friday roundup: long time no see edition


This terrible photo of the book fair is apparently the only photo I took at AWP.

Well. I have my reasons.

I am thesis-ing.

I have been to D.C. and San Francisco and D.C. and back again in the last three-and-a-half weeks.

Care and feeding of the young.

Doing my own work first.


But I’m here to tell you a little bit about AWP and to share a poem I read this morning.

AWP was a meat-grinder of the best sort. You run from session to snack bar to book fair to the place you told your friends you’d meet them for dinner. On loop. You finally see in person the editor who was so good as to publish your poems, poets whose work you admire, and your writing friends from distant outposts (or perhaps you are the one in the distant outpost now, but you get what I mean). It is tiring. It is overload for 12,000 introverts. But it is also a little bit of heaven. Here’s why:

You only have to be yourself: poet, critic, editor (in my case). Everyone sees you as a professional, a colleague. They ask about your manuscript and encourage you to keep sending it out. They mention seeing your poems here and there and how much they enjoyed them. They ask about your thesis and encourage you to send it to this conference they know about so you can present it there. To them, you are no one’s mother, wife, daughter, sister, auntie, neighbor, or potential PTA volunteer. There is no laundry to fold, no ground beef to thaw for tomorrow’s dinner. People want to talk to you about poetics, about the work of Poet X in Journal Y. They wonder if they can send a review copy of their book to the journal where you work. They ask what kind of work you’re looking for. They heard the panel you moderated was great. They ask what your next project is and tell you about theirs.

And that’s what I loved best about it.

Now I’m back in my study-with-the-door-that-closes working on my thesis. Writing a few little poems or notes for poems. Starting my day by reading poetry because that’s how I make sure the day will be okay. Here’s one I read this morning from Donika Kelly‘s debut collection Bestiary. Which you should buy here.





friday roundup: going to seed edition


It’s Friday again (and here I think of Robert Hass: “The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself.”).

I had planned to be at AWP this week, but Things Changed.

Today is April 1. I am not fooling about anything. Last year on this day, one of my darlings replaced the sugar with salt and I ended up with salty tea at 5:00 a.m. In case you can’t tell I AM NOT OVER IT YET, and therefore am boycotting April Fool’s Day. Forever.

Now, for the roundup:

going to seed  After my musings on a room of one’s own, a friend sent me an article by Annie Dillard in which she writes about her writing digs. She keeps things simple: sheds and tents:

“When you build a fancy study—a houslet—or add a room to your house, you lose the fun of the thing. A toolshed or a tent, like a tree house, lets you fool yourself into thinking you are not working, only playing. ‘Society’s norms be damned,’ you tell yourself, ‘I’m on the lam.'”

I can see her point, and I’m not much one for “fancy,” but I would not look down my nose at a study, a room in my house. I would not.

My favorite part of the article has more to do with the writing life than writing studios. She writes:

“In order to write books I spend fully as much energy ignoring what I was reared to notice as I spend working. The feats of discipline people think writers perform to drive themselves to their desk are easy evasions of the real hard work: not playing along with the rest of the world.”

Can I get an amen? And here’s the best line of the essay:

“Going to seed is an act of will.”

How I love this line! A friend pointed out that “going to seed” is such a nicer thought than “living in squalor.” I’m all in for going to seed. I wish I could link to this essay, but it is apparently the only thing in the world that is not findable on the Interwebs. If you are intrepid, you can go to the library and see if you can find it through EBSCOhost or something… it appeared in Architectural Digest under the title “Keeping It Simple.” Also it’s in this book.

the only thing we really have This week I stumbled upon and thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Blake’s article at The Rumpus, “Men Explain Submissions to Me.” She discusses some of the demoralizing aspects of submitting poems to lit mags, and the even more demoralizing feeling of getting mansplained in the process. But even better, she gives us a list of soul-preserving things to do (and not do), reminding us that “the only thing we really have is respect for ourselves and our art.” What I love about her list is that it is steadfastly committed to the writer keeping her agency throughout the submissions process. “Treat your work the best you can,” she writes; and, “Guard your energy at all costs. Your energy is best for your writing.”

You should go read the whole article / list here.

a poetry of shine  I’ve been spending a lot of time with C.D. Wright’s Steal Away: Selected and New Poems. Here’s a kind of ars poetica that I’ve really fallen for:



This isn’t the end. It simply
cannot be the end. It is a road.
You go ahead coatless, light-
soaked, more rutilant than
the road. The soles of your shoes
sparkle. You walk softly
as you move further inside
your subject. It is a living
season. The trees are anxious
to be included. The car with fins
beams through countless
oncoming points of rage and need.
The sloughed-off cells
under our bed form little hills
of dead matter. If the most sidereal
drink is pain, the most soothing
clock is music. A poetry
of shine could come of this.
It will be predominantly
green. You will be allowed
to color in as much as you want
for green is good
for the teeth and the eyes.


Wishing you a happy April 1, no fooling.


friday roundup with throng of poets, line (again), and a nest


Vincent’s “Still Life with Fife-bird Nests” (wikimedia)

Hello out there. Happy Friday. Friday of AWP for many poets; Just Friday here at the Wee, Small House.

Real-time digression: I love how Vincent Van Gogh signed his paintings “Vincent.” Just Vincent. As if he were a child making art at his mother’s table. As if there were no other possible Vincent who could’ve made the art (ends up he was right about that, I guess). I am just now thinking about the gesture of putting one’s name to a piece of art. I’m wondering: What are the poems we would write if we were just going to sign the poems “(your first name here).” As if we were writing at our mothers’ tables. As if there were no other possible (your first name here) who could write those poems? Are they different than the poems we’d write planning to sign our full, adult, names and all they mean for the self we’ve constructed in the world? If yes, let’s go write them.

[Ok, sorry for that digression but this is how my brain works. On to the roundup:]

“the solitary, the hermetic, the cranky self-taught”  A throng of poets has descended upon Minneapolis, where yesterday it snowed (she said, smugly; forgive her).

[I pause here to remember the moment last year when I reminded a poet-friend that there would also be fiction writers and non-fiction writers at AWP. Her blank stare upon receiving this news will live forever in my memory.]

But back to the poets. AWP, or any throng, can cause anxiety for poets (perhaps other writers too?) — the crowds; the name-dropping; the selfies; the editors who rejected your poems; the Very Famous Poet who walks by causing one to freeze in one’s boots before one can think of something to say; the Very Famous Poet you are standing next to in line for the ladies’ and you think of something to say but then after you think how STUPID it was to say that; the people looking at your name tag, realizing you are just a baby poet, walking on by. Etc.

But I love AWP. I love seeing my tribe in the flesh. I love the worst-attended panels. I love all the books and lit mags that jump into one’s arms. I am not there this year, but I can’t wait for next year’s in L.A. (That is how much I love AWP — I am going to brave L.A., which I know nothing about but whose traffic has intimidated me from afar for years, for AWP).

Here is a little piece by Kay Ryan (Kay Ryan week on the blog, I guess) who is not an avid AWP go-er, but who has gone. And documented her experience. And possibly did not hate it as much as she thought she might. Or maybe did. I usually read this piece on my AWP off-years, so it’s possible I’ve linked to it before. It’s a good piece for reminding us to simultaneously embrace and shun the throng.

line (again)  I know, sorry, but I love line. Or should I say, Line. This week I’m re-visiting James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line. Two things jumped out at me. Here they are:

1. For those of you who, like me, are forever puzzling about what prose poetry is and what kind of poem belongs in a prose container: In prose poems “the narrative links are supressed.” And “rather than fulfilling the expectations aroused by narrative logic, (a prose poem) foregrounds the disjunctive movement we associate more readily with poetry and in particular with lineated poetry” (parens mine).

Okay, that makes sense to me. I can work with that.

2. “(L)ine is a way of making familiar language strange again.” Yes, yes, yes. And so is poetry. Yes.

nest  I accidentally found another poet this week. Don’t they just pop up out of nowhere, and then you have to have their book(s)!? #bookbudgetblownagain

This poet is Katy Didden, whose first book (which I have duly ordered), The Glacier’s Wake, won the Lena-Miles Weaver Todd Poetry Prize a few years ago (BTW, that prize churns out some really good poetry). While I wait for the book to arrive on my doorstep — I LOVE THIS WORLD! — I’ve been hunting down some of her poems online, and have fallen in love with “Nest.”

Go read it to relish the way it builds sound upon sound, to enjoy its surprising word choices and images, to experience the way it becomes a wild meditation on both life, and the fragile nest of language we create to try to define or explain or document life.

I will never see a camera lens the same way again. “And click. And crack.”

Happy Friday, happy weekend, thanks for reading!

this is just to say: AWP and beyond edition

my yellow pants, my Danskos

my yellow pants, my Danskos

The poet has landed. I’m waiting in the airport for another poet to land. Meanwhile I thought I’d check in.

Items that made the cut into the suitcase:

  • fleece bathrobe
  • two pairs of pj’s
  • sweats (for evening wear)
  • skinny jeans, bootcut jeans, boyfriend jeans
  • cozy socks
  • flameless candle
  • 1 pound of tea
  • 2 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies
  • many books
  • slippers
  • the best I had of poet attire (meh)
  • the small pharmacy that keeps this gal patched together

Items that did not make the cut into the suitcase:

       (this space left intentionally blank)

So far the only snafu is that TSA (a) cut the lock off my suitcase to inspect it, and (b)during their inspection, managed to leave a ziploc bag open. Thank you, TSA, for the hair gel all over the inside of my suitcase. I don’t know where I’ll be when during AWP, but if you smell hair gel I’m probably nearby. Forgive me.

I don’t have an AWP bucket list — I’m just going to assume my path will cross with those it’s meant to cross with. I’m just going to try not to wear myself out, while learning as much as I can and enjoying the company of poet-friends.

After AWP, I’m proceeding to an undisclosed location (no, Dick Cheney will not be there). Well, I will tell you this: I’m going to an ISLAND to WRITE POEMS for ONE WEEK. BY MYSELF.

An ISLAND. BY MYSELF. Reader, can you believe it? I can’t, but apparently that is the plan.

I haven’t made any rules or promises to myself about blogging, Facebook, etc., during the next ten days or so. I might be around or I might not. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing I wish you well. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, take good care of you.

ghazal for my roommate at AWP, whom technically I’ve never met

Although I’ve considered wearing cute shoes, I’m sure I’ll end up in my Danskos.
This is how you’ll know me at the airport: my yellow pants, my Danskos.

Also, I am short, and middle-aged, with brown and green glasses. You’ll notice
I’ve not perfected the art of scarf-wearing, but I know how to wear Danskos:

With boot cut pants and “interesting” socks. Or with skirts (matching tights).
Don’t worry — I know better than to wear skinny jeans with Danskos.

I’ll meet you at Ground Transportation, at the hotel shuttle pickup, and if
I’m too short to be seen in the crowd, look down at the floor for Danskos.

They’ll be black. I hope you’ll realize the sacrifice I’m making here. Cordovan
with bleach stains and scuffed toes are my most comfortable Danskos.

My luggage is so big because I had to pack my fleece bathrobe, two sets of pj’s,
my slippers, a small tea pot, a flameless candle, and more than one pair of Danskos.

What can I say? The book fair alone makes the case for abandoning
the red ballet flats and the gray boots in favor of my Danskos,

and I’m high-maintenance when it comes to creature comforts.
And cups of tea. And naps. And early bedtimes. And, well, Danskos.

If at any time during the conference I disappear, I suggest searching
in the Dickinson Quiet Space, where I’ll probably have kicked off my Danskos.

You may find me rather bland as roommates go. Not much of a party girl,
mediocre fashion sense. Hi, I’m Molly Spencer, devotee of poetry and Danskos.


in lieu of wordless wednesday: taking stock


Hello again, Reader. There was no Hermit Monday for me this week due to the holiday. Yesterday was a fairly nice substitute in that I spent almost four hours in my sunny corner at the library. Today will be more hermit-like yet as I plan to park at my desk and stay here until school gets out. I have an impulse to take stock of where I am with my writerly work, although the usual time for taking stock — at the very beginning of a new year — is past. The fact that soon it will be February is somewhat mind-blowing, no?

At any rate, here’s a look into the shelves of my poetry pantry just now…

applications  I spent much of September and October applying for things. One of the gigs I applied for was a residency at Hedgebrook, and I did not get that gig. Bummer, but no big surprise — I typically assume you don’t get anything the first time you try for it. I’ve also learned it can be good to try for things even if you’re not sure you’re 100% ready. There is value in the exercise of applying: you polish your best work, organizing into a manuscript, write an artist’s statement. These are all things that help you see where you are on your creative journey. I have to say their rejection note was one of the nicest rejections I’ve ever received — perhaps in keeping with their focus on being a nourishing global community of women writers.

submissions  As usual, I am not the lean mean submissions machine that I aspire to be. I continue with my habit of sitting down to submit, then revising. Revising is a good thing to do, though, and if I see something I think can be stronger I’d rather make it stronger than send it out. This contributes mightily to my tortoise-like pace, but I keep telling myself: slow but steady… you know the rest. Right now I have poems out with 10 journals and two batches of poems sent off to contests. I have received — ahem — several rejections from  wonderful journals — forgive me, I’ve lost track (technically, I could look it up but let’s not go there). Only two acceptances since September. Ouch. Despite it all, I have more confidence in my work than ever before. I have many poems that I believe in, that I believe will find a home at some point. Onward.

I do have a poem in the most recent issue of Spillway. It’s a small, quiet poem called “A Story About the Kitchen.” It has to do with family and inheritance (I probably don’t need to say: conceptual, not financial).

new work  Although I didn’t exactly keep with my usual one draft per week goal, I did end up with about 20 new drafts in the last half of 2013. Most of them are drafts with spark — things I want to work on. But…

old work  …I also have a reasonable stack of in-process poems that need attention. By which I mean re-visioning. It’s a good problem to have: too many poems. Remind me of this when I hit my next dry spell.

the Mail Order Bride  You knew this was coming, right? That b%$#@h (this is how I’ve come to refer to her — forgive me) drove me crazy all fall. A few times now I’ve thought she was done and then she reared her wacky head again. At this point, though, I have sent her west in a chapbook with a series of aubades and a series of poems with titles taken from the traditional Christian wedding vows. She had been in a full-length manuscript I’ve been working on, but after (many months of) further discernment, I came to feel that she was overpowering the rest of the poems, because she is so wacky (or as a friend put it, much more charitably: “richly imagined”). We will see how she does now that she’s out there in the world with some friends.

organization & process  Oy. One of the things that fell by the wayside as I hustled to meet contest deadlines is organization. Ideally, I’d spend a day putting the system back to rights. Whether I can tear myself away from more creative work to do so remains to be seen. My process remains the same: reading and free-writing in the early morning, crafting/drafting/polishing other times.

coming up  I’ll be working on two reviews, one of Donna Vorreyer’s a house of many windows which I’ll publish here, and one of the forthcoming Bone Map by Sara Eliza Johnson(Milkweed, summer 2014). I also have a hefty stack of poetry to read and learn from.

AWP  Suddenly, I’m going. And I’m already worrying about how I’m going to fit my bathrobe in my two-day suitcase #trueconfessions.

Well, all this should keep me busy and then some. Thanks for letting me take stock. I hope your pantry (figurative or literal or both) is well-stocked and ready to take you through what’s left of winter. Thanks for reading.

there should be a word for…

A page from A Dictionary of the Anglo-Saxon Language, from wikimedia

A page from A Dictionary of the Anglo-Saxon Language, from wikimedia

…the state of a refrigerator when it’s full-to-bursting and yet devoid of anything that could be combined into a meal.

…the particular brand of parenting dread that goes along with grade school projects.

…that feeling you get when everyone else is going to AWP and you’re not.

Reader, do you ever feel like there’s a few words the English language, for all its glory, lacks? I do. I need one of those words this week as I sense a dull roar to the east — the sound of thousands of suitcases zipping, the sound of hundreds of flights converging on Logan airport, the sound of my tribe gathering at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, known to most of us as AWP.

BTW, is it just me, or would only poets and writers flock to a conference that is, seemingly, without fail, held in a snowy climate during the snowiest month of the year? 🙂

Yes, the tribe gathers without me and I’m feeling a bit bereft, although there is some comfort in knowing there are a few other poets I know who aren’t going this year. I will just keep plugging away at my [here’s another thing we need a word for: the MFA that isn’t an MFA — it’s what you earn by spending years at your desk reading, studying, and writing poetry. I call it the Emily Dickinson MFA.]. And I’ll set my sights on Seattle in 2014, fingers crossed.

But anyway, back to those words we need but don’t have…

My BFF teaches English and creative writing at the high school where my little brother is the principal back in the Old Country/Michigan (speaking of which, we need a word for that strange feeling of knowing that your little brother is your BFF’s boss #awkward). Anyway, last semester, her class came up with a whole list of words we need. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • cryfusion: the act of violent sobbing without knowing if one is happy or sad
  • fromance: the state of being in love with your best friend
  • muse-ic: a song you can listen to over and over that calms you and never gets old
  • siprise: the feeling of surprise when one takes a sip out of a cup expecting one thing, and getting another

What about you, Reader — anything you wish you had a word for?

And to all you AWPers, godspeed, have fun, and stay healthy!

friday roundup: living vicariously, shoebox poems, and total eclipse

This morning I moved all the scary piles off my desk and started fresh. This is not to say I accomplished anything that’s waiting for me in those scary piles, but at least they can no longer taunt me as they’re out of my sight. For now. And it’s Friday, so it’s time for a roundup. Here we go:

Claus W. Vogl; public domain from wikimedia

living vicariously Those of you who swim around in the writing world know that the annual AWP conference was last weekend. I’ve been reading everyone’s AWP posts and updates, living vicariously through their accounts of the conference. If you’d like to live vicariously, too, here are a few links to: Donna Vorreyer’s reflections on AWP, including a lovely poem; Laura E. Davis’ Top Ten Moments of AWP; Sandy Longhorn’s summary of what she learned and what she’s thinking about from AWP; a few updates (you may have to scroll down to find them) from Kathleen Kirk, who packed particularly light (very impressive, Kathleen!); and this list of “overheards” (caution: not to be read with small children looking over one’s shoulder) which includes one very funny question from a cab driver. And here is one of my all-time favorite AWP post-mortems by Kay Ryan. Ah, AWP, I hope to meet you next year in Boston.

shoebox poems  Every week, Poets&Writers posts a poetry prompt (fiction, too, I think), and this week’s prompt really appealed to me. I often use prompts if, for nothing else, to get me to the point of pen on paper. As the words begin flowing, the prompt often goes right out the window, but at that point it doesn’t matter. This prompt is a bit different as it involves collecting snatches of this and that over the course of the week, and making a poem from the collection. I use the word ‘making’ purposely — the word poet comes from the Greek for poiein, “to make or compose.” To say  “I’ve made a poem,” feels different than “I’ve written a poem,” no? Here is the prompt from P&W:

During the next week collect images, photographs, small objects, lines of poetry that you’ve written, passages from other writers’ work, snippets of conversations you overhear. Throughout the week put these things in a shoe box or something similar. At the end of the week, sit down and lay out each thing around you. Use the things you’ve collected as the ingredients for a poem.

I’m going to try this exercise this week, and next Friday I’ll let you know how it goes. If you want to try it, too, please join in and let us know how it went for you. And, to a certain high school English teacher in the readership, you’re welcome for your next lesson plan.

total eclipse This week I re-read one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing: “Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard, from her book Teaching a Stone to Talk. No review or summary can do justice to this piece — it’s precision, its tension, the descriptions of the earth under the eclipse, the inner and psychological spaces the eclipse takes us down into. Do yourself a favor and go read this piece here, or check it out of your library, or order it here, or ask for it at your friendly, neighborhood, independent bookseller’s. And did you know that the next total eclipse of the sun viewable in the U.S. will occur on August 17, 2017, in an area near Hopkinsville, Kentucky? Might have to road trip.

Reader, that’s it for this week’s roundup. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for reading. And, P.S., if you know of other AWP reports circulating the web that I should read, let me know in comments!

friday roundup: infinite corn, AWP envy, and the worst thing that ever happened to poetry

Friday already! This week has been all-mama-all-the-time for me, as the kids had a week off school. Still, I’ve been squeezing in some poet-time, too (mostly before daylight. Sigh.). Here’s this week’s roundup:

photo by Jamie Lantzy, public domain from wikimedia

infinite corn I’m reading Sandra Beasley‘s book, I Was the Jukebox, this week, and, Wow. It won the Barnard Women Poets Prize in 2009. These poems are not afraid. Joy Harjo, in the prize citation, calls them “fresh, crisp, and muscular,” and I can’t improve on that description. One thing I love about this collection is that many of the poems are both laugh-out-loud funny and cut-like-a-knife piercing– a combination I truly love because isn’t that life? I also love that these poems give voice to all sorts of worldly objects and elements: sand, the world war, a piano, an eggplant, and even a platypus.

I’m about half-way through the collection now, and I want to share this fabulous poem with you:


I Don’t Fear Death

But what I’m really picturing
is Omaha: field after field

of sorghum crisp to my touch
and one house high on a hill,

sheets on the line. You tell me
everything ceases, that even

our fingernails give up, but
what I really believe is that

we keep growing: infinite corn,
husk yielding to green husk.

I look back on the miles
connecting me to Earth, think

I’d never have worn those shoes.
I slip them off like anything

borrowed. The clouds are thin
and yellow, smelling of

fireworks and salt. In Omaha,
the town votes me Queen of

Everything. You are the slow
dance, the last ring of smoke:

to be held tight, and then only
this colder air between us.


I never would have worn those shoes, either. Reader, go get this book today!

AWP envy  I confess, I wish I were going to AWP (non-poets in the readership: this is the annual conference sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and it is the mecca of the writing world). I fantasize about the book fair, acres and acres of books to read. I long to crouch in a corner of one of the panels, furiously scribbling notes. I want nothing more than to stop by the Crab Orchard Series table and have my copies of Threshold and Rookery signed by the amazing poets that authored them (Jennifer Richter and Traci Brimhall, respectively). Alas, this is not the year for me….. but to all my writerly friends who are going, I wish you a fantastic time. May you return home exhausted and brimming with poetry.

the worst thing that ever happened to poetry  I love this quote from an interview with poet Richard Tillinghast in the latest issue of The Pinch:

“The worst thing that ever happened to poetry was the idea that a poem was something to be understood. A saner approach to poetry would be that, instead of being understood, a poem wants and needs to be enjoyed. A lot of the things we enjoy, we don’t fully understand. Maybe we enjoy them more because we don’t fully understand them. When you meet a new person, do you understand him immediately?  People aren’t that simple and life isn’t that simple.  Reading poetry is good training for understanding life and other people.  Poems are as multilayered and as complex as people are.”

Let the people say, Amen! And here’s another thought, this time from the poet Gregory Orr:

“It is heartbreaking the way we teach poetry is an elite art form. (Poetry) is a natural expression, an impulse. Song and poetry is the only thing that lets us process our emotional life. Poetry says ‘tell me what you’re feeling.’” (from this article)

Reader, may your Friday be touched by song and poetry.