Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy News: Blowing my own horn

I was just informed four of my poems were accepted for publication at Burnt Bridge.  The poems taken were ones dealing with the early history of my home town.  I was most surprised that all four were taken because of their narrow scope.  Still I am tickled and pleased somebody found enough in them to think each was worth shaing within their community. More news will be arriving as I get it myself.   

I hope all is well with you.  Please don't be shy about telling me of your recent successes.  Let's get this party started right!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Baby Steps?

Taking things a step further that my recent mini-success in writing a poem after such a long drought, I have been looking at a lot of my poems which I have written since 2008 and in the same essential voice as those found in my book, Working in the Bird House, and I notice that I certainly have enough to start fashioning a chapbook from.  What gets me every time out of the gate is the fact that I want my chapbooks to be something more than a place for a group of poems to reside.  I want the book to be about something.  I want them to come together and create  collective identity.

Now, two or three of my more successful poems ("Contemplating Diego Rivera's Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park,"  "After the Photograph of the Lynching of Tom Shipp and Abe Smith," and "In My Dreams I am Always Running with the Dead") are of a more serious political nature.  The other poems I like, or would like to start working into a chapbook manuscript are not at all serious.  They are more lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek, and clash with the above poems.  Of course the obvious answer is to discard the three poems which are more serious.  Unfortunately, they are the poems which have a unity of theme, where as the other poems are simply a bunch of poems.  So, do I try to create more poems which reinforce their serious nature, or do I try to create a framework for the other poems which are lighter?

All this is happening at the same time while I am still trying to create poems for my second Springville manuscript.  Well, that was the idea before this long drought of not writing hit me.  It always seems to be my fate to make plans, only to be metaphorically stomped into the dust.  As far as that manuscript goes, I have about 10-12 pages of poems and that's about it.  If I get my head screwed on straight I could write 10-12 more and try to create a chapbook out of that material.  Stranger things have happened to me in this writing universe.

What would I like to see?  I'd like to see my manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship picked up in the next six months to a year.  I would like to see me returning to writing poems for my planned Springville manuscript, and I would like to write about 20 more poems in the voice of WITBH so I can start creating a manuscript of poems which employ my more contemporary voice.  I would also like to crack the nut of the anthology.  I have been getting closer.  I got as far as the final cut on an anthology of poets in the West, and that would have certainly been awesome.  So, if you think I have anything that would fit into the mix of some anthology you have knowledge of, please let me know.  And yes, I do know that a lot of poets are hesitant to share that sort of info because they feel it lessens their chances.  You know what?  Poetry ain't a competition, so that kinda sucks.

As it is, I have been submitting like crazy.  Submishmash continues to be a wonderful means of easing my neurosis.  I can check up on the many submissions and see which have begun the review process.  It's also beginning to shape my submission habits.  I am less and less likely to submit to journals with their own submission manager.  I have never been the best at keeping records and without either an e-mail record or Submishmash, I am prone to forgetting a couple of places I have submitted.  It happened just a week ago.  I submitted my book manuscript to several presses and I got distracted in the middle of the process and I forgot a press which had its own manager.  The reality is they will most likely pass on the book, but I need to keep track.  For me it is better to either send it via e-mail, by way of Submishmash, or not at all.

Well, I've bent your ear long enough.  Talk to you all later.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Well, I guess I posted my miserable state one day too soon.  As I was settling down with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I grabbed Dean Young's Fall Higher to comfort me through the commercials.  Right before the show started I began reading Young's poem, "Scarecrow on Fire" and everything just clicked.  I rushed to my bedroom to begin drafting a poem.  I ended up missing the first half of The Daily Show to get the short poem into one of my notebooks.

The process was nothing less than magic, as most of you are already aware.  The poem came to me as one complete unit.  Simple.  Straightforward, and direct.  Fortunately for me, most of my poems are on the shorter side, so the experience  felt whole, complete. I walked out of the bedroom in a bit of a haze, as this really was the first natural poetry writing I have experienced in about a year.  I had tinkered, but this was the first new poem for me in quite some time.  As I write this I am still feeling the lingering tickle of endorphins in my body.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Snow Blind

I think I have forgotten how to write poems.  Well, that's a bit over the top.  I should say I think I have forgotten how to find myself into a poem I am trying to write.  Huge difference. 

I know I go through writer's block as regular as clockwork, but this time i am really overdue  to start writing again and I just can't seem to get started.  I am sitting at the computer waiting, I go off on my own and wait, and I am reading for inspiration, but I get nothing.  It's getting to be quite frustrating.

I am even starting to go snow blind with what I am reading.  Usually I get inspired to write little poems based upon poetry I read, but I am drawing a blank.  Just a big blank.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rudie Can't Fail

There is a lot of discussion about rankings of MFA programs and the like, and some very good poets, both MFA graduates and non-MFA graduates have weighed in, mostly all affirming the MFA is merely one path on the way towards becoming a better poet.  Of course they all sing the same tune:  The MFA's real value is in the time a program gives one to think about poetry, read poetry, read and write essays on poetics, and yes, write poetry.  However, I think there still remains a few things left unsaid, especially for those writers who have chosen, for whatever reason or reasons, to not go the MFA route.

I really don't know how this is going to go over, but I would like you all to know, as you start reading this post, I am sincere.  Not sarcastic, not mean-spirited, and certainly not as an inside joke.  I am writing this from the perspective of a poet who has had a modest amount of success without having gone the MFA route.

I used to wonder if I was ever going to be the kind of poet who wrote books about the craft of writing, write essays on the writing process or the teaching of writing (you know the kind that you get in your college writing courses or your methodology courses) but I quickly discovered that my life outside of collegiate academics was going to be a huge handicap in that regard.  It took me a while to get over that.  I was, if I can be honest, a bit put out about that and I a small part of me began to mourn the loss of whatever non-poetry contribution  I might have been able to make.  But then I eventually got over the fact that I was not going to have any real influence in the world of poetry.  How did I do it?  I realized that very few poets, regardless of graduate credentials ever get the opportunity to weigh in on the matter of poetics.  This is not the same thing as never willing the Pulitzer or winning a Pushcart.  I have been nominated for the Pushcart, but that was probably something which came to me 5 or six years too early.  The truth as I see it is this:  I may have plenty to say as far as poetry goes, but sooner or later it really only matters if I am going to listen to my ideas because in the end, it's really only my poetry that matters, or should matter.

It was a strange time, I will admit, when I thought my ideas would be taken seriously by writers.  I thought if I joined in enough conversations I might accumulate some level of gravitational pull and some day be asked for my opinion on various issues of poetics.  It wasn't for a while that I discovered I would never have that sort of career, if one can even refer to a life in poetry as a career.  What I slowly discovered  was by making the decision to remain outside of the system of higher education I was closing the door on having a voice in those sorts of things.  That is, if I ever had a chance to have a voice in those matters.  Hard as it may be for some poets to hear, we need to hear our chances at shaping poetics is slim to none even if we are amazing poets and thinkers.  I believe this is one reason functions like AWP are so popular and the MFA is so highly debated.  These things give poets the chance to feel as if they (each of us?) have a say in the direction our chosen fields take.  But let's be honest for a moment or two.  Having a panel at AWP may be a fun prospect, but that isn't where real change takes place.  It's more celebratory collaboration and résumé padding than it is real insight into the real issues of pedagogy and heuristics.  Having an MFA offers much the same when looked at through the lens of professionalism.  The MFA for most writers is a feeder route degree into the grown-up pool of creative writing.  It's like Mr. Miyagi's black belt.  It says you are serious enough about writing to deserve a second look.  What you do from there is up to you, but don't expect anyone to put aside what they are doing to pay attention to you for too long.
My life as a poet became considerably easier when I gave up the dream of making a difference to anyone other than myself and looked to simply wanting to be a part of the community.  Therein was the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Without the burden of trying to say something of importance I was able to concentrate on saying something important to me.  However, that meant I had to come t terms with being the kind of poet I am, getting rid of yet another set of false impressions and accepting something still closer to how the real world operates.  At times I swear I have made a profession of giving up my preconceived notions---not just in poetry, but most every aspect of my life.  Further, I had to accept the reality I had never said much of any real consequence as it applied to writing theory.

Still, we all crave to be an active part of our community.  Imagine the family doctor.  I doubt the family doctor looks at the heart surgeon and feels slighted that he never focused on surgery.  Most likely that family practitioner is quite happy with the fact the experience of going through college, medical school, residency, and internships.  Just like there are different kinds of doctors, there are different kinds of poets.  Some who have an MFA and/or a PhD, and those who don't.  Some who make a big splash in the poetry world, and those who barely break the surface or cause a ripple.  Find out what kind of poet you want to be.

And you will have those people who argue that it matters where you go to get your MFA the same way it matters where your doctor went to medical school.  After all, I like TGIF as a concept, but I would be really uncomfortable with anyone who graduated from the TGIF Medical School of Barbados.  At the very least I would be checking the diploma to make sure I didn't see any BBQ smudges.  To these people I would remind them, poetry isn't medicine, and medicine is not poetry.  They are not analogous.  With poetry you don't need a degree because nobody's life is at stake, and it doesn't matter where you get your MFA degree from if your real goal is poetry.  If you are really interested in poetry it shouldn't matter if the program costs you $8000 per year at a state school with in-state tuition, or $22,500 per year at a private institution.  Figure out how much you are willing to spend on the opportunity to study poetry and find a school you think you will enjoy.  Those rankings?  Yes, I know that grant money is important and having money makes a difference when you've got bills to pay, but if you are really interested in poetry and money is an issue, then it should be your goal to find a cheap program and not worry about how many book prizes your program has amassed.  Oh, just one more little factoid to nail the coffin shut:  I teach high school in Nevada.  I have a Master's degree, and I will most likely make more money than you ever will if you decide to teach college.  Being a poet should never be about the money.

In short, it isn't just the ranking of MFA programs which is wrong, nor is it the criteria upon which they have been ranked which gets me going.  It's the fact that too many people have become dissatisfied with all of the possibilities out there in the world.  Just like politics, we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into the either/or fallacy.  To earn the MFA or to not?  That is the only question, and we continue to play into that instead of rejecting the premise that poetry should have anything to do with anything except what we, ourselves as individual poets say it should be.  I for one refuse to answer that question because it is too private an answer to discuss in public.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Collin Kelley does an Interview with me

Over at The Modern Confessional, Collin Kelley has posted an interview with me, where he asks some pretty interesting questions.  Go have a read and maybe you might find out where I stand on a few issues.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Today in the Mail: Collin Kelley's Slow to Burn

When a chapbook, or any book receives a second life it is an event worth celebrating.  Slow to Burn by Collin Kelley being released by Seven Kitchens Press is especially noteworthy for many reasons.  First among these in my mind is that after reading Slow to Burn, I cannot bring to mind any other out of print chapbook (and few currently in-print chabooks) as worthy of a second life.

You all know Collin and I have a lot of dealings together.  I have published his poetry, reviewed his poetry, he has interviewed me, and I him.  We have also played town crier for each others' successes.  Some might think that means whatever I have to say is muted because it appears we have an on-going mutual admiration society.  Well, so be it.  The truth is I am deeply flattered by what Collin has had to say about my work and his support is greatly appreciated, but that in no way diminishes the power of his poetry and stunning language found within Slow to Burn.

In the recent past there has been a lot of talk of Slow to Burn's ability to connect with pop culture, so I am going to ignore that aspect of the book, although I will say one thing before moving on.  If you are in your late 30's or early 40's (as I am) you cannot help but be reminded of your childhood and young adult life when reading this book.

No, what I want to concentrate on here is the absolute clarity of image Kelley seems so in tune with for the poems found in this collection.  In the poem "Ian" Collin speaks to the rush of young love and the necessity of surreptitious activity. Speaking of a hastily written love note, he completes the underlying image with this lines:

Then you wrote me a note on scrap paper,
scribbled desire in the margins:
I've wanted to kiss you forever.
You would burn these words later like a spy.

 In the poem "Duality" Kelley introduces the subject of suicide.  Certainly suicide is often written about, and there are a lot of poets who do the topic justice, but I would be remiss if I did not mention how unique Collin's take on the subject is, how the poem finds a completely new direction, both horrific and strangely compassionate.  With these lines, the poet creates a new dynamic:

No one understands this war,
the way it tastes, like copper pennies
in your mouth, like blood.

The precision of imagery continues throughout the book.  No matter what shape the poems take, Kelley is able to ensure that they are crafted around the images he wants you to see and the way he wants you to see them. While we have all come to expect such exact and meticulous care in the chapbook form, there is a subtle difference here.  Here, Collin is making certain you can connect these stories to your own, and in doing so he must (and does) successfully walk the thin line of universality and new language.

In the end it is Kelley's precise language which sells me.  This book, for me, is a personal record of growth, and to read it is to read a biography of sorts.  The stories in this book might always be compelling to hear, but the language Collin uses is what elevates them to being more than private anecdotes.  He takes on his personal journey and makes it both (as Karen Head alluded in her introduction) accessible and complex.  What is revealed to me, is there is nothing simple about navigating the years of our youth and that is as about as universal a theme one can have in contemporary poetry.  Slow to Burn is a gift no matter where you can find it.  Having found it here, I am compelled to offer my most sincere recommendation for both Collin's poetry and Seven Kitchens Press wonderful work.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Being a Lemming: BlazeVOX Rant

Being the spineless follower I have always been, I will now say a few things about the whole BlazeVOX controversy.

Disclosure:  I have submitted a manuscript to BlazeVOX.  That is the extent of my relationship.

I have been saying this for a long time, but I think it needs to be said again.  And I quote:

What I would like to see happen is poets entering contests at presses with which they can see themselves creating a real working relationship. I think poets should find other ways to support the small press than rationalizing their contest reading fee as support. Poets should support presses without the ulterior motive of submitting to them. We all should buy more books just to buy and read them. More presses would survive that way. I think poets should seek out presses more actively and take the time to learn about them. Because of Facebook, I rarely go a week without looking at some new press and exploring their mission. Do I submit to every press I come across? No. I query, I ask myself questions, and I weigh my options. But having heard of presses I can suggest them to poets I know, and I hope other poets might do the same for me.

It doesn't happen on its own, dear reader.  The world of poetry is not a perpetual motion engine, and I don't think anyone should fool themselves into thinking that.  Could BlazeVOX have done a better job communicating that they depend on authors to subsidize their work?  Of course.  But having had some experience with editors who lack communications skills (three different editors for two different manuscripts) I can tell you there is a lot of information which gets lost in the airwaves and garbled in transmission.  

Oh, the utter offense at being faced with the realities of the poetry business with one's first poetry manuscript!  Oh, the Horror!  The Horror!  Well, Mr Kurtz?  He dead.  Strangely enough the world still marches on and you either buck up, little camper, or you fall by the wayside.  I read the blog in question and I read the e-mail in question (and of course I did not really notice the typos) and there in plain English was the option to back out of the deal with no hurt feelings or end to any working relationship in the future.  Take it or leave it, Opie, but you don't live in the skewed world of Mayberry, MFA, any more.

When I found out my book was being published by Foothills, I immediately committed the sum of $300 to buy more books.  Why?  That's how Michael Czarnecki makes his living.  This isn't amateur hour any more.  It's what we call patronage.  When I had to back out of my previous contract because I was unwilling to go with an e-book only format I was heartbroken, and my editor was certainly disappointed, but you know what?  We both go over it.  You make choices you can live with because one way or another you will be doing exactly that.  

Shut yer whining.  You've got your MFA and now it's time to put on your big boy pants and get a fucking JOB.  One hint:  Your job is not Town Crier.  Go teach freshman comp until you decide you need your PhD. so you can teach a few lit courses every year to break things up.  Why?  Because after 25 years of trying to be a better poet I really don't have time to hear about how the big nasty press asked you for $250 to help out with the costs of publication---and at one helluva discount towards future book purchases. 

I'm gonna go listen to the mutherfuckin' Clash.

Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie

I went out last night to dinner with the wife, and in a strange fit of hedonism and excess, we decided to play some slots.  The decision ended up making us a tidy little sum of money, and for my part I immediately began to dream of the books I could buy because of my newly found patron.  Here then, with a little help from a few select people I trust to help me with such decisions, is a list of the books I have just ordered:

Slow to Burn   by Collin Kelley

Kindertotenwold: Prose Poems   by Franz Wright

Talking about Movies with Jesus   by David Kirby

We Are Starved   by Joshua Kryah

American Busboy   by Matthew Guenette

Transfer   by Naomi Shihab  Nye

Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls   by Erika Meitner

The Odicy   by Cyrus Console

The Art of Recklessness:  Poetry As Assertive Forces and Contradiction   by Dean Young

The Art of Description:  The World into Word   by Mark Doty

The Art of Attention:  A Poet's Eye   by Donald Revell

The Best American Poetry: 2011  edited by David Lehman &

The Monkey and the Wrench:  Essays into Contemporary Poetics   edited by Mary Biddinger & John Gallaher

* * *

Mothers, don't let your daughters go to the House of the Rising Sun.  They may end up with a man who thinks books are a worthy thing upon which to spend their winnings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Book Interview

Keith Montesano, over at First Book Interviews, has posted the interview he did with me.  Please go have a look.  Please let me know what you think and please pass on the word to those who you think might be interested in reading the interview and/or my book.

Thank you all.