Friday, April 28, 2017

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I am struggling to gain some sort of equilibrium after landing back in town on Tuesday, the general chaos of re-entry, and then a flurry of activity leading up to last night's ACRL celebration.  Tonight, I'm headed to Rockford to collect the cats and spend the weekend there, with maybe a bit more birthday celebrating.  It was a weird actual birthday, mostly since it began on a train standing still in the pitch dark somewhere near Memphis waiting for a fright train to pass and ended with me falling exhausted into bed at 9pm.   I also managed to pick up a cough on the way to New Orleans, so I've been dragging that around with me, which doesn't help for general energy levels.

Of course, NOLA was lovely, and very warm for a couple days there. Our hotel, La Galerie, was right on the edges of the Quarter and had beautiful lofty ceilings, exposed brick,  and super soft beds. My reading at the Poetry Fest came off nicely and people liked the Shipwreck poems (despite me leaving Chicago with none of my own books and having to read off my Kindle like a douche.)  There was much, much walking--down to Jackson Square & The French Market to shop and loiter, over to Bourbon Street (though in small doses--the crowds are a bit much and it kind of smelled too much like garbage in the heat.)   There were Hurricanes and beignets (even though we weren't willing to brave the Cafe du Monde lines). We also hit up the Museum of Death, which was a trip.  I came away from the weekend with two new prints from Clay Davis (I picked one up last year, but wasn't sure who the artists was til now.) Also a poster from the Anne ric-ey vampire store and some chicory coffee. I did get a chance to walk around some of the less populated streets of the Quarter, all candy colors and wrought iron balconies. and into Marigny (including a near encounter with Banksy's umbrella girl if only I'd been paying attention (and had eyes in the back of my head.)  I did, however, get to finally ride a street car on the way back from the reading.

By the time we were leaving, I was ready to go and ready to just be home and back to my routines.  I usually find that as much as I like the idea of travel, it kind of wears me out. There's an inordinate amount of comfort in doing the same things everyday and the Taurus in me needs that more than sometimes remember.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


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As I leave tomorrow evening for New Orleans, I am in that mad panic dash to finish some things up before I go, including a whole slew of new chaps that will be assembling when I get back to town--some stragglers from 2016 and some spring books from this year.  I am almost on schedule, or at least close to it, so watch for those books in the shop this week. Despite the mad dash, which is exacerbated by wonky printers and general chaos, I am trying to focus on getting ready--deciding on weather appropriate dress options, the music soundtrack for the train ride, what to read for Friday's reading at the festival, how many hurricanes I can drink before getting back to the hotel proves difficult.  

We are finally getting some spring-like weather, so Chicago may not in fact be dumped for NOLA  entirely this trip through--blossoming trees and tulips in the beds along Michigan.  By the time I get back, I should be able to shed those cold-weather coats for good.  It will also be my birthday the day I get back into town, so I'm hoping for just a little celebrating a la tequila and tacos and maybe some cake before its back to the grind on Wednesday.    

In writerly news, I've gotten some more good results from my submission binge last month from Sweet Tree Review, who will be publishing some more of the  Plath centos (the first of which just came out @ Pretty Owl Poetry. )  The manuscript itself is still out in the wilds in a couple places, so hopefully something will come of that.  I have been mulling over more love poems, but have been sticking to my permission not to write until I get back in town.  


        

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Yesterday was the first day I walked out onto the sidewalk in front of the library and braced myself for a gust of cold that never came.  It was still chilly this morning in just my jacket, but I am absorbing as much of the rare sunlight as I can before it goes away again. I am back in the library again today, and facing down a couple crazy weeks leading up to my birthday and a little bit beyond.  a trip to Rockford for Easter, then mid-week, our New Orleans jaunt, where I'll be reading at the Poetry Festival for a reading with some other fine ladies for The Mystical and the Magical:  Women Writing the Metaphysical Worlds". I'll be there through Monday and we're staying in the French Quarter, where I love to do things like stuff my face full of beignets and those Bourbon Street daquiris that come in plastic cups and wander antique stores and hang out a bit in the Carousel Bar.   Me and my sister are traveling by train this time instead of car, which I always look forward to. (and which is hopefully a bit more on schedule and smoother than my trip back from Seattle a couple years back.) 

Then I'm back on my birthday, and a couple days later is our big ACRL award shindig.  And then it's practically May and I'll blink and the semester will be over.  Add in my mother having her second angioplasty soonish (minor but necessary), all sorts of tricky track things to pin down for various things, and a girl starts to feel a bit overwhelmed.  I think I just need to get to about Mid May and I'll be back to my usual rhythms.  It all seems very formidable from this point in time. But the summer holds the promise a freer weekends for the most part. 

With everything afoot, I've put actually getting any actual writing done on pause, but of course, when i officially grant myself that permission is usually when I most feel the need to write. (and I really do--more pieces for the love poem project, a start on something else clicking away in my brain.)  There are new poems due out soon at Hobart, Pretty Owl Review, and interrupture, though, so I'm feeling productive at least in the po-biz arena. My creative energies are mostly moving visually, but I have been plotting the Library's HORROR PROM murder mystery game, which involves the use of a similar skill set a bit.  I laughed when a co-hort in Gaming Society  asked me if I'd been working on the game and I was able to rattle off  the murder victim's whole life story and all the people around her that may have done it (which one I haven't yet decided) and what they look like, but still hadn't actually developed any of the actual game beyond a few preliminary clues. It's all very Twin Peaks meets Pretty in Pink meets Carrie.   That's just writer brain, I suppose. .  It's similar to how I used to occasionally take blank sheets of paper and plot out huge family histories and geneologies just for fun (perfect fodder for novels, but I don't have the endurance for the long haul work of writing fiction.)  I've also done this for the hotel poems project and the unusual creatures poems, but just haven't been able to wrangle those many pages of scribbing into anything anyone could actually read. 




Someday maybe I should collect everything together, call it poetry and make a book called  NOTES FOR NOVELS THAT I'LL NEVER WRITE. It could totally happen. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

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Today I was doomed to the library, Open House day, and the Creative Writing Dept. was hosting info sessions on the library's 3rd floor like every other year, I am always amused by the baby writers, so young and hopeful and unformed.  And their parents, who are pretty much my age (yikes!) and how much I appreciate that they are encouraging their baby writer to go on and study writing and not something respectable like accounting or computer science or engineering.  Art school is a gamble, maybe more now than when I was myself a baby writer.   As I was passing through the back hallway, I flipped through one of the departmental brochures they had left behind and kinda wished I'd encountered such a program as an undergrad.  I was pretty much only lit in college, with a couple workshops here and there, but nothing as well-wrought as CC's program, not at the undergrad level.  So I was a rough poet until I really sort of figured it out on my own until I enrolled in an MFA program.  I've known some amazing undergad poets who've come through the program (and more from the grad program, both while I was in it and afterwards) and hell, have even published many of them through dgp.   I'm not sure if they start out that way, or get that way, but there are gems there if you look for them.

As I flipped through the brochure, I felt caught between worlds..not the baby poet, not even the grad student I was 10 or so years ago, but not quite the seasoned poets who were listed as faculty with details on publications and awards and such.  Maybe it's an academic thing,,I have an MFA but do not teach, so while I have just as many books and publications, I lack a certain cache, A certain sparkle. Sometimes I call some people the "fancy poets" who do things like residencies and win NEA Fellowships--many of whom are also amazing, but I feel always like the interloper who somehow wrote a lot of poems but secretly, with no one really knowing. I also know fancy poets who actually write very little and seem lucky enough to still be fancy.  I've published books with fancy presses, even on a fancy award at least once,   Even occasionally I wind up in a fancy journal by luck or timing or someone seeking me out.  But still the feelings of being an outsider.  And maybe this is good, to be on the outside of things--to have been always the rallying cry for decentering the lit culture and dismantling the academic poetry industrial complex.  To have fought for certain types of legitimacy as I sat on blog comment threads and even real-life panels where people looked at me with a certain disdain for saying you needed to do things like self-publish and start presses and not be anyone's bitch, least of all legitimacy's.

Sometimes I feel like I came through a long journey or a war against my younger poet self and out the other side. It's not bad, and actually sort of freeing, but a weird place to exist-neither here nor there.  My first years as a poet in Chicago were surrounded largely by the open mic set. we had readings and made our ownchapbooks and legitimacy be damned.  Granted most people were only there to read their own stuff, but there was an energy, even when the poetry as bad   Later, academia seemed to be holding onto it tight fisted and sort of pale as people talked about "top-tier journals" and "a-list publications" and "send to THIS press, not THAT one" it all made me sort of nauseous. I think its true that many people leave academia and never write again, either becuase they loose interest or get busy with real life, or find something lacking.  I've seen many of them move on happily with lives doing other things and enjoying them immensely.   Most days, no one I know in real life knows I write poems or would want to read them. So the cool part is the stakes are never high enough to make a ripple..so I get to write about weird stuff.    Also like I'm getting away with something.

The press is similar, and I used to laugh when people seemed amazed that I had the audacity to start a chapbook series, some negatively so,  My tenure as a sort of gatekeeper has of course, made me less awe-inspired of other gatekeepers.  In the end, we all publish what we love.  I could say it's "important" and it is, but not in the way that some editors would have you believe straddled atop their cultural capital.  That's true whether your reading for the New Yorker or a little operation like dgp.  It's a person, or in some cases people, who have tastes  (or similar tastes) and something sparks.  It's important to get the work out there, but not always important simply because you put it out there.

But I hope the baby poets come to realize all this sooner than later, because the road is much less bumpy on the other side...



Monday, April 03, 2017

20 years later

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It occurred to me a few weeks back that I have been living in Chicago  as of this spring for 20 years.  Granted a year and a half of that was an ill-fated brief return to Rockford at the very end of the millenium, but I actually first moved here initially in summer of 1997 freshly out of college and the kind of optimistic that only lasts a little while.  As I was flipping through some old journals from around then a couple weekends back, it was sort if surreal reliving in detail finishing up my coursework at RC and moving out on my own for the first time.

Of course, it was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. My tiny Lincoln Park apartment with it's mattress on the floor.  The broken table stolen from my parent's basement.  My bathroom shower view of the top of the Sears tower and nothing else.  It was just me and my high school cat, Chelsea, and a year or so later, the new addition of Sophie. There were  also an abundance of ants, tiny ones that crawled along the floor cracks, and, about a year in,  sizeable roaches that crawled under the hallway door until I covered it with packing tape (thank god by then I had a futon on a frame)).  But still in that barely there kitchen I learned how to cook on my own--fried rice, stuffed pasta shells, parma rosa.    That summer, I spent a lot of time wandering about after dusk and applying for jobs in bookstores that I never got. (I did have a brief sojourn working at Starbucks that summer.) I don't remember if I was writing much during the transition, that productivity  would come a year or so later, but I do remember submitting older work I'd penned in my last months as an undergrad to places like The New Yorker (until I realized my audience isn't exactly the Lexus driving crowd)  I'd just discovered Poets and Writers a few months before I graduated, so there was a subscription to that and lots of SASEs.

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I was also still trying to figure things out.  I'd been admitted to DePaul with the expectation that I would either get a certification to teach HS English (which was what my mother wanted) or to get my MA and then my Ph.d to teach at the college level (which is what I thought I wanted).    About a year in, I was steadily realizing that I was neither suited for nor really wanted either of these things. My anxiety, which was actually kinder in those days still  made it hard to imagine having the wherewithal to get up in front of a classroom everyday and make it out intact. I am also neither patient or altruistic enough to be a really good teacher.   Those anxieties spiraled me into that ridiculous winter of 1998 and its attendant depression, but I emerged with new energies and focus, and that summer, began writing the first poems that showed any sort of promise at all.  

I loved most of my classes that first semester--seminars on Victorian Novels and a Bibliography/Research class that focused on the Romantics. I was also just discovering the internet for the first time and lost many a day in the computer lab on PW discussion boards which was all entirely new to me.  Since the internet was still very much a limited time thing and not the way of life it is now, I lived more in the real world and at the same time less. I, of course, continued to read a lot.  Novels.  Poetry. Issues of magazines like the New Yorker and boring things like The Chronicle of Higher Education.   Watched a lot of network TV and late night reruns of Seinfeld and X-Files.  Spent a lot of time, pen in my hand or my mouth leaning over the wobbly table and a notebook or my sad little Brother Word processor that fall. Music wise, that first summer was all about Fiona Apple's TIDAL, which I distinctly remember putting in my CD player the first night when I was finally alone and unpacking. I didn't sleep that first night, kept the lights on all night, on my own whollly for the first time and terrified and not that I'd be murdered or raped or eaten by tiny ants--but none of these things happened.  Besides the roaches and the rent that kept climbing, it was actually a nice little studio in a beautiful neighborhood that I missed greatly when I left.

By the time I returned after year and a half or so away, I'd moved to a cheaper, further afield, neighborhood and a much bigger apartment (with no roaches or ants and which I still live in today), but there is sometimes nevertheless, this weird nostalgia for that time in my life I can't quite put my finger on.