A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
I wasn’t able to post a round-up last week because I was in the midst of packing for my semi-annual migration across the Atlantic. So here are my picks from two weeks of poetry-blogging goodness, brought to you by jet-lag and coffee. Perhaps because I had twice as many posts to choose from as usual, I was especially struck by the variety on display, though there were a few recurring topics, such as how to organize poetry manuscripts, and the centrality of grief and loss.
You recently published your first collection of poetry, Glimmerglass Girl. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.
Some time ago I realized I’d written a lot of poems centered on the idea of femininity. It made sense to me to compile them into a collection. Many were poems I loved but that weren’t getting a lot of attention publication-wise. I think the most surprising thing about putting the collection together was that those poems (which at the time seemed like failures to me) suddenly made sense as a part of a collective whole. They spoke to each other in a new way. So that was my process, finding the pieces that I loved and wanted to contrast with each other to create new meaning.
What lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?
For me, the writing of a thing is the easiest part. I already had these poems I wanted to share with the world. The biggest challenge was marketing and getting those ideas out there. It is a lot of work to market a book as an indie author. You’re doing everything yourself: reaching out to people to ask for help, contacting reviewers, updating your website and social media. It’s exhausting in many ways but also thrilling because each bit of effort has a huge payoff. I feel forever indebted to the people who’ve supported my work and helped me get through it all. […]
You self-identify as a “weird writer.” How do you define weird writing? What attracts you to the weird?
Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected. For example, in Glimmerglass Girl, the poems could be called prose, and there are illustrations along with the words. This is just what felt natural to me while writing, and the fact that it’s weird is just a bonus.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity
Roll up! Roll up!
By particular wishing
And for your delectable entertainment
The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman
Is in town.
Before your very eyes
You will not see her
Playing the object of desire
In a mainstream movie.
Gasp in amazement
At the wondrous curiosity
Of her living out her life
There she isn’t!!
In line for promotion;
On advertising hoardings;
Anchoring a Talk Show.
Josephine Corcoran, The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman
I believe I first came in contact with Joseph Cornell through the poetry of Charles Simic. Simic’s Dime-Store Alchemy published in 1992 was one of the first hardback books of poetry I bought. I have to admit that the cover had a good deal to do with my choice — as did the title, Dime-Store Alchemy. Rereading this book now I realize it was one of the first project-based collections that I had encountered. Simic stated that he wanted to approximate in poetry what Cornell did with visual assemblage. […]
Much is known (and repeated) about Cornell. He lived on Utopia Parkway, Flushing, NY and never left the Northeastern United States. He lived with his mother and his younger brother, living alone after they’d both passed on. Cornell had no formal training as an artist, he made his living selling textiles. By all accounts, his life experiences were not vast or wide. And yet that mattered little in the making of his art.
And long after many mid-century artists seem forgotten or locked in another time, Cornell seems to only become more relevant, more exciting.
Susan Rich, Returning to an Old Love – Joseph Cornell
We drive home and kiddo falls asleep in the car. EARLY NAP FTW. Once we get home, I transport him inside, and grab my laptop. IT’S ACTUAL WRITING TIME. Sometimes this is grading time, but for once, I am gloriously caught up, and have graded all of my students’ narrative essays. (They were lovely—pieces on what brought the students to their current career, nursing.)
I start by working on this piece about my Writing Day itself. Then I duck out of this document and get to work on my current project—a long poem/essay thing that does’t know what genre it wants to be. It’s “about” flowers, empathy, storytelling, and politics. It’s been a very slow process as I figured out what it would look like. I feel that it’s over halfway done, but am not quite sure where it’s heading. I’m on page 12—yesterday I added one page. My mom and stepdad took Henson to the zoo and I had some unexpected free time to work on it. It was my birthday yesterday, and that felt like a huge gift.
I have found myself on Twitter somehow. This piece I’m working on requires research and frequent Googling. It’s both good and bad…it leads me down the internet rabbithole. I don’t think that Twitter is a waste of time (necessarily). For me, it’s frequently a place of helpful and intriguing ideas. And I leave it when it’s too much of a distraction. But for example, the other day, I asked about how other artists handle the balance of creativity and research (especially when their language starts to feel dry). I’m trying to get back to the magic and strangeness of this piece. It’s sort of working, so far.
Hannah Stephenson : My Writing Day (August 24, 2018)
All the fruit looks spoiled
in my cart, yet I just picked it
from the bin. I can almost see
the tomato shriveling inside
its skin. A little bit of vine is
still hanging by its stem.
When the farmer tore it
from its vine, did it make a
snap? Or did it make a crack?
Crystal Ignatowski, In The Grocery Store After My Mother Broke Her Neck
Ultimately, I decided that as much as I would love to be a literary magazine editor, poet laureate, and/or tenured professor, my gotta-have-it level of fame is that I would like Some people to have Read my Poems. Not everyone–I’m not shooting for “household name” level of fame (no, impossible for poets– “creative writing student can remember your name” level of fame?), just some people to really have read my poems and maybe liked them.
So knowing that goal is important–it lets me know it is ok for me to quit all the side hustling things that are great but that aren’t important to my ultimate goal of Some People Reading My Poems–for me this means pretty much anything that isn’t just reading poems, writing poems, and occasionally on social media linking to poems I’ve written and poems I’ve liked that others have written. So literary magazine involvement to a minimum, social media at a minimum, readings at a once-a-year.
And it, probably most importantly, lets me know what to do with my current work! I don’t need to be Mary Oliver, so a big contest isn’t really worth my money–I need to buy diapers, y’all, I’m not wasting my hard-earned diaper money on contest fees!
Renee Emerson, Poets: How famous do you need to be?
I recently got hold of a friend’s fresh manuscript. She is concerned about the order she’s established for the book of poems. So with this in mind, I started from page 1 and read right through. The sections were grouped with a clear idea of why. This appeals to my orderly mind. (Or maybe it’s a disorderly mind, which is why I like order.) But did the order enhance my enjoyment of the collection? I’m just not sure. Under ordinary circumstances, I’m not sure I’d notice much.
Nevertheless, because I was asked to think about order, I started wondering what the collection would read like if the distinctive poems in one section appeared dotted throughout the section. Would this give me a little thrill of insider perspective when I encountered this kind of internal rhythm of certain kinds of poems woven throughout? Maybe. Again, that is, once I settled to read from cover to cover, and if I read from cover to cover in one sitting or in sittings that were relatively close together so that that mind referenced above would remember.
So, does order matter? Maybe. Of course, if it’s a “concept” collection in which something is unfolding or the reader needs to be familiarized with how to read the poems in the collection, then certainly order concerns matter. But how many of us are writing collections like that?
I know that when I read for a contest, I taste from beginning, middle, and end. If every poem I encounter interests me, then that manuscript goes in the Maybe Yes pile. If even one poem falls short, the ms goes in the Maybe pile. If several of the poems fail to interest me, it goes in the No pile. That’s just the way it is. (For more on my experience as a first round reader, see links below.) So in this case, order doesn’t matter very much. But as an author, I want my collection to have a flow, a weave, a pulse of some sort. So in that, case order does matter, if only to me.
So I guess here it is: Does a disorderly order sink a manuscript? I don’t really think so. Can an interesting order enhance it? Yes, indeed.
Am I finding it enjoyable to think about the order of my poems in my ms? If yes, then I should go ahead and shuffle them around as long as I’m having fun. Is it a drag? I guess I wouldn’t expend too much energy, then.
But I’m enjoying shuffling this friend’s poems around, so maybe it’s worth asking someone else to look at order, if that person finds it fun.
But the bottom line is, if every poem doesn’t pull its weight, then no reordering is going to save the ms. It’s all down to the individual poem. Again.
Marilyn McCabe, The Cheese Stands Alone; or On Ordering Poems in a Manuscript
Dennis Casling, New and Selected Poems, edited by Julia Copus and Annie Freud (Smith/Doorstop, 2018)
I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this new collection and I wanted to share my thoughts about it on the blog. It’s an extremely moving book comprised of the reprint of Casling’s earlier Endorphin Angels, along with other, presumably later poems, written up until Casling’s death in 2016.
Dennis Casling was blind. Maybe we need to know this, maybe not. On the back cover it says: ‘The act of seeing is informed by the imagination … I spend my time looking at the invisible’ (Casling). Sometimes what he ‘sees’ is memory, other times it’s imagined situations and characters, which links up with Philip Gross’s comment: ‘His poetry is a balance of different voices’.
The different voices are more noticeable in the first section (the reprint of Endorphin Angels takes up the first half of this book). Towards the second half of the book though, there’s a sense of the poet finding a voice which is perhaps less ‘poetic’ but, for me, is more rewarding to read.
Somewhere near the middle of the collection is ‘Holding On’ which seems to mark a shift from a poet consciously writing POETRY, to a poet who has the courage to set aside the more adorned use of language for something paired back. If this sounds as if I didn’t enjoy the first half, that’s not the case; I did. The beauty of the writing is enviable, with some lyrical language and, time and again, really fresh similes that expand the image in the reader’s mind. Here, for example, from the poem ‘In the Farmyard’ (p. 13) ‘the flat milk sack warm on the hand/ like a child’s fever’. Observant and sensual details like this abound.
Casling’s poetry is concerned with darkness and silence, absence and return, and above all, how we negotiate loss.
Julie Mellor, Dennis Casling – new and selected poems
Things are looking up for this old bird.
The first week of classes has come and gone and they were pleasantly uneventful, blissfully routine. I continued my morning writing ritual and wrote three new poems. And today I begin the first of what will be, with luck and perseverance and a little bit of selfishness thrown in, the first of what I’m calling Long Form Fridays. (Because, you know, like the true dork I am, I love to give everything alliterative titles . . .)
Long Form Fridays are going to entail taking my butt to the Starbucks where I wrote while the kids were in camp and parking myself at a table to write for three hours. It seems like as good a place as any — far enough away from my house and its chaos, definitely far enough from the campus and ITS noise and chaos — where I can begin work again on my long-form projects: first, my Accountability Partners play, and after that, the verse play that’s officially in Title Limbo (one of the reasons I need to sit and work on it more). […]
Word on the street (hahahaha, what am I, an 80s drug dealer?) is that almost all colleges across the nation are going through this panic moment of OH MY GOD WE HAVE NO MONEY because they all ignored the fact that about 20 years ago people were having fewer babies, and now fewer 20 year olds are seeking out higher education simply because there are fewer of them, and fewer students means lower revenue from student tuition and student fees but we’re still operating as if it’s the early 2000s recession and EVERYONE and their mom wanted to go back to college because they couldn’t find jobs but now the economy’s on an upswing and people have jobs and, as A.P. pointed out, there’s mounting evidence that having a college education doesn’t really guarantee “economic empowerment” (**eyeroll**) and so everyone’s saying fuck college and so BIG DEFICITS. Also also, top heavy administrations, irresponsible spending, yadda yadda yadda.
Which means that sabbaticals and money for professional development will probably, albeit slowly, dry up and disappear. So . . . self-granted residencies like Long Form Fridays and self-imposed exiles from college service and committee nonsense (i.e. My Year of Being Bad) will become more and more important to teaching artists — and hell, run-of-the-mill academics — in higher ed.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Self-Granted Residency and My Year of Being Bad: First Week
Cast from a cheap, bad, bronze mold,
my eyes don’t line up quite right.
My eyes are from a statue.
Stone-blind. Like weeping angels,
they look at nothing, nothing,
shifting in micro-jolts. There.
Vibrating at the level
of electrons. There. Again.
My eyes are from a robot.
They rotate on a gear shaft,
jerking. They need to be oiled.
My eyes are seeing something.
I don’t know what it is, but
they look so hard at nothing.
PF Anderson, On Being Asked What Is Triggering
People have asked me many times while doing talks on the subject, “How do I get my book reviewed?”
The book review process can seem mysterious – but as a poetry book reviewer myself for the last fifteen years, hopefully I can take some of the mystery out of the process.
I usually talk first about building a poetry community way before your book comes out. That means things like, joining or starting a writing group, going to other people’s book launches (and trying to learn from them), and…writing some book reviews yourself. It makes sense that you would start contributing to the literary world when you’re starting to even think about having your own book come out. If you don’t feel like putting in the work, well, how can you expect other writers to do so?
If you’re worried about your book reviewing skills, every book reviewer has had to start somewhere, even the reviewers at The New York Times Review of Books and Poetry Magazine. I started out reviewing for NewPages.com, a venue friendly to new reviewers. I recommend that you read lots of literary magazines and online review outlets to see what kind of book reviews you like and what you aspire to, style-wise. I like The Rumpus, Rain Taxi, and many of the literary magazines that run reviews. I noticed that there was a formula you can follow in many of the big review outlets. Then, send out some queries to literary magazines that take book reviews. Sometimes you even get paid!
PR for Poets – How Can I Get My Book Reviewed? – guest blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
On the walk home, I thought about one of the early hurricanes we experienced here, when we were still renting a duplex in the fall of 1998. We had a close brush with hurricane Georges that went south into the Keys. The surf was the highest I’ve ever seen at Hollywood beach.
Here’s a poem that came from that walk which I still like. I look at my current poems and see how much I’ve grown as a poet. But I’m glad that poems like these still make me happy.
While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.
She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.
The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.
That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Clean Sweep”
Risa [Denenberg]: How did it feel to have poems published in Poetry in 2002 and then to not have your book, Acid and Tender (which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize) published until 2016 (by Headmistress Press)? Were you submitting the manuscript and getting rejections during those years? Or, did you take a hiatus from writing poetry?
Jen [Rouse]: Ha! It was the thrill of my life to have a poem next to Maxine Kumin’s in that issue of Poetry. What a trip. And, it was an even bigger thrill when I got the Headmistress email, saying my first book was accepted. Such a full heart for Headmistress! I was doing something I hate—clothes shopping—that afternoon, when I checked my phone and the message about my book was there. My sister was with me, and we totally flipped out in the store. The person helping us even gave me an extra discount on my purchase that day.
As for the years in between, I was still writing. I never stop writing. But, I had to do a lot of relationship work during that time. I moved to Iowa with my partner. I finally came out to my mom—because we would be near her in Iowa. I landed my job at Cornell College—where I have been for 15 years now and will go up for full professor this year. I gave birth to my now 13-year- old daughter, Madeline.
Risa: Did you feel that your identity as a poet was marginalized during those years?
Jen: My major mentor, the one who guest edited that issue of Poetry, rejected me when I had our child, basically treating me as though that decision was the one that would end my career as a writer. I’m a very devoted and loyal friend, and the sting of that still lingers. It wasn’t until one of my amazing poet friends—Paulette Beete—from my MFA program at American University asked me to participate in an online writing group that I really started thinking about the trajectory of my writing career, of getting better, of publishing again. A wonderful writing group. I am deeply indebted.
Anne Sexton Talks to God / an interview with poet Jen Rouse (Bekah Steimel’s blog)
Turns out there’s some good news about rejection I never really grasped before. I’m reading poetry for Shenandoah in earnest now and realizing rejected poems DO reach sympathetic readers, at least if you send them to well-edited magazines: the editors and staff readers themselves.
I am moved, entertained, impressed, and intrigued by far more work than Shenandoah can accept. I’m sure some journal readers are burnt-out or ego-tripping, but I’m inclined to guess magazine editors are often a good audience–smart about the field and in love with the art. You’d think I would know this by now. I’ve definitely felt that connection with certain editors who reject my work with personal notes like “admired these” or “came close.” But being on the other side makes it more vivid, and it cheers me.
Lesley Wheeler, On first looking into Shenandoah’s submissions
[Lana Ayers:] What is the process like creating a new & selected works? Has your relationship to the earlier poems shifted? Have you discovered anything new in the process?
[Patricia Fargnoli:] This is the one year anniversary of the publication of Hallowed: New & Selected Poems so it is a good time to reflect on the process of creating it.
I knew that I wanted to have a volume that recognized my previous books while it also included the new work I’ve written since Winter was published.
And I wanted to do it by my 80th birthday so as to recognize that scary (to me) landmark.
I contacted my previous publishers for permission to use poems from those books and Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press said that they wanted to publish it since they had published two of my previous books and considered me to be part of “The Tupelo Family.”
The process of putting the manuscript together was quite easy: I simply chose the best of the new poems I’d written…24 of them, and then arranged them as I would arrange the poems in any book… paying attention especially to the first and last poems but also to the arc of the them and how they connected to each other.
Choosing the poems from previous books was even easier. I knew that I wanted a representative sample from each book, but didn’t want a lot of poems from each book…so I went through each front to back, choosing poems that seemed to encompass the themes of that book and that had gotten recognition through audience appreciation and/or publication…plus those that were personal favorites.
A friend pointed out that I left many strong poems behind and I guess I did but I didn’t want the book to become too long.
What I learned was that some of my themes are lifelong themes: especially grief and loss, how to find meaning and beauty in nature and life, those consolations.
I also recognized that the poems of the first book, Necessary Light, tend to be more narrative than those of later books which tend first toward my lyrical and later to more and more meditative as I aged and began to be more concerned with issues of aging and with the search for spirituality and meaning in a world where there are no (for me at least) certain answers.
Amazingly, when I had finished the choosing and arranging, the poems from all the books seem to become a cohesive book….something that both surprised and delighted me.
Lana Ayers, Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice
It is not blood or bits of bone that resonate when I think of you.
I ripped the plastic bag with my largest car key,
when I held the ash between my palms hollering at the sky:
Float, let the stuck un-stick.
Let our bodies loosen,
It’s time we stopped existing like we’re dying around these parts,
Like we’re full of cement and sludge, of your damned ghost.
Let our smiles return, those that burned down a little
when you became
Jennifer E. Hudgens, New Poem “Letting”
A couple of times a year, I search my submission spreadsheets for poems with the dubious distinction of having collected the most rejections so far. If these poems are not currently under consideration for publication, they go into a special category: Most Rejected Poems.Then I print them out and spread them on the floor of my office. One by one, I read them slowly and carefully, trying very hard not to judge them. I imagine the editors I’ve sent these poems to reading through piles of unsolicited work, looking for that intangible thing – a mood, metaphor, imagery, or narrative – that sets a poem apart. I read the poems again, those rejected babies of mine, searching for those very qualities. What are they missing? Does the poem need a tune-up? Or a rest from constant submitting?
About half the time, the poem needs a little work. I often consult Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, eds. Scott Wiggerman & David Meischen. I’ve saved many a poem with, for example, a better title (Susan Terris’s chapter “Twenty Ideas for Titles to Pique the Curiosity of Poetry Editors” is a favorite of mine) or by re-writing the poem in an unusual form, as in Ravi Shankar’s chapter “A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem.” Other books that help include Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet and The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.
Erica Goss, Saving the Most-Rejected Poems
From time to time I have tried to embrace the stop-making-sense school of poetry. I like poems of all kinds, after all, even the absurd ones that spin a kind of magic spell over a reader, transporting us to another world. Mom’s world.
Tonight–back home–I get up at midnight, after my young-adult children have finally abandoned the living room. I turn on the TV and find a 73-minute movie called “A Poet in New York.” That title is all I have to go on, but I start the movie and discover that it is about Dylan Thomas. I think of my favorite poetry professor, not the “stop making sense one,” but a professor who liked my story-heavy, narrative poems. I think of how he adored Thomas. He could do a fair impersonation of him, with a swaggering, Welsh accent. “When I was young and easy under the apple boughs.” There is frightfully little of Thomas’s poetry in this movie. Mostly there is whiskey and sex and poor Caitlin Thomas’s mad passion for Dylan (he pronounces her name Cat-lin and writes her letters telling her how much he misses fondling her breasts). The movie does not make a lot of sense, but that, in itself, makes a kind of sense to me. Tonight it does.
Immediately after the stroke, while still in the hospital, Mom told me, “Bury me on the hill beside your father.” (My sister, hearing this exchange from the doorway, slapped her forehead and said, “Geez, I hadn’t thought of that!”) The slow slide into complete dependency—into nonsense—continues, though she no longer has to be reminded that she can’t get out of bed, or that she can’t walk. She no longer asks to be buried on the hillside.
In my mother’s non-narrative, non-linear mind, of course she can walk. She is a child, running through a field (and I picture the young Dylan Thomas running through a field of tall grass). Her brother’s horses spook and wheel and she runs after them. This is the world, too, of the poem. We want to make sense of it. But we might allow ourselves a little more rein to be in the non-sense. To take the poem’s hand, and run with it.
Bethany Reid, Stop Making Sense
I lay in my hammock under the trees and worried about the lanternflies. Which accomplished nothing (I think of a James Wright poem at this point…).
What was there not to despair about? So much anxiety surrounds me. Even the damned bugs. If only starlings were to take a liking to spotted lanternflies, I mused.
A butterfly went past. I looked down at the zinnias blossoming their stems off in the garden and felt pleased to count four monarchs there. It has been a good year for monarch butterflies in my yard, and green darners and other dragonflies, and hummingbirds–which used to be quite uncommon visitors here. The little brown bats are returning each dusk, recovering slowly from the decimation of white-nose virus.
The balance may seem off in many ways. But there are restorative moments.
Even if “I have wasted my life.”
Ann E. Michael, Reverie, with interruption
I think about bees when I drip honey on challah and apple slices. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which always seems a more natural time for reflection and endings than in the deadness of winter. The harvest moon. The start of the school year. The end of summer, time to account for whether enough grain has been stored to get us through the inevitable winter months. Although there is argument for January 1st too, a moment when we are poised over the dark abyss, but take heart in remembering that we are going back into the light. Again. I wonder how we bear all of this repetition, so eagerly anticipated in childhood, and so foreboding as we age. Another year, expectations of ritual celebrations and foods and annual mammograms. […]
The manuscript I am working on now is titled, “why I hate to cry”. I cried yesterday listening to a radio program that spoke about social isolation (specifically, the way men–not just straight men– are groomed to avoid emotional relationships with other men, to their detriment.) This interested me, but why was I crying? I suppose I understood that I am “like that”, I avoid emotional relationships, but is it too my detriment? I really can’t say with any certainty.
This is all very complicated, as I contemplate retirement. For so many years I have spent so much of my emotional reserve in taking care of people-as-patients, I don’t seem to have much left for friendship. I wonder if I will be like one of those “men” who retire and find themselves at a loss for meaning. Who fail quickly; who die shortly. Who am I, if this is how I see myself in retirement? And yet, I am longing for the freedom to pursue the possibilities of connection. Of traveling and meeting all the poets that I only know on Facebook and Twitter. Of having meaningful conversations. Of learning to cry again without hating myself for it.
I wish each of us some sweetness in the new year. Layered into what we all fear, even know, is happening. The wrecking ball, the earthquake, the failure of democracy, the loss of habitat, the disappearance of bees, famine and war, cancer, overdoses. All of it. May it be mingled with some sweetness. Some tears. Some love.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bitter Honey