Friday, May 31, 2013

Poetry, Footnotes, Fiction & Outright Lies

Poetry at its very core is language.  That is the craft side of the equation.  As far as content goes, however, poetry is fiction, or at least has some fictional elements.  Poetry can relate true events well enough, but in figurative language (metaphor, simile, etc.) comes hyperbole and exaggeration, and therefore, fiction.  So if poetry is fiction, and for the purposes of what I want to discuss here it is, then some further discussion is needed regarding my decision to use footnotes in my new book, Hobble Creek Almanac.

Footnotes are usually reserved for documents which use source work and are trying to establish a quality of verisimilitude, factual reliability, and credence.  As such, poetry usually relies upon the epigraph to provide source and lineage for the content or ideas within the poem.  And while some poets have begun to use a notes page to provide further explanation and clarification for their poems, few indeed, have been meticulous as T.S. Eliot was with his notes for "The Wasteland," and even then, his footnotes were authentic.  My purpose is to follow in the path of writers  of prose fiction who have employed fictitious footnotes and quotes to help round out the fullness of their stories.  We see examples of this in epistolary novels and more recently, Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, where he does a phenomenal job at blurring the line between fact and fiction, indeed causing the reader to  question such distinctions. 

In my book, I use footnotes, quotes, and epigraphs in much the same way.  First and foremost is my need to tell real stories, events which really happened.  I felt I owed it to the reader to provide the basis for my poems, or at the very least, the appearance for a basis.  There is a certain confidence in citation, especially when discussing events from 150 years ago.  Do I expect my readers to look up those citations?  Perhaps, but they will be disappointed if they look all of them up because not all of my footnotes are real.  So why have false footnotes in a manuscript?  Why worry about such things in a book of poetry?  Well, continuity for one.  I like the idea of consistency, and if footnotes serve to bolster the confidence the reader has in what they are reading, then they will, in the case of persona poems, help to make that persona appear all the more real.  As with any such things, there is a delineation between the poems where I am supposedly presenting history and persona, and the section of the book where I want people to hear my narrator's voice. The absence of footnotes in that section highlights the difference.

Quotes are another means, especially in poetry, where the poet attempts to provide a provenance to the reader, saying in essence, "Here is where this poem comes from."  Quotes used as epigraphs are an admission of influence.  Some poets love them and some poets hate them.  I love them, and possibly other poets hate them for the same reason I am unable to comprehend notes pages at the end of a manuscript:  If I can't figure something out from the reading of the poem that was essential, then why wasn't it better communicated in the poem? Accordingly, I have quoted people and poems legitimately, and I have made up some entirely.  Again, it is a matter of creating as complete a picture I want to create for the reader.  This is part of the art of my book, to present a unified image for the reader and not worry whether every word is accurate or historically absolute.  After all, I am creating fiction.  What does it really matter that I have cited books which do not exist, or created quotes where none existed before, or even created people altogether in order to "quote" them?  In the end, the book works as art or it does not.  How I got there should be of paramount concern to me, but not all that important to the reader.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Time Away from Writing: How to spend your down time

I can't tell you when I wrote my last poem (well, not off the top of my head).  I can tell you I have tinkered with a few things here and there over the past few months, and I think there was a two day period where three small poems came out from me---one the result of an opening line given to me by Jeff Newberry.  But it has literally been 8 months or more where I have put any effort into writing a new poem.  Oh, I have put in a considerable amount of time proofing poems and preparing manuscripts for publication, but nothing new.  And I am perfectly happy with that.

I have talked about it before, how I fall into shallow slumps of non-writing after I finish a manuscript, and that I never really start to write again until I genuinely panic about not writing.  In short, I need to freak out about not being a poet any more before my mind kick-starts me back into writing.So what do I do until that happens?  How do I fill the void?  Well, I already mentioned the proofing and tinkering thing, so I thin I should tell you about the other stuff I do.

1.  I spend a lot of time on Facebook.  I probably spend too much time on Facebook, but I would be doing that even if I was writing, so that really doesn't count.

2.  I prepare for my next year's teaching assignment.  I am going to be reading this summer, and I am going to be re-reading books as well.Nothing new or earth shattering there, right? 

3.  To tell the truth, I really have been spending the majority of my time not writing by not worrying about whether I should write.  I have learned my lesson from previous freak-outs---something else I have already talked about.  Still, it's true.  I am not writing and I am not worried about not writing. 

So let's review:

Don't freak out.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's in a name? and other perfunctory facts about Sailing This Nameless Ship.

My first thought was to name this new book of mine, The Telemachy.  I wanted a more direct reference to the son who goes in search of his father, but I wanted my telemachy to be an American story, a son who was an unwilling searcher looking for a father.  So the title floated to American Telemachy.  This of course mimics my own history, but it did not quite fit my needs for the manuscript.  Then, while re-reading Rober Fagles' (pronounced 'Fails') translation of The Odyssey, I stumbled upon one of the other, minor things Telemachus longs for.  he wanted to be Jason, sailing the Argo, living out adventures.  Then it struck me that the Greeks were fond of naming their ships, but I could not find a name for the ship Telemachus sailed on while searching for his father.  With a little more thought, I had my thread of continuity, a title for my manuscript, and a hold over for this blog. 

Now, I mentioned that I based this manuscript on a lot of my own personal history, but here are a few things for you to chew on and hopefully fuel your anticipation to read the entire book:

1.  The catalyst for the book is W.S. Merwin's book, The Shadow of Sirius.  

In his book, he has a poem called "Just This" which blew my socks off.  I imagined an entire book of poems called "Just This" which would assume a question was asked and the responder initially had one thing to say, but ended up having a coda type of refrain titles "and this."  The idea was to tell a history with no objective clues to help discern the order of the poems.  All of the core poems , and most of the other poems in the book began with "Just This" as the title and the "and this" coda.  They evolved, but that's where they had their start.

2.  Most of the core poems were written between the end of November, 2008 and the end of February, 2009. 

Many of the poems were initially drafted while walking to school.  This can explain why so many of the poems are short.  I wrote poems for the manuscript almost every single day in those three months.  I was writing at such a rate I was afraid  I was going to skip over something, so I did something I hardly ever do.  I turned off my filter and just recorded everything.

3.  This manuscript is a departure from my usual writing in more ways than subject matter and voice.

Where most of my poetry about Springville is a landscape of place, I have tried to make this book about emotional landscape.  I still use a narrator based upon me, as I have used my personal experiences as subject matter, but I have restructured the narrative and my perception of audience.  Another major departure is the very structure of the poems I have written.  I also have purposely put into place an audience. In this manuscript I speak one of several specific people.  My father, my wife, my life-long friends, are all people I address these poems to at various points.

4.  The book itself (meaning the writing of the book) has taken on an entirely new level of irony in my life.

While I have had a difficult relationship with my father, and one could easily say it is still strained, it wasn't until after I had finished drafting the poems for this book and was working on the order of the specific poems I found out the man who I have known as my father all my life is in most likelihood not my biological father.  I only learned of this after my mother died.  So this book, where a reluctant son searches for a father who seemingly doesn't want to be found is actually about just that.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'

You know that Jay-Z is one wise man.  If I got 99 problems, books getting published ain't one of them, because BlazeVox informed me over the weekend it wants to go ahead with a print edition of my book, Sailing This Nameless Ship, as opposed to releasing it as an e-book.  Now, I was thrilled with the e-book format because I looked at it as an opportunity to get my feet wet and used to the world of e-books and electronic publishing.  However, I am a little taken back at the confidence Geoffrey Gatza has that my book is worth the money and time involved in publishing and promoting a paper edition of my book of poems.

So begins more frequent updates and discussions of all that is related to putting out a book.  I hope you are willing to come along on this ride with me.  I will be sure to update you on a regular basis about all of the juicy bits and frustrations associated with this sort of venture.

Talk to you very soon.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Seven Reasons to buy my new book!

Well, the day has come that I let all six or seven of you who read this blog know my book, Hobble Creek Almanac, is officially up for sale over at Amazon.  As such, I would like to invite you all to go take a look, and then buy my book.  I am not really good at the hard sell, but I think I can come up with a few reasons why you should buy my book, as there are always a few good reasons to buy most any book.  At the very least, I would appreciate it very much if you were to spread the word about my book and let other people know what a great thing it would be to buy a book of poems written by a complete stranger.  So, here we go:

1.  The book is on the cutting edge forefront of the 19th Century-Mormon Pioneer-Rural/Pastoral/Agrarian-Landscape-Elegiac Poetry.  'Nuff said, right?  I mean, who wouldn't want to get in on this action?

2.  Buying poetry boosts your serotonin levels.

3.   It's poetry you can show  your grandmother without worrying about so-called naughty words causing any level of consternation or apoplexy.  (We'll leave that for the next book, Sailing This Nameless Ship.)

4.  Let's show those guys at Farrar, Strauss & Giroux a thing or two about where real poetry comes from!

5.  Let this be one of three books of poetry you buy this year not written by Mary Oliver.

6.  Two Words:  "Hipster Irony."

7.  It's cheaper than a trip to Disneyland.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The waiting . . .

A I write this, I am waiting for my personal copies of Hobble Creek Almanac to make it to my door front.  I have been given a deadline, which if not met, I am to contact my editor at Aldrich Press, but you probably can tell I am hoping my books beat that deadline.  It would be a real treat to have my book early, to see it in the flesh, or pulp as it were.  Until then, it's the waiting time. 

This specific time many of you are familiar with is full of ritual for me.  Number one on my list is to pretend I have dozens of other writing related issues to tend to as not to appear too desperate.  With that in mind, please have patience while I talk about other things which I will treat with much more seriousness than they are worth.

I just signed the contract for my poem, "Ode to Pablo Neruda," to be included in the 99 Poems for the 99 Percent anthology.  No links yet, because I seriously don't know where anything is on the net and I don't feel like searching for it right now.  This is my very first anthologized poem and I very happy for that.  Not just because this is my first anthologized poem, but because I really like that particular poem.

My poem, "Poem for David Lee, Three Sisters Mountain," just finished its tenure over at Heron Tree.  It is an integral part of my book, Hobble Creek Almanac, but it appears under a different title over at Heron Tree for clarity.  The original context of the poem is set and the title, "Eastern Pretty Skies" is a very natural title.  With this book, I really feel like I am getting closer to the kind of poetry I am meant to write as my life's work, and this poem in particular is a really good representation of that writing.  I am hoping to have at least one more Springville book in me, so I can have a trilogy, a long sequence of poems about one specific place.

I continue to work with BlazeVox Press towards getting my manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship, ready for publication as part of their Kindle Editions.  I am perfectly happy seeing this book as an e-book.  To be honest, there was a really long period (the majority of these poems were written in 2008-2009) where I never thought they would ever see the light of day.  To have this outlet be such a great press is a wonderful option.  I can see no downside to having my feet trenched in both the print and electronic worlds of publishing.  Right now it's all about the proofing and aesthetics.  It keeps me somewhat busy.

And just last night, I got back into the submission game, sending out three new poems.  It's not my usual voice, but what I am beginning to see is some real joy from taking little side roads off the beaten path of my usual voice.  Every now and then I begin to think I can't write like other poets (read: I can't write in the currently popular vernacular) and that holds me back in some ways.  Well the truth is I can write those kinds of poems, and while I enjoy reading them, I don't really writing them en masse.  Don't get me wrong.  I am not claiming the high road here.  I don't think myself above such writing, just different, and it is nice to see I am writing different poetry as a  matter of choice rather than out of not being able to write those kinds of poems.

 As you can see, if you have been able to read through all of that bragging, I have been quite fortunate of late.  It feels nice to be here, and it's this I need to build on to negate those times when I feel frustrated and just a little out of sorts about my life as a poet.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Think Positive

I have been doing a lot of proofreading which makes me think of what Kelli said recently on her blog.

I have been looking around and I am reminded that while I do not save my rejections in a drawer like some of the people she mentions, I do not dwell upon them in any negative way.  I submit and I happily accept whatever comes my way.  But right now I would like to build a little bit on what she spoke of.  I would like to talk about the successes we have versus the successes we perceive.

If you have been a follower of my blog, you know pessimism comes naturally to me.  Well, not today, and not for a while.  Why?  Because I have been confronted with the reality that I have been quite successful as a poet as of late, and what's more, the evidence of that success trumps anything I might feel about my success.

As I write this, I have two, yes two, books going through the final stages of being proofed and readied for publication.  The first book is Hobble Creek Almanac, soon to be out from Aldrich Press.  The second is my book, Sailing This Nameless Ship, which is being released by BlazeVox and their Kindle Editions series. 

Now I haven't written much poetry for the past several months, nor have I even tried to submit poetry for even longer than that, yet on Sunday, a poem of mine will appear in Heron Tree, and soon, five of my poems from Hobble Creek Almanac, will be appearing in Weber-The Contemporary West.  Now, I could concentrate on all of the places my poetry has not appeared, or wonder why some poets are seemingly showered in praise while my work goes mostly unnoticed.  However, I will not do either, because if I was to do those things I would be ignoring the fact that in three short years time (2011-2013) I will have had a chapbook and three full length manuscripts of poetry published.  That's a number I never thought I would see.  That's a number I find astonishing. It's the sort of number that flies in the face of anything I could attempt to label as failure.

What I keep thinking, what stays with my thoughts is as I look back over this past week or so is this sort of thing doesn't happen to me.  I am still a little overwhelmed at the thought of refuting my own narrative regarding my efforts as a poet.  I keep thinking about all of the things I think of as hallmarks for success, all of the things which are happening for me, and all I can wonder is how did I build a gap so wide.  And that's what it is.  It's a cognitive dissonance I am just now beginning to resolve.  Why?  Regardless of my pessimism, I have found editors who not only publish my work, but have thought enough of it to merit multiple publications of manuscripts. Now I may still want to break into specific markets, but as for reaching an audience, it is absolutely clear I have achieved a great deal of success.

The writer, right or wrong, always writes.  And though it will most likely take a while, I am learning how to see my successes for what they are, and see through the transparency of my failures, knowing neither one defines me as a writer.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Welcome to the Suck

For those of you who hang on, visit regularly, or only check in once in a great while, I thought I would give you an update as to my teaching schedule for next year.  As most of you know I am  high school teacher, and I teach at a small high school in rural Nevada.  This year I have been teaching history and drama.  Well, next year I am being given an almost entirely different schedule.  I am going to be teaching two drama classes (we had 47 kids sign up for the class) and an eclectic set of English classes.

I will be once again teaching senior English.  I will also be teaching the 9-10 Honors English class, and the 11-12 Honors English class.  While part of me is flattered because it is the general consensus I have been rather successful teaching senior English, I am not looking forward to the sheer amount of work I can expect as a result of teaching these classes (3 regular senior English and the 2 honors sections).

I have a pretty good structure for the regular senior English class, and I am trying something entirely new for the honors sections.  Senior English is British lit in these parts, and while I have that down, I am taking it upon myself to re-create the honors English courses to try and instill academic rigor which has been lacking---even two years ago, when I taught it for the firs time.  What is of crtical importance is students be rid of the notion the honors class in this town is a free ride for the 'well-behaved' kids.  While that is an honorable goal to give well-behaved kids a class in which they can pursue their studies, an honors curriculum it does not make.

To that end, tomorrow I have the honor of informing the prospective honors students of what will be expected of them.  My 9-10 students they will be reading The Great Gatsby over the summer (complete with exam in the first week of class); reading three other novels within the first 9 weeks of class; writing four papers in each semester (2 literary analysis and 2 expository). Units in poetry and drama will follow, with a major independent research project to cap off the year.  My 11-12 students will be required to read The Odyssey over the summer (complete wit an exam in the first week of class), immediately read Beowulf in its entirety and embark upon a greatly expanded reading curriculum for British Lit, complete with a schedule of four longer papers throughout each semester.  Each class will also be required to complete weekly write-ups and class discussions on current issues.

* * *

What this means to you, and most of the writers I share the internets with is this:  You may, if it suits you, add my name to the list of high school English teachers you blame for sending high school students to college unprepared for the basics of the composition classes you teach.  I will be trying my best to teach them the basics of writing a decent paper, but I really have never liked my chances of being successful.  Oh, a few students learn and adapt their writing patterns to be in line with standards and expectations, but the vast majority fall under one of two categories---well, those who go to college.  Category One consists of students who already know enough to make a good pass at college writing and I feel helpless in my attempts to get them to be better writers.  Category Two consists of the students who need to learn how to be better writers but for whatever reason, lack the ability to adapt their writing, and I feel helpless in my attempts to get them to be better writers.

Yes, that's about it.  I have found the writers who are a joy to teach are the ones who already know how to write, and I can do very little for them.  The students who need the help are infinitely frustrating because I see in them the ability to write better, but they either choose to do nothing or simply cannot do anything to be better writers.

I know how frustrating it is for college instructors, as I see many of their/your complaints on blogs and Facebook, citing the stunning depths of ignorance students are seemingly willing to sink.  I know what it's like to waffle between being infuriated at the student because of this willingness and being infuriated at the teacher because part of you refuses to believe anyone would willingly be that ignorant.  I don't know what to say except to apologize in advance and offer myself as sacrifice to the writing gods.  Well, actually, I would like you to consider what actors students can be.  They have for years been honing their performance, and you should never underestimate their willingness to try and not be held accountable for something you require of them.

And of course this includes throwing their high school teachers under the bus to give the impression they have never heard of a thesis statement or plagiarism.