I’ll take it

January 1st, 2010

2009 was the year I decided to take myself seriously as a poet. 2009 was the year I gave myself permission to try. 2009 was the year I made some writing goals, made them specific and public the better to hold myself accountable to myself.

By my reckoning I made a good year of it. I did not write fifty-two poems but I wrote forty-six things that I am able to call poems under my bizarre internal standards and I’ll take that. I wrote a lot of things that went nowhere, and I’ll take that too, and in the process I learned something about saving the two lines that seem worth saving and moving on and I’ll take that most of all. I sent out fifteen packages and in the end had eight poems published in five journals (with two submissions still pending): my novice self will very much take that, thank you. I subscribed to or requested sample copies of a few new journals, and though I’d love for it to be journals-a-palooza around here, the logistics of the back-and-forth communication about how much extra the journals cost when shipped overseas (because I know journals run on tight budgets and want to be sensitive to this point), and the growing on-line availability of back issues, made it easy for this one to slip by the wayside. I lost count of the poets I added to my collection and am too lazy to go to my studio shelves to figure it out. Suffice it to say I am better read now than I was one year ago. I did not attend a writers’ workshop.

Now it is 2010 and my writing goals are much the same:

  • Write (at least) fifty-two poems this year
  • Send out (at least) twelve packages
  • Attend a writers’ workshop (I’m already registered for this one am applying to one very ambitious one and one slightly less ambitious one Stateside). 
  • Continue to read, read, read. Read more, read more widely, read more critically, read more openly. Read more stuff I never thought I’d read. Read more stuff I’ve already read. Read more stuff I don’t like. Read.

My writing life had a good year. My writing life passed the test I had set up for myself: give it a year and if at the end of the year something from the year is still glimmering, then give it another year. And things are glimmering. I’ve published some pieces that I’m proud of, pieces I think I’ll still be proud to have my name attached to a year from now and a year from then. I’m reading more poetry, and that’s just good for a person’s heart. I’ve found a thing outside of me, outside of my small boys, that is hard and shiny and good. That is mine. This is me, now, this fresh-baked stumbling poet. Maybe not, as Bethany so perfectly put it, for a living, but for a life, yes. For a life, this stumbling poet is me, and I’ll take that.

I can check that off the 2009 goals list

November 12th, 2009

Remember when I commented on the utter gorgeousness of this journal? Guess who’s got a poem in it?

End of the year sprint

October 30th, 2009

Looking over my poetic output for the year-to-date, I see that I am far short of my goal of a poem-a-week. I have probably written something each week, but I have an invisible line in my head that the work needs to cross before I can call it a poem. It does not have to be a polished ready to go out the door final draft; I’m happy with rough and messy first drafts but they need to have something in them that shows promise, some clue that the poem is, in fact, going somewhere before I count it as one of my fifty-two. I figure I have about thirty or thirty-five of those for the year. If I’m going to make it to 52, I’m going to need to finish the year with a sprint. How perfect, then, that this challenge  starts on Sunday.

Who wants to join in?

Digging, planting, growing

September 25th, 2009

I am digging a flower bed. Reclaiming it from the stretch along the house that has been neglected since R’s parents moved out of this house and into the new house they built on the property in 2000. Weeding, of course, but also digging large rocks out of the ground, using them as a border, and building up the soil. I pried over a dozen rocks, ranging in size from potatoes to large loaves of bread, out of the dirt yesterday and there are as many again still to go. Then on to the other side, newly exposed last weekend after R hacked down a decade’s worth of overgrown shrubbery that the boys dragged off to the wood pile one branch at a time. It is all rocks over there, and I will do this again, the digging up of the rocks, the making of a boarder, the building up of the soil. Then I will put in my bulbs – I’ve got allium and narcissus, crocus and muscari, three colors of tulips – and wait to see what spring brings me.

This too is why we moved here. It wasn’t just the boys who needed more space. It wasn’t just the boys who needed to be outside. It wasn’t just the boys who needed a place they could call their own, a yard and garden to get muddy in, to dig up and cultivate and experiment and make mistakes. It wasn’t just the boys who needed projects and jobs: hauling the wood to the wood pile, wheeling the weeds off to the compost in their wheel-barrows, weeding, digging rocks, planting bulbs. This too is why we moved here.

In the spring I will have rows in the garden. R’s mother has been keeping a farm garden for fifty years (longer; since she was old enough to help, I imagine) – lettuce and onions and beans and cauliflower; tomatoes and squash and zucchini – and in the spring I will have rows in the garden. (Small Boy is ahead of me on this – for the past two years he has had his own row of green beans that he has taken care of from planting through to plucking.) My mother-in-law is in her seventies now and cannot keep up with a large farm garden; she has been turning over more space to flowers, the raspberry canes have gotten out of control, and she cannot keep up with the weeding. She is more than happy to turn some rows over to me. I am new to all this and torn between diving in and planting many rows and moving more slowly. I want tomatoes and zucchini and eggplant and sweet peas. I do not know how to do any of this, but I have a farm wife, a farm wife who was before that a farm daughter, for a mother-in-law and that is better than having an entire shelf of gardening books. In the spring I will have rows in the garden.

We are digging. We are planting. We are growing.


August 26th, 2009

Wednesday morning. The Small Boy goes off to Kindergarten with R. (Have I told you? Can you believe it? My Small Boy goes to Kindergarten four mornings a week.) I walk across the driveway with the Boychen, knock at my mother-in-law’s door. It’s Wednesday, she is taking the Boychen for the morning. I walk back to our house, come down to my studio, pour a cup of coffee into my sunshine yellow mug with the white spots. I put on some internet radio, open half-a-dozen tabs, see that Crab Orchard Review is accepting submissions for a special issue featuring Illinois writers. I’m an Illinois writer; far-flung, it is true, but I lived there for the first 21 years of my life. I think it would make an interesting line in a cover letter: “I am an Illinois native now living on a farm in Switzerland…” I think it would be enough to make somebody keep reading. I have my task for the morning, the boys are away, I have these two quiet hours in my studio, and I have a task. I close the windows, go to work.

Well how about that

April 28th, 2009

I found a little notebook today. Actually Boychen found it, pulling it out of a desk drawer along with a roll of clear tape, a black binder clip, a sheet of labels, some correction tape, and a 2008 agenda. I don’t remember when I used this notebook – I didn’t date it – but it was inspired by this post, so it would have been some time after that. So May or June of last year, maybe. I spent about a month listing each day a small handful of things that I really, really wanted. The very first line in the notebook?

“I want to publish my poetry.”

And here I am, one year later, with two poems in an on-line journal, four more coming out later in the year, and six currently under consideration.

Tonight, when the boys are asleep, I’m going to flip through the book and see what else I asked for. See what else I got.


February 11th, 2009

I’ve got two poems up at Asphalt Sky (in volume 1 issue 2).

I got a rejection letter on Monday.

There are three poems winging via Luftpost towards a little journal I’ve become too attached to. 

I’ve got two poems awaiting judgment.

This writing thing, it’s starting to feel real.

January wrap-up

February 2nd, 2009

My experiment with listing out my writing goals in December went so well that I’m making it a regular part of my writing practice. At the beginning of the month I type out my broad goals for the month, print them out, and tack them to the cork-board hanging above my desk. I can keep track of my progress and make notes on the page as the month rolls along.

January was a strange month; it started with a burst of energy and ended with me falling into a wordless lull. Experience has shown me that something is going on under the surface during these seemingly quiet periods, so I’m trying not to push too hard, but at the same time I don’t want to give myself over the down-turn completely. Experience has also shown me that I can use a lull as an excuse to get lazy. It’s a balance I still have trouble finding.

Nevertheless, I did meet most of January’s goals:

  • Follow up with [magazine still holding a submission]. I sent a follow-up email but haven’t received a reply. Now what do I do?
  • Write short prose and submit to this beautiful journal. Didn’t get to this one.
  • Begin piecing together a post-partum depression essay I’ve been avoiding.  I’ve started the “thinking out-loud” process on this one.
  • Revise a submission package I’ve been sitting on and write a cover letter. I even put it in the mail!
  • Write four new poems. Almost; I made it to three.
  • Continue revision work on three or four poems.

That’s a really good month! Especially for one that includes a lull and a poor poor Boychen cutting three molars and a canine at the same time. Seriously, Mother Nature, you couldn’t have tweaked the timing there?

Keeping pace

January 13th, 2009

I love when my poem for the week comes to me on a Monday. Not that I can’t write poems every day of the year, of course, but the fact of the matter is with two small boys running around the house playing fireman I’m not very likey to. I’ve set a goal of fifty-two poems this year – that works out to one a week. I know there will be dry weeks and I know there will be times when the river is rushing but still, it works out to one poem a week and I wrote a decent first draft yesterday and that sends me off into the week with a certain peace of mind. I also did the recycling – we only have curb-side pick up for paper and cardboard so we have to bring the glass and aluminium to a collection station; there are two within five minutes so it’s not that hard, it’s just a matter of actually thinking to do it – and made a double-batch of bolognese sauce. Yum!

December wrap-up (updated)

December 30th, 2008

I set some goals for myself this month, wrote them down and put them out there on the internet for anybody to see, goals that were, for me, pretty ambitious. The month is drawing to a close now and it’s time to check in and see how I did.

  1. I’ve got a poetry submission still pending – as of December 8 I’m allowed to inquire as to the status. I need to find a secondary market for this package so that if it’s rejected by the people holding it now I can turn it right around and get it out the door the next day. I’ve found the next journal for these poems, but I haven’t followed up on their status. I’ve never done that before and I’m not sure how to word the request.
  2. I have two poems that sit nicely together. They need a market and a companion. (Two poems is generally too few for a submission). I think I’ve found the market, but I haven’t found/written a companion piece. Updated to add: Actually, I think I do have a complete package here.
  3. I have a submission package ready to go out the door. I need a good cover letter and I need to just send it already. I’m holding back because I think this is a journal I have a good chance with – I mean, we feel like a really good fit – and I’d love to know about that pending submission I mentioned so that, if it’s an acceptance, I can put that in my cover letter. The fact that this journal’s reading period is open until May is not helping my inner procrastinator. I didn’t send this package out; still waiting to hear about some poems and now waiting until a prose piece that’s been accepted is actually published.
  4. I’m revising a prose piece to submit to Brevity. This, my friends, is hugely ambitious but it’s a good piece. A really good piece. Discretion is the better part of valor. This was an overly ambitious choice and I decided not to burn any bridges. Perhaps next year.
  5. I’m working on a prose piece to send here. Their deadline is 15 December. I sent it. And they’re going to publish it. I’ll let you know when it’s out.
  6. I want another poetry submission out the door by the end of the month. New or newly revised I don’t care. That would make a total of three packages out this month, which is low for somebody who actually wants to publish, but it’s three more than zero as my father would say. Didn’t happen.
  7. I have got to organize my market research. I’ve got lists and excel spreadsheets and journals and piles of sample pages from on-line archives scattered between desk and filing cabinet and computer. I did a lot of market research and organizing and it will make my goals for 2009 that much easier.
  8. I want to order sample copies from five or six journals, now that I have straightened out the disaster that was my US bank merging, or being acquired, and setting my account to “dormant” without, as far as I’ve been able to determine, actually telling me, resulting in my bouncing checks to no fewer than five literary magazines. Can you begin to imagine the horror of bouncing checks written to the very journals with which I hope to place my work? Can you? I straightened out my banking mess, wrote new checks to the journals I’d ordered off of the old checks, and sent for some additional journals as well.

A modestly successful month. I could make excuses, like the holidays, or the fact that my entire family threw up more than once in the week leading up to and including Christmas. Even the cat! But instead I’m just going to say that for somebody who is still new to all of this, for somebody who is still figuring out the writer-mother-wife-self balance, for somebody as thin-skinned and thrown off stride by “thanks but your work is not for us” letters as I am, I did fine.

I’m doing fine.