April was poetry month: winners and wrap up

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Reader, National Poetry Month has passed us by. I’m excited to announce the winners of free poetry Margo Roby and Tara Rae Mulroy. Thanks to everyone who threw their name in the hat.

I know many poets who are heaving a sigh of relief this morning — no mandate to write a poem today. As for me, I counted up my revisions for the month of April and ended up with 31 (sometimes the Muse strikes in revision mode, you know; I never pass up a date with the Muse, so I did one extra). The thing I love about a poem-a-day (or, in my case, a revision-a-day) challenge is that it reminds us that having a focus can lead to real results. For April, my first priority after my morning reading and writing was revision. With the exception of one or two poems that are still knocked out on the operating table, I now have a stack of poems that are ready for the spit and polish. The one-a-day rate, whether drafting or revising, isn’t sustainable over a long period of time, but it’s good to make a push every now and then, isn’t it?

In other news, I’m very happy to have learned that my poem “Aubade For Peter Pan” received an honorable mention in the Tupelo Press Winter 2012 Poetry Project. You can read my poem and many other wonderful poems at this website.

From the Keeping It Real desk, we have news of a rejection or two and a grant proposal passed over. I’ve found that, over time, my skin is thickening. For one thing, I don’t expect to win anything the first time I try. For another, I’ve learned that submissions are, to a certain extent, a numbers game — the more you submit the more publications you’ll have. Sadly, I’ve submitted very little since January (must remedy! must remedy!). It helps, too, when the rejections are the good kind of rejection wherein one is asked to submit more work. Little nudges from the universe that say: Poet, persevere! And I shall.

Lastly a big thank you to Diane Lockward, who included links to my revision tips in the May edition of her poetry newsletter. If you aren’t receiving this newsletter, may I recommend that you sign up here (scroll down — the sign-up field is in the right hand margin). Every month Diane provides a book recommendation, a craft tip, and many useful poetry links. It’s a great resource for the working poet. Thanks again, Diane!

And now, Reader, May is Moving Month. It’s true. Currently the wee, small house is shrouded in a red tent and lethal gas — termites are a fact of life in this subtropical climate, and most houses are fumigated when they change hands. Husband asked me if I took a picture. Um, no. No, I don’t want a reminder that my house was filled with lethal gas and the entry sealed for three days. I suppose I’d better issue unto myself a box-a-day challenge. Yeah. We’ll see how that goes.

Happy end of poetry month, happy May Day, and happy Tuesday to all of you. Thanks, as always, for reading.


the moment of truth

Dear reader, something funky just happened. I started writing this post and all of a sudden it published itself. Maybe I bumped the button reaching for my nice, hot cup of spicy/sweet tea? Or something. Anyway, mea culpa for the empty email in your inbox.

What I wanted to tell you is that I spent most of this week up to now working on a grant application. It’s the first time I’ve ever applied for a grant for writers. This particular grant came into my radar screen thanks to one of my excellent po-friends who saw it advertised and sent the info my way. The grant is specifically for writers and artists with families, so she (the friend) thought it a perfect fit.

I marked the deadline on my memo board, and then went about my merry business of being a mother, and a writer, and a wife, and a cook, and a house-hunter, and an auntie, and a person whose procrastinates listening to voicemails for months at a time, and who also hates grocery shopping.

The truth is, I think I would’ve let the deadline pass me by if the same friend who sent me the grant information in the first place hadn’t followed up with an e-mail last week. Subject line: This is you! Body of message: Apply!

That short and sweet bit of encouragement got me started working on the grant application.

I was flying by the seat of my pants, having never written an artist’s grant before. Ironically, my training in public administration came in pretty handy (Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, even for me, but my degrees are in Economics and Public Administration — almost as unpoetic as you can get, except that Economics has its own obscure and hard to follow poetry if you look for it, e.g., the Nash Equilibrium). I knew how to draw up a very detailed budget and statement of work, so I did that first. The Bio came fairly easily, especially because they asked to know about how parenthood has influenced your writing and writing life. The hardest part was the Artist’s Statement. I’d never done one of those before. I did some googling, read some advice, then just did my best. The easiest part was assembling 10 poems for the Portfolio portion of the application, and I did that last of all. After having reflected on and written about my work, and after having identified precise goals and the steps required to achieve them, choosing the 10 poems that best exemplified my work was a snap. I confess, I was (and am) proud of those 10 poems.

So, here’s what I learned:

1. Never underestimate the power of a few, choice, and well-timed words of encouragement. Thank you, friend.

2. You can learn a lot about your work and your goals if you take a few hours to step back and survey what you’ve been doing, and where you want to go next with your work. I think this is true for anyone and for any kind of work. The hardest part is taking the time to do it, but once you do it I think you’ll feel proud of yourself and have a clearer notion of what your work is all about.

3. Beware the trap of the False Choice. While writing the Bio about how parenthood has influenced my writing life, I discovered that at one time I had fallen into the trap of a false choice. Here’s what I wrote: “At one point in my life, before (the children) were born and intuiting how all-consuming both motherhood and an artistic life were likely to be, I thought it best to choose one path or another: mother or writer. I chose mother. And yet, in the process of becoming a mother and expanding our family, I went back to writing. Both the joys and the challenges of family life were enormous and mysterious to me, and the only way I could process that mystery was to write about it.” To some extent, it’s human nature to create false choices for ourselves when we can’t see our way clear to something. But, having articulated this particular false choice for myself at long last, I’m going to be on the lookout for other false choices I set myself up for — and I’m not going to let them fool me.

4. Defining clear priorities will help you get your work done. On Sunday, I opened my writing calendar and wrote in big letters all across the page for this week: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THIS WEEK IS THE GRANT APPLICATION. All week I felt pulled and tugged by what I wasn’t doing: the laundry, my reading and writing for the class I’m taking, submitting, revising, volunteering at school. Then I would open up my calendar and read out loud about the most important thing this week. It’s hard to let other things slide and now I’m behind on everything else, but the grant application’s done. Wahoo!

Today’s a chilly, wet day. It’s minimum day, the kids’ weekly half-day of school. There’s a pot of beans soaking on the stove, waiting to be transformed into soup. There’s, uh, quite a bit of laundry and not enough toilet paper. I’ll be shifting my focus for the rest of the day. But it sure feels good to have tried something new. I hope you’ll try something new-to-you sometime soon, Reader. Who knows what you’ll learn… ?