Category Archives: life of a writer

Saturday Afternoon Epiphany

ember

Saturday Afternoon Epiphany

I will never be as interesting

to another human being

as I am to my cat

                             when I am on the commode.

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Weathering

I’m fascinated by Motion Poetry–the poet has an unprecedented opportunity to assert control over the speed at which a reader moves through the poem, but at the same time (assuming music accompanies the video) is constrained by attention to the relationship between the words and the music.

This is my first attempt at a motion poem, using one of my poems from Beneath Artificial Stars. The program used was VideoScribe by Sparkol, and I found it a fairly simple WYSIWYG interface, which was exactly what I needed for my first stab at this sort of thing. The music is one of their stock songs.

The photo with the water tower is in my home town, and is in fact the view from my parents’ back yard. The graveyard is at the end of a gravel lane on the farm where I grew up.

 

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April 23, 2014 · 8:30 pm

Forgotten Journals

I love blank journals, especially the offbeat ones with bamboo-slide covers, leather wraparound ties, or interesting paper (except the kind with flower petals pressed inside…pretty to look at, Hell to write on).

Thing is, I have a terrible habit of abandoning journals about…oh, I’d say three entries in. As writers and serial killers know, when the urge hits, it hits, and if your chosen tools aren’t handy, any old notebook or pickaxe will do. So it goes, and I’ve silently made peace with my little neglected pile of adorable journals, but tonight I stumbled across one I completely forgot that I had forgotten: an old Blogger page.

Whoops. And it isn’t exactly ancient history, either…the last entry was January 24, 2011. There weren’t many (typical…), but I was going on about a writer’s retreat I had gone to the previous summer (which, admittedly, was a fun and productive one…it gave me the confidence to start grad school). I like what it was talking about, so this is me upcycling The Blog That Time I Forgot:

Geurilla Writing

Last summer, at a writing conference, someone had a coffee table book of postcards upon which a series of confessional messages had been written. Some were hilarious, some were horrifyingly raw and honest. Over the course of the weekend, we took inspiration from the book and posted random little snippets of writing in odd places around the lodge. I found one of mine tucked away in my writing journal:


A Baptist Confession
I got spanked at church
when I was eight
for pointing out that grape
juice and crackers
made for crappy
hors d’oeuvres


 

Thanks to Google, I remembered what the book was!  PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

I have that book now. It’s pretty awesome…I love the idea of anonymous confessions. In a sense, lyric poets–I’m looking at us as a whole–don’t we all engage in this from time to time, perhaps shielded by the safety net of the persona poem?

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Fibonacci Poems

The Found Poetry Review offered an intriguing prompt today: using a combination of the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio to pull text from books for raw material for Found Language Poems. Here’s the relevant site: http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/blog/poetry-prompt-the-golden-ratio/

The rules were as follows:

Follow these steps to create your poem:

  1. Select a book from your shelf.
  2. Use the Fibonacci sequence to identify the page numbers to which you will refer: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377…
  3. Turn to the first page and count the number of lines. Divide the total number of lines by the golden ratio (1.61803398875) and round to the nearest whole number.
  4. The text in the resulting line will be the first line of your poem. So if your page is 25 lines long, you will use line number 15.
  5. Turn to the next number in the sequence (page 2) and repeat the same process outlined above.

Guidelines:

  • Once you have recorded all the lines of the poem, it is acceptable to revise by removing words, fixing tenses, and changing punctuation.
  • Lines should stay in original order, but it is OK to change line breaks by combining them.
  • You may choose not to begin with page 1 of your source text.

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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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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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