Monthly Archives: August 2012

Cover Letter Musings

Each semester, students in my MFA program must read a number of submissions for The Louisville Review and vote yes/no/maybe on submissions. This exercise is invaluable for preparing writers to approach the publication process by instilling immediate and intimate familiarity with the editorial side of the process, and below I’ve shared an except from my mid-semester post reading report. We were asked, “What advice would you offer a writer seeking publication?”

Your cover letter or bio is important. Whether you’ve been published five thousand times and currently teach at U.C. Berkeley or have never been published and work as a janitor at a YMCA is far less relevant than the tone you take with the poetry editors. One cover letter I read which negatively impacted my reading of the poems crossed the line into boastful territory, claiming that some muckity-muck critic found the submitter’s poems “terrific! Beyond compare!” If the work is good, it will stand on its own merits. Please don’t insult your editor by appealing to the praises others have given to the submitted pieces.

Another wrote, “If this submission is too long, just arbitrarily truncate it.” Really? That shows such a lack of respect for his own writing, so why should an editor care about the endings of his poems– or the beginnings and middles, for that matter—if the poet doesn’t? Be professional, be polite, don’t be flippant or arrogant. And please, please spellcheck your own work before submitting it.

This semester, I found that many of my notes as I was reading submissions focused on how professionally the poems were presented, including the bio and cover letter, and I learned that an editor’s decision can and will be influenced by how deftly we market our own work.

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Upon Being Bullied

Upon Being Bullied

One time too many, so I invoke:
Injustice, I name you. Deny you
power. Your plaintive roars–solitary–
devoid of power.

One time too often, so I defy
you. Coward, your prey
has instincts as keen as yours.

One time too violent, so I bring
darker powers to my defense.
Bring your cruelty to bear–
surely you are armed beyond your teeth,
perhaps beyond mine, and certainly
you wield terrible strength.

One time was enough, so beware: I bare
this ultimatum: your nemesis arises.
I have your scent.

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Response

Recent events have me thinking about critique, and how we respond to criticism as writers. Today I received my first two responses from journals. Both were “rejection slips.” I wasn’t unprepared…I grew a very thick skin in my journey to get my B.A. in Acting, and accepted the rule of thumb that actors and writers both can expect upwards of thirty rejections for every acceptance, and that ratio is if they’re good. It did sting a bit, though, and I suspect it always does, even when one has worked as a review editor for a journal as I have, aware that twenty potential Yes spots exist in the face of three thousand submissions. We all want to beat the odds, regardless of the reality.

At Spalding, my program director suggests this for giving workshop feedback, and it is advice I have found invaluable in responding to writing others have generously offered to me for feedback outside of my program: compliment sandwich. Always begin by responding to something about the piece you found effective, liked, or connected with personally. Suggestions for change, observations of weaknesses…they come after, and should always be followed by another encouragement. This is not coddling, it is gentility and compassion, but of a genuine spirit, and the world could benefit from a little more of that.

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This is Tranquility

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A dear poet friend recently offered a writing prompt consisting of one guiding word: tranquility. I knew immediately that I could never encapsulate the entirety of such an elusive and sometimes impossible state of being, but I just spent the last 48 hours hammering out critical essays on Charles Wright’s search for the infinite and ineffable in his essays and poems, so I let myself off the hook of grappling with cosmic mysteries and instead took the advice Wright imparts in Halflife: that all tangible things are gateways to the infinite, that the metaphysics of the mundane image are as close to the divine as we might manage. In the act of relaxation, I found a sliver of tranquility sitting outside at night in my gazebo decompressing from my midterm packet, and this resulted:



 

This is Tranquility

At least for the next few hours,
between the witching hour and dawn,
my companion shares silence with me.
Sleepless dog, almond eyes half-lidded,
supine against the back door. He knows

this is a meditative time, neighboring
windows darkened, streets stillened
as though a Rapture swept traffic away.
Perhaps one has. Perhaps an evening spent
stargazing counts for something

in the grand scheme of things
which are not things. Yesterday,
I asked the universe
why we must find language as pilgrims
seeking That Which Cannot Be Said,

and it answered, as much as it would,
because you do.
Because the night belongs to lovers,
Patti Smith sings briefly in my mind,
but these things come
and go.

So, too, will nights
measured in cricket songs–
smiles from a watchful hound
content just to exist here
beside me–teach me
to watch, patiently,
the canvas lighten.

 

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Two Poems: The Natural Disorder, The Unnatural Order

The Natural Disorder

So many things I cherish
on a sunday spent in bed
until well past noon. Dishes

scatter the nightstand
from last night’s fondue.
Lines from the movie still linger

in the bedroom corners. Yesterday’s
clothes, haphazard in a trail
from couch to bed–

My parents will be finishing
their after-church dinner soon,
dropping by

before getting groceries. You boys
need anything from the store?

Same script every weekend, same

reply: We’re good,
but glad you got to see us!

How I’ll miss this ritual of ours

when chaos replaces order,
when the time comes
to buy a black suit

and make the necessary
arrangements.



 

The Unnatural Order

Three hundred years ago,
two men would have hesitated
before holding hands like this.

Then again, no one saw
Earth from this angle,
our orbital honeymoon.

We argued the entire flight.
You, frustrated by the texts
I could not leave behind.

I just wanted you
to have the perfect vacation.
We spent a bundle to get here.

As the planet spins beneath,
you point out the coastline
of Kentucky and the Atlantic,

ask why we never visit the beach.

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Life/Time

Life/Time

With the moon as my witness,
I have better things to do than survive
this night unscathed.

The silence we’ve labeled
comfortable, broken by pages turning,
the metronome steadiness of the clock,

occasional sighs. Each razor-edged,
fulsome, yearning for the other
to speak the first apology of the evening.

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