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!Poetry, Shameless self-promotion | Comments (4)
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.
Life in the Swiss countryside, Mama days, What makes me tick | Comments (2)
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!Goals goals, on writing, Poetry | Comment (0)
Here’s just a sample of what I’ve been reading on the net lately. Some of it’s recent, and some of it is from a few years back, but recently discovered by me.
At Plume, “Deceiving the Gods” by Ellen Bass.
At the always wonderful Linebreak, “Because” by Michelle Bitting.
Up this week at Heron Tree, “To a Hymn Book” by Jeff Hardin.
From the current issue of Pebble Lake Review, “Saliferous” by Hala Alyan.
Also from VQR (fall of 2012), “What Is The Wholesale Price of The Traveler’s Vade Mecum?” by Sandra Beasley.
And from a 2010 issue of Rattle, “On Loved Ones Telling the Dying to ‘Let Go’” by Reeves Keyworth.
Enjoy! What are you reading these days?Poetry roundup | Comment (0)
My poem “Winter Passage” is up at Heron Tree this week. I really like the Heron Tree format: they publish one poem a week and it’s featured all week. New poems are published each Sunday and previous poems are available in the archives. Check them out!Poetry, Shameless self-promotion | Comments (2)
Every year the sirens catch me by surprise. They shouldn’t; it’s a well-established ritual that Switzerland tests the warning sirens of the civil defense system every year at 13:30 on the first Wednesday in February. But it seems to me that the public service announcements reminding people of the annual test are less prominent than they used to be, or maybe it’s just that way out in the village. Things are easy to miss out here. So yesterday as I was finishing up in the kitchen and the boys were playing a hockey video game (neither of them have school or Kindergarten Wednesday afternoons) I thought I heard sirens. I ignored it for a few minutes, thinking it was background noise on the video game – the stadium sounds incorporated in the game are full of sirens and horns when somebody scores a goal – and then I finally asked the boys to turn the volume off for a minute and there it was: the rolling ascending and descending tones of sirens. Then I looked at the calendar and the clock and remembered: testing the General Alarm.
We live a bit outside the village; the alarm is hard to hear out here but I did hear it. But they don’t take any chances out in the farming village, and part of the general alarm system out here involves a fire truck driving out to the more remote houses. They drove by, siren going, and turned around in my in-laws’ driveway and then, presumably, continued on to the other farm a little further down on the other side of the main road.
For us the testing lasted half an hour. In areas of the country with a number of dams – the Ticino, for example – there is then a second testing of the Water Emergency Sirens. These warning sirens make a different noise from the General Alarm. I’ve never heard them, because they’re not used where I am, but I understand it’s a series of 12 long tones.
Should the General Alarm sound at other than the expected time, residents should turn on the TV or radio for more information; you should also notify your neighbors to make sure they heard it. If the Water Alarm sounds unexpectedly – evacuate immediately.
Over the years I’ve known a few people who flat out hate the siren testing (and yes, they’re no fun when they wake the sleeping toddler from the afternoon nap, but it’s only once a year) but for me it’s one of those quirky, wonderful things I’ve come to love about the Alpine Fortress. I mean, they sent a fire truck out here, just for the six of us! You’ve got to love that just a little bit.
I found this YouTube video sample of what the siren testing sounds like around the Zürcher See (lake of Zürich). Turn your volume down if you’re at work, you might startle somebody!Switzerland | Comment (0)