worlds collide / pre-orders for If the House

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When worlds collide on a bookshelf.

Last week was new student welcome week where I teach. During faculty introductions, I gave my usual spiel about having studied economics as an undergraduate, having pursued a Master’s degree in public policy, and having started my career in the policy world…. . But having always been a writer, too, … and eventually pursuing writing and writing instruction as my life’s work—then (SHAZAM!) finding my current job: teaching writing at a school of public policy. Worlds collide.

Years ago, when my kids were tiny and I was raising them while free-lancing and stealing (it felt like stealing, anyway) as much time as I could for reading and writing poetry, I’d read poet bios and despair. One was an attorney and a poet. Another a psychiatrist and a poet. Another a biologist and a poet. How? I wondered, How, how, how? Many days, I could barely get dinner on the table, let alone conduct a full professional life while publishing poetry collections every few years. I thought those poets had something I lacked—whether it was intelligence, talent, stamina, money for childcare, a supportive partner, or something else,… I didn’t know.

Ends up it was just time. And I don’t even mean time to write—I just mean the simple passage of time, one year following another; strands of a life weaving themselves together or—often seemingly in my case—diverging and lying fallow; then picked back up again and re-converging: First policy. Then poetry. Now both.

Could I have imagined this 22 years ago, fresh out of policy school, reading a poem late, before leaving my office of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window, in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet long after rush-hour? No.

Could I have imagined this 14 years ago, pacing beside the stove warming milk, a crying child on my shoulder, a book in my hand, a toddler and a 4yo running through the house, and a poetry lesson for 5th graders to plan? No.

Could I have imagined it 5 years ago, in a room where too much had happened for me to bear, where the bedclothes lay in stagnant coils on the bed and the open valise spoke of flight but I could not leave yet? Also no.

[Shout out to Adrienne Rich for knowing.]

A year ago, when I moved into my new house after leaving my marriage, my mom and my aunt shelved my books (they did this first, before unpacking anything else, because they knew I would not be at ease until my books were in place, I think). Months later, I noticed that, on one shelf, a bunch of my policy-life books met up with several of my poetry anthologies. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized: I am one of those poets who has a professional life in one field and publishes poetry collections, too. It took me longer than the poets I’d once despaired over—I turned 47 two weeks ago; they were in their 20s when they published their first collections—but here I am.

At the welcome week luncheon, more than one student approached me and said how relieved they were to hear the story of my professional trajectory. They found comfort in hearing about the unexpected turns a life can take. I’ve always been comforted by such stories, too, and I’m a little shocked and a lot delighted to have one of my own to tell.

All this to say: Fall Term starts this week, and my debut poetry collection, If the House (University of Wisconsin Press), is available for pre-order here (it may also be available for pre-order at your favorite independent bookseller—worth asking).

For the record—and although when people ask me what kind of work I do, I say that I’m a poet and I teach writing—I am still very interested in public policy, public and corporate finance, Gary Becker‘s theories of the economics of family organization, the history and mathematical theories of risk and how it affects the market and human behavior, constitutional law, and innovation in the public sector. I love it when I can surprise my students by being able to discuss the economic concepts they’re writing about, or Keynes, or John Rawls’s veil of ignorance, or the Nash Equilibrium. And I love it when they think I’m saying “sin tax” but I’m saying “syntax,” and when I think they’re saying “syntax” but they’re saying “sin tax.”

I love it, too, when they’re telling me something about their studies or work or life and I can say, “Hey, I know a poem you should read about that!” (Stanley Plumly’s “Early Meadow Rue”—which I can’t find online—for commuter corridor policy; Lena Khalaf Tuffaha’s Water & Salt for Middle East policy; Jamaal May’s “There Are Birds Here” for those studying urban renewal in Detroit, to name a few).

Mostly I want to tell them, and everyone, and to remind myself, that sometimes we can’t imagine the good things that await, and we don’t have to. I want to say listen I love you joy is coming. These are Kim Addonizio’s words, and and there’s a poem you should read about that. Here it is:

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Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ / hierarchies?

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Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ / hierarchies?—this is the first line of the first of Rilke’s Duino Elegies in Stephen Mitchell’s translation.

I had read the Duino Elegies many times over the years, but I don’t think I really encountered these poems for the first time until five or six years ago. I was on vacation with my family on the Oregon coast, one of my favorite places in the world. I brought Mitchell’s Selected Rilke down to the beach with me day after day and read, and read, and read. And puzzled (please note my decidedly not-incisive marginalia: “seems important”). And studied. And read some more. To this day, there is sand in the spine of my copy of Rilke’s Selected.

Sand from the Oregon coast—it clings. That first line of the Elegies—it also clings.

And it has been especially on my mind for the last week or so, and so has the poem “I Find Myself Shelved Between Rich and Rilke” by Jennifer Richter. Can you imagine, Reader—finding yourself shelved between Rich and Rilke? I can’t. And for years, and after many—so many—manuscript rejections, I had a hard time imagining myself shelved between Anyone and Anyone. True story.

Luckily, I had friends and fellow writers who pledged themselves to imagining it for me when I couldn’t. We all need people who will imagine our dreams for us when we’ve lost energy / momentum / confidence / hope / imagination / presence of mind / what-have-you.

Nonetheless, over winter break I gave myself a stern talking-to. I said, You can’t keep throwing money down this rat hole. I said, You need to lower your sights, find a little press who will publish your work, and stop aiming so high. I said, You’re obviously more ambitious than your manuscripts are (Wow, that really sounds like Spiteful Gillian). And I meant it. My plan for 2019 was to stop submitting my manuscripts to contests and look for other, less ambitious options. Like maybe a ditto machine.

And now I’ve learned that, in fact, I will be shelved between Someone and Someone. I am stunned and grateful to have placed both of my manuscripts in separate contests this year. If the house, the second manuscript I wrote, was selected by Carl Phillips for the 2019 Brittingham Prize from University of Wisconsin Press and will be out in September of this year. Relic and the Plum, the first manuscript I wrote, was one of two winners of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition selected by Allison Joseph, and is forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Press in September of 2020.

I think we all wonder sometimes who, if we cry out, will hear us. For years I sent my manuscripts out as if into the void. I know it’s easy for me to say now, but in poetry, and in life, I’m in favor of continuing to cry out until we’re heard.

 

 

 

end-of-semester report

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This is my favorite—as a Jane Austen character would say—prospect in my new house.

It’s part way down the stairs. This is and is not a metaphor.

The photos on the wall to the left are of my kiddos, at the First House, standing at the screen door, looking out. This is and is not a metaphor. These photos have adorned every entryway of every house since then (and if you’re just joining us, there have been many, too many).

The green light was my housewarming gift to myself. I call her Minerva and we have a quick conversation every morning when I go downstairs at 5AM to make my tea: Good morning. Good morning. Another day, another 70 cents on a man’s dollar. Yep. Let’s smash the Patriarchy. Yep.

Beyond that, the warmth of the living room, and my beloved books and bookshelves.

I am grateful for this view, for this house which I purchased ambivalently but with the intention of giving my kids a home for their last few years at home, for the relative peace it holds for me after some very difficult years. I am grateful for my kids and my books, for this lovely green light that makes magic when illuminated:

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I’m grateful to be a poet and a writer, (though, lately, I have felt a long way off from poetry); for whatever kind attention my work has received in the world; mostly, for the quiet mornings at my desk, in lamplight, with the words of others:

______…something

is running across the field,
______can you see it coming
through the yellow grass, can you see it coming
______from the windowpane,
are you closing the shutters, do you think it’s rain? (—Dana Levin)

I’m grateful for the work I do at The Rumpus, for our reviewers and my fellow editors there (which reminds me: here you can read about staff favorites from 2018). I’m grateful for my kitty; wouldn’t you be?:

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This year, I’m especially grateful for a teaching job I love, and for my colleagues, and my students, who, at this point in the semester, are stressed out and exhausted and coming to office hours with their final papers. Like them, I am going in early, skipping lunch, staying late (Unlike them, because I am older and wiser and, let’s face it, a mom, I am reminding everyone to eat and sleep; I am giving out chocolate and throat drops and Excedrin. I am saying, There’s a time to be perfect, and a time to be done.).

I never get through finals week without these words thrumming through me: In the evening we shall be examined on love. They are the words of St. John of the Cross, and the title of a poem by Thomas Centolella:

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Life is hard, even easy lives. This semester, I have lived every day in the “blue of no more daily evasions.” It is not a gentle blue. I often feel like the student who doesn’t even recall signing up for the course who now must take her orals (See: single mother of three teenagers). And like the teacher wracking her brain to find “what unknown quantity / will balance the equation.”

I don’t know, and may never, but I hope it’s the small, heartfelt acts that balance things out after all: Waking early to read and (try to) write even just one word in my notebook. Making the kids a hot breakfast, packing their lunches, because I can, and here they are, hungry. Going in early, skipping lunch, staying late. Cherishing my family and friends. Calling my elected officials again. Writing about books I loved and learned from. Living my small, wingéd, provisional truths; saying them out loud regardless of whether anyone’s listening; abandoning them when they show themselves to have been faulty after all.

I guess this is not your typical end-of-semester report. I meant to come here and say: here’s where you can find a few of my recent poems; here’s a review I wrote; I still haven’t published a book.

Instead it’s this: I’m grateful, my grades are in, my kids are well-fed, I have a gorgeous new red lipstick, I’ve kept my house reasonably clean. This semester, I tried; let’s all keep trying; in the evening we shall be examined on love.

news

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Oh, did you actually want to sit in your own chair at your own desk? —Mrs. Brown

Hello, Reader. It’s been a while. Nearly every day I think of something I’d like to write here, but for now other areas of life—kids, teaching, editorial work—are keeping me mostly quiet in this space.

I’m here today to share a little news, most urgent of which is this: I am now an official poet because I have a cat. Mrs. Brown (named after Judi Dench’s Queen Victoria in the movie of the same name) came to town in December. She was very shy at first, but is getting comfortable in our busy house, and particularly so in my study where she’s taken to napping (or not) on my chair and climbing up onto my lap to “help” me with whatever I’m working on. I must admit: I am besotted.

In other news, I have poems in the current issues of Gettysburg Review, New England Review, and Ploughshares. Three of them are from my new manuscript, so it’s nice to see those poems getting some traction in the world.

Here is my review of Christian Anton Gerard’s Holdfast at Tupelo Quarterly.

Lastly, I’m delighted to have won the Lucile Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America with my poem “Interior With a Woman Peeling Oranges, Snapping Beans.” This poem began on an evening in December 2016, as I was listening to NPR’s live coverage of the fall of Aleppo. It began as as attempt to reconcile the lack of suffering in my life with the horrific suffering of others. It began because those two things are irreconcilable. You can read the poem here.

As always, I hope to be back here again sooner rather than later. Until then, write on!

shit goes wrong

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I have mostly been writing my thesis nonstop for the last two weeks. A draft is due tomorrow. I should be working on it now (and will soon), but I’m stopping by here to share a link to two of my poems in this month’s THRUSH poetry journal.

They are poems from my first full-length manuscript which is currently making the rounds.

At first glance, they might appear to be poems about love gone wrong—Persephone and Hades, you know the story. But when I wrote them they were attempts to reckon with the reality of serious, chronic illness. Illness that was never going away.

More broadly, I was attempting to reckon with the problem of suffering. Suffering, which—as long as there are sentient beings in existence—is never going away.

Shit goes wrong.

Sometimes something dark kidnaps you and takes you underground through a rend in the earth. You’re down there, you’re hungry, you miss your mother.

But after a while it becomes your life. YOUR life. And so, while you wouldn’t choose it, you can’t exactly wish it away either.

Here are the poems, and make sure to read the rest of the issue, too. Thanks for reading.

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(Note: The first poem is also an ekphrasis of the painting above, View of the Campagna, 1832 by Friedrich Wasmann; oil on paper mounted on cardboard, Hamburger Kunsthalle. You can find a larger image of it here).

social media anxiety, or, my big face on the Internet

^^For example^^

^^For example^^

Last week or the week before, a very nice thing happened for me: The Missouri Review, one of my dream journals, featured one of my poems on their website in their poem-of-the-week feature. I was and am beyond thrilled about this.

That morning, I woke up to the buzzing of my phone: TMR had tweeted a link to my poem.

Immediately the low-level anxiety began. Because while I am on Twitter (@mollypoet), I don’t really know how to Twitter. It’s 5:45 a.m.  Do I retweet, or does that seem overly self-promotional? Do I favorite it and/or reply with a ‘thanks’ and/or do nothing? If I do nothing is that rude? If I do something is that annoying?

Then on to Facebook. I love sharing other people’s poems on Facebook, but I feel shy about sharing my own. Is it required to share a link to one’s poem(s) on Facebook? I mean, is it considered bad manners if you don’t because you’re not publicizing the journal who’s supporting your work? Should I tag the journal in my post, or is that annoying?

And then, when you share it (as I did, despite my anxiety) and people like it and compliment it and share it again, what is the expected response? An individual “thanks” to each one? A general, “thanks everyone”? Liking the shares? Sharing the likes (okay, I realize you can’t really share likes, but you get the idea).

And then there’s the phenomenon which I now think of as My Big Face On the Internet. Because there was an author photo with the poem, and that photo was the “preview” Facebook chose to display (and I don’t know how to change the preview, do you?), and now Facebook has this algorithm where your last post comes up first on your news feed when you log in (so annoying in my opinion), and then: My Big Face On the Internet.

For the record, I rarely check Facebook during the work day, but (another source of low-level anxiety) that day I felt like I should because people were being very kind and generous commenting on my poem and sharing it, and I wanted to thank them.

And then there are the anxieties outside the small matter of sharing a link to one of my poems. To wit: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? To put it another way: If I abhor something in real life but do not abhor it on the Internet, do I abhor it? If I support something in real life but do not say so on the Internet, do I support it?

In other words, I feel like an expectation has developed that one must comment on certain things on the Internet in order to “be part of the conversation” and abhor/support the appropriate issues.

In some ways this is good. Social media has helped shine a light on many issues that might not have gained as much traction without it: police brutality, white privilege, sexual misconduct, questionable publishing practices, diversity (or the lack thereof) in publishing, mansplaining, and others.

And it has become a mighty web of support as well. I feel like my morning Facebook check-ins are like going to the break room at the office and chatting with people as we pour our coffee before settling into the work day. But instead of “Did you hear the Dow is down 200 points already?” it’s “Have you seen this amazing poem by so-and-so poet?”

Also, a few of my now closest friends in real life I met online first. So yay, Internet!

But I still don’t know how Twitter really works and how many times do I announce the reading I’ll be participating in and do tag the journal that’s hosting the reading in my post and must I post a photo afterwards and thank the people-I-know-on-Facebook for coming (for I am truly grateful) and should I tag them or say I was “with” them or neither and is it really necessary to announce every acceptance and every publication online and what does “like” mean anyway and the phrase “manage your online presence” makes me want to crawl under my bed and what on earth have I done to suggest to Facebook that I should see ads for plus-size clothing on the right hand margin of my news feed?

To quote Mary Ruefle, “I think we should all be in our rooms writing.”

So here is my tortured relationship with social media laid bare (please note: I have not even mentioned blog anxiety; that is another post for another day, or perhaps an epic poem). My personal approach to social media is to be as human as possible, to give and enjoy camaraderie and support, and to let the annoyances and low-level anxiety float by me. Also, not to spend too terribly much time on it.

All that being said, here is a link to my poem and My Big Face On the Internet. And thanks for reading.

holed up

Hello, Reader.

To the extent that a mother of three whose writing desk is within reach of the kitchen counter (to the left) and the kitchen table (to the right) can be holed up, I have been holed up.

I’ve been reading — Roethke. Roethke is so good to hole up with, with all his muck and soil, his roots and clumps, stems and tendrils, loam and tamping. His “moonless black.” His “kingdom of stinks and sighs.”

And I’ve been revising my manuscript, trying to make every word in every line of every poem sing. Trying to make the order sing. Trying to make the book a poem in and of itself, and singing.

It sits now in a sturdy little pile on the corner of my desk. I can’t say there won’t be more revisions over time. But I can say that I believe in this sturdy little pile of poems.

And also that I am tired of them.

And that I may have forgotten how to write any more poems, but I’m not going to worry about that right now.

I’m going to leave the sturdy pile alone for a bit. I’m going to read more Roethke (“Love, love, a lily’s my care”). I’m going to send some poems off into the world and remember that there are many seasons of a writer’s life: the muck and the lily, the holing up and the letting go.

May all your seasons bear their fruit at one time or another.

 

wordless wednesday with words: grocery list with wee, small fantasy. and words.

Reader. Hello.

Here is the photo I would’ve posted if I had done a wordless wednesday post:

highlighted item added for laugh-value

highlighted item added for laugh-value

 
But today is a word-full wednesday, and this is just to say I am still here. And…

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This is just to say

I have revised
the poems
that were in
my manuscript

to the exclusion
of all else —
laundry, blogs,
even plums

Forgive me
they were waiting
so needful
and so close

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This morning I printed the poor darling out for the one zillionth time, binder-clipped it, and handed it to Husband who said, Why do you look like you’re going to puke?

All I could say was: #joyofpoetry. Le sigh.

It is now in the most send-out-able form it’s been in to date. I know the work of placing it will be long and hard, and that I’m likely not entirely done with revisions. But I stake a claim here, on this day: send-out-able.

 

And this is also just to say, here is why we keep wordbanks [or lexicon, or word hoards, or word caches, or word lists, or whatever you want to call them]: because when we are revising our [fill in the blank: poems, series of poems, new poems, old poems, not-sure-they’re-poems, manuscript of poems] and we cannot.think.of.one.more interesting word for [choose one: sky, gate, tea kettle, black bird, the greying at your lover’s temples], we pull out our word banks [or lexicon, or word hoards, or word caches, or word lists, or whatever you want to call them] and find words like: blindfold, shadowless, wheezing, sovereign, cinderthick.

 

And this is also just to say, here is why we keep on reading poetry no matter what else is going on: Because of poems like the ones in the current issue of One. Go read them. You will not be sorry.

 

#poetrymonthfail and other news

Studies of Water Passing Obstacles and Falling -- from Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks via wikimedia

Studies of Water Passing Obstacles and Falling — from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks via wikimedia

I am forever learning new ways of speaking from my kids. My middle-schooler has begun saying “hashtag (fill-in-the-blank)” as a way of commenting on something. A frequent example is when I forget something or otherwise goof: “hashtag mom fail.”

Thank you, middle-schooler.

If I were to say anything about my poetry month this year, it would be: “hashtag poetry month fail.” I won’t be surprised if on my gravestone my survivors decide to put: “She had good intentions, but…” (also in the running: “She always started tomorrow’s dinner today.”).

In this post I wrote about four things I was planning on doing for poetry month: submitting, revising, trying out Scrivener (a writerly software application), and creating and sending out a The Handout.

The ugly truth:

I am still reading the instructions for Scrivener. In my defense, there are a lot of instructions, and they lead me to believe this could be a very useful application for poets and writers. But I haven’t taken the leap to using it, mostly because I feel like I still don’t understand it well enough to use it well. What I’d like to do is go to a class or workshop where they teach you how to use it. A quick search on The Google tells me that such workshops exist, so I’ll be looking for one in my area.

I have not finished the The Handout. I have started it! I will finish it! It will be mailed before June 3rd! This is all I can say about The Handout. This and: sorry.

I did do some (revising and) submitting, but I was not a (revision and) submissions machine. As I have always aspired to be. As I have never been. And now, I’m seeing advice from editors on Facebook to just focus on next fall at this point — the academic journals are clearing the decks and some submissions probably won’t even be read before getting rejected. This is an argument in favor of submitting early in the reading period. I think this is probably good advice especially regarding academic journals, but I’m also keeping in mind that there are many journals that read during the summer. Diane Lockward usually publishes a list or two or three on her blog (the links I just used are from last year’s lists, so double check guidelines for this year if you plan to use them, or wait for Diane’s 2014 list if she posts it).

Really, though, for a poet every month is poetry month. I just keep doing the best I can with the time I have. And I keep reminding myself that the obstacle in the path becomes the path (credit: Genine Lentine — to whom I am trying to link and getting an error — I will update later). Amen.

(By the way, speaking of to do lists…. if you want to see Leonardo da Vinci’s to do list rendered beautifully by one of my favorite Bay Area artists, Wendy MacNaughton (to whom I am also trying to link and failing but find her on The Google) until I can update this, go here).

Oh yeah, I almost forgot the other news. Many thanks to Kathleen Kirk and Escape Into Life for featuring my poem “Argument for Staying” in their Mother’s Day feature (Ugh. Ugh. I cannot link to anything today. And the truth is I won’t really have time to update it until at least tomorrow. So the obstacle in the path becomes the path. The path is The Google. Go look! Try: escape into life mother’s day). I’m in good company there along with Martha Silano, Sarah J. Sloat, Sandy Longhorn, and others. I’m happy to see that this is a Mother’s Day feature that also looks at the choice not to be a mother.

 

the Mail Order Bride shops around

Don't you think this is the perfect dress for the MOB? I saw it at a local art show.

Don’t you think this is the perfect dress for the MOB? I saw it at a local art show.

Hello, Reader. I am still here, but have been a bit blog-silent lately. Today, just a quick note to share some news (that some of you have already seen on Facebook): I’m so excited to say that a group of the Mail Order Bride poems won the Writers @ Work fellowship contest judged by Ellen Bass. The poems are forthcoming from Quarterly West, and I get to travel to Utah in June to study with Ellen Bass and other poets and writers.

I also learned this week that the Mail Order Bride chapbook was a semi-finalist for the Frost Place chapbook contest. Alas, not a finalist or a winner — but these little nudges from the universe feel so encouraging and make me want to keep working hard, keep sending out, keep at this thing called poetry.

I hope you’re getting lots of little nudges from the universe in your life’s work as well. See you here tomorrow for the roundup.