looking for a summer writing conference?

IMG_3210

Are you in the  market for a summer writing conference? The good people at Writers@Work have told me they still have some space.

I attended this conference two years ago and had a wonderful time–met fellow poets, learned a lot, watched the moon rise over the Wasatch. It’s a small conference where you actually have a chance to talk to the faculty and writers in residence.

This year’s generative workshop faculty are Tarfia Faizullah (poetry), Peter Ho Davies (fiction), and Kerry Howley (non-fiction).

If you’re interested, you’ll find more information here.

 

 

friday not-a-roundup: becalmed edition with the word brush

 

Paint_brushes_and_fruits

becalm v. [with obj.]  leave (a sailing vessel) unable to move through lack of wind. From be- a word-forming element with a wide range of meanings, and calm from Latin cauma “heat of the mid-day sun” from Greek kauma “heat” (especially of the sun), from kaiein “to burn.”

It’s not hot, but I’m feeling becalmed. Between meeting a deadline just now, and the loss of three singular artists this week, and it being Friday in general and no food in the house, and not even having peeked at the laundry that I’m sure has piled up while I’ve worked on my deadline, I’m just sitting here, my sails flagging, wondering what to do first, next or otherwise.

So here is a small thing that many of you may have already seen circulating on social media, but which I’m holding onto as a rallying cry for making art fiercely and always, becalming be damned. From C.D. Wright’s “Cooling Time”:

“I believe in a hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one’s own faith in the word in one’s own obstinate terms. I believe the word was made good from the start; it remains so to this second. I believe words are golden as goodness is golden. Even the humble word brush gives off a scratch of light.”

brush n. an implement with a handle, consisting of bristles, hair, or wire set into a block; a slight and fleeting touch. From Old French from Old French broisse (Modern French brosse) “a brush” (13c.), perhaps from Vulgar Latin *bruscia “a bunch of new shoots.”

Happy Friday and thanks for reading.

you are cordially invited

The good people at Writers@Work have asked me to spread the word that there are still some spots left at their conference June 4-8 in Alta, Utah.

Conference faculty include Ellen Bass (poetry), Robin Hemley (creative non-fiction), Michael Martone (mixed-genre) and Lawrence Coates (fiction).

Details here.

The Mail Order Bride will also be there. And unlike — ahem — some other people, she is not worried about what to wear to the reading 😉 .

friday roundup: re-entry edition with 3 women poets

Goodbye, big room where no one would approach you to talk

Goodbye, big room where no one would approach you to talk

Well. Here I am back in the Peninsula Town. There is no gathering of the poet-tribe in the P-town (indeed, people here are heard to be “monetizing” and “productizing” and “calendaring” things left and right!). There is no Dickinson Quiet Space in the P-town (but there is tree work being done on my street). There is no little house on an island with wide open days for writing poems in the P-town. There are no daily afternoon walks through a green forest in the P-town. But there are the bright faces of three children, who appear to have grown a foot each in my absence. There is Husband, and the Wee, Small House which  — wee and small as it is — is home. And there is the library and the full complement of my books on their shelves, and one cannot run away from home go on a self-designed writing residency forever. And yet….

… reality doesn’t impress me  So I’ve been hiding. Fellow writers will relate to the bumps and bruises of re-entry after time devoted to quiet, creative pursuits. I’ve been coping the best I can by eating comfort foods, saying NO early and often (and also late and often), wearing my most comfortable Danskos, and by reading Kelli Russell Agodon‘s Hourglass Museum.

The quote that serves as an epigraph to the book is from Anaïs Nin:

“Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another.”

Enter, Reader, the Hourglass Museum.

Is it possible for a book to know someone? I feel like this book knows me. It knows about the struggle to make art in today’s world — world of useful occupations and requests for field trip chaperones and “chores / without names.” It knows about the desire to find art and beauty even amidst worry, grief, and loss. It knows that some of us — maybe all of us? — walk around in this world (where things are productized and monetized and calendar’d) holding our wounds in our hands (this image is from the poem “Mural of a Writing Residencey or The Best Part about Manet’s ‘Dead Matador’ is the Bull”).

Aside from being full of beautiful, imaginative, and cutting (in the best possible way) poems, this book has brought me comfort upon re-entry. I am grateful for it. I will likely have more to say about it at some point, but meanwhile you can buy it here.

I drag them across the page  From the pages of Poetry magazine, here’s a piece by Natalie Diaz of When My Brother Was an Aztec fame. She talks about why she writes, and why particular obsessions or subjects recur in her work, particulary the subject of her brother’s mental illness and its effects on her family. Of recurring subjects, she says:

“Maybe my writing is never about my brother. Maybe it is always about me, what I don’t understand, what I fear the most.”

She says, of writing a first draft:

“I didn’t write it down to build a poem. I wrote it down because that is what I do with the things that unravel me. I drag them across a page.”

Can I get an ‘amen!’? I recommend the whole article wholeheartedly. If you don’t want to scroll up for the first link, you can find it here.

and the hour took her  Yesterday, the National Book Critics Circle announced their 2013 winners. Finalists for poetry were Frank Bidart, Lucie Brock-Broido, Denise Duhamel, Bob Hicok, and Carmen Giménez Smith (details here). Frank Bidart won for Metaphysical Dog.

But I’m not here to talk about Frank Bidart (sorry, Frank). I’m here to talk about Carmen Giménez Smith — because when the list of finalists was announced and making the rounds on Facebook, I saw a few comments along the lines of “I’ve never heard of Carmen Giménez Smith.”

I’m here to make sure more people hear about Carmen Giménez Smith, a feminist poet, a Latina poet, a politically aware poet. She is also an essayist, by the way. Here’s a story on her from NBC. Here’s a list of her books. And here’s one of her poems that I particularly love.

Happy Friday, Reader. Happy weekend. And whatever you’re dragging across the page these days (literally or figuratively) I wish you well with it.

friday roundup: “and so I sing,” another room of one’s own, and a poem

...of the burying ground... photo from wikimedia

…of the burying ground… photo from wikimedia

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. It’s Friday! The fevered little bodies are cooled and back at school! Break out the hot tea with honey, and clear a path to the desk! I am so happy to be here! I will waste no time getting to the roundup and the things I’ve been thinking about and reading this week! I promise to stop using exclamation points now! 🙂

“and so I sing”  A week ago tonight, I went to a reading sponsored by the Peninsula Literary Series. I love this series and the writers and artists they bring together in the very cool space at Gallery House. At any rate, after the reading, several of us went out for beverages and writerly conversation and the question came up: “Why do you write?” Always an interesting question and the answer that leaps to my mouth unbidden is: “Because I can’t not write.” Sigh.

There are a some famous answers to the question “Why do you write?” George Orwell answers the question like this:

“My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to m yself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”  (from this essay)

Joan Didion has said:

“Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind? (from this essay)

But the winner is, in my humble opinion — and I might be biased — but the winner is: Emily Dickinson in her April 26, 1862 letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson:

“I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter, sir. I had a terror since September, I could tell to none; and so I sing, as the boy does of the burying ground, because I am afraid.” (from Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present)

(BTW, she wins not for the content of her reasons itself, but because of the way she wrote it. She wins!)

As for me, despite the truth in my knee-jerk response, I think I write mainly to figure things out — to understand things that mystify or puzzle me. And also to spread the word. There are some things the world needs to know and apparently I am compelled to tell them.

What about you — if you are the writing type — why do you write? Share in comments if you like.

another room of one’s own  I came across a cool project on Facebook this week, and I wanted to spread the word (speaking of spreading the word). The wonderful folks at Sundress Publications have founded an artist’s residency program and space called Firefly Farms. Here is more info directly from the horses’ mouths:

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) was founded in February 2013 at Firefly Farms in Karns, Tennessee. Nestled in an old-fashioned “holler” just twenty minutes from downtown Knoxville, this picturesque 29-acre farm is the perfect artists’ getaway; visitors can hone their creative crafts as they escape the routine of modern life. Whether hiking, camping, foraging, or hunting, SAFTA guests will reconnect with nature and be inspired by a part of the Appalachia landscape that is often forgotten. Attendees can also expect to learn a host of new skills from the staff to enrich their work.

Because I know how important having the time and space to create is, I wanted to spread the word about this worthy endeavor. If you’re moved to make a donation toward the completion of this project, the link is here.

and a poem  Sandra Beasley wrote a post this week about the books we don’t write. Or the books we write that never become books. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the brutalities of publishing is that a collection of worthy pieces does not make a worthy whole. Just because you’ve placed every poem with a literary journal does not mean the manuscript has the heft and clarity of vision that’s going to win a book prize. Just because you’ve placed three of your chapters as personal essays does not mean your memoir proposal is going to sell. For publishers to make the forward investment of an advance, production, distribution and publicity, the work has to be not only solid, it has to glimmer. It’s not enough that the editor likes the book; the editor has to fall asleep dreaming about the book. That seems like a hopelessly high expectation–“Just bottle the lightning, please”–but it’s the way it is. 

And she is right about this, no doubt. But I also think there are books that never become books, or that take a really long time to become books, just because of bad luck, or editorial preferences, or po-world trends, or the malevolent forces in the universe, or, I dunno, maybe because of Maleficent herself. I’m reading a book like this now.

Although I don’t know the story of this book’s journey into bookdom, what I do know is that it was written by a Stegner Fellow — whose books frequently snatch up prestigious prizes shortly after their authors’ tenure as Fellows. I do know that I’m reading this book and the work is of high caliber — really excellent work — and that the book holds together as a book — it is not just a bunch of poems shoved together between two covers.

I’m not an editor, but I’ve been falling asleep dreaming about this book, which, if I’m reading the poet’s website correctly, has been the labor of over 16 years, and was just recently published by Jackleg Press. This book is Trapline by Caroline Goodwin, and today’s poem is the second poem of the collection. I was sure that HTML was not going to cooperate with the form of this poem, and I couldn’t find it online, so here is a photo:

*
IMG_2738
–by Caroline Goodwin
*

That last line just about split me. You can buy Trapline here.

Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading.

friday roundup: if I can muster it edition

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

Reader? Hi.

I sat down just now wondering what I’d done this week — what had I read, remembered, pondered, written? Scramble-brain set in. Which is why it’s good to have a record of things: that stack of books next to my desk, the journals stashed in my purse for impromptu poetry moments, my trusty notebook. I looked back and decided I actually can muster a roundup this morning (afternoon for some of you). Here we go:

tools for reparation  In this post I mentioned that I’d checked out a book called The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. I’m always drawn by stories of later-in-life undertakings, but was especially drawn to this book because it’s written by a poet, Molly Peacock. I was hoping I’d learn something — come to new insights, or find ways of articulating a previously muddled thought — about poetry. I have not been disappointed. I want to share with you some excerpts about perfectionism, passion, and craft, which I think can be applied to any art:

“Great technique m eans that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet, paradoxically, it’s proficiency that allows a person to make any art at all; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which, in an odd way, is technique forgotten.”

“The joy of technique is the buldging bag of tricks it gives you to solve your dilemmas. Craft gives you the tools for reparation.”

“Sometimes a blunder shifts the observer into a greater tenderness of observation.”

“When invention fails and you are overcome by what you may have ruined, knowing how to reconstruct releases the energy to fix the flaws and go on. Craft dries your tears.”

I love that last sentence best: “Craft dries your tears.” Amen.

more than style  Here’s an article by David Biespiel that someone linked to on Facebook this week (thank you, whoever you are… I can no longer remember). He talks about a movement in poetry toward “subjectlessness” in which style itself becomes the raison d’être of the poem, and argues for more substance in poetry — in a world where all sorts of actual disjuncture, distress, and ellipses (e.g., war, injustice, people disappearing from the face of the earth) unfold every day. He says, “Deftness has become a substitute for compassion.” (I have oversimplified here a bit in the interest of brevity).

I’m on the fence about what to think about this. My personal preference as a reader is to have something at stake in a poem — that it go beyond a mere exercise of language. For me, poems become more powerful when they can illuminate our experiences in some meaningful way, when they can tell me something about being human that I didn’t know, or couldn’t articulate, before. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think what’s at stake needs to be something political. And I tend to think there’s room for all kinds of poetry, and all kinds of preferences on the part of readers. And even room for some subjectlessness at times — because, doesn’t even that sometimes reflect our experience?

What do you think about what Biespiel has to say? Share in comments if you like.

an intended tide  This week I’ve been reading the most recent issue of 32 Poems. Which I love. A lot. I’d like to share with you Sandra Beasley’s poem from this issue (which I’m unable to find online):

*

The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #1015: “Please Come In The Boat Of To-Day”
by Sandra Beasley

Beneath whitewash, beneath brick, beneath mud,
fourteen boats of Abydos row toward eternity.
No bodies here — only the ghost-shit of ants,
who consume the hulls but leave the shape behind.
Each timber tongues its neighbor, tenon to mortise,
with nothing but rope to hold them together.
No pegs, no joists.
Who builds boats like that?

Only those expecting to unbuild boats like that,
to stack the tamarix planks on their heads,
to walk seventy miles to the Red Sea in search of
trade. Fair is a human conceit. Priests know this.
Carpenters know this. They bundle the reeds
anyway, packing seams tight for an intended tide.
They cut planks from a cedar with a deep taproot
that salts the earth around itself, and will not burn

*

A vade mecum is “a book for ready reference” or “something regularly carried about by a person” (fans of A Room with a View will remember the Baedeker?). I love the idea of appropriating old texts for new insights. I love how the image of these ghost-boats speaks to both endurance and ephemerality. I love the question that acts as a pivot point in the poem, “Who builds boats like that?” And then, the poet has the courage to answer, and somehow we see ourselves in “those expecting to unbuild boats like that… .” There is so much here that I feel I can mine as person and poet.

And now, it’s time for me to lift anchor for the library where I have found an even sunnier, even quieter corner, and — bonus! — there is a man who sits there most days who is not afraid to tell people, “You’re not supposed to talk in this room.” I’m grateful for him, since the best I’m able to muster is an annoyed look and a raised eyebrow.

Happy friday, happy poeming (or whatever you love to do) and happy weekend. Thanks for reading.

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.

I do “get” poetry readings

Ruins of an ancient theater in Stratos, Etolia Acarnania, Greece (from wikimedia)

Ruins of an ancient theater in Stratos, Etolia Acarnania, Greece (from wikimedia)

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an article called “I Don’t “Get” Poetry Readings” at HTMLGIANT, explaining why its author (Bethany Prosseda) doesn’t “get” poetry or poetry readings. Not that I want to get into a big argument about “getting” poetry or poetry readings, but…  I do “get” poetry readings, and so there are a few things I want to say.

But first, a few disclaimers:

  1. I do not know who Eric Dolphy is
  2. I did not read the article Prosseda refers to, “I Don’t ‘Get’ Art”
  3. I did not watch the film Prosseda refers to, Tiny Furniture
  4. I think Prosseda’s article is more about not “getting” poetry than about not “getting” poetry readings, but there are a few things I want to say about that, too
  5. I grew up in a rural community where there were no poets and no poetry readings

First, regarding poetry readings:

A poetry reading is an event where poets read their work aloud (and I’ve even heard some poets recite their work — always a treat). It’s a chance for us to listen to poetry — which is first and foremost an oral art form — as we have been doing for millenia. That is all.

Yes, some readings are full of people who are there because their literature professors require them to attend. As someone who, before her sophomore year in college, didn’t even know there was  such a thing as a reading (see disclaimer #5 above) where writers would read their work aloud, I’ve always been grateful for that literature professor who required me to attend a reading. Thank you, professor, for helping me find my tribe.

Now, about poetry.

I don’t “get” abstract art. This does not mean abstract art isn’t accessible to me. It doesn’t even mean I don’t like some abstract art. It means I haven’t spent much time studying or interacting with abstract art. The same can be said for me and NASCAR, yoga, micro-finance, chili cook-offs, embroidery, circuit design, wood carving, and fantasy football, amongst many, many other things. It does not mean abstract art, NASCAR, yoga, micro-finance, chili cook-offs, embroidery, circuit design, wood carving, and fantasy football have gone underground or forgotten to send Christmas cards.

Yes, it’s true that when asked “What’s your favorite poem?,” many Americans will answer with, as Prosseda notes, “works like, ‘Casey at the Bat,’ ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends,’ and every now and then a piece by Poe, Plath, Whitman or Cummings.” She argues that this is because “a shift has occurred in poetry. It seems that at some point, poetry went underground.” She points out that all of these poems are several decades old, and all of these poets are dead.

And this is where I have to disagree (at least partially. If by “underground” she means that some poetry is difficult to understand on the face of it, she’s right — some poetry has always been that way. Then again, some poetry is not intended to be “understood” so much as heard and/or experienced). I believe Americans are apt to cite “Casey at the Bat,” Shel Silverstein, Poe, Plath, Whitman or Cummings because those are the only poems they’ve been exposed to. Last time I was in high school and college (admittedly, it’s been a while), we did not study even one poem or poet who was living and working at that time. Did you?

Perhaps if K-12 and college curricula included the work of living poets, we would all be able to cite some work by living poets. (*P.S. Updated to say: I’m not saying this as an indictment of K-12 and college curricula — heaven knows there’s a lot to teach! My point is that without exposure to something it’s hard to like, love, ‘get,’ or cite it as your favorite).

Meanwhile, those of us who love poetry will continue to read it, study it, listen to it, and “get” it. Amen.

friday mini-roundup: all those tiny changes, and “Enter the sweet Why”

from wikimedia

from wikimedia

Reader, I’ve been playing hooky. I spent the day up in the city at the Asian Art Museum with a dear friend. Soon I’ll be dashing off to hear one of my po-friends read up in the College Town. The upshot is a mini-roundup, and frozen pizzas for dinner. Whoever said a person can have it all has never tried to take in art and poetry, write a blog post, and feed a family, all on the same day.

all those tiny changes  So, I don’t know if you’ve heard the news? That poetry is, well, I don’t know how to break this to you, but apparently poetry is dead. And the reason appears to be that it can’t change anything. I guess if you want poetry to change income inequality or gun control laws or education funding you might be disappointed. But I’ve never read poetry hoping it would change anything other than my understanding of something, or perhaps the tenor of my day, or the quality of attention I paid to a particular object or issue. Sometimes I don’t even care if it does that — I’m happy if a poem is simply beautiful, or intriguing, or sounds cool, or makes me laugh. Sandy Longhorn wrote a great post about all the tiny changes poetry makes in us if we let it. It’s my favorite of many responses to the original Washington Post piece. I hope you will go read it here.

Enter the sweet Why  And speaking of intriguing poems, I’ve been reading Jean Valentine’s cycle of Lucy poems. They are so very intriguing, and, in my assessment, are very much alive and kicking. No, they don’t seem dead at all.

from the Lucy poems by Jean Valentine:

Enter the sweet Why
Don’t entreat it
or question why
whistle why
whisper why
was sweetness done to you
done unto you
what I wanted most      the mother
has come to me
Will she stay in my ear? Lucy
Is it you?
Still all night long my
Lucy I entreat you
I will not let thee go unless thou bless me.

I love the sounds of this poem. I love that it cries out to a great mystery. I love that it interacts with another foundational text (the last line is from the book of Genesis) and the story of Jacob wrestling the angel, or some vague embodiment of the divine. I love that the phrases are a bit slippery — they can move and shift thanks to very little punctuation and non-standard syntax.

And now Reader, I could say more. Specifically, I could say more about the building of forts out of blankets and pillows and stools with large stacks of books for weight. And about the philosophical musings I have done on the building of forts that, of course, eventually, have to be taken apart and put away in a house as small as the Wee, Small House. I could say more about the horrible sadness and lethargy that often comes after a great burst of fort-building energy. And about the temptation of declaring a ban on all fort building now and forevermore! I could, but I won’t. Not today. Today my brain is mush and I still have to go to the store to buy some frozen pizza before the babysitter gets here.

Whatever your passion is in this world, I hope it’s alive and kicking. Happy weekend!

friday roundup, saturday edition: the usual scramble, keeping one’s chin up, and “winter should have meaning for you”

snowdrops, wikimedia

snowdrops, wikimedia

Reader, I write amidst the usual scramble — this week’s not-normal normalcy. Husband just asked me if I know where the vacuum maintenance kit is. I confess, until he asked, I wasn’t aware of its existence. We just had a family-wide, house-wide search for my copy of Louise Gluck’s collected poems. How could it just go missing? I just had it. There are only so many places to look in the Wee, Small House. It’s too thick to disappear. Panicked searching — could I have possibly left it at the library? No, I didn’t take it, it’s too heavy. Under stacks, on shelves, in cupboards. Then, Eldest Son: “Wait, wait! I know where it is! I’m using it to flatten out one of my Magic cards.”

Is nothing sacred, Reader? Not even Louise Gluck’s collected?

At any rate, here amidst the usual scramble, I’m still staking a claim for poetry. I’m finding time to write, less than I desire, but some. I’m chipping away at things, remaining open, trying to have realistic expectations and flexible plans. I’ve been working away at prompts and doing some revision. I haven’t submitted anything yet this calendar year; my goal for next week is at least one submission. Sorry about the lack of roundup yesterday, but there were Many Doctor’s Appointments. During our copious amounts of waiting room time, I revisited one of the first poets whose work I first fell in love with: Seamus Heaney. Reading through selections from his North, I came across the line “I step through origins” and noted in the margin: !! explanation of his entire body of work. It’s fun to re-read, to remember the person you were then, to see more deeply into the same poem because of who you’ve become since you last read it. The usual scramble is good for something.

keeping one’s chin up  But I’d be lying if I said I was sailing through the usual scramble unruffled. Has anyone read this month’s Poets&Writers yet? I made the mistake of reading Reagan Upshaw’s “Reality Check” article (sorry, can’t find this online). Allow me to quote:

A friend of mine once studied with an editor who gave interns strict guidelines for reading cover letters: Did the submitting poet have previous publications in prestigious magazines? Where and with whom did she get her MFA? Was the letter addressed to the editor by name, and did an established poet give the submitter that name? And on and on. If the cover letter didn’t pass muster, there was no chance a submission would be given more than a cursory glance.

I also know of someone who worked at a magazine where the readers did not even look at submissions unless (1) the poet was a recognized name, or (2) the poet was a subscriber to the journal.

Sigh.

I’m all for subscribing, but realistically we can’t all subscribe to 50 or more journals every year. I’m all for establishing oneself and building a track record, but how does one establish a track record if, outside of connections and MFAs, submissions aren’t seriously considered? And what can we make of submissions guidelines (“We consider work from emerging and established poets, as well as from fresh new voices”) that aren’t, in fact, genuine or accurate? And of editors, who when asked/interviewed say something along the lines of, “It’s about the work. It’s always about the work. And it’s only about the work.” But then instruct their first readers otherwise?

Part of my struggle is that I’ve been trying to submit to more selective markets lately, but when I read something like this, I wonder if it’s even worth it. So, I confess, this has been a week of me trying to keep my chin up. Of keeping at it despite obstacles and gate-keepers. Which I will, because to not keep at it is not an option.

winter should have meaning for you  As I wrote earlier, I’ve been reading a bit of Louise Gluck this week. I’m a big fan of her early work. I’m mixed on her more recent work (cannot force myself to like Ararat for example). But I had never read Wild Iris (practically sinful, I know). I have to say I really love it, and this week, I’m especially in love with this poem from that collection:

*

Snowdrops by Louise Gluck

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring —

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

*

Happy weekend, Reader. And may you always be crying yes risk joy, even amidst the usual scramble.