Writing goals: 2012 wrap up and 2013 goals

January 1st, 2013

I was almost afraid to look back at the writing goals I set for myself this year, so sure was I that I’d fallen short. Although, I don’t know, I’m starting to think that if you meet all your goals you’re probably setting the bar too low in at least one area; or maybe I’m just a striver – the American in me – ambitious, ehrgeitzig (not always a complement in Switzerland – more often than not, rather the opposite actually). Positive or negative, it’s what I do: set the goals, write the to-do lists, plot out numbers to reach and the timeframes in which to reach them. A goal, a destination, a fixed point on the horizon by which I might guide myself – it’s how I operate.

I set out some pretty specific goals last year, inspired by January Gill O’Neil’s “poetry action plans” she sets out on her own blog every year. My goals were to:

  • Produce 52 decent drafts – I wrote 45 poems last year, and I’m disappointed I fell short because for awhile there I was on a real tear, and then the wheels came off the poetry bus in November and December. I think I might just have exhausted myself. I noticed that in 2011 I wrote 42 poems, so it might be that with the shape of my life right now, 40 -45 decent drafts a year is how it’s going to be. We’ll see.
  • Continue to strive for a daily writing practice – I might never pull this one off. I’m not sure why this is so hard for me.
  • Post to my blog twice a week – I fell short here, too, but I’ve been rethinking the blog and starting to use it in different ways so I think I might just be in transition here.
  • Enter poems in one contest – I actually entered two, and didn’t place in either of them. Oh well.
  • Send out 20 packages – I submitted 15 times in 2012, and this is not enough.
  • Participate in two writing workshops, either live or on-line – I attended the Geneva Writers’ Conference in February and attended a workshop in Virginia with Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, and Dorianne Laux. Both were fantastic experiences. I also worked on-line with Kim Addonizio. I said it last year and I’ll say it again: her on-line workshops are fantastic.
  • Finish the in progress chapbook (if only in terms of sheer number of poems). I’ll eliminate the requirement that it be “contest ready” but dang it, I want to finish this project at this point if only for the sake of finishing the project. – Ah, the chapbook. Ever the wild card. This is a yes and a no, actually. I did finish what I’m calling a chapbook manuscript and I printed it out and read it through many times, taking notes along the way, trying hard to read it as if it were the work of a critique buddy and not my own. I asked the question, “what is my manuscript doing?” I moved poems around, grouped and re-grouped. The more I read the manuscript, the more I realized I had only begun to touch on what I really wanted to say. Many of the poems are simply “backstory” – necessary for me to write, I think, to get my head to the place where the real work begins, but they do not bring anything to the manuscript. They are, in fact, not the real story. So over the past six weeks of reading and note-taking I’ve decided to remove nearly half of the poems from the manuscript, leaving my chapbook… incomplete. But I only learned that it was incomplete upon completing it, if that makes any sense. So I’m calling this one a draw.
  • Build relationships with other writers – Ah, yes, I’ve found some wonderful writing companions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my 2013 goals, and at the top of my list is to take greater risks in my writing. I noticed this when I reviewed my manuscript – a certain grouping of poems is much stronger than the almost all the other poems, and these stronger poems are the ones where I feel the most vulnerable. You know when you write something and you’re almost afraid that your friends and family will read it and think you’re telling the actual truth about your actual life? Those poems? The ones that scare you, make you feel like you’re climbing without a safety harness? Those are the best ones. They’re my risky ones and seeing those poems sitting side-by-side with much safer poems really drove home the need for me to take more risks, to go closer to the edge and to stay there a beat longer than is comfortable. So that’s my number one writing goal for 2013. Write the poems that scare me.

I do believe in the value of quantifiable goals, so I’m going to say again: 52 poems this year.

I should be submitting my work more often, so I’m going to say again: send out at least 20 packages this year.

I’m going to pull back from workshopping, but if some amazing opportunity presents itself I’d probably go for it. But I think if I’m trying to take risks and write the poems that scare me, if I’m trying new things, I might need to do that inside the safety of my own head for a while.

So there they are, my writing goals for the new year. What’s on your agenda – writing or otherwise – for 2013?

And ig wünsch üch en guete Rutsch is 2013! (Happy New Year!)

New poem published

December 21st, 2012

My poem “The Moment In Which You Are Surprised” is up in the winter issue of IthacaLit, a lovely on-line journal that also features art and artist interviews. I’ll confess, I’ve always been fond of this particular poem so I’m especially happy that it’s found such a lovely home.

Poetry roundup

November 23rd, 2012

(Posting this a day later than usual, because I figure nobody’s paying attention on Thanksgiving. Probably nobody’s paying attention the day after Thanksgiving, either, but there’s a better chance at least.)

I printed out a first draft of my chapbook manuscript earlier this month, and although both the manuscript as a whole and several individual poems within the manuscript need a great deal of work before I can send this thing anywhere, I have reached the point where I am starting to think about it as a manuscript as opposed to a pile of poems I’ve been working on. Compiling and ordering a manuscript introduces a whole new set of questions regarding structure, order and intent than writing what I flippantly call “one-off” poems does, so I’ve been reading up on how to think about ordering a collection. Here’s a sample of what I’ve found:

My manuscript is probably at the right stage to take some of this advice in this post, “It’s 2 a.m. Do you know what your manuscript is doing?” by poet Kelli Russell Agodon (Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room). She’s got a great list of things to think about once you’ve got the majority of the creative work done and are ready to turn that pile of poems into something more coherent. Like, if somebody asked you what your collection is about, could you tell them? How many sentences would it take for you to explain it? It’s the question she put in the title of her post: what is your manuscript doing?

Over at the This Frenzy blog, Elliott batTzedek takes a look at some of the possible theoretical approaches to ordering a collection in her “Notes on the Syntax of the Book

Once you’re ready to really impose structure on that pile of poems, read “On Making the Poetry Manuscript” by Jeffrey Levine (adapted from his essay “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Poetry Manuscript” which originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of AWP Job List). The conversation and advice continues in the comments section, so be sure to read those as well.

More thoughts about order and structure from Kelli Russell Agodon here (part 1), here (part 2, Order), here (part 3, Sections Yes or No?), and here (part 4, The Final Revisions). Poet January Gill O’Neil (Underlife) also blogged about ordering her manuscript here. Again, advice and suggestions continue in the comments section so keep reading.

The book Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems, edited by Susan Grimm, came up on both those blogs. I have only just begun to poke around in it, since I have only just gathered a pile of poems into something resembling a manuscript, but this collection of thoughts about ordering a manuscript from eleven different contributors offers a wealth of ways to think about how to go about this. Perhaps too many ways.

April Ossmann offers some thoughts on the process from an editor’s point of view in this 2011 Poets & Writers article “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript.”

And as you can see, if you just google “thoughts on how to order a poetry manuscript” you’ll have a wealth of options to choose from. Feel free to add thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

Poetry roundup

November 15th, 2012

Jack Gilbert died on Tuesday. (That’s a link to the New York Times obituary, by the way, for those of you who can only access a certain number of free articles per month). I was introduced to his poetry late, only about three years ago through a woman in my writing group, but he quickly became a favorite for his both his directness and his restraint. Though clearly madly in love with the world, his work was as far from sentimentality as that of any poet I’ve ever read. Read, for example, “It Is Difficult to Speak of the Night” or “The Sirens Again.

His poems embraced all the grief of life and all the wonder and recognized the moment of intersection. The possibility. The necessity. He spoke about his belief that poetry should have above all an emotional impact in this 2003 interview and says this:

What’s the reason to write poetry? It’s not a hobby. It’s one of the major ways of keeping the world human. We have almost nothing else, no craft that deals specifically with feeling. The novel to some extent, but it embodies a different kind of empathy than a poem does, and I suppose film to a degree, but motion pictures are only able to show you the outside of what’s happening. Poetry works on the inside of what’s happening.

I could be maudlin and say the world is a little less human today, but I know too many wonderful poets to really believe that. So go write something, and keep the world human.

Poetry roundup

November 8th, 2012

I was unfamiliar with the work of Joshua Mehigan until about two weeks ago, and then the universe (or the internet, I’m never quite sure) decided I needed to read his work. First, a member of my on-line poetry group posted “Down in the Valley.” Then “The Cement Plant” popped up in my twitter feed. Then somebody posted “Promenade” (which had appeared on Verse Daily). I love when things like this happen, because living in a non-English speaking country my exposure to contemporary US poetry is hit and miss. I subscribe to Poets & Writers and a handful of print journals (fewer than I’d like, given that overseas postage about doubles the cost of my subscriptions, meaning I subscribe to about half of what I’d subscribe to if I lived in the US) and I read on line and subscribe to any number of daily/weekly poem in my in-box listings, but it feels very random somehow. I always feel a bit “out of it.” Maybe I’m not, maybe it’s that built-in expat feeling, or maybe there are just so many interesting poets out there and only so many hours in the day that there will always be somebody out there I haven’t read yet. At any rate, I like when the world gives me reading suggestions.

One of those daily poems I subscribe to, by the way, is Poetry Daily (actually I have the app and read on my phone), which is where I read “God, God” by Fleda Brown.

I’m taking a deep breath and calling this pile of papers a manuscript

November 5th, 2012

I read through my manuscript from start to finish today. It’s uneven – the poems in the third section are by far the strongest, making the weaknesses of some of the earlier poems really stand out – but it’s essentially complete and has “good bones” as a critique partner of mine likes to say. I’ve added a voice, so I’ve now got three characters and each one of them gets their say at least once; this has complicated things a bit but I think I can keep the voices clear for the reader through titles. There are a few holes I need to fill in, meaning writing a few new poems to address an aspect of a relationship that’s not fully explored, and once those are written – I think I need six – NO MORE NEW POEMS for this project: I’ve written too many poems that the manuscript doesn’t “need” as a way to avoid revising the poems that exist.

Do any of you do that? Continue to write new material as a way to procrastinate on the hard work of revision? At least it’s productive procrastination, but it’s procrastination nonetheless and I want to finish what I’ve started here.

Also: I write a bad sestina. And by bad I mean actually bad, as in the opposite of good.

Poetry roundup

November 1st, 2012

I’ve mentioned before that you can sign up for a daily poem in your in-box from Rattle, but I didn’t mention that it’s not always a poem they send to your in-box. Sometimes there might be an author interview or sometimes a book review. Tuesday’s email brought a review of A Dance in the Street by Jared Carter, which intrigued me enough to hunt down a full version of one of the poems excerpted for the review. You can read “Snow” here, and Rattle’s review of A Dance in the Street is here.

“Snow” got me poking around Jared Carter’s website and oh! oh! “Clavichord.” For so many reasons.

Over at Bare Hands Poetry, “Smoke” by David Rudden.

Breaking the pattern of one-word titles, “Wednesday’s Foolish Love Song” by Michaela A. Gabriel in Pebble Lake Review.

New poems out

October 22nd, 2012

My centos “The Skin Is Not Just Skin” and “The Expat at the Crossroads” are in the most recent issue of Found Poetry Review. They’ve moved to a print format, so I can’t link to my work, but here’s their webpage for anybody interested in perusing previous issues, buying the current issue in print, or checking out their submission guidelines.

I have to say, I’ve fallen in love with the cento and am so happy there is a journal dedicated to found poetry. (Not that other journals won’t publish centos and other forms of found poetry, because they do, but I feel like Found Poetry Review is a true home for found poetry. Obviously. Hence the title.)

Poetry roundup

October 18th, 2012

From Poetry Daily, “[It’s stringy      out here]” by Susan Wheeler. I’ll be ordering Meme thanks to this poem.

At The Atlantic.com, “Monica Lewinsky Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in Front of a Hotel Mirror” by Julianna Baggot. Huh. Looks like I’ll be ordering Lizzie Borden in Love, too.

In Orion, “All Wet and Shine” by National Book Award finalist Cynthia Huntington.

I’m reading Meadowlands by Louise Glück, so here’s her “Telemachus’ Fantasy” from the same at AGNI Online.

Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” turned fifty this week. You can listen to Plath herself reading it here.

Yesterday was Marie Howe’s birthday, so here’s “What the Living Do.” Which seems like a fine poem to close on.

Enjoy!

Poetry roundup

October 12th, 2012

Twitter has been good to me this week, and this week’s poems were brought to my attention by the lovely folks in my timeline. Here’s a sample:

Silent Dragon” by Rafael Acevedo in The Kenyon Review Online, courtesy of @kenyonreview

Formerly Communist Love Sonnet” by Connie Deanovich at The Poetry Foundation, courtesy of @Don_Share and in honor of the word “malarkey.”

Skinhead” by Patricia Smith at AGNI Online via @vivliovision

1945” by Jean Valentine in Plume Poetry courtesy of @CopperCanyonPrs

and “Gila” at Poets.org via @Drebelle.

As always, I love to hear what you’re reading. Enjoy the weekend everybody!