A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: how to make time to write, how to pull a chapbook together, how to cultivate the proper mindset for poetry, how to stay motivated (especially in the summer), how to measure success as a poet, how to write about rock ‘n roll, and more.
It’s the summer holidays here, kids everywhere and I don’t know if I’m coming or going with my writing. We’ve all been sick with various bugs so I’ve been too tired or ill to focus much on the Wendy Pratt course I’ve joined though I’m enjoying the different focus of the prompts. I’m not able to write every day, but I’m trying to grab time here and there. I hate not being able to join in on the Facebook page as much as I would like, though we had a good online group chat last week. Wendy’s releasing a new course soon, so keep an eye on her site for details.Gerry Stewart, Writing with Monkeys
The current course is focussing on ‘Writing with a Beginner’s Mind,’ offering techniques that help you lose that critical voice that often plagues writers, the worries that the work isn’t good enough, the guilt that we never will be able to balance our lives and writing. I do struggle with the later most, trying to be a single parent and a writer and find a real job to support my family has its share of guilt. I need to try Wendy’s meditation and focus exercises more, my monkey brain has monkey brain and I can never turn all the noise off. Even more so with four monkeys climbing around the house.
One of my favourite prompts so far has been to think about the idea of ‘banned words’ in poetry, words that are too dated, over-used, purple. I went and found a list of archaic words and wrote a poem playing with them. I love dictionaries and thesaurus and using them to find new words and meanings. It makes you see language in a new light. What do you think, should words like shard and gossamer be banned from contemporary poetry?
Day Five, June 14, 2019: Did I say I liked those new drafts? Phbbbbtttt. I spent today reworking the original four, and then working on two more, and then trying to psych myself up for a third or fourth. But Starbucks was freezing, and I found myself distracted by ALL THE INTERNET THINGS, which is dangerous and I should probably get one of those internet-blocking apps for my laptop and ALSO probably lay off the coffee IF my absence of periods in this paragraph are any indication of what it does to me on an empty stomach.Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical/DIY Starbucks Residency 2019: Take Two
But one of the good things about my internet distraction is that this morning I read this beautiful new/old poem by S.P. (I believe it was written a while ago, but it’s something unpublished as of yet) and that restored a little bit of my faith in the poetry universe. NYRB is actually publishing long poems! NYRB is actually publishing poems! By someone I know who really deserves it!
Yeah, I should probably lay off the caffeine.
Coming back on the subway I was like, you know, actually that poem with the astronaut image kind of sucks, the collage is good but otherwise it’s trash and you should tear it up.
I reluctantly agreed with this ‘second opinion.’ I did like the launch of the poem but the end deteriorated. I spent another who knows how long rethinking the poem. With a visual poem it’s not like you just erase the offending line. I had to destroy the page and hope there was another untouched p. 57 (?) in one of my five copies of Misery (there was). Luckily I could peel the collage off the page and re-use it. Thank you Uhu.
I believe I’ve salvaged it. It’s been about 22 hours now and I haven’t had any ominous pangs of doubt yet.Sarah J Sloat, Ground control
Looking back, I’ve identified that piece of writing as a breakthrough for me. I wrote prose because I was responding to prose, certainly, but I think I was also looking for something new. Now I’ve committed myself to a target of 2 pages of writing a day, prose naturally lends itself to that. It’s much harder to do that type of target for poems; they come from a different place for me, a different process. It’s like the sculpture of Giuseppe Penone above. Poems are the words that snag in the branches, whereas prose is the tree – it starts from the solid trunk and spreads out. This is a very subjective definition, I know, but sticking to two pages a day I feel I can follow a branch to its tip, then return to the trunk and follow another branch, and so the writing grows. Another thing I’ve begun to realise is that the short story, as a form, probably won’t hold everything I want to say. So, I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m working on a novel. This isn’t intentional. It’s just sort of crept up on me.Julie Mellor, Poems are the words that snag in the branches
I enjoy the way your chapbook, Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises), offers a cohesive narrative arc. Please tell us about your collection and how it came into being? Did you plan to have a narrative arc to these poems or did you discover the narrative as you started writing?
For several years, I was working on this collection in bits and pieces. I had it tentatively titled “45” on my computer, because I tentatively planned to complete it when I was that age. It ended up taking longer. Basically, any time I wrote a few poem lines or a possible poem that was focused on personal age related issues, personal body based issues, negative memories of past relationships, and so forth, I’d place it in the collection-in-progress.
So I did plan to have a narrative arc, but during most of the writing process, I wasn’t focused on how I was going to arrange that arc. I was focused on the writing.
When it reached the point where I was ready to actually format it into a chapbook manuscript, there was some revision, including lines removed, lines added, and removing some whole poems — but the most challenging and time consuming part of finalizing the manuscript was deciding how to order all of the poems. I just had various different poems and poem lines semi-randomly bunched together, 2-4 on a page, and had to decide how to format their order, both thematically, and in a certain time frame sort of way — but not entirely past to present, more of a back and forth, semi-circle sort of interrelated intersection. As I was reading and re-reading the poems, I was tentatively numbering them — but then I’d think I had 1-7 numbered the right way, but then I’d end up changing my mind or writing another poem and suddenly having a 5.2 and 5.3 in the mix. Furthermore, I’d occasionally change what had been two separate poems into one whole poem or add another three lines to a poem and so on.
It took some time, but when I finally got all the poems ordered in a way that I thought worked stylistically and thematically, I then removed all of the numbers and bolded the first line of each poem.
Not too long after I had the manuscript completed, I then started to feel kind of weird about the collection, because I feel like it might be almost TOO confessional in a way that makes me seem really unappealing — not in terms of my poetry itself; but in terms of my negativity, my lifestyle choices, my relationship issues, my body-focused issues and related attributes — but that was what felt the need to come out in this collection, uncomfortable or not.Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Juliet Cook on dolls, body, and uncomfortable poetry
Hail: One of Nature’s curve balls
Except: Nature is always throwing curve balls. My mother-in-law’s gardens were beautiful, but she always eyed them critically. It is true that most gardeners notice what isn’t thriving, where the weeds are, or what has not grown out or bloomed as hoped. That comes with the territory. But the process of gardening is so much more enjoyable, even soothing, when one is not a perfectionist.
Not being a perfectionist myself, I find that time in the garden acts as a meditative oasis. It is part mindless physical labor, part problem-solving, part mindful awareness of the environment. This year, I’m making it even easier by planting fewer vegetables and fruits and more blooms to attract pollinators; I’ve a smaller variety of produce but am experimenting with some new (to me) seeds–a melon from the Caucasus, a few heirloom tomatoes, black beans as well as green ones.
I learn as I go–as I cull and thin, inspect insect damage, note responses to growing conditions. It occurs to me that this activity bears a resemblance to the writing process, particularly when putting together a collection for a chapbook or longer manuscript. In that undertaking, I’m also not a perfectionist; and I should not be quite so quick to gainsay the need for the perfectionist attitude when creating one’s art (as long as it does not lead to fruitless caviling).
But I’m just not constitutionally ordered towards that sort of purist idealism. The best I can do with my poems is similar to the best I can do with my gardens: devote mindful attentiveness to the “product” and try not to worry about eventual outcomes.
“Write a little each day, without hope, without despair.” —Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]
See what grows.Ann E. Michael, Not a perfectionist
I confess that I feel like I need to be a bit of a hustler. Hurry and get more work submitted. I try to balance writing time with administrative things, like submissions, notes, and reading. I need to learn to transition from one to the other better. It’s like yoga for me as a newbie- Learning the individual poses is one thing. It’s another whole challenge to learn to smoothly flow from one position into another and another. I confess that when I have an acceptance or rejection I always feel the need to immediately make sure I have more work out there. There was a time when I had a lot of poems floating around between various venues but as I work harder to satisfy myself with each poem, the time spent increasing my vault (so to speak) of material that is available means I am adding to it at a slower pace and therefore feel the pressure to increase material available for submission.Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – One Less Orphan Poem.
One of the things we talked about was how to stay motivated to keep writing and sending out in the summertime, how to bounce back from rejections that feel personal, and the harm of “Instant Star” narratives. These are the profiles in magazines or podcasts from young writers where they say “I sent my poetry manuscript out once, and it was taken at a big press, and then I won a major fellowship and got a tenure-track teaching job and was sprinkled with rainbows and unicorns.” Well, the end might be a little bit of hyperbole. The reason I don’t like younger writers to read these kinds of interviews and profiles is because it’s not even close to the reality for most writers, and if they think it is, then they will start out feeling more discouraged than they should. One writer friend said she was taking a class from Nick Flynn and he said it took him ten years to get his first book published. It took me eighteen months to find a publisher for my first book, but six years to find a publisher for the second. Right now I’m researching presses for my sixth poetry book which I think is pretty close to being done and a seventh that’s in progress. I expect to spend some money on reading fees (they are getting higher every year, so I set aside any money I make from poetry to spend on them) and to get some rejections. I worry that I’m getting a little older and the editors are getting younger. I worry my poetry is not “hip” enough, and that the subject matter (like my poems about dealing with multiple sclerosis) might be too downbeat. But I think I know to expect some rejections along the way, and I try not to take rejections of the manuscript (or fellowship/grant applications) personally, although honestly, it’s difficult not to. Hey, I’m not made of stone. One of the reasons it’s important to talk with other poets is that it reminds us we are not the only ones who struggle with these things. All of my poet friends – no matter how successful they seem to me – worry about a lot of the same things. Very few people are instant stars. A lot more people work really hard in obscurity, taking adjunct jobs and doing reading where few people show up and sending out their manuscripts as many times as they can afford. A lot of times rejections come in waves, but so do acceptances. And sometimes good luck happens in clusters. Anyway, for those of you looking towards summer, don’t forget to keep writing and keep sending out your work – these days publishers and literary magazines have deadlines year-round, especially the non-academic ones. And remember not to get beaten down by your rejections, and to help celebrate when you or your friends have a success, even if it seems small to you – I think our brains are hard-wired to focus more on the rejections than the acceptances, so we have to break out the sparkling wine and cake more often!Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer, Poet Friend Hang Out Time, and Sending Out (Even When You Feel Discouraged) and the Harm of Instant Star Narratives
But all in all, except for having a very lovely set of books on my shelf and a sense of accomplishment for actually having filled their pages with words, I can’t say publishing a book has changed much in my way of life. I still have a day job where most of the people I encounter do not know about my books, or even that I’m a writer. Outside of occasional tiny royalty checks from a couple of the publishers, there hasn’t been much financial gains. I’m not an academic, and I know having books might make tenure considerations easier, but since I don’t really seek out positions or awards or fellowships, my books are pretty much useless there. When you a re trying to get that first book accepted it sometimes feel like this is the thing–THE THING–that will make you a real poet. But it’s not. Writing the poems is what makes you the poet. I had two books by the late aughts, and for several years, I felt like barely a poet because I wasn’t writing hardly at all.
Even with those successes, it still feels hard when you’re trying to figure out where to send something new, particularly if the work feels different and you haven’t figured out which press it would fit into. And subsequent books are usually harder–2nd books especially so, since even if you win a contest, there are very few for 2-3 books and you’ve yet to establish the sort of career that might make it a bit easier in the long haul. Some advice? Forge those connections and find those publishers. Study the books of presses you admire and think about how your work might fit. Don’t be afraid to take chances on new publishers that are willing to take chances on you. Sometimes, it helps to swim ahead of the bottleneck Aside from contests, there are a lot of open reading periods out there waiting to read your book. If you enter contests, pay attention to who is judging and whether their style meshes with yours (not always a requirement, sometimes judges make surprising choices of work not anything like theirs) but usually you look at a winner and think, well, yes, I can see why that held appeal for that particular judge.Kristy Bowen, the myth of poetry stardom
And in the end, do what feels necessary for you. If you have spent hundreds unsuccessfully on reading fees and still no takers, but feel you could market and sustain an audience for a self-published book, that is another option. I’ve long believed that you create the market for your work whoever does the printing, so self-issuing might be another way to go. It’s a ridiculous bottle neck and becomes moreso every year, and sometimes we don’t want to wait for the winds of chance to blow our book into exactly the right editor’s hands at the exactly right moment.
I am reading about thermodynamics and quantum theory in order to better understand some poems, naturally. A former undergraduate student–a poet and a Physics/ English double-major, Max Chapnick–is now an English PhD student at Boston University, and he contacted me last summer about putting together a panel on physics and poetry for the International MLA Symposium. It was accepted, so now we’re all going to Lisbon in late July (hurrah!). This requires me to spend a few preparatory weeks analyzing Samiya Bashir’s excellent 2017 collection from Nightboat, Field Theories. I understood what she was doing with thermodynamics and quantum theory just enough to generate a proposal, but to be able to write in some depth about what radiation means in her book, how blackbodies function, whether or not that one poem is meant to resemble the “ultraviolet catastrophe” graph, etc.–well, it’s hard.
“Work is motion against an opposing force,” [Peter] Atkins writes [in The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction], and I’ve definitely been feeling the weight of my own intellectual resistance. It’s not that I don’t want to do the writing or even the thinking; it’s a privilege, truly. But I’ve been puzzling through problems laboriously, in a mood of worry. I’ve written before about the annual difficulty of kicking my brain into a different gear, and surely that’s part of it, but I’m also experiencing one of those bouts of insecurity that afflict most writers I know, no matter the genre. It’s not only “am I interpreting these difficult poems in plausible ways?” but something more like “are my scholarly/ interpretive moves sufficiently interesting that anyone would really want to read or listen to me, or is everyone just humoring me because I once showed some intellectual promise and remain a reasonably nice person who tends to do the work and show up on time?” It doesn’t help my morale that I was just informed that I’ll receive an average raise this year, percentage-wise, when I know my DH recommended me for an exceptional one. Between you and me, I did a monstrous amount of good teaching, service, and publication in 2018, but my radiation did not seem to fall into the spectrum of visible light.
This is not my first self-doubt rodeo, so I can reassure myself that continuing to work is better than the alternatives, and confidence comes back. Besides, delivering Bashir’s accomplishments to new audiences is in itself worthwhile service to an art I love. And when self-doubt veers into guilt, as it should sometimes–a mediocre raise, how sad for you! or why do I get to eat a nice lunch and metabolize the results into criticism while refugees ail at the border in dangerously overcrowded detention camps?–I should make a donation or put that rally on my calendar, but still keep dispersing most of my daytime labor among tasks I’m competent at and believe are worthwhile.Lesley Wheeler, We are all steam engines
Since the potency of rock-and-roll derives from its synthesis of lyric, melody and instrumental delivery, attempts in fiction to cast a net of words over the process have, in general, delivered little more than arid analysis or histrionic reportage. As far as I’m aware, poetry has, by and large, left the territory unexplored. So my desire to try to write a sequence of poems about an individual musician’s experience of the suffocation of creative endeavour by the payload of commercial and cultural overlay that is so much a part of the phenomenon seems ill-advised, even a tad arrogant, so many having failed thus far.
But that first superstructure and the skeletal infrastructural notions that followed them won’t go away. Originally I wrote a first stanza, a sort of chorus that I decided would intersperse subsequent sections. Now it just sits at the top of the poem as a sort of testament to what it is that in performance fires the adrenaline and pops the endorphins. The rest – the narrative content, the pumped language and the form that contains it – keeps shifting every time I return to it. All that reiterates after the abandonment of one version after another is the drive to bring something into being. So here is how it lies across the page at this precise point in time… [Click through for the poem.]Dick Jones, BRIGHT STAR, BIG SKY.
A big thank you to writer and artist J.I. Kleinberg for writing a review of my book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press 2018), in the most recent volume of Cirque Journal – Vol. 10. No. 1. You can check the complete review by going to the Cirque link above.
Reviews are scary things. Having your work judged by another takes a certain amount of armor. Putting yourself out there is a bit like being back in Junior High and wondering if you are going to be asked to sit at the “cool kids” table.
With that said, Judy was kind and gave me one of the biggest compliments I could have craved. As many of you know, who follow this blog, my last blog post was called Return Flight and I wrote about flying home to my beloved Pacific Northwest. Kleinberg says my poems are painterly and cinematic, that they are crafted with care and precision, all of which I appreciate. But what I especially appreciate is that she “got” my poems are rooted in most profoundly, place and anchored in the towns of Oregon and Washington.
I hope in some small way my writing can be a witness to how place has the ability to nurture and shape us. I am a fourth generation Oregonian. My family stories are rooted west of the Cascade Mountain Range in both these States and I believe like William Stegner that no place is a place until things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends or monuments. And though not all the poems in this collection are about place, I appreciate that Kleinberg felt its presence important to note.Carey Taylor, Grateful
Trish Hopkinson is a force in the poetry community with her almost-daily publication of an all-things-poetry blog that informs poets where, how, and why to submit poems; conducts interviews with editors of no-submission-fee journals; and publishes guest blogs addressing all aspects of writing, reading, submitting and publishing poetry. I’ve followed this blog avidly and very much appreciated her recent interview introducing The Poetry Café.
With such a footprint in the world of poetry, I was curious to read Hopkinson’s work. Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017 with the subtitle of “A Chapbook of Response Poems.” Each of the twenty poems in Footnote has either a footnote or a dedication (some as ‘for,’ others as ‘after‘), inscribed beneath the poem. Each poem embraces the spirit of its annotation, at times using found lines, erasures, or the style of another writer. While visually each poem has the familiar appearance of lines and stanzas on the page, they each possess a quirky—somewhat experimental—writing style. An example of a poem I particularly enjoyed was, “And Finished Knowing – Then –,” footnoted with a nod to Emily Dickinson, of course, but with Hopkinson’s sly imprint,
I conjured a childbirth, in the air,
and nurses all askew
stood standing – standing – till the dream
seemed real enough to chew.
I wondered how the poems in the book came together. At an interview at The Literary Librarian, Hopkinson explained the book’s origins:
“In 2015, after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems of my own. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work.”
These days we find a wealth of ‘Response Poems’ that foment resistance to injustice and oppression. Hopkinson’s responses come from a different tradition—emotional and spiritual responses to other artists that have affected, influenced, and secured a solid foothold in her psyche and writing. Footnote is in essence a work of conversations. Her dedications include an artist (Everett Ruess), a musician (Janice Joplin), a filmmaker (David Lynch), and a writer (James Joyce), but are mostly poets (Baraka, Paz, Rilke, Ai, Neruda, Dickinson, Plath, Rumi, Poe, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg). As a reader, I always find myself wanting to know the poet through the poems. We get a nuanced taste of Hopkinson from her choices. While a first person voice is mostly absent in these pages, the poems are strong evidence of her appetites.Risa Denenberg, Footnote, by Trish Hopkinson
I read this as a pibroch, a lament for dispossession, and for the despoiling of the earth. Bothies shelter storm-caught walkers, but they are invariably the abandoned houses of folk who could no longer be sustained by the land, or who were forcibly cleared from it. Homes Fit for Heroes indeed. Nothing can sentimentalise them. The moors are ‘marching back’, the masonry’s crumbling, the seas are choked with plastic and the birds and the fish are gone. What’s left is the roll-call of the Gaelic placenames from a time when the people who spoke them knew what they described. It’s a haunting angry poem that sticks in the mind and the heart.John Foggin, My kind of poetry: David Underdown
I read an article recently about an exhibition of what remained of the refugee camp at Calais, the things carried by people who, forced to again move on, carried them no farther. Notes and small weapons and paper dolls. I think about the artwork by the children of the Terezin ghetto, now held in Prague’s Jewish Museum. In an article in the Atlantic, “Elegy for the American Century,” George Packer writes about Richard Holbrooke and the break-up of Yugoslavia, and atrocities in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. In the article, Holbrooke visits a refugee camp near Zagreb hosting Bosnian Muslums who had escaped the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The author wrote:
“As Holbrooke started to leave, the baker brought out a dirty plastic bag from under his mattress. Inside was a pair of small figures, three or four inches tall, in blond wood. Human figures, with nearly featureless faces and heads bowed and hands together behind their backs. The baker had carved them with a piece of broken glass while he was interned at the Manjača camp, where the prisoners had stood bound for hours with their heads down to avoid being beaten.”
We are makers, we people, of objects that, though mute, express the best, and the worst of us (there are at least eight torture museums in Europe alone). For all our wordiness, our flapping mouths, it’s what we make that remains to tell the tale.
Poetry too is a made thing, and I love the “poem in your pocket” day idea, although I’ve never actually taken part, love the idea of that little curled piece of paper, an artifact of a tender skinned human in the world.Marilyn McCabe, There’s a hole in the bucket; or, the Stories of Objects
Long fingers on the metal of a knifeMagda Kapa, Dinner Talk
Dinner before one leaves for many years
Even if you forget how a body feels
it can still take place and hold your hand at night
It’s not a ghost if it’s a living soul
It’s not lost if it doesn’t want to be found
It’s not there but also not gone
I no longer remember why I started out, or where I thought I was going. It doesn’t matter anyway. It is the journey itself that counts. Was I kind? Did I help? What did I learn? When a person can give positive answers to questions like that, they’ve had a life.James Lee Jobe, journal notes – 16 june 2019
Warmer today. Upper 90s. There’s air conditioning at today’s poetry reading, but I’ll get sweaty anyway.
Stayed up 1 AM last night, working on poems. Didn’t even notice the time. It took me all of 30 seconds to fall asleep.