Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Poetry is a means of telling that, solitary as you are, in the act of writing a poem, you are in touch with the whole chain of being. You are always trying not only to get in touch with your most primal self, but with the whole history of the race.

--Stanley Kunitz



Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sunday, February 26, 2006

At Work (Again)

I’m finishing my lunch and checking out people’s blogs. I need to stay at work probably three plus hours before I head home. I’d like to fit in a visit to the gym before they close, but that’s probably being optimistic at this point.

I had a really productive morning writing. I wrote for almost five hours! I knocked out two stanzas on a new poem, and I made some really good progress on a revision. I love that feeling of absorbed concentration when you can tune out distractions and time flies by.

I’m wondering if I need to ramp up the amount of time during the week that I spend writing or revising. February will be over soon, and I don’t feel like I am where I need to be on trying to get a book together. I experimented before with getting up early before work and writing for an hour or so before heading off to work. That didn’t last very long. I might have more success if I try doing it every other day.

Friday, February 24, 2006

My Sense of What’s Currently Fashionable in American Poetry & What Do You Do with Your Rejection Slips?

My sense of what’s in vogue are one to two page poems in free verse that are an amalgamation of conversational and lyrical rhetoric, and they are meditative, post-post modern, and often contain levels of irony. Oh, and throw in the surreal for good measure. Science and history seem to be popular subjects for poems. Prose poems are also in fashion. I’d argue that traditional form poems if done well (i.e., come across as conversational, clever, and with unforced surprising rhymes or slant rhymes) are generally welcomed because they are anomalies in a poetry world dominated by free verse. Maybe it is easier to define what is not in vogue: narrative, symbolism, allegorical, poems too much about the spiritual, and poems that have too much heart and teeter too close to the sentimental.

I received a rejection from Alaska Quarterly Review yesterday. It was a form rejection, but one of the readers did give me a little ink by writing at the top of the slip “Re: Your January poetry submission.” The reader also wrote at the bottom, “Thanks!”

What do you do with your rejection slips? Do you keep them? Throw them away? I like to write on the back of the rejection the date I received the rejection and then list out the poems that were rejected. I then update my Excel submission-tracking document. The rejection slip then joins the others in a section of a blue vinyl accordion file. In another section of the accordion file I also keep my much smaller number of acceptance agreements. I’m not sure why I feel the need to keep all of my rejections. I think that I hope to look back one day and feel vindicated and nod my head at how I paid my dues and kept at it.


When you say life is marvelous, you are saying a banality. But to make life a marvel—that is the role of poetry.

--Octavio Paz


I read somewhere recently that poetry can put a microphone up to some small, overlooked facet of life. I like that.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thoughts on Rejection and What’s Fashionable in Poetry

Poem rejection is in the air judging from the blogs I read. I’ve been thinking about what if you happen to write poems that are full of craft, heart, and intellect but are not currently fashionable in the publishing world. Sometimes I wonder if this applies to my poems, or at least some of them. I don’t want to compromise my artistic integrity just for the sake of getting published. I’ll just keep doing my thing and focus on writing better poems. I’ll also keep sending my work out when I think it is ready.

Related to the paragraph above, I found this interesting in my page-a-day calendar:

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay epitomized the romanticism of Greenwich Village in the early twentieth century and the universality of love’s heartbreak, and has become one of the world’s most popular romantic poets. Perhaps unfortunately for Millay, her first poem, “Renascence,” published in 1917, written when she was 20 years old, may have been her best. During her lifetime she rarely received the critical acclaim she thought she deserved, although in 1923 she received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Poet Louise Bogan remarked that Millay possessed “a strange mixture of maturity and unresolved youth,” together with “childish fears of death and …charming rebellions against facts.” Perhaps it was these characteristics that brought a poignant sense of nonfulfillment to Millay’s last years, time-saddened after the glories of Greenwich Village and the 1920s.

How would you like to have a critic say that your first published poem may have been your best? Note that Millay went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Even if you do enjoy critical acclaim during your lifetime, there are once famous poets that few people read today. I’m thinking of Edward Arlington Robinson right now. You rarely see his name mentioned in contemporary essays about poetry.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Fortune Cookie 2/19/2006

A schedule defends from chaos and whim.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Taking a Break from Work

I have to work for a few hours today in the office. I hate having to come in on the weekends.

I received a rejection on Friday from Water~Stone Review. Oh, well.

After tinkering with a poem I wrote about eleven months ago I’ve decided to let go of it and move it into my “Finished!” electronic folder. I’m not all that happy with the poem, but it is the best it is going to be for what it is trying to do. I’d pretty much have to scrap 90% of the poem and start over otherwise. I’d rather put my energy into revising other poems with more promise or write new work. I’ll probably submit this poem in a couple of months and see what happens.

That poem I’ve been struggling with on the beginning is staring to really develop. I have two six-line stanzas that I am content with. I wrote the second stanza this morning and have an idea on what the third stanza will look like. Whenever possible I like to keep the momentum going in a poem I’m working on by stopping at a place where I know what will come next. This helps me re-enter the poem quickly and retain the energy. I usually make an attempt at the next line and/or write myself some notes on what I think I’ll be saying next. I’ll also say on this poem that I’ve started a version B of it. The two-stanza version that I worked on this morning takes place in the early summer. I was curious to see what would happen if I tried writing the poem set in November. So far the poems seem to be diverging in interesting ways. I may get two poems out of this, or I may decide that version A is superior to version B and devote myself entirely to version A.

Okay, back to work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I’m coming to the realization as I revise poems that some will never be much better than they are now. So, I have to decide how much time I want to devote to these poems or work on revising poems that have more promise. Or write new poems. It is the realization that revision cannot fix everything. It is the realization that no matter how hard you work on revising, some poems are just better than others from the start. When assembling a book, you want to include your best work and work that fits together according to some kind of a plan. I’ll have to decide the bar level of what is acceptable to include in the book and what to exclude.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I received a rejection yesterday from Pleiades. It always stings and makes you wonder if they actually read your submission when you receive a response in less than two weeks.

Dreamed this morning that I was out with some family members at an Indian restaurant that I never tried before. There was this attractive redhead seated at a table behind me with her boyfriend. She was one of those bubbly, touchy-feely women going on about how excited she was to try the food in this restaurant and couldn’t decide on what to order. I stood up from my table at one point, and the redhead came up to me asking for food recommendations. She was standing very close to me as we talked, and at one point our heads touched briefly. Her boyfriend must have gone to the rest room. I remember feeling a mixture of embarrassment and excitement from interacting with this woman.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I have way too much work to complete by March 3rd and not nearly enough time to do it. I worked some over the weekend and came in way too early this morning. Consequently, my blogging will be haphazard at best over the next three weeks. At least after March 3rd I have some vacation time coming. I’m keeping my eyes on that prize.

I’m still managing to find time and energy after work and on the weekends to write and revise. I’m looking forward to revising my five-section poem some more after a positive decision about it last night. I’m excited to finish it and then send it off into the world to find a home.

I’ve been thinking about the landscapes in my poems and how they mirror the real landscapes in my life. I commute to work, so I have a number of poems that take place in cars in one form or another. There are a lot of rolling hills, horse farms, and vineyards around here, and I see that in my poems. I like to travel when I can afford to, and I usually get one or two poems out of major trips--especially if they are abroad.

Back to work. Ugh!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Famous Poet Dreams

C. Dale Young has had a number of dreams in which John Ashbery appears. He talks about this on his blog. Have you ever had a dream involving a famous poet? My old teacher Larry Levis appeared in one or two dreams of mine, but that’s it. I visited Ireland a couple of years ago and went to Yeats’ Thoor Ballylee and wrote a poem about the experience. I always hoped while I was either writing the poem or revising it that Yeats would make an appearance in one of my dreams.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More about How I Write & Giving Marching Orders to the Subconscious

I worked on my new poem last night. Some of the lines I wrote on Sunday have promise, but I think they need reordering. The more I write and the more I understand about the craft of poetry, the higher my expectations are for my own work. I have to be careful about this. This is how I made writing so incredibly painful nine years ago that I all but stopped writing for a number of years. I wrote an Ares Poetica poem about this very experience and used the myth of Sisyphus as the main conceit.

In other news, I am pleased with the revisions that I am making to my five-section poem. I’m thinking that I want to keep the fourth section now that I smoothed over some of the rough spots. Mainly, I’m trying to decide if I should insert some stanza breaks throughout the five sections or leave each of the five sections as one long stanza. I’ll have to show this poem to my poetry coach and get her feedback this weekend.

I like to revise a small group of poems at a time, typically two to three poems. I’ve noticed that some poems call out to me that want to be revised soon while others repel me. I’m guessing that when I look over my list of poems needing revision that my subconscious is telling me that it has something to contribute on a particular poem. This causes me to feel that I want to revise that poem soon. A couple of poems that I wrote last year and haven’t touched since are starting to call to me. I sincerely believe that you can give your subconscious marching orders to work on a problem, and your subconscious will do just that behind the scenes. What you don’t have control over is how long it will take to arrive at a solution to the problem. I picked up this technique of giving the subconscious marching orders from one of Ayn Rand’s books on craft. I think it was in The Art of Fiction (or some title close to that).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I mailed off this morning a submission to another poetry contest. I also mailed this morning a submission to Poetry.

After work today I plan to do some more work on my new poem and continue revising that five-section poem. I’ve gotten out of the habit of “warming up” before I start writing. I used to journal or read a couple of poems before I would start writing. This warm up time would also allow my caffeinated beverage to take effect. I’m wondering if I should return to warming up before writing. Really the only warming up I do now before writing is to mentally think about what tasks are ahead in the poem while I am say driving home or driving to a coffee shop. I also try to put myself into the zone, by which I mean get in touch with my subconscious prior to writing.

Do you do anything special before writing like listening to music, have a certain beverage with you, wear a certain sweatshirt, etc.?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Some Movement on My New Poem

This morning I wrote six and a half lines on the new poem I’ve been struggling with. I feel pretty good about the first three lines. They are probably keepers. I am less certain about the rest of what I wrote. I’ll wait a day or two and see what I think then.

I also worked on revising a long five-section poem that was part of my MFA thesis. I may delete section four of the poem entirely, or I may keep it. I’m also trying to decide if I should stick to one stanza for each of the five sections or break each section into two or three stanzas. There are some logical stanza breaks in the sections, but I think the one stanza per section may still work.


I’m not a fool. I know in daily life people don’t go around saying a rose is a rose is a rose, but in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry in one hundred years.

--Gertrude Stein


I need to get some lunch then drag my butt to the gym. It can’t be a long workout because I’m planning to go with my wife to a Super Bowl party later today, and I’ll need time to drive home and get cleaned up from exercising. I’m not a football kind of guy, but I’m rooting for the Seahawks.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Struggling with a Poem’s First Lines & Observations about Ornithologies

I’m still struggling with the opening lines of a new poem. I can see in my head the images that I want to convey and kind of know some of the words I want to use and kind of know the progression of the first stanza or two of the poem. Yet, I keep writing opening lines that I’m unhappy with. So far the best I’ve managed is that I’ve settled on the first three words of the poem. You would think with those first three words that I would be able to make progress from there. Not yet.

I don’t think that I’ve fully learned the lesson of patience when it comes to writing. I want to always write well when I schedule time to sit down and write. It just doesn’t work that way. Another way of solving the problem in the above paragraph is to lower my standards. I write some crap and let it stand and go back and revise later. I don’t think this approach works as well on the beginning of a poem, however. What you write at the very beginning sets up what is to follow. You begin creating a world very quickly in a poem with the first few words.

I plan to do some writing after work today. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough. In the meantime, I can also revise older poems while I’m working out this opening lines issue. On those opening lines I should probably try again writing a series of opening lines on paper rather than trying to write them in my head or typing out possibilities on the computer screen. I find that the physical act of writing on paper engages my brain differently and helps me get unstuck.

I’m about half way through Joshua Poteat’s Ornithologies. While progressing through his book I often feel that I am reading continuations of one long poem. It is like he is approaching the same subject matter from different angles from poem to poem. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just an observation. My poems are often variations on a theme or a few select themes. A hodgepodge of vastly different poems would make it difficult for a poet to pull a collection together.

Some things Poteat does that’s different from my writing:
· He prefers longer titles, more complex titles, or he will group several poems together using common words in the poem such as “Meditation……..”
· History or allusions to history appear much more in his work.
· We both live in the South, but he draws upon the history and connotations of living in the South.
· So far my greatest generalization about his poems is that they contain a sad beauty.
· City and sometimes suburban landscapes are referred to more in his work.
· The way he will combine words to gorgeous effect creates surreal little jewels of imagery here and there in the poems.
· He writes mostly in the meditative lyrical mode rather than narrative.
· I see self-deprecating humor in many of the poems.
· He likes to refer to the scientific names of animals and plant life. It comes across as an appreciation of language and an urge for exactness or cataloguing among so much loss and ruin.
· I see a knowledge and appreciation for the visual arts in his poems.
· I wonder how much of an influence our teacher Larry Levis had on Poteat’s work. I sense Levis’ last two books in the approach of Poteat’s poems.

Can you tell that I’m enjoying what I’m reading?

I wouldn’t mind interviewing Poteat after I finish his book. Not sure where the interview could be published though afterwards. You don’t usually see first book poets with interviews in literary magazines. Maybe Blackbird would be interested or some other online literary magazine. Someone may have already offered to interview Poteat.