Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Always a Bridesmaid

I just took a quick little look at my poetry bookshelf which sits behind my teacher desk.  I would say that I have an office, but besides being a lie, I want to communicate the image of the destitute and beleaguered high school teacher.  What did I see?  Well, aside from a meager collection of poetry (barely three full shelves) I saw the many anthologies to which I am addicted.  I say addicted because as a teacher with a budget, I often buy anthologies because I get more poetry for my money---something most other poets know nothing about, or so I have heard.

Still, that isn’t what struck me most when I saw all of these anthologies.  What I really felt was the absence of any of my poems within those anthologies.  Now I know I will never be included in many of the anthologies I own.  That is the lot of most poets---even ones greater than me.  What I am upset about are the many anthologies of specialized and so-called niche subjects for which I have submitted and been rejected from.  I am slowly coming around to the fact I will never have that particular credit inside any of my biographies within the various journals who do accept my work. 

Now, I know some poets who would tell me I am simply being vain for even thinking about being included in any anthology, or that I am in poetry for all the wrong reasons for even broaching this subject.  Well, first, this post is not to be taken seriously---  I am writing this post in jest, so simmer down, people; and second, I am just being a little snarky in response to the many rejections I have had at the hands of editors who, in my opinion, overstate their willingness to include the best poems in said anthologies. 

Yes.  I said it.  Some editors are not looking for the best poems to anthologize.  Some editors are looking for the best “names” to include in an anthology in the hopes they can put in their cv one day an editing credit for such and such anthology with “all the biggies.”  Right this moment I am looking at an anthology to which I submitted and was of course rejected from, which bears no resemblance of an effort of quality of work.  Oh, all the names are there---all the names which should count.  But you know what?  I can smell a turd like everyone else can, and that particular anthology is a turd.  Maybe I am supposed to be happy I was rejected because my name wasn’t big enough. 

I suppose it’s my own fault.  I mean, when I saw the announcement (and you rarely ever hear of these announcements until it’s too late to submit because poets guard them like a nun guards her virginity) I assumed anyone could submit and have a reasonable chance of being taken seriously.  I was wrong.  The announcement should have read:  “Send in your poems if you are somebody we’ve heard of.”  I went ahead and bought the anthology and now I own a collection of mostly second rate poems (with a few good poems) by “name” poets.  Why should I care?  Because I buy anthologies to get a good selection of poetry for the money I can spend, and when I know what I sent in was better than what was published I lose a little more faith in the editorial process. 

What now?  Well, I own a few contemporary anthologies which will never be dog-eared, will never be pulled off my shelf and shared with an eager student, will never remind me of why I love poetry. 
Now I will always submit to anthologies for which I believe my work to be appropriate, and I will always accept the fact I will be rejected time and time again.  It’s what poets know to be true.  I will keep trying to impress upon editors with my take on subject specific writing, and no, I won’t be doing it solely for the ability to note in my bio I have been anthologized.  I will submit time and time again because I want to join in the chorus of voices, singing in a choir of commonality with an uncommon voice among many.

Advice for the weary

There is a lot of it going about the Internets these days.  Advice on how to submit to journals from the perspectives of both writers and editors.  Advice on how to get a book deal, win a contest, become the next little darling of the literary community, how to use social networks to promote your latest book/project/art object installation.  Advice on how you shouldn’t do this unless you want that.  Advice on how to ask for a letter of recommendation and how to interview for a job.  Now, all of these things are important, and all of these things have some merit when it comes to the world in which most writers live, but it still surprises me how many people violate these suggestions not by an inadvertent mistake, but on purpose and by design, as if to say, “I am the exception to every rule you have laid down.

As both a poet and editor I try to walk the line very carefully when I am treading on the largess of another.  When I submit to a journal, I try my best to adhere to the guidelines set forth.  Not because I want to get on the editor’s good side, but because that’s what one does.  When I receive submissions for my own little journal, I try to be forgiving.  I sometimes ‘forget’ certain rules.  I sometimes allow certain people to take advantage of my well of human kindness, shallow as it might be.  It’s all part of my overriding guideline, whether I am writer or editor.  Be nice.

That’s right.  Be nice.  I may not have the concept of being nice as part of my regular routine, but having been raised by my grandparents and having spent quality time in the army, I know what nice is all about when working within the system of writer community etiquette.  I know how to work in any system.  Oh, I’ve had my horror stories as an editor and as a writer, and I talk about them from time to time, but the truth is I generally forget them almost as soon as they happen.  That isn’t to say I forgive and forget entirely.  I have at times decided some editors and some writers are simply not worth working with, as I am certain that decision has been made about me by more than a few people.  I am just saying I feel the premise of offering specific advice is hopelessly optimistic or terribly misguided.  Either people are going to be nice and follow guidelines and forget the occasional faux pas, or they are going to have a blatant disregard for the rules and be entirely too rigid in their dominion.  What’s more, trying to get these people to change is simply not worth my time. 

As for the rest, good (note I mean “good” in the literal sense of behavior) writers and editors will pick it up as they go and will almost certainly find their own rhythm. 

Now, ask me how to prepare a practical small group activity for the French Revolution and I will give you some advice which really matters.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Right Now

Right now, right this very minute I am sitting in my classroom listening to Mozart's Concert for Piano and Orchestra Nr. 26.  My sophomores are doing some independent review work, and I am thinking about my book.  Yes, the book I updated you on just yesterday.  I mean I am really happy about what is going on.  I think I have a real title and a real construct for the book, and it is simply a matter of finding the right poems to put in the book as they come along.  I mean that, too.  I am thinking the book will take the better part of a year to write, or actually a little longer.  What is different is I am at peace with myself and the book.  I am writing again, but I am so far from concerned whether anyone will like the poems or the poems I know I will be writing for the book in the near and distant future, I have this little internal smile  that won't stop smiling.  I have rarely ever had this feeling when writing.  I think I have reached another plateau in my writing life and everything is starting to make sense again.

I think all of my reading has paid off for this new feeling, too.  All the while I was blocked, I kept losing more and more of my ability to read new material and make sense of it.  I could not read poetry or much criticism without feeling as if I was snow blind.  I think I was filling myself up and now I am ready to let out what needs to be let out.  I am still in need of writing narrative poems, but I am not afraid of them.  I need to tell stories and "show" my home town, but now I have a context and I have started to do just that.  For all of you confident writers, yes I am looking at you, you may never quite know what it is to be lost like I was (and still might be again sooner than I would like) but I am actually having fun again, trying to find my best words and put them in the best order.  It is a grand feeling.

* * *

I am going to be in Utah for a few days.  Of course there is Thanksgiving and all of that, but we are going in early for a funeral.  I have been asked to be a pall bearer, and even though I do not like funerals, I feel it is my duty to help out where I can. 

* * *

While I am in Utah I hope to do some writing and get some landscape meditation poems which might be used in my book manuscript.  The book is a lot simpler than I previously believed, which is probably why I am feeling as positive as I am about the whole thing.  The poems I need to write really fall into four categories.  There are poems of work, poems of praise, landscape meditations, and narrative poems.  Of the four categories, the only one I am really going to need to take my time with are the narratives.  I want to have at least three narrative poems for each of the three sections, and it is merely a matter of trying to write a lot of good stories and seeing which ones really begin to shine on their own and re-working them until each is right.

I am enlisting two histories to help me with the first two sections of the book, and I have started to enlist people form Springville who are on Facebook, so I can hear about stories and get some perspective for the past 50-60 years.  The rest is going to be from a first person perspective.

One last thought.  Usually when I feel this good about a book project, it's because I am almost finished with it.  I think part of my energy is because I have almost enough to make a chapbook, and that's what I usually try to write.  However, I do not want three chapbooks in one volume.  I need this to be a single unit from beginning to end, and who knows?  I may be writing the book in three sections, but the final product may require that i refuse division of any kind.

Job Front

Poets & Writers has several job announcements in their latest e-mail I am considering applying for.  Strange as I have never thought about this route before. 

How silly is it that P&W has job listing on their website?  I mean, C'mon!  Who really send in a blind resume and c.v. for a full professorship at the Iowa Workshop or the Richard L. Thomas Professorship at Kenyon College?  Talk about foolishly optimistic.  The only reason these positions are even listed is so the colleges can say they made an announcement.  Either you are at the top of their list already, or you have absolutely no chance of even being considered for jobs like that.  They want a "name" and everyone knows it.

That's why I want to apply.  I want to build a completely accurate c.v. and get real letters of recommendation from real people like my high school English teacher, college counseling department, and friends of the family, etc. (or actually I would prefer real poets allow me to write my own with their names, but that won't happen) and send in real, legitimate applications to really confuse these people.

Don't you think these places will be impressed with my Master's degree in Literacy Studies and my stellar record as a high school History and English teacher?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Progress: Springville Book of poems

I just wanted to check in and let you all in on the progress I have made recently towards the completion of my poetry manuscript centered on the history of Springville.

As of today, I have 15 poems written for the new manuscript.  The poems are being written primarily in chronological order (as it pertains to the ordering of the entire book according to the actual history of Springville) but four of the fifteen poems written are decidedly for the latter parts of the book.

I have started to see the possibilities of ordering already, as I can foresee approximately 20 poems being written for the first section which will cover 1850-1900; another 20 poems for the middle section (1900-1950), and hopefully another 20 poems written for the latter part of the book (1950-undetermined).  This leaves me to believe I will be creating a manuscript of somewhere between 80-100 pages of poetry, since I need to make room for several narrative poems which I am hoping to make 2-4 pages each and one autobiographical poem of at least 5-10 pages.  Of course, if the personal poem doesn't work out to my liking, the book will be much shorter.

Titles of poems, as the manuscript stands are:

Hobble Creek Almanac
We Were Called
A Place to Start
Instructions Given for the Construction of Fortifications and Homes
New Testament
Venit Vultis Erant Victum
Good Days
At the Springville City Cemetery
Instructions Given for the Proper Treatment of Stillbirth, Premature, and
Miscarriage Births

* * *

I hope all s well with you.  Talk to you most likely on the flip side of Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Take This of My Kaleidoscope

Today I am anything but elegant.  I rose late, my alarm entering my dream playing second trombone and bathroom lights blinding me as I started my shower.  Where are my socks?  I need to take a vacation in Tuscany, where I can study archaeology as a tourist and return to my classroom rested up for the title fight my agent secured four months ago.  He's a real friend, though he takes a much bigger cut than I am comfortable with.  But I can't fire him.  We were childhood friends and he knows too many secrets about my grandmother.  Not about the drinking.  Hell, everyone knows about that.  Tonight, when I go to sleep I will probably dream too much then, too.  I need more music in my life, but don't we all?

Monday, November 14, 2011


I did not post anything for Veteran's Day this year.  We were away in the Land of Mo for the entire weekend, out and about on a doomed search for viable Christmas gifts.  Since my family is rural, we have to plan carefully for the shopping in need of doing and we got very little accomplished this weekend.

I did get to write a new poem for my new Springville manuscript, and I got to talk Springville history with my grandmother, which always helps.  After starting back into writing, I have picked up new energy to continue writing towards the book about Springville.  I envision dividing the book into sections by eras of the town's history.  I know it's not all t hat original, but I want to demonstrate the longevity of certain virtues throughout the town's, and show how the town has changed.  Above all, my original issue remains.  I need to figure out how to write these narrative poems without being persona poems and still being specific.

I am also going through my completed manuscript and making revisions.  No press to this point has even given so much as a hint as to whether I am headed in the right direction.  If anyone out there is willing to read my manuscript and tear it apart (trust me, I can handle it) I would be most grateful.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The time has come for me to say "I disagree"

It's a song.  No, it's a stone.  Well actually, it's a river.

The fact is I am writing again, though I have gone a few days without drafting anything, but I wanted to get into the discussion as of late about Erika Meitner's journal post here and which has been touted around the bloggy blogosphere and Facebook.  If you haven't read it, it's all about what she learned while reading manuscripts, screening the first round of a contest and forwarding the best to the next level.  Meitner talks about the various 'types' of manuscripts which seem to be in vogue and the hundreds of manuscripts she was happy (I think she at least implied she was happy) to read through as part of this gig.

The problem is I wasn't as wowed as everyone else seems to be at reading this article.  In fact, I really hated it.  Now before you go there, let me tell you I did not hate it because of anything Meitner said, or even how she said it.  I hated it because I am already terrified enough as it is over the prospect of poetry contests without knowing what goes through a screen-er sees.  I really have no use for knowing that all of my efforts in trying to put together a manuscript have been reduced to one of seven stereotypical classes of poetry manuscript "kinds."  Getting away from the Creation theories for a moment, I already know there is nothing new under the sun.  I just don't want to be reminded of it as I am trying to feel good about what I am doing as a poet.  The truth is, as I pointed out with the whole BlazeVOX ruffle, it's right there on the shelf among laws and sausage: I don't want to see how poetry manuscripts are made.  I think there should have been some kind of spoiler alert because what I thought was going to be a discussion of how better to order my manuscripts really became a discussion of how unimaginative I have been with my latest manuscript, and after reading the article I genuinely felt like I should do all of the following:

1.  Delete any file with any association with my second manuscript (which would now include deleting this blog post).

2.  Bury or burn every scrap of paper which is testament to my manuscript's existence.

3.  Walk away and never speak of said manuscript ever again.

I also have to say this.  Of all the people I saw praising the article, all have thus far been women.  Now before you go there again, let me say I bought Erika Meitner's book, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls, and I am enjoying it.  She is one helluva poet and my making the comment about those who praise her article has nothing to do with misogyny.  Meitner is a far better poet than I will ever be and I have no problem saying that.  What I am getting to is that Meitner has probably revealed something women poets think of as an essential key to the process of understanding contests and has said it in a way women poets can identify with more readily than male poets.  There is also the distinct possibility that I am simply a jackass for thinking and/or saying it out loud.

However, the truth still remains---my truth.  I don't like it when I see my efforts minimized to a trite classification, even if it is done to survive reading several hundred manuscripts in a short span of time.  Does Erika Meitner owe me an apology?  No.  In fact, Hell no!  I do not take offense in what she says or how she said it.  Remember?  My hang-ups are my own.  I simply felt so strongly in the negative, I had to tell someone, anyone, I do not like it.  Now you can go there if you want.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The ice is breaking

I've been doing pretty well for the past three days.  Jeannine has just posted about the November Doldrums, and I must admit I was going through some pretty rough moments for the past month or so, but I have begun to write again and all seems okay in the world.  I have gone a long time without writing before, but late September and into October I was rally beginning to question the source of my block, because instead of lacking the words or being frustrated at every attempt, I simply was not burdened with even the slightest desire to write for almost this entire year. 

There were a few drips and drabs, as I have mentioned, but really no inspiration, no truly creative ideas.  That stopped two days ago, when I wrote something for Robert Brewer's November Poem-a-Day challenge. I wrote a poem to meet the prompt, and then I fooled around with a few fragments.  Yesterday, I wrote three drafts and a few fragments!  This morning, I just finished a draft in response to today's prompt.  What is exciting is not the drafts themselves---most will need a lot of work to even be passable---but rather the fact I have ideas to write again.  I am being inspired to write and that makes me happy om so many levels.

So, what shook my brain loose?  What started the flood?  I really don't know.  Something inside me simply clicked with what I have been reading and the anxiety left, being replaced with the urge to write as well as ideas to put into action.  I really think I've still got a few bumps and bruises to go through int he next few weeks, but right now I am just so thrilled I am writing again. Even if the poems stop coming, for now, these past few days will have been a reminder inspiration is here inside me, waiting to get out.