in lieu of wordless wednesday: taking stock

pantry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“in poverty and solitude, at night”

Gypsy Woman with Baby, wikimedia

Gypsy Woman with Baby, wikimedia

Happy December, Reader. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are now enjoying turkey soup, turkey tetrazzini, turkey tamales, turkey chili, turkey… turkey… turkey… .

Here at the Wee, Small House, we are through all the turkey and have turned back to the usuals: spahgetti, black beans and rice, white bean soup, pinto beans, red beans and rice, chili beans, beans… beans… beans… .

But let’s talk poetry. Today, I’m happy to share the December issue of Stirring, A Literary Collection, which includes one of my poems along with the work of several other poets and writers. It’s a great issue; stop on over and take a look.

My poem, “The Mother,” is here, and I thought I might write a little about where this poem came from.

Do you know of the journal Poetry East? It’s a great journal out of De Paul University, and every now and then they have a special issue called “Origins: Poets on the Composition Process.” The “Origins” issues publish poems accompanied by the poet’s notes about the writing of the poem. Because I’m fascinated by process, I absolutely love these issues.

So, about a year ago I cracked open the Origins from Fall 2005 (poetry — it has no expiration date), and the issue began with a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “The Poet,” which you can read here.

I then read the composition notes that accompanied the poems. This poem came out of an experience Jane Hirshfield had of writing in residence at the Bellagio Center for Scholars and Artists near Lake Como in Italy. Apparently, there are some pretty nice digs at the Bellagio Center — so nice that Hirshfield felt blocked: “What more expectable response than guilt at such largesse? What more normal result than silence?” she asks in her notes.

She went on to write about asking for a more humble room, after which “instead of being frozen by the sense of the of unearned — and unearnable — privilege, I could suddenly look at it directly, by the means I have always faced my perplexities, confusions, and sorrows: through the writing of a poem.”

To which I say, Yes.

Something broke open in me at reading her words, but viewing them through the lens of motherhood. I confess, there were some thoughts along the lines of Oh, Janey, cry me a river — because, yes, I am at times a small, small person, and because I might have just lounged in that luxury and slept. But there was also a sense of knowing that feeling of guilt at such largesse — the indescribable riches of having three children, and yet the burden of it as well.

Both the Muse and the mother often exist, in Hirshfield’s words, “in poverty and solitude, at night.” Um yes, sometimes the only solitude for the mother is at night if she’s lucky. And by poverty, I mean only that there is a certain asceticism of motherhood that I’ve never been able to deny — sometimes my two arms are really just not enough to hold the incredible blessings and the equally as incredible demands of motherhood.

Whatever dislodged in me at reading Hirshfield’s words produced my poem, which uses her syntactical map (one of the many ways I beg, borrow, and steal from other poets). And, like Hirshfield, “from that point on, I wrote fiercely… trying to make use what I could of the remaining gift of time and silence and paper I had been given.”

To which I again say, Yes.

Thanks to Donna Vorreyer, guest editor, and the other editors at Stirring for including my poem in this issue. May you always have the gifts of time, silence, and paper. Amen.

not-so-wordless wednesday: Mrs. Williams responds…

Mrs. Williams RespondsIMG_2263
to His Note About the Plums

This is just to say
I burned your laundry
that was piled on the floor
and which you were probably

expecting me
to wash and dry
and fold
and put away.

Forgive me
the pile was high
so rank
and so daunting.

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!

a mixture

Snowdrops always seem the perfect mixture of sadness and joy, resilience and fragility

Snowdrops always seem the perfect mixture of sadness and joy, resilience and fragility (from wikimedia)

Sometimes when Husband comes home from work and asks me how my day was, all I can do is quote The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, in particular the description of Mr. MacGregor’s rubbish heap:

“It was a mixture.”

Mixture, as in “any combination or blend of different elements, kinds, qualities, etc.” Mixture, related to the Latin mixtus, meaning “to mix, mingle, blend; fraternize with; throw into confusion.”

I spent yesterday sorting poems. Oh my, was that ever a mixture. I think I was hoping that they would magically rise up in formation and show me just exactly what I have here with all these poems. Sometimes I just want to know, Poems, where are you going? What are you for? No answer. Not yet.

And then, much more importantly, we have the mixture of this world we live in. Perhaps with emphasis on “throw into confusion.” The horror of Boston. The comfort of knowing how many good, courageous people stepped forward to help. Then, the disappointing news that the Senate failed to pass any (even very small) changes on gun control. Sometimes it feels like the world’s gone mad. And meanwhile our own lives go on — for most of us, nothing has changed drastically in the last few days. We go to work, get our kids out the door to school, feed the dog, run the errands, sweep the floor. We get to live amidst a million small miracles: automatic coffee machines, hot water from the tap, stores full of food, a safe walk down our neighborhood streets. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile one with the other.

I was talking to another mom at school drop-off today, and we agreed that it’s always hard to find the balance between taking one day at a time and planning ahead (or at least being open to) what’s coming. For me, this is true in poetry and in life. But, as usual, I go to poetry for comfort. This time Robert Frost’s “A Prayer in Spring,” which a dear friend reminded me of yesterday.

“And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here”

Keep us here. And yet, yes — we do all need to be working toward whatever uncertain harvest awaits (and I’m sure there’s a poem about that somewhere, but I’m running out the door to a doctor’s appointment… #mixture).

Whatever your mixture is today, may it be good to you.