four things I’m doing for National Poetry Month


photo from wikimedia

photo from wikimedia

Happy April is Poetry Month, no foolin’.

(BTW, I’ve always found it rather hilarious that National Poetry Month begins on April Fool’s Day).

I’m not writing a poem a day for poetry month. I took a look at where my work is, and decided instead to:

submit — I have submissions out at only three journals right now. Only three! And before we know it, many journals will be closing for the summer. So my number one priority for poetry month will be to send out a few submissions a week to my list of kinship journals (an always-evolving list). And if I’m going to be submitting, it means I will also need to…

revise — Submissions and revisions are joined at the hip for me. I’ve always wanted to unhinge one from the other, but so far haven’t figured out how. Maybe someday. For now, to the revisions/submissions process I say: I accept. I’ll be looking through promising drafts and using these tips, these tips, these tips, and also these tips.

So that’s two things… . The third thing I’m going to do for poetry month is a 30-day trial of Scrivener software for writers. Scrivener is a software program that allows you to electronically organize your notebooks, index cards, drafts, notes, updates, jottings, etc. It also allows you to compile large documents — say a poetry manuscript — from various smaller documents within the program. I can see immediately that this would be useful for long form writers: fiction writers, essayists, academic writers. I have a hunch it could be a good tool for poets as well, but I’m not 100% sure. And I’m always a little nervous when leaving behind one process for another, so I’ll be shadowing my Scrivener adventure with my usual Word documents that contain background notes, free writes, early drafts, and each revision. I’ll use the 30-day trial this month both for poetry and for a book review I’m working on, and I’ll let you know what I think about its utility for poets. Stay tuned.

Lastly — and here’s where there’s something in it for you — I’m going to revive my unintentionally-abandoned practice of sending out The Handout (You will note if you read the link that this is not the first occurrence of unintentional abandonment. Mea culpa.). All month, I’ll be setting aside poems that I find in some way, and then I’ll cut and paste and copy and mail the poems to your mailbox. If you want them.

If you are already on my The Handout list, you don’t need to do anything. If you’d like to be on my The Handout list, send me your name and snail mail address with “The Handout” in the subject line to: mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com. I’ll add you to the list. The stamp’s on me.

Happy National Poetry Month!


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.”……….

end of year miscellany

Still Life: The Handout with Corn Flakes and Unfolded Laundry

Still Life: The Handout with Corn Flakes and Unfolded Laundry. Also with Fingerprints on the Chair and Someone Drinking Juice Out of a Wine Glass. #goodenoughmother

Reader, I’m procrastinating again. I really need to go to the grocery store with all the other crazy, procrastinating people who go to the grocery store on New Year’s Eve. Grooooaaaannnn.

But first, I wanted to tell you that, for those of you who requested it, The Handout is going in the mail today (by the skin of my teeth! and with the help of a small person known in these parts as Sister). By the way, I did get a comment from a reader who wanted a The Handout, but did not send me name and address information; if you’re that reader, drop me an e-mail at: And, if you want to receive the next issue of The Handout, do the same.

This morning, I woke early after a night of restless sleep punctuated with thoughts of polar explorers meeting their fates and east-bay anxiety dreams (these are dreams where I get lost in the east-bay and can’t find my way home — don’t ask me…??). I started writing a list of things I’m thankful for in my journal, and after a half-hour or so, decided I could write until the journal was full and still have more gratitude to express. Life is so good.

One thing I’m grateful for is you, Reader, and all the fun I’ve had, and learning I’ve done, writing here at the stanza. So thank you for reading and joining the conversation from time to time. I wish you and yours every good thing in 2013.

The Handout returns

Treat Street in the Mission

Those of you who’ve been hanging out here for a while may remember a little thing I used to do: The Handout.

The Handout is a little labor of love I work on from time to time. When I see a poem that I think is (a) wonderful, (b) interesting, (c) particularly well-crafted, (d) about to take off the top of my head, (e) stirring something inside for me that I need to write about, or (f) all of the above, I print it out and drop it in my “handouts” file. After I have a handful of poems gathered up, I take out the scissors and tape, and start cutting and pasting. Literally. I know there must be an electronic way to do this, but I love the old, analog method — it makes me feel close to the paper and the poems. After I’ve cut and pasted all the poems and bios, I make a few copies. Then I send The Handout to a few of my poetry buddies, and others who have let me know they want one.

I took a Handout hiatus (unplanned and unannounced, but there it was) in the spring as we moved into the Wee, Small House. And then it was summer–kids everywhere 😉! And then it was start of school. And then I went to a conference. And then babysat my nephew. And now, heavens to Betsy, it’s November. By hook or by crook, I’m going to get a Handout in the  mail before the end of this year.

So, the bottom line is, let me know if you’d like some real mail to appear in your mailbox. Real mail full of poems. Send me a message at mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com with “The Handout” in the subject line, and I’ll add you to my mailing list. Of course, I’ll need your  name and address. The stamp’s my treat.

friday roundup: real mail, more mud and glass, and your brain on metaphors

public domain from wikimedia commons:

Happy Friday, reader. Time for another roundup.

real mail Earlier this week, my fellow poet-blogger Drew posted about A Month of Letters. There is a movement circulating the internet that invites people to write one letter a day for each mail day of February (Sundays don’t count because there’s no mail that day). I, for one, love real mail. Coincidentally, I have mailed a real letter every day this month so far. However, I’m not going to join the challenge — anything beyond committing to brushing my teeth, drinking coffee, and feeding my young is too much for me right now — but I thought I’d post the link here for those of you who might want to join up. Visit Mary Robinette Kowal’s website, A Month of Letters, to find out more.

And if you’re not the letter-writing type but you want to receive some real mail in your mailbox, have I got a deal for you! Some of you know that I put together an occasional handout full of poems I love, or that make me think, or that make me want to write another poem (you can read more about The Handout at this post on my old blog). I’m working on the next installment of The Handout and it should go in the mail next week. If you’d like to have some poems show up in your mailbox, send your name and address to me at mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com. This is my way of spreading poetry — I love to do it and the stamp’s on me. As the post card above says: for you my darling.

more mud and glass  We had a great discussion earlier this week about clarity in poetry — too much, too little, or just right. Thank you to everyone who joined the discussion in the comments and via e-mail. I was especially thrilled to hear from my friend, Ms. W-K’s, high-school creative writing class! If you haven’t already, check back in the comments to read their thoughtful responses to the issue of clarity in poetry. And, for Ms. W-K’s class (and everyone else), here’s an example of a poem that I think strikes a lovely balance between mystery and clarity. It’s called The Good Wife by Alison Elrod. Go on ahead and read it; I’ll wait.

Okay? So, here’s what I love about this poem: We know enough to grab onto: there’s a wife; she might be trying to be a “good” wife; she’s in a domestic setting that she finds pleasing (“she walked through her quiet house / admiring its lovely bones. / She loved the light / that filled the place, / the view from every window.”  ) and yet, perhaps overwhelming or at least repetitive (“…she  made herself / small — watched the paper dragon / hanging by a thread above her, watched / it turn and turn in endless circles.”); she has made a decision, an important decision; there seems to be both resignation and comfort in its aftermath (“Later, / she folded shirts / and started dinner.”).

And here’s what we don’t know: We don’t know what decision she made. To file for divorce? To stay married? To end a pregnancy? To keep the baby? To confront her husband about cheating? We don’t know, and that gives us some room to imagine, and to remember those big decisions from our own lives, how breathtaking they can be. We don’t know what the house feels like when the rest of the family is present. We don’t know if it’s a decision to be shared with them or not (kind of feels like not to me, though). We don’t know what this decision will cost her or gain for her; we just know she made it. So, for me, all that we don’t know gives me room to get inside the poem and consider a wide range of possibilities, and to see the poem through the lens of 100 lives instead of just one.

Ms. W-K’s class, let us know: does the balance of clarity and mystery in this poem please you or confound you? What’s your poem for the day you knew for sure?

And by the way, “The Good Wife” appeared in Cave Wall Winter/Spring 2011, Number 9. You can learn more about the poet Alison Elrod here.

your brain on metaphors  Did you know that when you hear a metaphor your brain lights up? I didn’t either until I read this article which explains recent research on how the brain processes metaphor. In part, the article says: “investigators discovered a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard.” Poets take heed: The scientists involved in the study found that “On average, response to a sentence containing a metaphor took slightly longer (0.84 vs 0.63 seconds).” Still, pretty cool that language can trigger not just the auditory but the sensory for us. I was also interested to read that “complex processes involving symbols, such as appreciating a painting or understanding a metaphor, do not depend just on evolutionarily new parts of the brain, but also on adaptations of older parts of the brain.” We humans have been poets and artists for eons, I guess.

Ok, Reader, this is the longest post ever! Forgive me, I didn’t mean to take up so much of your time. Happy Friday, happy weekend, happy reading, writing, and whatever else you love to do.