Sunday, August 19, 2018

#shareyourrejections



Twitter has not only introduced me to some great new journals and new poetry people, but also to interesting discussions (well, I guess they are discussions in hashtag form) about writing-related subjects.  I was enjoying this one greatly, mostly because even though I've slowed down in sending work out over the years for a number of reasons, some intentional, some not so much, it's heartening to read about other writer's similar struggles. Back in the days of poetry blogs, this was one of my favorite parts--to see writers who were making their way in the world with just as many setbacks and celebrations as I was having. There've been times in my life when it seemed like all the other writers I knew were having amazing things happen and I was the only one nowhere close to any sort of finishing line (and more likely still behind the starting line.)  As blogs faded and social media rose, it was harder to see behind the scenes as much, so something like Twitter is good for revealing it in bits.

I am also a little jealous of the writers who have managed to keep all their rejections as a badge of honor to remind them where they've been.  I have a few from my days of postal submissions squirreled away, but most of my efforts after 2001 or so are electronic, and I didn't really save any e-mails.   Those mail ones were from all the places from about 1995 onward that I felt were a good market for my work---or the places what tiny bit of insight into the po-world I had were telling me to submit --The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Poetry.  Occasionally I would submit to places I actually had a chance of getting into. The first acceptance outside of college lit mags or semi-vanity anthologies was a tiny local feminist magazine, Moon Journal, who would later publish my first chapbook.  Another was an awesome little wallpaper wrapped stapled journal called Poetry Motel I really wish was still around. .  Later, I would decide the New Yorker and Atlantic audiences weren't, with their overwhelming number of Lexus ads, my sort of readership.  Poetry,  though I like the people and the mission and occasionally the poems these days,  it took a little longer, but I realized eventually I just didn't share their aesthetic and that they'd likely never like anything I'd written.

But online journals, all through the aughts when I was getting my bearings were where it was at.  Sometimes it took several tries, but I landed most of my dream journals eventually after some trying--No Tell Motel, La Petite Zine, Stirring,  Caffiene Destiny.  I also sent to print journals I grew to love--The Tiny, Backwards City, Cake, Another Chicago Magazine, Swink.  On the whole, I found the work in a lot of more academic print journals less daring and excitng, but a couple--Denver Quarterly and Black Warrior-- are still places I would love to get work into one day. I stumbled into a few really awesome places by invitation as well, but then also was occasionally solicited and rejected. Yearly,  I unsucessfully try a few places I love when I'm trying out some new discoveries..   Last year, I made it into Paper Darts which was on my wishlist, but The Collagist and Sixth Finch remain ever elusive. 

In the past decade so, I almost yearly  get a fire under my ass and decide to send out some submissions, and even this far into, I guess, a "career"my ratios of acceptance and rejection are still the same. I am better suited to figuring out who would like my poems, but that doesn't mean I am always right.  My submittable rate is about 25% success, but is skewed a little higher by occasional solicitations.   As for previous success helping you along, I feel like everyone has a long list of credits and books sometimes and even multiple books in, I still don't really have an advantage in some regards (and sometimes that many books and no one really having ever heard of me seems weird too and maybe a disadvantage.)  My first book was about 90% published in journals since it took so long to happen and I submitted a lot.  Now, most books only boast a handful of journal appearances, and in the case of the shared properties of water and stars none  at all. I'd like to change this, but since I love releasing some projects as zines or artist books fairly quickly after their completed, there is less time for sending things out before they are published.  I've stretching the timelines to allow journal inclusions on certain series though and this may help. I also feel it's little more challenging to get stand alone pieces published of serial projects. Sometimes, they are a little harder to market than poems that can be extracted completely from the whole and still make total sense. 

As for full-length books, and the short time when I was submitting chapbook-length projects, there was a decent amount of rejection.  I'm pretty sure I entered maybe 10-15 contests between 2003 and 2005 for books, maybe another 5-7 for chaps. Money was an issue so I was limited, and the irony is that a press who I queried the traditional way was the press that wound up taking that first book. And I've fared well since with subsequent books, sometimes though some more old-school querying or open reading periods.  Sometimes through circumstance and shared interests with editors who believe in my work. 

I'm thankful that much of my publishing history has worked out rather serendpitously outside the contest circuit, mostly since I don't think I would have fared very well there.  Right before Ghost Road took the fever almanac, I was a semi-finalist in the Crab Orchard contest, but it's as close as I ever came.  I was a finalist in a couple of chap contests over the years, one of which, feign, actually amazingly got published.  Maybe my books are good, but if I know anything after all these years, there are a lot of good books still unpublished out there. All of which have to make it though a a circuit of first, maybe second readers, and to the final judge.  While I feel sometimes my editors are my best cheerleaders and some of the few people that get me, finding a GROUP of people, especially a disparate group that have varying aesthetics,  that get me and my work, much much harder.   I've thought about entering contests just to see what might happen, and could always use the sort of prize money, but it's sort of like sinking 20-30 dollars and pulling the slot machine handle.  You probably won't win, but then, hell someone has to. 


I think though, if there is anything I've learned being on the other side of the gates is how truly subjective all of it is.  I've often said my choices for dancing girl press are solely based on the work that I like or that excites me.  Since I'm the only editor, I get to publish what I want, but I couldn't imagine having to figure out with a group what to invest in. What to weed out.  Also, that gatekeepers are fallible, and sometimes, that it's hard for a group of people to come to a consensus on a given piece of work, sometimes, especially when you have a bunch of different people who have different ideas of how a poem succeeds and fails (think of this especially when you submit to academic journals with student readers. Also, that rejection sometimes is a comment on the work itself, but not always.  Maybe it's a sound poem, but the subject matter or voice doesn't interest the person whose desk it came across first.  Or maybe they were having a shitty day and everything was a no. Or maybe they were tired of poems about rabbits or suicides or whathaveyou. So often I would send a group of poems and they would reject the work I thought was strongest and take some of the other pieces.  Maybe what comes with experience is not so much mastery over your domain, but a certain birds eye view that makes things much less frustrating over time. I know what's out there, what I'm up against, so when the no's come, just as often as they ever did, they feel less like obstacles and more like oh wells.   

Saturday, August 18, 2018

a week of broken water

Related image


“The house is damp. The house is untidy. But there is no alternative.”
                                   A Writer's Diary-Virginia Woolf

How do you know what this is? The dark red poppies and white syringas.  Think of Viola laying dead, and the cramming in and the cutting out. Even the muscles on my right hand, jerking almost. A prodigious tapping and clearing and massing. I think it will begin like this:  dawn, shells on the beach, voices of cock and nightingale; and then all the children at a long table—lessons. The moth must come in: the beautiful single moth.  She might have a book—one book to read in—another to write in—old letters. Early morning light—the beginning. It’s the cold hour, this, before the lights go up. 

What is the right antidote?  I rubbed my mind brisk along the Newhaven Road. Shabby old maids buying groceries in the wet.  When I look up I see all the marsh water.  In the sun, deep blue, gulls, caraway seeds, Atlantic floor. Yellow islands, leafless trees, red cottage roofs. A virgin lip, no bungalos, as it was in the beginning. 

In the wild, grey water.  A blank.  All frost. Still frost. Burning white.  Burning blue. The elms red. I did not mean to describe, one more, the downs in snow, but it came. I bought the blue paper book.  Like the milk girl, we found it boring. 

Who’ll be killed tonight? What could we salvage in this little car? Darwin and the silver, and some glass and china, The picture of the world in books is thus too dark.  The wordless are the happy, women in cottage gardens.  How serene and gay even, their life reads to me: no mud, no whirlpools, .  And so human. 

______________________________________________________________________


( In my forging through old poem files I also found this..a cento culled from Woolf's diaries. I think I initially wrote it for errata--where I was working with genres, but then didn't use it and promptly forgot about it.  I had to retype it here since I can't even begin to figure out where I would have saved it. I rather like it and maybe I'll do some more just as some exercising of sorts.)

Friday, August 17, 2018

notes & things | 8/17/2018



It's a two blog entry sort of day, mostly because I am playing hooky from library in-service, partially because the knee I keep injuring/re-injuring would not play well with a couple of different library tours, and partially becuase this may be the last day I can take off til the holidays.  Still I spent it getting groceries delivered, hanging out with the cats, proofing some dgp & collab projects, reading through drafts of my own work, and writing a couple different things for the blog.   I also dug through some old files and found all sorts of gems, including sonnets I'd forgotten about and a cento culled from the diaries of Virginia Woolf (the latter good enough that I wonder if I should pick it back up.)  I have another day tomorrow to work on poem stuffs and then the Danny's reading on Sunday.

Some noisy impromptu 4 am karaoke by downstairs Loyola neighbors started my week off tired and it never seemed to lift, so I am determined to sleep in as late as I want these next few days. I'm starting to get that fringe of panic as the new semester gets closer.  No matter how much I get done in the summer planning wise (for either reserves or AofR programming there are always ways in which I am unprepared somehow or rushing, which I hate.)  And once we start rolling, it's a downward slope til the holidays and I scarecely have time to catch my breath.

There is so much goodness I hope I have time to, you know, actually enjoy it--Beautiful Monstrosities, printmaking workshops, panel discussions.  Maybe, finally, those library-related writing things I'd like to get done. And outside of work, decisions for next year's dgp slate, the release of little apocalypse, some other little text & image zines, the unusual creatures box project, the mermaid anthology. I'll blink and in the worrying and preparation for things I sometimes miss the enjoyment of them. It's something I really need to find a way to balance...

where we've been, where we're going...






I was reading through some existing projects--basically everything I've written in the past year--mostly a handful of smaller series, some of which will eventually no doubt come together to form full-length collection #9, another couple that might very well be the beginnings of #10. I finally feel like the past year, or maybe even the past 6 months, has been very productive in the actually getting things down on paper in a way that I probably haven't been since my MFA days, maybe not even then.  As we roll toward fall, I realized that it's been 20 years since I first really began feeling like I wanted to take a serious go at this poem thing. I had been sending out work before that, from about age 19, with my little electric typewriter and my whiteout and my Writer's Digest magazine. But through college, I was in and out, focused on various things--for a bit it was trying (badly) to write fiction, for awhile it was theatre, for awhile it was teaching English or drama.

But the fall of 1998, was the first time I felt like poetry/writing could be something of a career (well maybe not a career as in money, but a career as in life pursuit.) I was just entering my second year of MA-English studies at DePaul and slowly realizing that while I loved reading and talking about books, I wasn't all that cut out for teaching them. Call it a big dose of social anxiety and a lack of the sort of nurturing and patience required for the classroom.  It was a strange place, suddenly realizing that you were not at all cut out for the very thing you'd planned your life around. I hit the summer of 1998 with no clue what to do with my life, having survived a bit of a mental bad patch in the late winter probably due to this very thing. A point where the anxiety animal I am used to carrying around became a depression animal that left me unable to leave my apartment except to go to class.  That had me sitting in the dark crying most of the time. Thankfully the fog of that had cleared by spring, but I was still drifting without purpose, looking at Ph.D-Lit  programs half-heartedly--still thinking maybe I would warm to academia in time.  I even took the GRE and applied to a couple (was even accepted at one, an abandoned application at the other.)

I also am thankful to my DePaul professor, who that fall, was willing to write me a letter of recommendation, but who gave me a dose of real talk on academic job prospects at the turn of the century that was probably the best advice I ever got. Basically she suggested I aim higher or don't aim at all--the most notable Ph.D programs in the nation not even a job guarantee, much less the smaller programs I was considering.    That if I was just doing it for further interest and study, then by all means, continue.  If I actually hoped to land a job, I should try for something shinier, more impressive for my vitae.

In a way, this was incredibly freeing information.  If academia as I was set on pursuing it would never yield the fruit I needed, wasn't I better off doing something else with my life? I was also never a very good scholar-I could write a good paper and I loved research, but I never had all that much passion for scholarly essay.  They felt like a necessary evil I could churn out, but I was never that excited about them (nor at the prospect of spending my semesters reading student papers into perpetuity.)  Really, I sort of just wanted to do the research and not write the essay, or use that research for more interesting things like art or creative projects (thus, though I didn't quite know it yet, a library career was an obvious choice.)


That fall I was also taking a 20th Century Brit Poetry class, and reading Eliot, which cracked something open for me as a writer. The Wasteland in particular gave me a certain kind of permission.   I had encountered sections of it in an undergrad class, but this was the first time I'd read it in its entirely and felt something stir--the beginnings of my own voice maybe. That collage and threading effect that I did't realize was possible in poetry. It made no sense, but then again, made all the sense in the world.  The professor for the class had us listen to Eliot himself reading his own words and I remember this feeling, this frisson, that started at the tip of my spine and carried upward.  (Probably why I have such a crush on old Tom, despite him being the deadest and whitest of dead white male poets.)

That frisson led to the first poems I wrote that felt like they were mine that October--that maybe I could do this thing and do it reasonable well. Sure I had written a lot before age 24, skinny little mopey political poems at 19, slick little Dickinsoneque rhymes when I was 21.  After a summer of unusual productivity and growth before my senior year, I'd even managed to land some college poetry prizes with some more promising personal pieces that were less embarassing but still not all that great.  I still, having only encountered poetry in anthologies, was not at all well versed in contemporary poets. But that fall, spurred by my Eliot spark, I went to the DePaul library and checked out books by Louise Gluck, Carolyn Forche, Anne Sexton, Eavan Boland.

Since I wasn't doing anything else that fall, by grace of student loans and credit cards,  I spent all my time not in the classroom writing poems and working on submissions to journals.  By spring of 1999, I had a book's worth of material and then some.  I had access to the internets on campus, but was still trying things on a word processor at home, printing them out, and SASE-ing my way to places like Poetry and the New Yorker and everywhere else listed in Poets & Writers magazine. Every day I ran expectantly down to the mailboxes in my Lincoln Park apartment building and, with a couple exceptions, mostly got a lot of no's, but a couple yes's. That spring, I vowed to have a manuscript by the time I tuned 25 and I did.  I vowed that my goal would be to find some sort of bookish, creative job that I didn't hate and spend the rest of my time writing.  And, it took an entire summer of false starts and jobs I was not at all cut out for, but I eventually did.

The poems I was writing then seems to be largely focused on allusion--myth, history, fairy tales, literature.  My first acceptance from a journal was for two poems--one about Salem witches and the other told from the perspective of Sin in Paradise Lost.  I was only 24, had mostly lived my life thus far, inside of books, so I suppose this was the natural outcome, the natural lens through which I saw things.   That spring, I would also be reading Rita Dove's Thomas & Beaulah, which in may ways keyed me into the storytelling possibilities of poetry.  The invention of a narrative word that didn't necessarily have to be mine.   But at that point, I wrote about what I knew.  Many of these poems, the better ones, wound up in my first chapbook, The Archaeologist's Daughter,  a couple years later, but none, despite how promising I thoughr they were, into my first full-length.

Even still I felt like it was this huge output of I guess what you could call voice, or the voice I was beginning to find...

Sunday, August 12, 2018

the slipperiness of persona


Tumblr


Recently, there was some grossness with questions of persona poetry (some white male poet who I had never heard of but who is apparently on the rise) did what amounted to digital blackface. Apologies were issued, even from editors, and there was some continuing discussion about persona poetry and the ethics of taking on voices other than your own--in this case, and in others that have arisen over the years-particularly the voice of the marginalized, who should have the opportunity to have their own voices added to the conversation without being filtered through the lens of privilege and remove. That someone else's story--particularly those that deal with identity and marginalization--are not fertile plucking ground to work out your own issues as a writer. Basically don't be a an asshole and try to speak for others, not only whose experience you know nothing about, but also whose chance for their own voices & experiences to be heard will be impeded by yours.

It's tricky ground, and even outside issues of identity and marginalization, it's problematic. I've been thinking about this as I work on the Slender Man series about the Waukesha stabbing--a case in which all of the involved girls are still very much alive and able to speak for themselves.  Maybe less a discomfort with persona --after all, I was also once a 12 year old girl in a midwest town who had slumber parties and went skating--a miliion sleepovers that sound exactly like theirs only no stabbings in the woods, this is perhaps why the story has appealed to me.  Just replace Slender Man with Bloody Mary in the pre-internet days. I was awkward and only had a couple of close friends, and not a slumber party went by where there wasn't some pre-teen squabble that marred the event.  But maybe it's more that I am still writing from the outside for all intensive purposes. That while it's somehow not so hard to speak for the dead, speaking for the living is another thing altogether.

I've written persona, or something like persona--poems before obviously--my entire first chapbook  The Archaeologist's Daughter,  was devoted to poems about historical characters, mythological subjects, people plucked from art and literature. There were poems about mermaids, gold rush brides, Degas' dancers, Salem witches.  Most were addressed as a "you" so were maybe not the "I" of traditional persona writing. Later,  I wrote an entire series devoted to Resurrection Mary, but then again, writing about a ghost or urban legend is very different from writing about an in-the-flesh person. I used a bunch of different lenses with that projects, and there is some variation in address.  Some are addressed to you, the ghost, some are I when I am speaking as narrator, some are third person omniscient. Perhaps the greatest concentration of more persona oriented pieces happens in girl show. Of course, there is a fine line between invented people and those based on real people.  I did a lot of sideshow research, so some of the women are based on people who existed--the siamese twins of "double tongue" being the most readily apparent, certain details in other poems.  But I suppose there are also a number of "I" voice poems of made up characters--the magicians assistant of "dissassembling maria", the dancer in "constellations of girls in red, the rotund high diver of "la grande plongeuse. "

According to simplest definition of persona poems, it involves the poet speaking in, taking on a voice that is different from the poet "self, but I'm not sure what happens when even that "self" is sort of slippery and moves back and forth between first , second and third person, which happens in girl show just as much as it does in the Resurrection Mary poems. Regardless, it's a wholly different thing at a certain remove when the subjects of your work are real, breathing people.  Maybe in this way, it's a discomfort akin to when you are mining real life for poetry fodder.  Early on, the first time my parent's came to hear me read, I told them the "mother" and "father" are not them, or at least at that time, were less so them and more fictional characters.  My own mother was nothing like the distant, untouchable, unreachable mothers in the the fever almanac.  The fathers in that book either missing or somehow foreboding. Even though the narrator of the poem spoke with an "I" in that book on occasion, it is perhaps the speaker least like me of all books . There are barely any "I'"s at all in in the bird musuem, a smattering in girl show, and shared properties... has a third person narrator. The first book where the I sounds even remotely like myself is major characters, but even again, the I, she's slippery and untrustable, and that carries through salvage and into little apocalypse.  

In some ways, it feels like everything is persona, but then if everything is, maybe nothing is.  Still, as I was working on necessary violence I've been cautious about that persona-hood. About the possibility that the involved would one day read this exterior version of their lives.  So what do we do with this burden?  My sister, who is working on the visual elements of what will be the final project mentioned on FB yesterday that she was keeping her visuals more in line with Slender Man myth and less about the particulars in order to not possibly re-traumatize the victim should she ever see them.  In writing the project, I am most uncomfortable with her.  The other girls are sympathetic, in that they are probably not monsters--just a product of un-diagnosed mental illness, extreme unusual suceptibility to fantasy, and the internet's darker corners. But how do we deal with the party most injured by all of this (though reports and media say she is actually growing up and handling it all quite well--she's a survivor, and apparently thriving.)  But even in my pieces, she is not the focus, and sometimes I feel like she should be, and maybe these are the pieces I still need to write. The other girls fall into a collective "we:  that by extension becomes all 12 year old girls with a love of the dark things, if not violent tendencies. That powder keg of adolescence where something can go terribly wrong (which in most cases the wrong is not attempted murder, but traumatic nonethless.)  The weird father/savior implications of the Slender Man imaginings.  There are fragments that are more focused on the mythology and the internet, and others focused on the particulars of that Saturday morning, but there are probably more made up details than true ones. 

I'm not sure I have the answers to these questions, but am thinking out loud about this project in particular. How to handle writing about the living when they still have their own voices, but still being able to inhabit their stories in your own voice.  Even in cases where the obvious rules--don't be an asshole, don't take on other people's stories and claim them for yourself, don 't further marginalize the marginalized, are not really applicable...





Saturday, August 11, 2018

notes & things | 8/11/2018


Image may contain: indoor


We are well into August now, and the end of summer is just visible up over the horizon. As always, so much that I was intending to get accomplished over the season that probably will not happen entirely by Labor Day, but much did (and still is.) In the library, I have a good start on fall planning, including the Little Indie Press Fest, which I am working on now, plus other workshops and panel discussions set for September.  I intended to just focus on programming and some library-related writing projects, but the staffing changes had me investing portions of my day in doing ILL I hadn't intended, so the writing projects have been tabled temporarily  until we hire for that position this fall.  I'm also excited about BEAUTIFUL MONSTROSITIES and have been getting some great submissions so far and beginning to think about the film panel we'll be hosting in late October.

Creatively, it's been a sound summer, continuing on from spring's relative productiveness.  I've been able to finish a slew of smaller series during this time, including exquisite damage (the horror inspired fragments) and now the Slender Man pieces, which my sister is at work on the visual elements now.   There are also bits of other things, including pieces for the serial project mentioned below and some other pieces that will be part of automagic manuscript, more poet's zodiac poems.  Some days I am successful at daily writing routines and other times, other stuff still manages to get in the way, but then I try to play catch up on the weekends if I can. Hopefully by next summer I'll have some longer manuscripts ready to send out into the world, but meanwhile there will be lots of little artists book and zine projects coming down the pipeline--both written and visual. You can still get in on subscription action here.

Also, the Tiny Letter that brings you fragments of exquisite damage is growing a little bit every week.  I am really interested in the way the serialized format connects with readers. Or maybe more the way all formats connect with readers.  There seems to be so many ways to function as a writer in the word that goes beyond the usual paths (I guess I'm thinking of the traditional route of sending submissions to journals, chaps and full-lengths to presses and contests and the limitations as such.) Maybe it's more about diversifying your creative agenda--reaching out in all directions--sending to journals and presses you love, but also embracing other dissemination methods, be they issuing chaps or zines, doing readings or performances, video poems (I really want to make this happen soon), using instagram or other social media, blogging or serializing work, installations or public art poetry.  It's all very exciting--I feel like it approaches poetry in the same way I would visual art endeavors (or any art endeavors besides writing) and frees up some of the frustrations I've always felt about the lit world--that insularity of audience confined to traditional venues of publication.

I am just beginning to dip a foot into the dgp manuscripts that I have been lucky enough to be entrusted with and already am very pleased with the caliber of what every year seems to come our way.  Or maybe that it's that I feel like people get the sort of stuff I like to publish in a way that other editorial things I've done (wicked alice, or helping to judge contests and such) where there is such a mixed bag. I read through 20 books this week and there are at least 10  that are sound and completely publishable.  I will have to narrow it down to 2-3 I really love, but will hold off making decisions until I wade further in and see what else is there in the pool.  I've also been doing some cover designs this summer that I am very proud of, so I made a little collage of the ones I had a hand in (and this doesn't even include the great covers that were done by outside artists or the author themselves. I find I go through stages, like a blue stage , or a green stage, or a pattern or diagrammatic stage with design elements. One month, I was apparently very into orange,

Next weekend, I'll be reading at the Danny's Reading Series with some other dgp readers they've pulled together.  Not sure what I want to read--maybe some of the love poems  I realized the other day that since I was sick the day of my WomanMade reading in the spring and couldn't go, and then we had to cancel the Apocalypse reading at the library, that I haven't actually been able to read since last fall at Wit Rabbit, which may have been another century ago given the past year and everything being of the "before" or "after" bad things happening.  I am looking for the day when time and memory isn't marked quite so much by this. When time goes back to being more of a continuity and less marked by tragedies, but I'm not sure it will.






Wednesday, August 08, 2018

new serial project

After dipping my feet in the water with the format of my Tiny Letter, I’m excited to launch a new serialized project in conjunction with Channillo.  You can subscribe to an unlimited number of series across a number of genres for only around $5 per month, including mine…the first installment will be posting next week!






https://channillo.com/series/taurus/

Saturday, August 04, 2018

libraries I have loved, part 1

Webinar_Library_Marketing

For the past couple of weeks, I've been loosely plotting a library-related piece of writing about the sort of learning that happens in academia that is self-directed, outside the classroom, and in particular how libraries play a role.  Needless to say, as student who did not live on campus, or close enough by to slip home during the day, good old Howard Colman Library on the RC Campus became my second home in the early to mid-90's.  It was small compared to the bohemoth of my grad school library years at DePaul, and even small to Columbia's 5 floors, but you could usually find me upstairs in one of the study carrels that faced the brick stairwell walls, where I'd set up shop for the afternoon, and would occasionally leave things behind--things that I wouldn't miss if stolen but they never were--a notebook, a stack of books, my jacket--to claim the space when I came back after class. Mostly, I would sit, book open, with my brownbag lunch, usually a cheese & tomato sandwich,, usually can of Mr. Pibb or the weak French Vanilla instant coffee from the vending machines. Reading all sorts of things--my books for classes, things recommended by my professors, random things I found on the shelves that looked interesting. 

There was really no internet then, not campus-wide outside the labs (and even then only on 1 or 2 computers circa 1995), and barely even well functioning databases in the library. The catalog had just shifted from the giant card catalog on the 1st Floor to DRA, which wasn't always working or useful.  So I would spend that time reading from the collection, having found my way to the Lit section sort of randomly. For a brief time, I was all about the Beats, less so the actual writing, which outside of Ferlingetthi I never warmed to, but moreso the biographies, the books about the movement. The forgotten women of the Beat movement, who were more forgotten in the 90's than thankfully they are now. I loved literary biographies and devoured them on the regular.  I wasn't always writing in these years, and took a break from about late 1993-early 1996 and was focused more on theater creatively for a bit, but I was fascinated to read about the writers who work I was studying in my classes--mostly American 19th & 20th Century Lit--Faulkner, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor. I also kept detailed journals in black & white marble composition books about what I was reading and thinking.

Now it's weird to think you couldn't just google information, but I had to spend a lot of time opening book after book sort of randomly on that section of shelves, and that I did.  Endlessly and enthusiastically.  While I didn't read a lot of poems (which is readily apparent from the few poems I wrote then..lol..) I did read a lot of plays, which were just short enough to devour in a single sitting.   Later, I would find a quiet spot down in the exposed basement near the periodicals and spend time reading theatre magazines and lit journals, in close proximity to the hulking MLA index volumes I needed to use for classes. (I also used this quiet space as a place to nap in the afternoon, my backpack sprawled under my head and probably drooling.)  There was a beastly range of compact shelving that was terrifying and really noisy that would roar to life every few hours. Since the entrance to the tech services department was down there, occasionally a staffer would stroll through, but otherwise I was mostly alone here.

Since I spend most of my free time reading things on the internets these days, I guess my life then was not so different, just I was reading things on paper more-trying to forge out what I was going to do after graduation. At the time, I thought it was teaching, either English or Theatre, maybe both, in either a high school or college setting. So I read a lot about classroom strategies for English & drama teachers.  Later, when I circled back to writing poems my final two years,  I pored over writing mags and lit journals. Magazines, which I rarely even touch now, were my only way out into the world I wanted to be a part of--Writers Digest, Poets and Writers...This was true even earlier when I would check writing mags out from the public library before I was enrolled and return them dog-eared and occasionally late and/ or ragged enough for my dad to have to pay a fine when he took them back.

I suppose the internet changes things a bit for today's students like me, at least in regard to periodical reading, but the other stuff still is valuable, I did a lot of reading at home these years too, but without libraries, I wouldn't know nearly as much about the random weird shit that I do--Mothman, ghost stories, spontaneous human combustion.  How Jack Keruoac's favorite thing was bacon & egg sandwiches.  How no one should ever read Ayn Rand by choice. How Edna St. Vincent Millay died by falling drunkenly down the stairs (the internet fights me on this detail today, but I'm pretty sure I read it this way initially.)

Also, its funny to think that for all my love of libraries (and there are more love letters to come) it seems incredibly fitting that it's where I've spent the last 20 odd years getting paid to work in them, first the elementary school and then Columbia.  In truth, I just wanted a bookish sort of job to support my writing, but now I realize how foolish, given how much they formed me as a person,  it was to expect I would end up anywhere else....