Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Submissions Mailed

I just mailed eleven submissions to some of my favorite literary magazines. It should be at least two months before I hear back from any of them. I wish I had stock in the USPS. I bet I spent at least $40 last year on submission postage (to include SASE postage), and I have to buy stamps for bills and other needs about every three weeks. Then there is Christmas and mailing packages to family.

It’s almost a hobby to sent out submissions and then track the responses in Excel and look at the trends and patterns. One of these days I’ll post on my blog my submission statistics (which are abysmal as far as acceptances go).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.

--Allen Ginsberg

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Finally Have a Breather from Work & Some Time to Blog

I received Joshua Poteat’s Ornithologies in the mail from Amazon this week and started reading it. I’ve read some of the poems before in Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, and Blackbird. I’m trying to resist the urge to skip around and read it instead from cover to cover as Josh intends. I’m also trying to only read the poems when they have my full attention, and I’m not tired.

This is probably one of the thickest first collections of poetry that I’ve ever seen, so you are definitely getting your money’s worth. So far I am really enjoying it, and it is interesting to compare Josh’s work to my own and note the differences mentally. I’m seeing at the beginning of the book a lot of references to the South, history, and of course birds. I like the tone and the pacing of the poems a lot. I’m seeing the use of indentation that I remarked about a few posts ago. Josh also uses italicized words/phrases, and there are literal questions in his poems. Association in an almost stream-of-consciousness way is a technique that I’m seeing employed in the poems. The title, the cover, and the index of birds at the end of the collection gives the whole collection the appearance of being a kind of field guide for bird watching.

I’ve received notification in the mail that my artist colony application and my first poetry contest entry of the year have been received. I should know the results of both in early March. I plan to prepare some literary magazine submissions later today and mail them out tomorrow.

With the exception of Josh’s book of poems, I’ve noticed lately that I tend to skim poems that I read rather than fully engaging with them. This is especially true if I’m looking through literary magazines in the bookstore. As I’ve said before in this post, unless the poem grabs me by the throat and makes me sit up and read it carefully, I tend to give it only a cursory reading. I admit to feeling a little guilty about this. It seems unkind or unfair somehow. Still, I only have limited time and concentration energy. I just can’t shake the feeling though that I am missing out on other kinds of poetry that I could learn from. I’m only reinforcing the kind of poetry I have liked to read in the past rather than expanding my tastes.

At this point, I probably have about 1/3 of my first book manuscript ready. By that I mean poems that are fully revised and worthy of consideration for a book. I still have a lot of work to do. This morning I think I finished the revisions to three poems. One of them is my sestina. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll include these poems in the batch of submissions I plan to send out tomorrow. It’s fun to see the book grow and think about preliminary structuring and how the poems relate to one another.

For about a week now I’ve been trying to come up with a first line for a new poem I have in mind. Previously, this poem was only coming to me in snippets of imagery and phrases that seem to want to find a home in the middle or end of the poem. This morning I have a tentative first three lines. I’ll have to read them over again tomorrow or Tuesday to see if I want to keep them and see where they lead. So much depends upon those opening lines in a poem. There is a little extra pressure on this poem because I am titling it with the working title of my manuscript. If the poem fails, I’ll be disappointed. But hey, I’ll chuck it if need be if it’s not working as either the title poem or at least as decent poem. Of course, I am not dead set on the working title of the manuscript either.

Besides having some angst over how my manuscript has a lot of dark content, I am also wondering about this strange marriage between poems that had their genesis during my MFA program, and the new work that I am writing now. Can the two mesh together successfully, or will the twain never meet? Intuitively, I think they can work together. Besides, I am revising those older poems with my current poetic abilities, so that should raise them up in terms of sophistication even if they are the poems of a younger man with concerns somewhat foreign to the man I am now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

At any given time, I have two things on my mind: a theme that interests me and a problem of verbal form, meter, diction, etc. The theme looks for the right form: the form looks for the right theme. When the two come together, I am able to start writing.

--W. H. Auden


Work has been insanely busy this week. I hope it will calm down after Friday.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I think that an awful lot of American writing since the 1950s was in some ways anti-modernist, and that one of the reasons that poetry is undergoing this small boom is that people are turning to it and finding it surprisingly accessible, despite many years of education by teachers trained by New Critics to think that poetry was the best way to teach children analytic and interpretative skills in school—which could certainly kill off anything, you know?

--Robert Hass

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Poetry Contests

Over the last few days I’ve been kicking around the idea of trying poetry contests again. I entered three of them about two years ago, and nothing came of it. I think that I have stronger worker now, and I’m really getting the hang of revision. So, I did some research and came up with a list of contests to consider. I figure I’ll limit my number of contest entries to a total of $40 in entrance fees and see what happens. One of the contests I’m interested in has a deadline of January 20th, so I scrambled last night to get my submission together. I mailed the contest submission just a little while ago. The next contest I’m interested in doesn’t have a deadline until mid-February, so I can relax a bit on that front.

I’m still planning to submit to some more literary magazines later this month. I’ve narrowed my list of potentials down and checked their latest submission guidelines online.

I learned today that my poem “Drive” will appear in the first issue of SLAB. The contributor copies will be mailed in April. I’ll be curious to read what they did with my responses to their ten questions. Will they use all of them or some of them? I tried to be funny or bizarre in my answers.

Some Literary Publications I Try to Read Regularly:

The Writer’s Chronicle (from AWP)
Poets & Writers
Gulf Coast
The National Poetry Review

The New Yorker (though I’ve let my subscription lapse, can’t read them fast enough before the next one comes)
Whatever literary magazines are in the bookstores I frequent

Monday, January 16, 2006

Stray Thoughts on Revision

I’ve had a couple of really good revision sessions lately on two of my poems. I don’t think my sestina is an exercise poem, but a real poem. Now I just have to innovate and fix those rough spots in the sestina. Yesterday I came up with an alternative for the envoy that I think I like better. I’ll probably retain it for future drafts of the sestina.

For my artist colony application it was suggested to me that I be as specific as possible about the project that I want to work on while I am there. I decided to give my slowly forming manuscript a tentative title. My wife suggested that I try writing a poem using the tentative title as a departure point. I spent about an hour brainstorming, and a few images and snippets of lines came to me. It feels like a new poem is shaping within me. It would be nice if the poem turns out well and can be the title poem of the manuscript.

It’s always exciting when you start working on a new poem. There are endless possibilities, and I enjoy the give and take between the Platonic ideal of the poem in my head versus what I actually write on the page--and adjusting my plans accordingly.

Revision has its own rewards. Lately I think about revision as working on pieces of a puzzle. With revision, you always make choices according to what’s best for the poem. At times that can mean striking out large portions of your writing and beginning again.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mailed My Artist Colony Application Today

After work yesterday I spent a couple of hours putting the finishing touches on my artist colony application packet. I just mailed it almost an hour ago. I should hear back by early March. I want a residency for one week, so I had to give them very specific dates because of my work schedule. I’m hoping to be accepted for a week in either September (1st choice) or June (2nd choice). Now I just need to remind my two references to send their recommendation letters in. Once that's done, I’ll turn my attention to sending out some more submissions before the winter/spring semester starts winding down.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Indentation in Poems & The Subject of Possession

I’ve noticed in literary journals for some time now that a number of poets like to do all kinds of things with indentation. You’ve probably seen these poems yourself where it seems like each line of the poem has a different indentation or follows some sort of pattern of indentation. I find the looks of these poems to be unsightly, and the sight of them discourages me from reading them. I am fairly conservative in that I like my lines to all be aligned on the left side of the page and of roughly the same line length whenever possible.

At first I thought the indentation was some kind of avant-garde experimentation or maybe further exploration of using the page as a canvas. It recently occurred to me that perhaps these poets (or at least some of them) are doing all of these things with indentation and the spacing of their words as a technique for breaking their lines differently or printing the words the way the poets hear the poem in their minds. It is using the page as a more detailed musical score on how the poem should be read or said aloud. This gets into the whole Charles Olson thing about the unit of breath in poems, which is related I think.

I’ll try to keep all of this in mind that next time I come across one of these poems, but it still feels like they require extra effort to read. I’d love to read any other views about this topic. Please leave a comment!


Last week Netflicks delivered the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I had seen the movie before in the theaters, but my wife had not. It’s a pretty good movie, and I recommend renting it. I especially liked the courtroom aspects of the movie.

While I was getting ready for work this morning I found myself thinking about the movie and about possession in particular. I’ll say upfront that I am a very skeptical secular humanist who believes in a higher power along the lines of the Tao rather than the Judeo-Christian God, devil, the eternal war between good and evil, etc. Years ago I read some books about possession. One was a detailed account of four case studies. The late M. Scott Peck of The Road Less Traveled fame talks about possession in his book People of the Lie. I remember Peck saying that he functioned as a psychiatrist at one or more exorcisms, and he believes what he witnessed was not mental illness but something far more sinister. Okay, but I have to keep in mind here that M. Scott Peck was both a psychiatrist and held Christian beliefs.

Ockham's razor is a “rule in science and philosophy stating that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. This rule is interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known. Also called law of parsimony” (from The American Heritage Dictionary). In other words, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. It seems pretty fantastical that there are powerful demons roaming the supernatural realms that want to possess human beings. That seems pretty flattering towards human beings by the way. When it comes to possession, the simplest solutions seem to be that these are either hoaxes, some sort of shared delusion (ergot in bread can make people hallucinate and some say contributed to the Salem Witch Hunts), or examples of mental illness (perhaps something not currently in the DSM-IV revised). Aside from the traditional “a demon is inside of me theory,” one other fantastical option occurs to me that I get from science fiction. In science fiction books and movies some alien entities can enter the body as a parasite and take over the body. In other science fiction books and movies some aliens are non-corporeal and somehow can enter the body and take it over. I’m not saying that I think purported possessions are examples of alien involvement, but it is interesting to think about and somehow seems a little more rational than believing that evil demons are to blame. Just thought I’d share some thoughts on the subject.


A quote that I came across years ago that I think helps one live life more fully, with more awareness and attention:

“Ask yourself from time to time: Am I truly awake?”

Monday, January 09, 2006

Book Concerns

As I revise more and more of my poems I am becoming increasingly aware that many of my poems have dark content. While this is definitely true of my older poems, my newer poems are noticeably less dark. With the dark content of many of my poems, I am concerned that once the manuscript is ready that I may have trouble finding a publisher. I wonder if the dark content will put readers off or overwhelm them. Dark collections of poetry are published. I’m thinking of T. R. Hummer’s Walt Whitman in Hell and Bridgit Pegeen Kelly’s The Orchard. However, these poets are known poets, and I would be an unknown poet. I imagine that I will need to keep these concerns in mind and try to find some balance in the content of my book. I may need to write some lighter, more optimistic poems to balance the book out. I am not sure though that I can just intentionally set out to write lighter poems; that goes against my artistic integrity in a way, and I’m not sure my imagination would respond with good poems.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Artist Colony Application, MFA Classmate, & Poetry Quotes

I revised some poems this morning and worked on my artist colony application. I emailed the artist colony this afternoon to see if they can send me a Word version of the application that I can type into rather than using the Adobe Acrobat version that I have to either use a typewriter on or use my handwriting (which isn’t the neatest—I tend to write like a doctor).

I’ve reconnected with one of my MFA classmates thanks to this blog. It’s great to hear from him and learn what he has been up to.


In my book, poetry is a necessity of life. It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.
--C. D. Wright

I never find words right away. Poems for me always begin with images and rhythms, shapes, feelings, forms, dances in the back of my mind. And much of the poem is already dancing itself out before I begin to look around for the words for it…. For me, language comes after imagination. My imagination is pre-linguistic, pre-verbal.
--Gary Snyder

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Acceptance Update and Favorite Words

I heard back from SLAB yesterday. One of the managing editors said I could cross through and initial anything in the acceptance contract that made me uncomfortable. I did that last night, and I mailed the acceptance contract this morning. I’ve already emailed SLAB my author bio, my answers to their eight questions (e.g., Favorite guilty pleasure? Who were you in a previous like? Worst film you paid to see?), gift subscription information, and a copy of my poem “Drive” in Word format. So, I should be all set. I haven’t been told officially what issue “Drive” will be in (think I’ll email them and ask), but I expect it will be out in the spring.

One of the eight SLAB questions was: Favorite word? My official answer was Bodhisattva. It was fun trying to come up with a favorite word (as if you can really pick just one). I ended up brainstorming a list of words and searching through my computer’s American Heritage Dictionary. It became addictive to list words, and my mind kept at it even after I stopped adding them to my list of possible choices. I noticed that a lot of words I like are polysyllabic Latinate words. I also noticed that there are a lot of scientific words that I like.

Here is my list of favorite words. Feel free, gentle readers, to leave a comment and list some of your favorite words. I’d love to see them.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Promoting my MFA Classmates

I noticed in the current issue of Poets & Writers (page 133 of the Jan/Feb 2006 issue) that a MFA classmate of mine is launching his first collection of poems. Joshua Poteat’s Ornithologies, winner of the 2004 Anhinga Prize for Poetry, is a book I plan to purchase later this week. Josh is an amazing poet. I encourage you to check out Anhinga Press’s web site and read what Mary Oliver said about him. You can also read some of his poems there.

Go to: http://www.anhinga.org/books/book_info.cfm?title=Ornithologies

This reminds me that a classmate a year behind me also has a book out. I believe it came out last year. Jon Pineda’s Birthmark won the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry. I liked his book very much and recommend it. It was very cool to read some of the poems and remember workshopping the earlier versions.

Check out: http://webdelsol.com/LITARTS/pineda/pineda.htm