Sunday, June 16, 2019

beautiful drownings

Facebook has reminded me that this little lovely is actually three years old this month, so I thought I'd celebrate her in all her mermaidy-goodness. Sometimes in late 2012, I vowed that I wanted to write a book about mermaids, an artist book that turned out to be the shipwrecks of lake michigan, and while the rest of the segments in salvage are not mermaids specifically, there is something of them that coalesces and constellates into a cohesive whole, be they the illness/body poems of radio ocularia, the strange midwest surrealism of ghost landscapes, or the unhappy relationship poems of dreams about houses and bees. On the whole, the tone of the book is uniform, perhaps in a way that is a first when it came to anything that wasn't a  focused book length project from the beginning.  Since I had some vague desires that the book feature an old-school Sailor Jerry tattoo mermaid, I was amazed at how beautiful BLP managed to make it look.

You can get your very own copy here
read a review in the The Literary Quarterly
some samples appear here:
Verse Daily
Academy of American Poets

Saturday, June 15, 2019

the myth of poetry stardom

Jeannine Hall Gailey had a recent blog post about instant star narratives, and the danger they have in not at all reflecting the path of most writers.  They discourage us when they don't play out quite so fortunately.  They make us bitter and disappointed.  They might make some folks stop writing altogether.  Of course for every story that seems like instant stardom, they are the stealth writers who look like they are an instant hit, but actually have been working at it and sending that book out dozens of times til they hit the winner. There are those of us who have always been pretty open about the journey and adventures in po-biz, but others who are quiet and determined.  I often think the cases of actual instant stardom have more to do with either random chance (like getting struck by lightning) or connections and privileges that put you in a favorable place before you even start.

Of course, such narratives are usually not sustaining.  Even the shiny, fresh-faced poet du jour eventually writes more books that aren't so easily placed, or their lives get more complicated and it's harder to play the poet game so vigorously--to network and send out work.  Sometimes, even to write it.  2005's literary darlings, for exmple, have already been re-asorbed back into the scribbling masses by 2012 and may look just like the rest of us struggling to get it out there.

My own journey is marked by periods where things moved slowly, then quickly.  Then slowly again. I pulled the very first version of the fever almanac together in late summer 2003.  I was just about start my MFA studies and thought it was a good demarcation point.  By then, I had been writing poems in total for 14 years  ( I started as a teen in that dreadful blue diary) .  I'd been writing seriously for about 11, stemming from the early college days and when I first started sending out work.   In that time, I'd majored in English, garnered some college lit mag and vanity publications, and won a couple poetry prizes at graduation.   When I enrolled in my MA in Lit program at DePaul, it was another year before I was wring anything decent enough to be called good, or finding anything like my own voice.  I started writing anything worth actually reading in 1999.  Four years later, after getting a few publications in small print & online journals, I'd had a chap accepted by a small feminist press (The Archaeologists Daughter)  By that point, putting together a decent full-length book seemed a possibility.  That first version was a mess looking back, but it managed to get finalist status in a contest somehow.  By then, my work was changing, and there were only a dozen or so pieces that went into that manuscript before I switched to another.  The final version that was published was actually a hybrid of poems plucked from that second manuscript in that final round of revision summer of 2005.

I was having serious book-fever in 2004 & 2005, and remember being super-frustrated.  Many poets around me online were getting their first book acceptances.  The internets were rife with and claims that all of it was a game stacked against everyone not running in certain circles.  I must have sent it to about 8 contests with nary a whisper.  I hatched a plan to self-publish if the year ended before I managed to place it.  The almost- final version, did make a semi-final slot in a biggish contest, and I sent an even tighter version to Ghost Road, a recent discover, late that summer, which they accepted that fall.

Afterwards, while I felt that it restored my faith in the publishing world, I did realize what a game of chance it all was--that I sent it to them and that they actually had openings.  Because it wasn't a contest, and a newly emerging publisher, perhaps the submissions pool was not quite as thick with swimmers to actually be seen. That I had somehow avoided the bottle neck and emerged with a shiny book contract in a very traditional way--I had merely queried then sent the manuscript like they did in the old days. I can't say it was published because it was the best book, or any better than everyone else who was looking for a first book publisher that same year. It was the right book at the right time.

Later books, of course, would prove easier, but only via fortunate circumstances.  Dusie Press was still young and the editor and I shared many obsessions in common that led to in the bird museum (#2) finding a publisher before even the first book had even come out. Having published in the journal and taken part in the chapbook exchange, I simply asked the editor if she'd like to see it and she loved it.  The editor of Noctuary, which was just beginning,  requested to see the shared properties of water and stars (#4) as I was finishing it.  Within 6 months, it was a book.   Sailing on the popularity of the James Franco pieces, I queried the press that published the chap (the amazing Sundress Publications) if they would like to see the longer book of which that series was a part. I've been blessed to have wound up with some wonderful insight into where certain projects might work and made connections over the years that open those doors a little wider, which is something that only comes with time and experience in the lit community.

My thesis manuscript, girl show (#3) was perhaps the longest in the running.  I had sent it, and it had been accepted, at Ghost Road as well, which then shuttered a couple years later.  I sort of floundered for about a year, unsure what to do with it.  In the end, I condensed it into a chap (which did well in at least one contest where it was a finalist) but also sent the full version to Black Lawrence, who did wind up taking it in 2011, then publishing it a couple years later..  Again, probably a bit of dumb luck in sending it at exactly the right time--by then BLP was chugging along nicely and taking on more poets, and I've been amazingly lucky to have also published subsequent titles with them --salvage (#6) and the forthcoming sex &  violence (#8). 

But all in all, except for having a very lovely set of books on my shelf and a sense of accomplishment for actually having filled their pages with words, I can't say publishing a book has changed much in my way of life.  I still have a day job where most of the people I encounter do not know about my books, or even that I'm a writer.  Outside of occasional tiny royalty checks from a couple of the publishers, there hasn't been much financial gains. I'm not an academic, and I know having books might make tenure considerations easier, but since I don't really seek out positions or awards or fellowships, my books are pretty much useless there. When you a re trying to get that first book accepted it sometimes feel like this is the thing--THE THING--that will make you a real poet.  But it's not.  Writing the poems is what makes you the poet. I had two books by the late aughts, and for several years, I felt like barely a poet because I wasn't writing hardly at all.

Even with those successes, it still feels hard when you're trying to figure out where to send something new, particularly if the work feels different and you haven't figured out which press it would fit into.  And subsequent books are usually harder--2nd books especially so, since even if you win a contest, there are very few for 2-3 books and you've yet to establish the sort of career  that might make it a bit easier in the long haul.  Some advice?  Forge those connections and find those publishers. Study the books of presses you admire and think about how your work might fit.  Don't be afraid to take chances on new publishers that are willing to take chances on you. Sometimes, it helps to swim ahead of the bottleneck  Aside from contests, there are a lot of open reading periods out there waiting to read your book. If you enter contests, pay attention to who is judging and whether their style meshes with yours (not always a requirement, sometimes judges make surprising choices of work not anything like theirs) but usually you look at a winner and think, well, yes, I can see why that held appeal for that particular judge.

And in the end, do what feels necessary for you.  If you have spent hundreds unsuccessfully on reading fees and still no takers, but feel you could market and sustain an audience for a self-published book, that is another option.  I've long believed that you create the market for your work whoever does the printing, so self-issuing might be another way to go. It's a ridiculous  bottle neck and becomes moreso every year, and sometimes we don't want to wait for the winds of chance to blow our book into exactly the right editor's hands at the exactly right moment..

Thursday, June 13, 2019

15 years

One of my very favorite parts of the year is when I begin to see the slow trickle of new work coming in when the open submission period begins.  It's usually a small burst the first day, and then 1-3 on subsequent days and then a flurry of activity in that last week or so  This year, I will probably start reading in earnest in July (I'm bogged with some large book orders this month and am still playing catch-up on spring orders for some titles, so I'm pushing other things off.)  I am also working on layouts for the summer titles and some stragglers from spring.  Summers are meant for reading though, for proofing galleys My schedule changes up and the days don't seem so frenetic. 

It's hard to believe this is the 15th birthday of the press--that in 2004, I was just beginning to put together what would be our first official title release that fall, the snowball of which has been rolling ever since.  Hard to believe that it even could have been that long, since, I feel like I blinked and more than a decade passed.  There have been so many books, so many amazing authors, many of whom are doing grander and bigger things now. Many of whom continue to send projects my way even still that I love.

While it's a lot of work, and sometimes I struggle with balancing press life with library work life, and both of those lives with my own creative life, it's so amazing to collaborate with the authors to make awesome little books. To build this collective thing that has a life beyond me.  poems do this sometimes, so do my own books, but the press seems multiple and vast, and the net of things grows a bit larger every year.  I love looking at lit journals and seeing how many dgp-ers are in its pages.  I love when news comes my way of the thrilling things they are up to, winning awards and kicking ass.   To have made this thing with others that breathes on its own.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

lethal ladies | coming fall 2019

As both perpetrators and participants in our shared cultural fascination with the subject matter, women have made vast contributions to true crime-related art forms.   From murders to heists, deceptions to general unruly behavior, we will explore the patriarchal structures  and societal constraints/expectations that true crime, and its subject matter, subvert & transform.  Further, how we as artists and consumers create and further these conversations within the genre. 


I've been working this week on promo & planning for this fall's focus topic, which is all about women and true crime.  While we had initially decided to devote it to serial killers in general, I've spent the last couple years feeling a little complicated about giving so much attention to men who kill (predominantly) women.  The solution?  Women who kill men, of course!  Well, maybe not only killing, but in general, behaving badly (or against societal expectations.).  We'll be hosting an exhibit, doing panels and readings and such. We are also searching out a book about Elizabeth Bathory for Book to Art Club,  which should be fun...(we've already plotted for one session we'll be making bloody bath bombs as our attendant artsy craftiness.)  

(If you remember, we kicked off our festivities with the above card sets at Zine Fest, and we'll be adding to the collection with new ones that will be in the Small Works vending machines this fall.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

love letter to the scholastic book club

Once every couple of months, we would sit at our desks, fidgeting for what we knew was coming. Our fingers itchy for the colorful newsprint as the teacher separated a stack and instructed the kids at the front of the room to pass it back. The Scholastic Book order went in once or twice a semester and it may be the only thing I can remember from those years with absolute clarity—the feel of the newsprint between your fingers, the smell of the ink.  Perhaps even the taste (weird things sometimes made their way into my mouth.) Our instructions were simple—take it home, consult your parents, and bring back the sheet with your carefully inked selections and a check for the amount.  Simple enough, surely, but the teacher may have never known the drama and angst such an undertaking.  I would start before I left school that afternoon.  The circling.  The bargaining. 
I was typically allowed at least one order each go-round.  I spent a couple days, madly circling the things I wanted, then would sit down with my mother to parse out exactly what we could afford.  Usually, it was at least one book, sometimes two.  In later years, I was all about sticker albums, but earlier, it was all fiction. A few weeks later, we’d wait, fidgeting again for the drop. For the books with their smooth, glossy covers to be parceled out. I loved the feel of them, loved to stack them carefully on my desktop.  Loved the plastic tote bags your order would arrive in, sort of a ziplock bag for books.   I would take them home and devour them.  Sometimes, they didn’t make it unread through the walk or bus ride home. .   At first of course, it was thin saddle bound paper back picture books like the Clifford series.  Then perfect bound, longer volumes as I got older. I eventually hunted mostly for mysteries and ghost stories, if I had to narrow my choices, these were a good bet. I probably had them read inside of a week,and was left to wait, breathless, next appearance of that newsprint flier in the teacher’s hands at the front of the room.


I'll be posting snippets of a fragmented memoir project I am working on about how libraries (both using, studying, and working in them) has shaped me as a person and as a writer/artist.  Follow along here...

Monday, June 10, 2019

notes & things | 6/9/2019

It's been a kind of cloudy weekend that does not seem quite sure of whether it wants to be hot or cold, which has led me to alternately opening and closing the windows, and at some point even turning on the space heater and covering up with my quilt instead of the summer bedspread.  I've been alternately watching the last couple seasons of GOT again, and working a bit on my library memoirish project (see the latest snippet below.)  It's still got a long way to go and is mostly just fragments and a loose outline, but it's looking good even at this stage.  I'm also aiming to have the last four bits of the poet's zodiac in hand to set aside for a bit and return to later this summer for editing.  I've also been napping profusely, odd since I have also been drinking too much coffee and eating waffles slathered in raspberry jam.

I'm still working my way toward some larger book orders in the studio, which has put a cramp in my tidying/prep for the open studio coming up this Friday--things are still chaotic and sort of a mess and I might postpone til July, I haven't decided. It depends on how much progress I make this coming week. Meanwhile, it's rather quiet in the library with all the students gone, and I've turned my eye toward some writing projects and general prep for fall.

We are far enough into summer to feel like we are at the beginning, but within a couple weeks, we'll hit the solstice, which is always crazy to me, that feeling that we are barely started and summer has hit it's peak.  Of course, the same thing happens in winter, with January/February and usually March/April lingering long after the equinox. Summer is always long until it's not. In May it seems like there are endless possibilities, but I know that September will be here much faster than we know.  So much of our lives spent in seasons other than this one. But for now, the lilacs are in bloom and we occasionally get a sunny, moderate mannered day that is glorious.

I've even yet to get out my proper summer clothes since it's been a bit too chilly and unpredictable for sundresses and sandals (most of my days lately are an odd assortment of spring dresses, cardigans, and denim jackets. I never know what changes in temp will happen over the course of the day, sometimes up and down by 30 degrees in a few hours.)  Of course, many weekends in the city I spend inside regardless of how nice it is outside, devoted to writing and reading and hiding from the world, but I do have some summer plans set for the 4th of July weekend and maybe other things for August.

Meanwhile, I have playing with more of the temporary tattoos I bought around my birthday.  I've been posting some shots on instagram to capture them before they are gone. They last usually around 3-4 days, and kind of like regular blooms are here then gone, which seems fitting. The temporaryness of them part of the appeal.  Also the variation is nice and not what you'd get with a for-real tattoo. (Obviously). They also appeal to my childhood love of stickers and I want to wear/collect them all.  I'm not going to pressure myself with thoughts of the real thing just now or make any plans on the real thing (besides I spent all my dedicated money on studio furniture and my Cricut machine, so it will be a while til I have the extra cash.)   I kind of think of the  faux ones like jewelry or commitment, but still a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

from bookish: a life in libraries


My father taught me the alphabet when I was around 4.  I must have been pestering him—the sing-songy echo of Sesame Street already in my brain and just a little fine tuning needed.  At night, when he returned home from work, he would sit me on the floor in front of him or in his lap and prompt me to begin the song. When I made it through entirely he would reward me with chocolate.  I remember it on the level of being as challenging to get through that song as it was to later learn my times tables a few years later.  Or Constitutional facts in 8th grade.   (Which my father, by then, took much less interest in, so I bothered my mother, my grandmother, and anyone else who would listen. By then the alphabet was old hat.  I had walked into my kindergarten classroom and eyed the letters in their long strip above the board and something just clicked.  Soon I was reading store signs. The backs of cereal boxes.  I was soon reading as much as I was talking, and this already, was quite a lot.  

But before I was reading, I was still somehow writing.  Writing, at that time meant long lines of scribbles, my approximation of cursive on every spare sheet of paper I could find—the backs of receipts, my father’s cast-off  envelopes from bills.  Finally, my aunt procured for me what may have been one of my best Christmas presents ever—a simple canvas tote bag, filled with notebooks, both newsprint and spiral, and a set of pens in multiple colors—green, red, blue. (which was about as daring as it got in the late 70’s.)  I took everything out of the bag immediately and spread it around me methodically.  An entire world seeming to open up before me.  If you asked me now to recent my stories, the ones I filled those notebooks with, I’d scarce remember a single one.  But I remember the satisfaction of the loops and lines the ink made on the paper. How grown up it seemed, to be writing, to be taking part in some exchange for which a code needed to be cracked.  I was ready, long before I learned my alphabet. Long before I set foot in school.  I was ready. 


I'll be posting snippets of a fragmented memoir project I am working on about how libraries (both using, studying, and working in them) has shaped me as a person and as a writer/artist.  Follow along here...

100 rejections update

I actually hardly have much of an update, since I've pretty much only gotten one more rejection since the last mention (and 100 seems incredibly unlikely even with a steady stream of new work going out.)  As such, we stand at 4 acceptances / 7 rejections and about 10 more blowing in the wind.  However, it's a good effort, since those 4 acceptances are probably more than I've had in any recent similar span of time (I started the project early February).

Before my MFA studies in the early aughts, I had just discovered the world of online journals and was constantly sending work out as quickly as it came back.  During my studies, it was similar, since I was producing quite a lot and engaging more with the po-biz world in general.  After that, both my writing production, my free time, and my reluctance to play the submission game led to very few publications that weren't solicited for a good many years.  I would feel panicked and occasionally send out a round, and occasionally got good results, but in no way did I pursue it as doggedly as I had a decade earlier.

And of course, very rarely do we actually place work when we're not sending it out.  I'm always super-excited when someone solicits me, though I had a spate where I kept getting solicited and then rejected. I chalk it up to changes in my writing, which not incredibly drastic (and I would argue for the better) made things less appealing to editors who had read older poems.  Sort of like if you read the fever almanac and liked it and asked for work, and then got something new and nothing at all like what you expected.  the fever almanac, of course, was written between 2001 and 2004, and I don't really write poems the same now.  Even my work from other, more recent books feels like there is a distance.

I'm still finding it maddening that editors don't seem to be liking some of the newer series as much as I do, particularly the swallow poems, which feel like the strongest thing I've written in recent memory. Most of the work going out now is them, along with straggly bits of exquisite damage, the summer house, {licorice, laudanum}, and the artist statement series.  I'm way to unorganized to do simultaneous submissions, so if things come back a couple times, I usually retire them, since by then I am usually ready to release the zine/artist book version of things anyway. It's still good to place a couple pieces from every project to generate interest though, and so far, none of the swallow submissions have gotten even so much as a nibble.

So I soldier on. The poems come in, the poems go out with the tide. I will soon have some more artist statement pieces ready to go out (my daily writing has been wrapped up in zodiac pieces, but I'll be going back to the former soon).