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.

friday roundup: behind on everything edition

(insert deer in the headlights look here)

(insert deer in the headlights look here)

Reader, if I told you about my week, I’d sound like a broken record. Instead, let me tell you that I’m pining for the Girl with a Pearl Earring. I’m having a hard time letting her go — in fact, I’m thinking of going to see her one more time before she leaves town on June 2. Or would that be stalking? There is something really amazing about seeing a famous work of art with one’s own eyes. Dear Girl, I was so glad to meet you. I’ll miss you forever.

Okay, let’s get on with this.

rejection wiki File in: Things I Never Would Have Imagined. I’m probably the last to know about rejection wiki, right? Rejection Wiki is a website where you can go and search the text of a journal’s rejection to see if it’s a standard, higher tier, or personalized rejection. Omg. I almost wish I didn’t know about rejection wiki, but while I was there I looked up a couple of rejections that I thought were standard but apparently were “higher tier” — in other words, when they said to send more work, they actually meant it. Note to self. I think I’ll now go back to pretending I don’t know about rejection wiki.

20 little poems  Here’s an article by Tony Hoagland proposing 20 poems that he believes should be taught in American schools ( It was comforting to read that Hoagland and I are on the same page about why many Americans don’t get poetry). Last night at writing group we discussed the article, and decided we’d all bring a list of 20 poems we’d suggest to someone who may not be an avid reader of poetry as an introduction to the genre. I’m curious, Reader: what poems would you choose? Share in comments, if you like.

the sleeve of your best shirt  I think I might choose this poem by Jane Kenyon. Bless her for writing a poem about laundry. Bless every poet who ever wrote a poem about laundry. And now, I must away… the laundry waits.

Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading!

when in doubt, read

public domain – wikimedia

Last week I wrote about being a poem-hater. This week, there were three rejections. My poems spent a full week in the resting drawer before I felt I could look at them again. Some weeks are like that.

Since I was busy doubting my poems, it seemed a good time to immerse myself in the poems of others. I read two really good books, and they both reminded me of why I love poetry and why I think it’s important.

The first was Grace, fallen from by Marianne Boruch. For starters, I completely fell for the title. I’m immediately thinking that language is important to this poet, phrases, and definitions, and how language gets used to tell about everything, even grace, even falling from grace. The poems let us inside the mind of a poet who sees things circuitously but, in the end, clearly, and who isn’t afraid to let us go where her mind goes. I read a subtle (and wry) humor in many of the poems, which is not to say they were light. Her use of language is interesting — for example, a sudden fragmented section in an otherwise vernacular poem. Loved it, Reader, loved it!

Next was The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. What is it with the Stegner Fellows? It seems like every time I fall in love with a group of poems, they were written by a Stegner Fellow. Thank you, Universe, for the Stegner Fellows, and this week, especially for Gabrielle Calvocoressi, the master of the series of poems. Although there are several standalone poems in the book, there are also four series, three of them quite long. One is a series of persona poems in which different witnesses recount the last time they saw Amelia Earhart. One is in the voice of a young person (teenager maybe?) who watches drive-in movies from a field near the theater. One is a cycle of poems about a circus fire and its aftermath. Reader, all I can say is, Wowza! She uses the series differently in each — the Amelia Earhart poems dwell together at the beginning of the book; the drive-in poems are dispersed throughout the book, but each subsequent poem uses the previous poem’s last line as its first line (an effective way to create continuity despite the physical distance between poems). In this book place is important — the poems unfold in small towns that feel rural and hard-working — as is the idea of witness. I’m going to be reading Amelia Earhart for a long, long time. You can learn more about the author and read a few of her poems here.

Yesterday, I finally had the courage to sit down with the stack and face my own poems. Even after a spate of rejections. For each poem, I asked myself, Do I believe in this work (this idea came from Kelly and Kathleen in comments on a previous post — thanks ladies!)? If I did, I wrote believe on the bottom of the poem. It was helpful to reframe the question that way — not Do I like this poem? because sometimes we just don’t like our poems — but do I believe in this work. I’m happy to say that I wrote believe on almost every poem, and I even liked most of them better than I did last week. 🙂 Time heals all wounds.

rinse and repeat

Sculpture, “Rejected.” Image is public domain from wikimedia.

Reader, can we talk about the good kind of rejection?

I’ll never forget receiving my very first good rejection. I was so excited — I shared the happy news with my mom and sister-in-law.

“What do you mean, a good rejection?” they wanted to know. “They said I was close! They invited me to send more work!” I replied, beaming.

This was years ago, and Reader, I confess, between me and the good kind of rejection the thrill is gone.

These days I get many good rejections. I’ve had two in the last few days. They’re all a variation on: “We enjoyed reading your work. It’s not quite what we were looking for. Please consider sending us more work in the future.” This feels kind of like, “It’s not you, it’s us,” when in fact it is you (me). Sometimes I wish they’d just say, “Meh.”

I think the good kind of rejection would be easier to believe if editors said why the work wasn’t quite what they were looking for. “Our next issue seems to be organizing itself along the theme of X, so your poems aren’t a good fit for that.” “We tend to publish more lyric/narrative/formal/fill-in-the-blank work.” “I see that these poems are not complete garbage, but they just didn’t grab me.” “I liked it, but my coeditor didn’t.” Or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong — I understand the encouragement and value in the good kind of rejection. I know editors are extremely pressed for time, don’t have time to say why work was rejected. I’m grateful that they took the time to write a personal note. I even genuinely believe they want to see more of my work. I always send more. I politely remind them that they asked to see more. I often get another nice rejection from them. Rinse and repeat.

There are a couple schools of thought on rejections. One says that if you send out a poem several times and it gets rejected each time, you probably need to revise the poem. Another says, “Just be persistent,” and points to the poems that were rejected 30 times, then picked up by a journal and landed in The Best American Poetry 2011.

I’m paddling my little boat between these two shores, polishing work, sending what I think will be the best fit for each lit mag, crossing my fingers. Knowing that the writing life does indeed require lots of persistence on top of talent and craft. Knowing that the poems rejected by one journal may well be snatched up gleefully by another. Wishing, it’s true, that the good kind of rejection still felt thrilling. Reminding myself this kind of rejection really is good. Becoming more seasoned, earning my stripes, carrying on. Rinse and repeat, again.

Which reminds me of a quote by Seamus Heaney (I hope this isn’t a repeat here; if it is, forgive me):

“Getting started, keeping going, getting started again — in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival, the ground of convinced action, the basis of self-esteem and the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others.”

Credibility to self and others. I’ll rinse and repeat to that.

April was poetry month: winners and wrap up

31 revisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

self-care for writers and parents

stop and smell the freesia

Reader, let’s talk about self-care. I’ve hesitated to title this piece, because, really, all of us need self-care — not just writers and parents. And some of us especially need self-care — those who work in professions where the needs and well-being of others are a primary concern: educators, child-care workers, doctors and nurses, spiritual directors, and so on down the line. But because I’m a writer and a parent, that’s the experience I can write from. Feel free to take what you can from this post and apply it to whatever life you live.

What is self-care? The word self comes from the Old English word for “one’s own person.” The word care comes from the Old English for “be anxious, grieve, feel concern or interest.” Let’s say, then, that self-care means to feel concern or interest for oneself.

You’ve heard the phrase, If mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy? Yeah. Pretty much true, and to be fair, I think the same is true for daddies. As parents, the fruits of our labors won’t be ripe for decades; and, indeed, our labors can only influence so much. Also, nobody is giving out promotions and raises to the parents of the world — there are few signposts that say, You’re doing great! Keep up the good work! Because parenthood is an emotionally demanding and long-term task, it’s important to keep our buckets full by taking good care of ourselves. As for writers: we work alone; we work with our inner critics’ voices whispering in our ears (I’ve named mine Spiteful Gillian just for fun); our work gets rejected nine times out of ten; ours is a long apprenticeship. Again, a little TLC seems called for here. I’ve learned the hard way that self-care is not an indulgence but a survival skill. Here are some thoughts about how to take good care of oneself:

move your body And move it, preferably, out of your usual environment. I’m not a big worker-outer, but lately I’ve been going for a brisk walk each morning. I also happen to have a day-job (motherhood) that requires a lot of physical effort (chop, dice, slice, juggle, wipe up, fold, sweep, you get the idea). What I’ve learned is that, when we dwell in our bodies for a while, sometimes the thing we’ve been wrestling with — the right word for line 10 of the sonnet, the best way to help the absentminded 10yo learn to remember things — will loosen itself out of one’s intuitive space and announce itself.

eat well  Yeah, yeah, I’m talking about the food pyramid, nine servings of fruits and veggies a day, sufficient calcium, and all that. But I’m also talking about eating things that will feed your soul. Your favorite dinner from when you were a kid. Warm oatmeal cookies. And, yes, I’m going to say it: gravy, people! It’s called comfort food for a reason — yes, dinner can actually make you feel tended, comforted. Treat yourself.

get enough rest  Do I sound like your mother yet? Well, she was right. The parents in the readership will recall (or, perhaps, are living through) the sleep-deprived years of babies and toddlers. We were dumb, for years. We fell asleep in the hair salon chair. We ran red lights (oops). None of us are at our best without enough rest. Special note for those of you still living through the sleep-deprived years, your mother was also right when she said, Sleep when the baby sleeps. Just sayin’.

talk nice to yourself (excuse my poor grammar) I just went out to the kitchen to refill my coffee, and here’s what I said to  myself, “Oh, Molly, your kitchen floor is an embarrassment.” Would I say that to a friend? No, I would not. I would, instead, say, “Look at this lady’s floor — she is obviously a wonderful person who has many people tracking through her kitchen and gathered around her table, and she’s not afraid to show it!” We’re raised to treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Let me add: treat yourself the way you’d treat a cherished friend.

do something nice for yourself  I’m talking about stopping to smell the roses, or if you’re in the Bay Area right now, may I recommend the freesia? I’m talking about taking a nice soak in the tub, putting your feet up for a half-hour, taking a break to listen to your favorite music. Are you the type that thrives on silence? Treat yourself to some today. Do you get energized in the buzz of a crowded room? Go out with friends sometime soon. At one time, I had a goal for myself to do something nice for myself every Thursday. Then it dawned on me: Hello!? Once a week is not enough! Put it on your to-do list: do something nice for yourself today.

ask for help  We Americans are supposed to be all self-sufficient and all that. Of course, none of us are. Yes, sometimes we have to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Other times, we need to ask for help. Sometimes we need physical help: dear son, please fold this basket of towels; dear friend, could you grab some milk and T.P. for me when you’re at the store today? Sometimes we need emotional help: dear friend, will you imagine my future book on your bookshelf?; dear spouse, tell me I’m a good-enough mother. In the emotional help department, I also keep a file called Encouragement. That is where I file little notes that say nice things about me and/or my writing. When I’m discouraged, I open that file and read it out loud, and sure enough I start feeling better.

It’s Monday, Reader. The start of a new week. What can you do today, tomorrow, the next day, and all week, to take good care of yourself?

friday roundup – No Eden, keeping it real, and a very hardy tortoise

I will survive

Reader, I have been such a good mom this week! I volunteered at school two days AND baked cookies. That was fun and all, but I’m looking forward to returning to my underachiever mom status starting now. On to the roundup:

No Eden  This week I’ve been reading Sally Rosen Kindred’s No Eden. It’s a flood-and-torrent of a book that takes a good look at suffering. We begin in prayer, “Out of thorn-apple, out of love-apple, / out of bramble-fruit…” (from “Prayer for Mrs. Snead”) and move quickly into Flood, its “wolf-colored waves” and this question: “What / do you do with your arms / beneath a God gone this wrong?” (from “To Noah”). I have often wondered the same thing.

In some ways the book is also a coming of age tale, with poems of a girl “dangling out on a warped swing, / child of stooped dogwoods / and lilies that sing and sing // and never leave their beds” (“Twilight, 1974”); poems of adolescence: “We were thirteen, / viscous and secreting new warmth, / and this was why we were in love // with the earth, with its tender mass / of panting gratitude..” (“Earth Science); and poems of a grown woman still trying to make sense of things: “How long has this been my torn garden? / How long have I danced in the raven’s womb?” (oops: I forgot to cite the poem for this last quote in my original post; it is “My Body at Thirty is a Dark Horse”).

I’m enjoying the book for its re-imaginings of ancient stories, primarily from the Old Testament / Torah, and for the poems that give voice to the stories that didn’t make it into our collective literature, such as “Noah’s Wife Remembers.” I’m also reveling in the rich imagery and word play of the collection. For me, the word play becomes a statement unto itself that we don’t quite have the words to put to this world. And yet, the collection isn’t without hope. We end up on dry land with miracles and upturned faces (“Mercy on Pecos Road”).

I first came across Sally Rosen Kindred’s work in Cave Wall, one of my very favorite journals, and I’m glad I sought out her book. It’s a soulful, rewarding read.

keeping it real  Well, yes it was fun to celebrate a couple of recent publications over the last two weeks, but from the Keeping It Real Desk, we have this news: three rejections to tally this week. C’est la guerre, Reader, c’est la guerre.

and finally, a very hardy tortoise  Here’s a poem for your Friday: The Tortoise Survives the Fire by Lisa Allen Ortiz. This is a poem I go back to again and again. I hope you enjoy it, too. Happy Friday.

(Photo is public domain from wikimedia commons by Aaron Logan, from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php)