at forty…

Heron Tree 1 with partial map of Michigan stamped in copper

Heron Tree 1 with partial map of Michigan stamped in copper

… you realize holy smokes that went fast, so

… you stop worrying about a lot of things, not least of which is that your bed hasn’t been made in a week, and

… you start doing the things you’ve been telling yourself you’ll get to “someday,” and

… you stop spending time with people who drain you, and

… you decline to make clam chowder for 5th grade colonial days regardless of the social fallout, and

… you know how lucky you are to still have your kids and your parents around, and

… you remember her, that girl you were back then, before anything ever happened to you.

I’m 41 now, but I’m very thrilled to join the lineup at a great new journal, Heron Tree, where my poem “At Forty I Remember Her” appears this week. This poem began on a borrowed line (which I eventually revised my way out of) from my friend Cintia Santana, who wrote a draft called, “At Forty I Dream of Home.” So, a big thanks to Cintia for the inspiration, and to the editors at Heron Tree for selecting this poem.

Heron Tree‘s tagline is “poetry online & bound annually.” They post a poem each week on their website, then produce a print journal that includes all the poems posted online for that year. I just received my print copies of Heron Tree 1, and it’s a beautiful journal: spare but elegant, and full of poems I’m ready to read and study again and again. They’re open for submissions now: submit here.

Thanks, 40, for all you teach us. Thanks, Heron Tree, for the poems you put out in the world. Thanks, Reader, for reading. Have a great week.

friday roundup: all of these faces, Spillway 20, and “Traveler’s Field”

[background music: Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” lyrics replaced with “Where did you go social contract?]

Friday again. Hello, Reader. This morning I upheld my end of the social contract by tracking down the grownup on my street who yelled the F-bomb and other choice words at my boys for riding their bikes on the sidewalk. Very politely, I reminded this gentleman (ahem) of his responsibilities to the children in the neighborhood. Namely, that a friendly reminder, and talking to me or my husband directly if follow up is needed, is really the way to go, rather than yelling and swearing at a ten year old. #justsayin. Sometimes I feel like our society has become too mobile and nobody knows their neighbors anymore, and so we sometimes forget our responsibilities to one another. But yes, that is me: the activist neighbor who will gently speak to your child if s/he is doing something unsafe or disrespectful, and who will remind you of good manners, Mr. F-bomb. Sheesh!

Now that that’s out of the way, we can get down to roundup business:

all of these faces  I’m really excited to share with you the new website of my former mentor and teacher, Deborah Keenan. When we lived in St. Paul, I studied with Deborah at the Loft Literary Center, and in her private Monday morning group. Those years learning from Deborah were so formative in my growth as poet. From her, I learned how to dissect a poem to see why and how it was working, and to write out of what I was reading. She took my work seriously, and helped me to see that it was time to start believing in my work, sending it out, claiming the title Poet. She’s also the person from whom I learned to make Handouts (which, er, reminds me — I’m a little behind on The Handout schedule, but don’t worry, it’s on my list).

As her website says, Deborah is poet, artist, and teacher. If you poke around a bit, you’ll see her amazing collage work, and run into some quintessential Deborah writing prompts (click on “writing inspiration”), more of which will be added to the site over time.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you’re wondering about my title for this section (and as she writes on her website) the phrase “all of these faces” is what encouraged Deborah to begin her collage work years ago (Hmmmm, what poem would you write under the title “All of These Faces”?).

Spillway 20  So, I’m going to be reading up in Marin this weekend, for Spillway 20 where my poem, “Making Dinner with Joan of Arc” appears (I wrote about drafting this poem here, and by the way, I wasted quite a lot of time to be able to draft it!) Each reader will read her own poem, and the poem of one other contributor. I’m excited to read Kathleen Kirk’s poem “Cassandra Can’t Believe the Headlines” (man, I know how Cassandra feels!). I’m looking forward to the reading, not without some nervousness. I’m walking around my house repeating this mantra: “Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.” 🙂 Wish me luck.

“Traveler’s Field” A while back, I wrote a bit about poetic citizenship, and today’s poem comes from a stellar example of poetic citizenship, the Central Arkansas Broadside Project curated by the indefatigable Sandy Longhorn. Hop over and read a little bit about the project. One thing I love about it, besides the fact that it moves poetry into public space and consciousness, is that each poet whose broadside is featured recommends other poets whose work they enjoy. If I had had even one of these broadsides in my hands when I was 16 years old…!!! So, Sandy, three cheers for you and the CABP. And Reader, for you, here is “Traveler’s Field” by Hope Coulter.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks for reading. And now, for me it’s back to, “Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.””Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.””Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.””Practice, wear your Haystack, and have a wee small glass of wine.”……….

friday roundup on thursday: being the tortoise, lists, and ‘the faithful work of drowning’

... I'm a little jealous of that napping hare... (image from wikimedia)

… I’m a little jealous of that napping hare… (image from wikimedia)

Reader, it’s not Friday. But by the time Friday rolls around I will have made granola and blueberry muffins for 40, and attended parent orientation for middle school (!?!?), and attempted to put up a tent sans Husband. In other words, it may get ugly so let’s do the roundup today.

being the tortoise  I feel this week should’ve come with a disclaimer. Something like this: DISCLAIMER: This week will require all of your money and even more of your time. You will wake up every morning and be out of milk or juice or both. Also, T.P. You will do what you hate most — go to the store — every day. You will forget many things and buy the wrong school supplies and then go back to the store. In another shopping genre, your eldest will not like *any* of the clothes at the first store, so there will be another store. You will goof up on the timing of the orthodontist appointments. You will try hard to forgive yourself, and you will fail. There will be two sets of braces in your parenting future (if you hold out hope, there may be a third — too soon to tell). Your computer will be inexplicably slow. You will find out that middle school orientation (!?!?) is on the day you were supposed to go camping. Your car will start acting funny. Everyone will grow out of their shoes. You will actually stack laundry on your writing desk (!sacre bleu!).

And yet, you will be the tortoise. You will wake early and plug away at small writing projects. Very small writing projects. You will sometimes wish you were the hare, dashing ahead, napping. You will remind yourself that — and this is important — the only sustainable writing practice is one that takes into account the reality of your life.

You will remember one of your favorite poems, “The Tortoise Survives the Fire” (which I know I’ve linked to before, but which keeps), and be happy to be the tortoise.

“I have lots of time.” Amen.

lists  There was a little dust-up in po-world this week. Something about lists. Lists of poets who will set the world on fire, or who matter, or something or another. In case you’re feeling down about not being on a list — po-world or otherwise — let me tell you that I’m so far off the lists, I didn’t even know about the lists until people started posting about the lists on Facebook. Also, I’m so far off the lists I still don’t even know what lists people are talking about, only that they are talking about them.

Reader, there is only one list and its title is: “What I am going to do with my one wild and precious life:.”

Also, if you just really, really want to be on a list, Kelli Russell Agodon has made a list and — great news — you are on it.

Ever onward.

‘the faithful work of drowning’  I’m very happy to have two poems in the current issue of Beloit Poetry Journal. They took two of the Demeter & Persephone poems which I wrote about here. But the real reason to read this issue of BPJ is Ocean Vuong’s poem, “Telemachus.” In case you’ve never heard of Telemachus, he’s Odysseus’ and Penelope’s son. And in case you want to read Ocean Vuong’s poem and be completely blown away right now, the good people at BPJ have put it on their website here. And. Wow. Yay, poetry.

Okay, it’s back to the list for me. Happy not-Friday and thanks for reading.

true confessions: leftovers edition

mmm... meatloaf (photo credit)

mmm… meatloaf (photo credit)

I confess, I hate leftovers. Not in and of themselves, but because every time I declare a leftover night, we always end up with leftovers of the leftovers. I know you know what I’m talking about.

I confess, the only leftovers I like to have leftovers of are meatloaf sandwiches.

I confess, I once wrote a poem about leftover night, in which meatloaf makes an appearance. That poem recently came out in Grist Issue 6. I confess, I was thrilled to see a meatloaf/leftovers poem in print.

I confess, the poem, which is called “The Fall of Woman” is not really about leftovers, but more about (1) the fact that there are no longer as many female images of divinity as there were in ancient times, and (2) that women still have lots of (god-like?) power because of our role in raising children and tending the hearth. Disclaimer: Not that all power wielded by women derives from these roles, and also not that men don’t also raise children and tend hearths, but, y’know.

I confess, I am loving Christina Cook‘s poem “Summer Requiem” also in Grist 6, and poems by Sandy Longhorn and Helen Vitoria in the online companion, along with many others.

I confess, I have been terrible, terrible (I mean terrible!) about submissions this spring. I have been really good about giving TLC to the feverish and those recovering from surgery, but terrible about submissions. Still, I’m happy to have placed a handful of poems from the handful of submissions I did send out. I’m determined to do some submitting over the summer, and also to gear up for next fall’s submissions season. But…

…I confess, I think my focus for the summer will be revisions. Despite the craziness of the past several months, I’ve ended up with a reasonable stack of new work. These new poems need lots of TLC, though, and probably some major surgery (insert sound of chainsaw starting here).

I confess, I’m finally starting to accept and enjoy the fact that the creative life has its seasons — some time for new work, some time for refining what exists, some time for getting it out there in the world. And let’s not forget one of the most important seasons: composting. There may even be a season for doing all these things at once, but so far I haven’t encountered it… although, I confess, I live in hope.

I confess, my plans for a summer writing schedule have fallen flat thus far. But *technically* it’s not summer yet — so I still have hope for my early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise approach once school’s out.

I confess, I love summer. It makes me think of a very blue lake, and all kinds of fruit, and drinking diet cherry 7-up with my BFF on the town beach. It makes me think of camping as a kid, and (less dreamy-eyed, I admit) camping as an adult. It makes me think of long, lazy afternoons at the library and playing go-fish with my kids. I confess, I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.

sing it!

photo here

The sisters… singin’ it like they mean it (photo here)

When I was a freshman in college (yes, we were still fresh*men* back then; the “first-years” came along a few years later) I tried out for one of the campus choirs. I was sooooo nervous, but I love to sing. And even way back then I had the Beckett quote taped to the corner of my desk: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Even back then I believed that it was better to try and fail than to never try.

I went to my audition in the music building, a small ivy-covered thing practically tucked out of view. I sang. The choir director said, “Okay, now sing it again like you’re a foot taller and ten years older.” I could hardly imagine being 28!!! But I tried. I sang it like I was 28. Or what I thought 28 would be like. It was much louder and much more confident. “There you go!” he said. I looked around to see if I’d grown a foot. (I hadn’t, but that’s okay — I made the choir, 2nd sop).

Recently I had a couple of poems accepted, one of the two pending my approval of suggested revisions. The revisions were mainly cuts from the middle of the poem where, the editors felt, the poem lost a bit of its focus. This is a journal I admire, one I’m just thrilled to have an acceptance from. But, although I saw that their cuts strengthened and sharpened the poem (and although I kicked myself for not having cut it a bit more in my own revisions), I thought the cuts went just a bit too far, so that one of the characters in the poem did not have quite enough presence. I also wanted to restore a single word that they suggested replacing with another (admittedly more beautiful) word — but I really felt this poem needed the rougher, uglier word.

I hemmed and hawed. I thought, Maybe I should just go with their revisions. They’re a great journal! They know what they’re doing! Then I thought, But really, I think the husband needs more presence. And I really want the ugly word. Then I thought, What do you know, Molly. You’re probably blind to your own work, and you’re really just a baby poet (Ahem, do we have a little Spiteful Gillian creeping in here? I think so). Then I thought, But really, I think the poem is asking for more husband! For the ugly word!

I let it rest over the weekend.

This morning I knew I had to face it. And the words of the choir director came back to me: Sing it like you’re a foot taller and ten years older. I decided to act like it wasn’t *such* a big deal to me to get an acceptance from this journal (even though it is, it really, really is). I decided to pretend I was old hat at this kind of thing. I decided to act like of course they would want my input and additional suggestions for making this poem as strong as it could be. I wrote a specific and reasoned explanation for a version of the poem I suggested in turn. There were two more lines of husband. There was the ugly word. I asked them to consider my suggestions and get back to me.

They liked my suggestions. They could see my reasoning. (insert happy dance here)

I’m so glad I sang it like I was a foot taller and ten years older. Well, wait a minute, I don’t want to rush things in the years department. But I’m just saying, sometimes we need to act the part. I acted the part of a seasoned poet with strong reasons for her artistic choices. I advocated for my work, risked a “no” because I thought the poem needed more. And it worked. Sing it! Hallelujah!

friday roundup: your brain on Shakespeare, eating your spinach, and “The room has earned its sadness.”

Billy Boy on a Hungarian postage stamp, wikimedia

Billy Boy on a Hungarian postage stamp, wikimedia

Reader, I realize it’s already cocktail hour on the East Coast (insert sigh of longing here), but I’m bound and determined to post a roundup today. Stakin’ a claim! I’ve been at my desk 20 minutes trying to start this post. Things keep happening. Bug bites. Disputes over the green marker. Paper cuts. Resistance to post-basketball showers. Requests for more food (did we not just finish lunch)? In other words, lentils. But lentils-shmentils, I’m writing a roundup. Let’s go:

your brain on Shakespeare  I’m a little late to this party, but this is really cool. I was reading an essay by David Kirby (“A Wilderness of Monkeys” from The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays in Contemporary Poetics) in which the author referred to a study of what our brains do when they’re reading Shakespeare. The study was published in 2006 by the University of Liverpool, and it found that Shakespearean language, and particularly “functional shifts” wherein one word can change the grammar of a whole sentence (such as a word that’s typically a noun functioning as a verb or vice versa), causes our brains to light up in ways that they do not when functional shifts are not employed. A quote from one of the researchers:

“The effect on the brain is a bit like a magic trick; we know what the trick means but not how it happened.  Instead of being confused by this in a negative sense, the brain is positively excited. “

Well, no wonder Shakespeare’s work has stood the test of time — it makes our brains happy! I love it when brain science and literature have things to say to one another. And methinks there’s a little craft tip in these findings as well.

eating your spinach  I confess, I’m an on again/off again subscriber to Poetry magazine. I subscribed for a few years, then let it lapse when we moved to California. I recently resumed my subscription. For me Poetry is all about eating your spinach. You know you need to read it; it’ll be good for you. Sometimes it’s delicious — fresh, crisp and drizzled with a sweet and sour bacon dressing. Other times — meh. But I’ve really enjoyed the “A Few Don’ts” series they’ve been running, in which contemporary poets follow in the wake of Ezra Pound’s A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste to list their own don’ts-for-poets.

I especially appreciate this one by Reginald Dwayne Betts in the March issue:

“This ain’t about risk. Risk is living below the poverty line in the worst part of town; risk is raising a black boy in a town with laws like Stand Your Ground; … risk is what soldiers, police officers, firefighters encounter. Poetry is about language, words, about being as honest as you can on the page.”

Writers sometimes talk about “taking risks” — and it can feel risky to a writer (in a personal way) to delve into material that may be painful for her. But — aside from helping us keep things in proper perspective — what I like about this quote is the reminder that poetry is about language and words. Even those subjects that feel personally risky to the poet must make themselves useful within the tools of the trade. For me, this idea can help take some of the emotion out of drafting: Get in line, you slippery emotions, you’re in poetry school now!

“The room has earned its sadness.” In my small cracks of reading and writing time this week, I’ve been reading Alison Titus’ sum of every lost ship. I’m really enjoying it, and will write more about it soon, but for now I’ll send you to read a couple of motel poems found in the book, and originally published at Blackbird. I love that these poems are tiny but packed with emotion. I love their loneliness, their forlorn-ness. I’m so intrigued by the way they’re full-justified so that space happens randomly within the lines, and so that the unfolding of the poem is both irregular and constricted — moments of almost-freedom within a small box. Rather like the feeling of being in a motel room, no? The first one is here and the second is here, and while you’re there you won’t be disappointed if you read this poem, too.

Reader, have a wonderful weekend. Thanks, as always, for reading. And may your brain be lit up like Vegas.

friday roundup: the conundrum of self-promotion, after the smoke clears, and ‘the whisper of girlhood’ (and… some other stuff)

I'll get around to the housework... after the smoke clears... (snagged this image from FBTroublemakers via Sandy Longhorn)

I’ll get around to the housework… after the smoke clears… (snagged this image from FBTroublemakers via Sandy Longhorn)

Reader, this week has been devoid of long, quiet library mornings. It has been devoid of long, quiet anythings. We have had birthday and fever and birthday-fever. And then some more fever. I’ve been telling myself: make use of whatever time you have, and believe that it’s enough. People ask me, “How do you write with three kids?” Answer: sometimes I don’t. Other times, I write in whatever time I have. I’ve drafted poems on the way to the zoo, at swim practice, and in the ballet studio waiting room. Also the doctor’s office waiting room. Also in the aisle at the grocery store and the movie theater. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have a few hours every day those weeks when everyone’s in school (I remember this in theory) — so I’m not complaining. Just saying: whatever your passion is, slip it into the tiny cracks of your days if you have to, until a wider plain of time opens up. Yes, I am writing this to remind myself — thank you for bearing with me :). Now on to the roundup:

the conundrum of self-promotion  Erin Coughlin Hollowell writes today about the conundrum of self-promotion. Her book Pause, Traveler (which I’m looking forward to reading) is coming out soon. Erin says, “The problem is, like most introverted writers, I feel awkward promoting myself and my work. Pushy, self-aggrandizing, embarrassed, uncomfortable.”

I don’t have a book to promote, but I certainly do feel the same way when it comes to spreading the word about my poems as they make their way in the world. Still (deep breath), I’m going to share with you a link to Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke, an anthology of erotic poetry from Tupelo Press, that I’m happy to have a poem in. Other contributors include Cynthia Rausch Allar, Michelle Bitting, Lisa Coffman, Amy Dryansky, Li Yun Alvarado, Paula Brancato, Gillian Cummings, Darla Himeles, Joel F. Johnson, Christopher Kokinos, Amy MacLennan, Stephen Massimilla, Barbara Mossberg, Susanna Rich, Aubrey Ryan, Anna Claire Hodge, Janet R. Kirchheimer, Conley Lowrance, Lea Marshall, Mary Ann Mayer, Steven Paschall, Liz Robbins, Jo Anne Valentine Simson, Jeneva Stone, Judith Terzi, Gail Thomas, Kim Triedman, Bruce Willard, P. Ivan Young.

The book is available in print and e-book format. I’m grateful to the folks at Tupelo Press for finding a home for some of my work. And here’s a teaser: Peter and Wendy… who knew? 😉

after the smoke clears  I’ve been reading through a really cool issue of Poetry East called Origins: Poets on the Composition Process. For each poem published in the issue, there is also a short essay on the poem’s origins, written by the poet. It has been fascinating to read about the process behind each poem.

And yet, one of my favorite essays in the issue is “For Once Let’s Not Talk So Much About the Poem” by Joseph Stroud (whose poem “Grief” appears in the issue). Stroud says,

“Perhaps the best response to a good poem is silence. Or to read it again.”

He says,

“In the end, after all the smoke clears, after all the discussions and theories and criticism, there are two kinds of poems. Poems that make a difference in our lives. And poems that don’t. Let’s hold on to the ones that do, hold on and cherish them, and do all in our power to try and write them.”

Let the people say, Amen!

‘the whisper of girlhood’ (and… some other stuff)  Reader, forgive me, but I just haven’t been able to narrow down this week’s poetry selection to one poem. No, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to go read this entire issue at Connotation Press. Because I know you want to read some of Sandy Longhorn’s sickly speaker poems, and Bernadette Geyer’s garbage disposal poem (and also her yoga poem), and Brooke J. Sadler’s poem/prayer involving…, well I don’t want to give it away — but it involves breakfast meat and go read it. And also Julie Brooks Barbour’s work (teaser: watermelon!). And then Erin Elizabeth Smith’s Alice in Wonderland poems (where you’ll find ‘the whisper of girlhood’). And there are other good poems there, to. So, click around. You’ll be glad you did.

Oh, and then, just a note: I’ve been having some blog-keeping issues. My whole list of po-links somehow disappeared. I’m slowly rebuilding the list, but in the meantime, sorry about the  missing links.

Happy Friday, Reader. Happy poetry! Thanks for reading.

Sally Rosen Kindred’s next big thing


Today it’s my pleasure to host Sally Rosen Kindred’s “next big thing.” Sally and I connected after I saw some of her awesome poems in Cave Wall and I decided I should stalk her online 🙂 (Facebook has its faults, but it is good for stalking other poets). What I discovered is that not only is Sally a wonderful poet, she’s a kind, witty, and all around wonderful person as well. I’m excited to share her responses to the questions about her next big thing. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sally Rosen Kindred:

What is your working title of your book (or story)? Darling Hands, Darling Tongue

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? The poems explore the world of Peter Pan through previously muted voices, mostly of girls and women—including Tink, Wendy, Tiger Lily, and a mother who reads the story to her sons.

Where did the idea come from for the book? The idea began when I read JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy to my boys. Though I felt close to the story, I’d never read the complete version, and it surprised me. I remarked on-line about Tinker Bell’s coarse language and violent tendencies (which I found oddly endearing), and Emily Croy Barker (whose wonderful novel, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, is due out this August!) said, “Somebody should write a pomo novel about Tinkerbell as a misunderstood roundheels.”

I thought that was one of the most fabulous ideas I’d ever heard.

But, I’m not a novelist. And, though I love the idea, a roundheels wasn’t quite what I had in mind. So on Mother’s Day, 2011, I began writing a poem through the Tink I believed in…which led to a poem from the Wendy Darling I claimed…which led to another.

The idea also came from conversations I’d been having with my dear friend, writer Nancy Quick Langer. I’d been reading Nancy’s moving essays about motherhood—which you can find on her blog, and talking with her about them, and those conversations helped feed the poems, as did her feedback on the drafts. The chapbook is dedicated to Nancy, whom I can’t thank enough for her friendship and wisdom and literary mind.

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh, I wouldn’t dare cast anyone. I want my readers to build their own visions!  But David Tennant can do something, because in my poem universe, David Tennant can do anything he likes.

When will it be released, and who is the publisher? The chapbook will be out in March 2013 from Hyacinth Girl Press. Editor Margaret Bashaar is a talented poet and publisher, and I’m so thrilled she took this on.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took me roughly a year—from Mother’s Day 2011, to final revisions in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh in June 2012. A really good year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Books I admire that do things like what I hope to be doing with persona and myth include Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, Louise Gluck’s Wild Iris, Ava Leavell Haymon’s Why The House Is Made of Gingerbread, Lisa Russ Spaar’s Glass Town, and Jeannine Hall Gailey’s She Returns to the Floating World. Lesley Wheeler’s The Receptionist and Other Tales is a novel-in-verse, and my chapbook is not, but some of those “Other Tales”—there’s a Captain Hook poem, for instance—I would love to have my work compared to.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? One stylistic inspiration was poet Angela Vogel, whose smart, dense lyrics have lately challenged me to tighten my hold on syntax and voice.  Of course, I love the persona poems in the books mentioned above. I’ve also been a long-time fan of many fairy-tale poems in the gorgeous on-line journal Goblin Fruit.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Titles of poems in the collection include “Notes from a Fairy Autopsy,” and “Wendy Darling Has Bad Dreams.”  I’m hoping Tink’s autopsy report and Wendy’s nightmares pique somebody’s interest the way they did mine.

Four poems in the collection appear in this issue of diode.


Well, I don’t know about you, Reader, but I now have a whole list of books and poets to read and re-read. And of course, I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on Darling Hands, Darling Tongue. Thank you so much, Sally, for sharing your next big thing with us.

Sally hereby tags the following writers: Julie Brooks Barbour, Julie L. Moore, Devon Miller-Duggan (who will be blogging at, Kimberly L. Becker, and Lesley Wheeler. Some of these writers will be guest-posting here about their next big things, so stay tuned for that.

And also stay tuned for poet and editor Kristina Marie Darling’s next big thing, which I’ll be posting here in the next week or so.

organdization: submissions

Reader, I’ve been having laundry anxiety dreams. In one, I find a multi-drum washing machine with three rows across and three rows down for a total of nine drums that can all be filled and run at the same time. In the dream, I think, Genius!, but after I start my nine loads of wash, the machine starts going off-kilter and things get ugly fast — flapping lids, soap and water everywhere, clothes crawling out of the machines. In another, I’m both mother and daughter, both adult and child, and I’m at a neighbors house borrowing her washing machine. She seems nice enough at first, but then starts going evil on me — and I get the sense that I need to get out of there right away or I’ll be held captive forever. Problem is, my laundry’s not done yet and I can’t leave without it because if I do my kids won’t have anything to wear. In this dream, all the laundry goes into one, enormous, see-through washing machine and gets washed together. I keep going in to check on it, but it’s never done. Finally I just start pulling the clothes out wet and running baskets out to the sidewalk so I can make my escape. Then, once I have it all outside and have escaped the evil neighbor, I can’t remember where I live.

What does this have to do with submissions? Nothing. Nothing at all.

For those who really love flow-charts and visual aids, I’m sorry to disappoint you — but for some reason, narrative seemed the best way to describe my submissions method. If you want, you can draw a flowchart with the following elements and arrows going in a circle: submit packet of poems —–> receive rejection ——–> rinse and repeat. 🙂

But seriously, let’s start with two of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had regarding submissions. The first is to make it a little cottage industry / assembly line:

if only rejections tasted as sweet as chocolates

For me, making it a little cottage industry has been difficult. The idea is to, every once in a while, set up a submissions assembly line: mini-manuscripts of poems (more on mini-manuscripts here), cover letters, file/envelopes, stamps/send button — now blanket the earth with your poems. The idea is to take the emotion out of it by having all the components ready to go and slapping them together one by one. The idea is that you can then send one packet of poems out to 15? 20? 25? journals at a time. When you receive your rejection, you have the next packet of poems ready to send.

I’ve never been able to manage the assembly line, although I still aspire to it. I do have packets and lists and sample cover letters (more on this later), but the truth is I usually only manage one or two submissions a week because I’m always doing last minute revisions, mixing up the packets so as to customize a packet for a particular journal according to my sense of their aesthetic, and obsessing over guidelines.

The second really good bit of submissions advice is to keep in mind that even a 10% acceptance rate is really good. This means that at least nine out of ten times, your poems will be rejected. When I send a submission out, I expect that it will probably be rejected. This is not pessimism, it’s just facing reality. Then, when I get an acceptance, it’s a delightful surprise.

Now let’s talk about record-keeping. I use Duotrope to track my submissions. This method replaced my completely unwieldy Excel spreadsheet. There’s a bit of a time investment to get set up on Duotrope, but it’s minor and worth it. You enter your pieces, log submissions, rejections, and acceptances. You can look at each poem to see a list of all the journals it’s been sent to. You can look at each journal to see a list of all the poems you’ve sent there. It’s very slick. You can research markets by aesthetic, theme, etc. You can read interviews with editors. Because I’ve switched over from a “legacy system” (the Excel spreadsheet), I still have to do a bit of back and forth, but I’m looking forward to the day when everything’s on Duotrope. Duotrope is a free service that relies on donations from its users to run; I make sure to donate because I’m grateful for the service.

I use an electronic submissions folder to capture each individual submission sent to a given journal. The file structure is like this: submissions —> folder for each journal —> one document for each submission to that journal named “journal-date.doc.”

I use a paper submissions binder with section tabs to store physical copies of:

  • lists and logs: lists of journals such as this one, list of kinship journals (more on this here), list of journals that have asked to see more work, lists of mini-manuscripts, etc. I also stash printed calls for submissions here if I see something online that looks promising — but I don’t keep these long (see unwieldiness, above).
  • clean copies*: the current, send-out-able version of each poem. On each, I write down the name of each journal I’ve sent it to on a post-it note. This wouldn’t have to happen because this information is also stored in Duotrope, but I like to do it — it becomes the story of that poem’s journey out into the world.
  • placed*: when a poem’s accepted I move it out of clean copies and into placed, and note publication details. Again, this is more preference than necessity — I really like watching the “placed section” of the binder grow.

*these tabs have electronic counterparts: folders on my computer for an electronic copy of each.

For poetry correspondence, I keep a separate folder within my e-mail inbox. In the infrequent case of paper correspondence, I also keep a paper folder in my file cabinet.

As for when submissions fits in on the schedule, I try to set aside a few hours each week for submissions. My goals is 2 to 3 a week; the truth is, I usually only manage one. I’m hoping this will change over time! Other poets I know set aside a week every 2 or 3 months to do nothing but submissions. This strikes me as a smart idea, but so far I haven’t tried it. I’d love to know how the writers in the readership handle submissions; if you’d like to share, leave a comment.

I think the main thing about submissions is to just do it, and to try to take the emotion out of it in whatever way you can. Having a process and a system helps me take the emotion out of it, but it’s not foolproof (case in point). It’s a starting place, and a stable undergirding to fall back on.

Have a wonderful week, and thanks for reading!

little bit of crazy mixed in writing residency days 5-7 & S.O.S. week 9 update, or, daybreak in the house of brakes

One of my favorite things about the Peninsula is all the crazy, funny, imaginative signs and the names of the mom-and-pop businesses they bear. Barbecues Galore. The Happy Donut. The Glass Slipper Inn. Psychic Cleaners (my personal fave). The House of Brakes.

After today’s post, I’ll be stepping on the brakes, taking a short sabbatical from blogging and writing while I get the kids ready to start school (in 7 days, but who’s counting). Every year, I manage to forget what a colossal effort it is to get ready for the school year — medical forms, meds for the health office, school supplies, haircuts, new shoes, etc. By taking a break from my writing life I hope to make the back-to-school transition a little easier, and to give myself some time to breathe, stir the literary compost pile, and sleep in. But first…..

days 5-7 of the Self-Designed Part-time 7-day From Scratch With a Little Bit of Crazy Mixed in Writing Residency: Apparently I can’t do anything for seven days, but five is fairly doable. I last wrote about false starts on day 5. Day 6 was more of the same — a few lines toward a draft, but no draft. This is where I’d normally throw in the towel and not even attempt day 7, but I gave myself a little pep talk and sat down at my desk yesterday morning. I continued working on the scraps of a draft from day 6 and ended up with a draft I’m excited about. I also re-read the non-draft, false start lines from day 5 and decided that some of them are pretty good — I can pluck the lines that feel worth saving and try again. The rest of the drafts are in the resting drawer, where I will attempt to leave them for the next week.

Meanwhile, I’m glad I tried this little gig. It wasn’t seamless, but it was doable. Yes, the kids interrupted. Yes, there were a couple days of the work going nowhere. But rather than see these as small failures, I’m choosing to see them as the inevitable unfolding of a writer’s days. There will always be interruptions and small failures, but we keep going. And now I have 5 new drafts to work on. Yipee.

S.O.S. week 9 update: Those who have been reading along know that I have a goal for myself of two submissions a week this summer. Yes, even now, nine weeks into the gig, that goal feels so small. And yet, just having the goal has kept the idea of submissions active in my brain from week to week. I didn’t finish two submissions this week, but I did submit one packet of poems — and it was a submission I felt really good about.

For the first time I sent poems to a journal that doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions (for the non-writers in the readership, this means that by submitting you agree not to submit the same poems to other journals for consideration). In general, I don’t like to have my poems held up for months (or sometimes a year) at a time only to get rejected 9 times out of 10. But I found a journal that I respect and that promises to be quick with rejections if the poems aren’t a good fit. So that seems like a good thing (ha – I’m just now wondering if there will be a rejection in my inbox this morning). Writers and poets out there, what is your feeling on journals that don’t accept simultaneous subs?

Ok, Reader, here’s where I step on the brakes and put the poetry car in park for a week. Have a wonderful week and I’ll see you here next Monday. Which is the first day of school. Yipee.