Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stress, in all its splendor

That's right.  I am feeling the crunch of the last days of school.  I've got finals to give, finals to grade, and I have been getting about five times the normal number of phone calls I normally get.  (Just so you know, people at this school know not to call me for the hell of it because in addition to throwing me off my rhythm, it just really pisses me off to have my time wasted.)  I am about to go nuts with all of this stress.

The only thing I can say I have accomplished, is all of my personal books are locked up in my cabinets.  For those of you who don't know how this works, I have way too many books to clutter up my house, so years ago it was decided I would keep all of my poetry, history, and craft books at school, where I am much more likely to actually have a free moment or two to read on occasion.  When I am working on a particular set of poems, I will choose two or three books to make the journey home each night, and then they get returned when I am finished.  Every summer, I pick out a few books to take home with me and the rest get locked away until the new school year.  If I am desperate, I can come down to the school to get into my cabinet.  But mostly, if I want new poetry to read, not having many poetry books around, motivates me to buy new poetry from friends and new discoveries.

On top of all that, my son is graduating, and I am giving the Faculty Commencement Address.  I am still putting the finishing touches on that, which is bothering me.  I should have knocked it out of the park weeks ago, but I am still working on the finer points.

In fact, I am so busy right now, I don't have time to work on this post.  I have to go. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What I wanted to talk about was . . .

To let you know, I have been taking an active role in minimizing the anger I normally express on my blog.  On several occasions in the past couple of weeks I have held myself back from ranting and raving.  I don't know.  Call it the new me.  I opened this blog with the promise of becoming more gentle, more positive in my posts.  It's just taken a few months for me to finally catch up to that goal.  If you have been along for the ride (and I know there are two or three of you who stop by and read my blog from time to time, you may have noticed some small changes.

Well, today was going to be another one of my rants.  That is until I caught myself.  I had actually carved out time for me to sit at my computer and compose a few well thought out paragraphs and send it out into the world.  I will also tell you I was hoping my rant would reach its intended target.  I was pissed off.  Unfortunately, I was pissed off because of what I was doing, not because of what other people were doing.  Once I realized that, and a few other key ideas, I was able to make the very clear, reasoned decision to simply "let it go."  In its place, you get a little bragging.

Without getting into too much detail I will tell you this:  Once I decided to not write the rant, everything started to unravel.  I simply walked away from a situation that, if I had taken the time to write and publish, would have actually made me even more angry than I originally was.  I would have begun to work myself up into a frenzy and quite possibly created anger on several new levels.  This doesn't mean I won't ever rat again, nor does it mean I have entirely left the Dark Side.  It just means I was able to recognize this particular episode was decidedly not a healthy situation for me to develop.

There ends the lesson. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Right now

I am teaching Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses" and this is the song I play when my students struggle to make a connection to the term, hungry heart.  It seems to work fine and some of the kids are surprised to see modern song writing (well, modern in relative terms) taking cues from classic literature.

I just thougt I would share.

* * *

It's the end of the year run to the finish line for me.  I have my Sailing This Nameless Ship manuscript out to a few places, and I am doing some more reading to help me write some of the poems for my latest Springville manuscript.  I am, however, putting all of my writing efforts into creating a speech.  I was recently asked if I would deliver the faculty speech at this year's commencement exercises.  This will mark the second time I will be giving the speech, and I am doing my best to avoid sentimentality and an endless string of pop-psychology advice axioms.  I am still not sure how it's going to work out.  I may have to fall back on cliche if I cannot do something to my liking.

* * *

I had to re-submit my Nevada Arts Council Grant because I had not titled the uploaded documents correctly.  Such is life.  I still maintain this system is easier than mailing everything in with duplicates.  The most difficult part is, strangely enough, signing the verification letter with blue ink.  There never seems to be a blue ink pen around when I need one, and the instructions are immutable.  No red ink, no green ink.  Just blue.  I asked for my panel comments again this year because I am a masochist.  Again: Such is life.

See you all on the flip side.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wherein the Poet Speaks of Saddles

I have started to send in work again from my latest manuscript.

After having a journal reject my work from that manuscript, after having giving me the distinct impression that it had been accepted was quite a blow.  Before today, the only poems I have had out in the world were some prose poems, which have nothing to do with any of my writing projects.  Just today, I sent out three sets of poems to some journals, and I plan to do a few more before the week is out.

I have to get my once-accepted-now-rejected poems back into circulation, but these poems, from the Springville manuscript are not really the "general" submission type.  The poems in the book are so intimately entwined with each other, it is a real task to prepare a submission packet which demonstrates that relationship and also draws in some sense of general appreciation of poetry.

It used to be I would have a dozen or so poems hanging around and I could simply go by tone when making a packet for consideration.  I would choose half a dozen journals and mass submit those poems.  After, I would create a secondary packet and repeat the process.  Once I had submissions out to perhaps a dozen places, I would wait for the rejections and either send out the same pages to another journal, or create a third, hybrid of the previous packets.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

With my last two full length collections (Sailing This Nameless Ship & the Springville book) I have found it necessary to create a context within the 4-5 poems I am usually allowed to submit.  Try submitting a three part poem which a) uses two longer quotes from a newspaper article and a book, b) details the apostasy of a man from a small Utah Mormon community, c) describes the murder of said apostate, while d) all the while the poem itself attempts to fit within the greater patchwork of poems describing the early struggles of Utah pioneers.  Go ahead.  I will wait for you to figure out which poems I am supposed to submit in the same batch. 

Now I know someone out there is saying, "If the poem is good, it won't matter what it looks like or how it's structured, and it should be able to stand on its own."  No offense, but that's bullshit, and most of you know it.  When you are creating a manuscript you know full well certain poems will not mean anything without other poems which surround it.  It's just the way it works, and this reality is my constant reminder I am not simply creating a space for a group of like-minded poems to reside.  I am creating a manuscript with a deep, thematic base.

So I will be continuing to put the poems I have in as many different combinations as I can possibly think of and sending them out.  What I really need is a group of editors to solicit from me a dozen or so poems.  But then, don't we all?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Artists asking for money

So I got my Nevada Arts Council Grant application off the other day.  This year, we file electronically and mailed in the signature form.  This year's work sample consisted of nine poems and ten pages.  I asked for advice from a wide range of people as to which batch of poems were my strongest (I always create two entirely unique batches of sample work) and the general consensus was I should send in the ones I felt best about.  The thing is I like all of my poems once they pass a certain threshold.  I can't help it.  If I finish a poem, there is an 85% chance I am going to like the poem and will never be able to really see the flaws because I see it as every other poem's equal---whether it be truly worthy or deeply flawed.  I am an idiot when it comes to that sort of thing.  I have long believed the guiding hand of an editor is my best bet and it has always been my misfortune to have never worked with a hands-on editor.

Even with all of the anxiety of choosing the right poems it was a relatively easy process to send in my poems this year.  All we had to do was convert each poem into a .pdf and upload it to the Nevada Arts Council site, where most of our information already was after registering last year.  No multiple copies, no paper-clips, and certainly a speedy process.  Not living in the Reno/Sparks or Las Vegas/Henderson area will cut down my chances of being selected.  Strangely enough, everyone else in the entire state not named Brian Turner (Here, Bullet and Phantom Noises) will have a difficult time getting a grant in literary arts this year.  Brian moved here last year and this is the first year he is eligible to apply under the residency requirements.  That's okay.  If I am not going to be selected, I'd much rather go through the process knowing his work is being recognized.  That's right.  You heard it from me:  If Brian Turner happened to apply for the Nevada Arts Council Grant, you can bet he's going to receive it.  He's quite simply the best poet living in the state of Nevada, and I can say that in all honesty and in true admiration for both him as an acquaintance and a poet.

So why do I apply every year?  I apply every year because I am always becoming a better poet.  Now I am being serious here.  Not everyone becomes a better poet, but I have been getting better as the years go by.  I am learning more and more, and once you get to a certain level, it's about what thrills the panelists most.  Some day it will be my poetry.  The money, if I ever am selected, will be nice, but not nearly as much as being recognized by my peers on that level.

* * *

I have been asked by the graduating class of 2012 to deliver the Faculty Commencement Address, and I accepted, which means I will be shifting my creative energies towards that goal for the next few weeks.  For those of you who are familiar with what happened here a year ago, you know I have a little bit of maneuvering to do.  Navigating loss adds a few twists and turns.  I will certainly let you all know how things are going.  I plan to try and get a first draft started this weekend, in-between some of my other scheduled activities.  I will talk to you all quite soon, I am sure.  I feel the need to be chatty, which has the potential to either be fun or frightening.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Progress (if that's what you want to call it)

Manuscript title Change:  

I am officially on my second manuscript incarnation, and have created the first real title for the manuscript.  It feels good, and I really think it has some staying power.  Yes, I am too superstitious to tell you what that title is right now.  Just know it is no linger "my Springville Book," any longer.

Poem Count:

As of this writing, I have 29 poems in the manuscript, plus two or three hangers-on, which still have a chance to eventually be included, depending on how they do or do not shape up into something better.  This number includes four poems whose primary composition took place in the month of April, the cruelest month.  I estimate I need to write approximately 30 more poems at a minimum before I can call the manuscript as operating at it's optimal fighting weight.  It will be with at least 60 poems when I will see this manuscript as being ready for serious revision (even though it is my habit to begin revision from the very first and continue throughout the drafting process.)

Structure Notes:

The book is back to being composed of three sections, and here I get a little nervous, for I am attempting to write each section with its own distinct voice, while maintaining several threads of continuity.  I should admit here I am much better at envisioning what I want the book to be than I am at actually being able to create it in accordance with what my mind sees.  The first section is constructed primarily in the second person, while sections two and three are rooted in the first person, but only one of those people is my familiar Springville narrator.  The other voice, for section two, is a real person who is not me and is not famous, so there is very little information to go from when constructing his narratives.

Good News:

I am closing in really well on a more contemporary, mature voice for the book's third section. 

I have almost completed the first section.

I actually feel good about the poems I have been writing in the last month or two.

Not so good news:

I still have a ton of work left with the poem about the Springville murder of 1857.

There are so many stories I want to tell but cannot because the only way I see fit to contextualize them is to write too much like my friend and mentor, Dave Lee, and I am afraid I won't be able to figure them out in time.

* * *

Well, there you have it.  It's all the news I feel comfortable about sharing with you regarding my latest poetry manuscript, formerly known as my Springville Book.

I have said this before, but here it is again:  I have another manuscript in my bag, and if any of you are considering a swap for your manuscript-in-progress, send me a note.  I am more than willing to trade with you.