a life-saver for me in many ways. It keeps me in touch with the people who have become my most important first readers and colleagues and conversation mates. I get to keep reading their poetry. It holds me accountable to continue creating new work. I’m not alone. I keep learning as my friends mention books they’re reading or poems that inspired them or add epigraphs to their poems that make me think, “oh, I should read that.”

I’ve found my post-graduation writing a bit riskier, a bit bolder. Some of it has to do with current events and the stories I’m reacting to, the things I can’t stop thinking about. Some of it has to do with knowing My Advisor is not going to read this. I never had anything other than positive, encouraging interactions with my advisors. Critique was delivered fairly, with the intention of improving my work, calling my attention to writing habits I rely on that I may not be able to see myself, and encouraging me to move more deeply into the work. I never felt shut-down or disrespected. If an advisor and I disagreed about a series of poems I wrote – and one did – this disagreement happened openly and above board and in the spirit of pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I felt safe in my program, I really did. (Since this is the internet and you can’t see me, I need to say I’m an upper-class conventionally attractive white woman so take my experience of feeling safe in the workshop space and in the packet exchanges with that fairly large grain of salt in mind.) And yet. There were things I couldn’t write, knowing it would go in the packet to my advisor. That’s on me, not my advisors, but it’s a thing that I’m only aware I was doing now that I’ve been writing for a year post-graduation. But the writing group we formed feels wildly safe in a whole different way, and that’s sent my writing in interesting (to me, anyway) directions.

The other post-graduation decision I made was to be The Person Who Shares Stuff. I post calls for submissions, fellowship opportunities, contests, you name it, to our program’s Facebook group. I email friends about opportunities that I think are particularly well-suited for them. I say, Hey! I don’t live in Portland but you do so apply for this! I retweet calls on Twitter. My experience at Pacific was of a very supportive and non-competitive student body (again, other people might have had other experiences but I found us to be a supportive bunch within and across genres and cohorts) and I want to hold on to that spirit of community as I move out into the larger poetry world which is – um, sometimes not that. This decision keeps me connected to the larger writing community in a spirit of generosity.

I’ve kept writing. I wrote a lot in the year since graduation, especially in the sixth months following the June ceremony. Leaving a structured program can be scary, but leaving with a plan can ease the transition and turn it into an opportunity to experiment and explore.

 

 

Friday link roundup

January 12th, 2018

Here’s some of what’s been inspiring me this week:

This poem by John Sibley Williams in Thrush.

This interview with Matthrew Zapruder on Commonplace Podcast.

These pictures of what it would look like if birds left tracks in the sky, in National Geographic, via Paul Lisicky’s Twitter (@Paul_Lisicky).

This interview, “Against Explanation,” with Tarfia Faizullah at The Poetry Foundation.

Friday link roundup

January 5th, 2018

Just some of what I’ve been reading, listening to, or thinking about this week:

The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson.

Via Kelli Russesl Agodon’s Twitter (@KelliAgodon), this blog post by Marilyn McCabe on putting together a poetry manuscript.

Of Those Who Can’t Afford To Be Gentle” by Chelsea Dingman at wildness.

This great big list of poets who are getting back into blogging in 2018, inspired by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, generously put together by Donna Vorreyer.

Paying to Play: On Submission Fees in Poetry Publishing” by Rachel Mennies at The Millions.

Micro-reviews of poetry over at One Great Things.

My 2018 Poetry Action Plan

January 1st, 2018

I first read about a Poetry Action Plan on January Gill O’Neil’s blog Poet Mom in 2009. Has it been that long? I guess it has. January’s four basic guidelines for a Poetry Action Plan are pretty straightforward and I’m stealing them from this post of hers.

1. Clearly define your goals. Do you want to finish putting together that manuscript? Finally write sestinas without a cheat-sheet? Attend a workshop? Give more readings? Be clear about your specific goals and priorities.

2. Be realistic. You might not be able to publish 100 poems in 2018 – because if for no other reason, the vagaries of what journals pick up which pieces are at the end of the day out of the writer’s control – but you can set a goal to submit 100 poems in 2018. (Although, as I suggest below, there are a lot of reasons why a writer might decide not to submit work even if it had been, at the start of the year, a goal.)

3. Track your progress. I finally explored bullet journals last year and discovered I love them. They satisfy the list-maker, the box-checker in me. So for me they’re a great place to list the journals I want to submit to and to cross them off the list when I’ve done that.

4. Be kind to yourself. Be prepared for setbacks, life changes, or dry spells and don’t beat yourself over the head when they happen.

Clarity, specificity, and setting priorities are key to putting together a set of goals that will feel like a practice, an enhancement that energizes the writing life, and not a burden.

So here are my poetry goals for 2018:

1. Be useful. Do I know about a fellowship? Spread the word! Can I write a review? Do it! Did I read an amazing poem the other day? Share it here or on Twitter. Link to interesting interviews, spread the word about that great new podcast.

2. Become a regular review-writer by the end of the year. I published my first review last year – of Zilka Joseph’s Sharp Blue Search of Flame, in Dunes Review – and want to write more reviews in 2018. This goal dovetails with goal number one – be a generous and useful member of the poetry community – and with another goal of mine, which is to become a better reader: to read more deeply and to be more critically engaged with the books I read. Actually, more accurately expressed, I want to return to the reading style required of me during my MFA program and which I enjoy but have somehow slipped a bit away from since graduation. Maybe, for the year since graduation, I needed that change of pace, a period of reading in a different way but I don’t want to lose those critical reading and writing skills I honed during my MFA program.

3. Re-invigorate this blog (how many times have I said that) and write about poetry here once a week. A lot of poetry bloggers are deciding to rededicate ourselves to our blogs in 2018 and Donna Vorreyer has a great list of links on her blog. I’ll be updating my blogroll throughout January. This is also part of my community-building goal.

4. Draft a poem a week. If it’s garbage, who cares? Garbage can be mined, mulled over, and revised (or thrown out). But I can’t revise nothing.

5. Send poems out to journals three times a month. I find setting a number on submissions a complicated goal to set for a several reasons. Maybe my work dries up; maybe my work goes in a new direction that feels risky and vulnerable and not ready to share; maybe something happens in my personal life that makes me not want to share. Maybe I get a series of rejections that suggest to me that I’m sending out work too soon or for the wrong reasons or to the wrong places and I decide to stop and re-assess. Who knows? But I do want to share my work when it’s ready to be shared, so I’m putting down a number here so that I can hold myself in some way accountable.

So those are my 2018 poetry goals. I’d love to read yours either in the comments or a link to a blog if you’re blogging your goals.

And Happy New Year or, as we say in Switzerland, guten Rutsch!

“Revising It Into Something I Can Bear” by Lisa Mecham

September 29th, 2017

Originally published at The Shallow Ends, you can read Lisa Mecham’s poem here.

This poem is small and tight on the page, contained in relatively short lines of even length (4 – 6 words; 4 – 8 syllables) so that it appears as a short column. This sense is enhanced by the first line, “What if instead, a cathedral”, making us think of literal cathedral columns. The title tells us that whatever “it” is, it is painful to the speaker (unbearable), and the poem will be an attempt to recast this “it” into something the speaker can bear to look at. The first lines fulfill this expectation with the gentle imagery of “cherubs and doves, glass stained.” But the poem introduces a shiver with the next lines –

My small back
cool upon the smooth
stones.” –

which both continue with a gentle imagery of smooth stones and allow a glimpse of the unbearable the poem is seeking to revise – “my small back” gives us an image of a child, and in light of the title we begin to suspect the harm done to this child that the poem does not say. This double vision continues with the lines

Look! I too can make
an angel, arms, legs cast
apart.”

I simultaneously imagine a child making snow angles and a child spread-eagle in a sexual position: the bearable and the unbearable contained in the same lines the way the picture on a tilt card changes with just a slightly different angle. It’s an extraordinary line doing double-work, carrying two completely different meanings with it, both of which are essential to the poem. The childlike innocence of a snow angel cannot be sustained, the shadow is always there –

My sweet one, this baptism
is always gonna hurt.
” –

and the poem which started out reimagining the scene ends with not being able to look away from

“the oval mouth
at the rise of the child’s why.”

 

“Secret Written From Inside a Shark’s Mouth” by Jeanann Verlee

September 28th, 2017

Originally published in Foundry, you can read Jeanann Verlee’s poem here.

This poem grabbed me starting with the title. The poet Marge Piercy once gave a great piece of advice to a workshop group I participated in several years ago: the title needs to serve the poem and stand out in a table of contents with maybe fifty other poems listed so that readers want to turn to your poem. Verlee’s title does that right – it was in fact the first poem I clicked on in this issue of Foundry. The title promises to reveal a secret – that right there is inducement to keep reading. And the shark – is the poet/speaker the shark or has she been swallowed by the shark?

Verlee introduces tension with the first line: “It wasn’t all booze and inching toward death.” We’re taken to a place of danger “booze and inching toward death” but also defensiveness or self-protectiveness of the speaker – “it wasn’t all” bad (italics mine). The speaker is directly acknowledging a bad situation but immediately complicates it, and makes it explicit in the next line: “Love lived there too.” I’m interested right away by the push and pull of a complicated relationship, the push and pull of the speaker’s own complicity in this “inching toward death.” Isn’t it often like that? Very rarely is anything ever wholly good for us or wholly bad for us, and the immediate introduction of this tension makes me believe the poem and want to keep reading. I want to see what wins out in the tug-of-war between “inching toward death” and “love.”

The poem then swiftly describes the speaker’s boyfriend or lover or husband – the relationship remains undefined and the man is never named in the poem although the speaker is – re-roofing the house (suggesting husband) and calling to the speaker to “admire his handiwork.” His handiwork is not only the roofing job but, on the felt upon which the shingles will eventually be laid,

“scrawled in bright white chalk
across the entire width of the roof:
“I ♡ YOU, JEANANN!”

A grand romantic gesture, but the opening lines of the poem have warned us that not everything in this relationship will be grand and romantic. Then comes what for me is the tipping point of the poem, him, “balancing on the high pitch, a beer in his fist.” I love the rhyme and meter in this line and how the rhyme and meter contribute to the pivoting: the image of the boyfriend/husband/lover balancing on the roof, the line itself rhythmically in balance and balanced by the rhyme of pitch and fist on either side of the comma, and the poem moving at this point from recollection of the past to imagining a moment in the future. The moment in the future the poem imagines is some future owner of the house re-roofing the house and finding the message  – a reminder, the speaker says, not of their love but of “exactly to whom I belong.”

I love how this poem keeps the tension largely under the surface – like a shark, like the message beneath the shingles, like the way troubles often linger beneath the surface in a relationship before we fully recognize and name them, like the shark in this poem that is introduced in a series of footnotes emerging slowly the way threat usually does.