Tuesday, October 20, 2020

31 days of halloween | how to tell if you're possessed


Over the past few months, I've been working on a series of poems inspired by Weekly World News headlines called alternative facts, many of which have a bizarre and monstrous feel perfect for the season.  The above is one of my favorites.

Monday, October 19, 2020

daily writing hiatus

 After a few months of daily poeming (and so much to show for it in terms of the new completed collapsologies manuscript) I've been taking a momentary break before moving on to the next thing.  It would help immensely of course if I knew what the next thing was, but right now I'm treading water in the uncertainty of it--notes in my notebook about things I'd like to write or research, formats I would like to play with. Stories I would like to tell. I've been dipping a toe back into some visual exploits, including some design stuff and postcard collages for my Patreon. It's slow, but it's a start. Maybe some of those will lead to writing.  Or writing will lead to new artwork. 

It feels like a weird time to be making plans, once again with the contingency that the world may be on much tighter lockdown at some point during the next few months. This feels more apt at the Library, where everything--exhibits, programs--is being planned dually, both on the walls and on the web.  We are holding in there, and most of my days are filled now with ILL flow, which has ticked up a bit. Obviously, timewise, whether I am homebound or not shouldn't affect more creative work that much (if anything I gain back a few hours in the hustling to and fro) but if March & April is any indication, a world in turmoil (or more tumultuous than the past couple of months) blows a huge hole in motivation and concentration. It took til the end of May to get back to any sort of routine.  I still, outside of the dgp manuscripts, have a hard time reading for enjoyment. 

I'm thinking of holding off on starting something new until at least the election has passed and we are into November.  I have no idea what the world will like or where, and if, my concentration will hold.   I have a couple zine projects I'd like to get out that month for the books & objects series, but otherwise am wide open in creative endeavors.  There are a couple things I have my eye on for the automagic project, some orphan series I started and haven't meandered back to. But a break feels good right now.  I've been spending my breakfast writing time instead queuing up Halloween posts and posting to socials, and just lingering in bed a bit longer than I usually do before clamoring into the shower. 

31 days of halloween | ghosts and small animals


Not all of the poems in dreams about houses and bees are specifically about ghosts--or at least the literal interpretation, many touch on memory and ghosts, and are therefor spooky enough to make our line up this month.  This series was issued as a little collage zine back in 2015, and the text portions included in SALVAGE (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

thoughts on manuscripts, the bottleneck, and self-publishing

This week, I did the final proofing and design finishing for FEED, which I will be releasing as both an e-book and print book via Amazon at the end of this year.  It's a decision I've been mulling over--was mulling over, even pre-pandemic, and covid sealed the deal.  Part of me says maybe it's just a feeling that the world is going to fuck and if I get sick and die (or mauled by rabid nazi hoards of incels)  at least the book will be out in the world. To seize whatever opportunities come along because you could be gone tomorrow.   It's not all so dire as those thoughts, but one thing living in this world in these times has told me is that a lot of the arbitrary shit that used to matter seems to matter less and less., And you can apply this across everything, not just the literary world. (Might I remind you of Sabrina Orah Mark's essay in The Paris Review.)

I came into the poetry world as we know it in a strange way--a novice, which is not unusual, but I always felt like I slipped in some back door and didn't really belong in some po-biz spaces. And maybe I do, or maybe I don't.  I came to the academic poetry world kind of late, already nearing thirty, with a lot of publications under my belt and a familiarity with the open mic scene in Chicago (or I should say A open mic scene, as there are many?)  When I listened to the folks there--classmates, teachers, visiting artists talking about the insularity of certain journals, presses, awards, and tenure tracks, how certain things mattered more than others,  I called bullshit more than once, but I also bought into to a degree. That couple years when I was trying to place my first book, more often than once, I though about self-publishing it. The contest circuit seemed insurmountable, and it still is, a formidable bottleneck that has broken some of the best poets I know.  I wanted a book in the world.  I wanted a shiny spine on the shelf in the Barnes & Noble.   I wanted readers. I wanted to belong, to have a feeling that yes, I was legitimate poet, whatever that meant.  This need for legitimacy pushed me through an MFA program I only sometimes liked.  It had me sending that book out and paying up to $30 a pop. 

And I was lucky enough that a small press that no longer exists , but that I owe a great debt to, loved my manuscript and decided to publish it in the very old fashioned way of me having queried and then sent the manuscript at precisely the right time. And having a book of course was amazing, what I dreamed of, and while it felt really good, it didn't change much for me as a writer because outside of having a pretty bound volume of my work. I was still hustling--to do readings, to get people interested, to sell copies.  A book is a lot of labor, no matter how it comes into the world  And of course, more books followed, some via pure serendipity, others via open reading periods.  One press folded, then another.  Others continued to flourish and I still occasionally publish with them today. I am absolutely luckier than I probably should be, to have found such presses & editors who believed in my work, when it's very hard to publish that first book, and sometimes, even harder to publish the second or the third.   

I think over the years, I've refocused my mind not on presses and journals as a goal, but more on communities they reinforce.  Which of course, is bolstered by presses and journals and awards circuits, but also just by sharing work, being with other writers (in real-life or virtually) .  So much of my experience is rooted not only in my early poetry-related experiences, but also zine culture and visual arts, which seem a little less beholden to structures that don't really serve them well.  As such the stigma of releasing your own work has lost its power over the years, as I've released as many projects into the wild as small limited editions or e-chaps as I have via journals and traditional presses. I once had a lively (I say discussion, some may say argument) during a panel over the merits of self-publishing. I've watched a lot of writers, really good writers, give up because the path to publishing books of poetry via the sanctioned paths, gets narrower and narrower, more closed off as presses struggle economically, operations fold, and there are just a lot of poets vying for room. Every other minute, the attention shifts, and the person who may be the talk of the town, in a year or two, is completely forgotten. 

It gets harder to breathe sometimes, mid-career, so I can only imagine what it's like to be entering it as a newbie.I think we are all conscious as well of the space we take up--when it comes to younger writers, marginalized writers, or at least maybe we should be. I sometimes scoff at Rupi Kaur, and wonder why people like her work (which is also true of some established academic poets), but I see how she is doing very well so outside those structures, which make the structures seem even more arbitrary and small thinking. Whatever you think of her work, her end result is good and her business acumen sharp as hell. Most of the world may not even know people are writing poetry still, and those that do gravitate toward catch phrases and things that would fit on a mug, but it's still poetry. 

So then, what to do with all these books, all these poems, the structure that cannot hold them all.  I believe very much in small presses, obviously, to seize the means of production and make the art world, the lit world more interesting, more diverse than it might be otherwise.  But of course, small presses, particularly those that publish full-lengths struggle both in time and divided energies (because no one is getting rich off any of this--most editors have at least one, sometimes more than, other job.) People move on, money gets tight, people stop getting along with each other.  Presses fold and re-emerge in other configurations. 

What to do when you are a writer whose main goal is not necessarily to win prizes or teaching fellowships and really just build a community of readers, however small, who want to read what you put out there in the world?  And its' not all this great spirit of independence pushing me toward the endeavor. Some of it is resignation as well, or just tiredness with the status quo. FEED is a manuscript which I finished last year, but have only submitted a couple times, both met with a very kind and supportive "no".  I don't think there is anything wrong with the book that makes it unpublishable,  In fact. I would say it's tighter going in than a couple other books I have found other homes for. It's also a very personal book that I really want out there. I am not quite on board with submitting to a bunch of contests, spending hundreds of dollars, just to make that happen.  I have three other mss. in various stages of completion, another one out to a favorite press that may or may not want it in the end.  So what to do with book projects that just keep piling up and a desire to get them out there?   

It's not a perfect solution, but it's a better one.  No matter how much work it is to shoulder a self-published volume, it's certainly less expensive than sinking money forever into contests and open reading periods. The work alone of publicity and design is formidable, though as an editor myself, I'm thinking I can make a sound little book, both in content and appearance.  Still it seems far more fun and dynamic that attempting jam oneself into the bottleneck and hoping for the best. Or giving reverence to unspoken rules and structures that really don't benefit any but a select few. 


31 days of halloween | the summer house


This little ghosty project debuted in late summer as an e-chap, but I also made a little video of one of the poems.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

31 days of halloween | plump


While I often use fairy tales in my work--little red riding hood in the red poems, goldilocks and the three bears in the shared properties of water and stars, this one is a recent favorite, written to be part of our dark forest project at the library.

you can read the entire series of poems with collages online here.

Friday, October 16, 2020

31 days of halloween | songs for dead girls


"Zombie Girl writes down her name.  Writes a letter to her congressman. A classified ad.  Dead Girl seeking.  Dead Girl seeping through her days.  Zombie Girl makes a chalk drawing of her former lovers on the floor beside the bed.  Decides sex is beside the point when you are all body, all hunger. All meat moving through the world."

read the entire series here:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

31 days of halloween | sex & violence

Since we are halfway through the #31daysfohalloween, I thought I would use today as a plug for my latest full-length and it's slightly spooky cover.  I was going to highlight the /slash/ series a little later in the month in zine form, but it's ode to slashers populates a section of this book, as well as poems about Dali's The Inventions of the Monsters, which also is totally on-theme for the month. Even the Plath centos are obviously a little spooky given the source material, which probably makes this my most horror-laden book to date, so the title is more than appropo.

And this cover, which was modification done on one of the /slash/ zine pieces, definitely the spookiest...

get a copy from Black Lawrence Press...

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

31 days of halloween | fog and light


These were taken, not during the fall, but early one spring foggy morning out near my dad's house. but I loved the way they turned out. 

31 days of halloween | strange machine


A while back, I wrote a series of poems about atomic anxieties and sci fi horror ladies called STRANGE MACHINE.  You can read it here...

Monday, October 12, 2020

31 days of halloween | cryptotaxonomy


Today, we're bringing in a little monster-related fun.  As some of you know, a friend and I started a fun little art experiment the chicago cryptozoological society, a few years back for zine & artmaking shenanigans.  While some of the zines are just cut & pasted amusements, they occasionally result in some pretty cool art pieces.

see all of them here:  


Saturday, October 10, 2020

31 days of halloween | {licorice, laudanum}

This is an October debut--my little zine devoted to the Murder Castle legend! While my research on Holmes was a little disappointing, it made a spooky little series of poems and pictures, which you can get a look at in this little e-zine project. 

not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

Mock Orange

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
paralyzing body—

and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—

In my mind tonight
I hear the question and pursuing answer
fused in one sound
that mounts and mounts and then
is split into the old selves,
the tired antagonisms. Do you see?
We were made fools of.
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.

How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?

Twenty or so odd years ago, I was a baby poet.  Or more accurately, I had been writing poems since age 15, but only 20 odd years ago, on the verge of 25,  did I get good enough to call it actual poetry. I was in my second year of grad school (studying mostly novels, but occasionally poems) at Depaul and something clicked--I blame TS Eliot for the hinge popping open, but he may have just unjammed the lock.  That fall I spent a lot of time ferrying books back and forth from the library in my backpack--mostly women writers--Carolyn Forche, Anne Sexton, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, and for the purposes of this entry--Louise Gluck, whose just been honored with the Nobel. There was no internet, or at least not at my apartment, nor did I have a job, so I spent my days when not in class reading and writing a swell of work that autumn. Truthfully, it was probably the first time I had immersed myself in contemporary poets and that perhaps was what opened the door to the work I was writing, and would write in the future.  The poems came fast that fall and into the spring, an output that changed my career trajectory--a swerve away from teaching and toward writing, however I needed to support myself.  A handful of poems in my very first chapbook stem from this time.  I also garnered my first journal publication with them. 

Eventualy I wandered away from most of these poets, as my style shifted, barring a brief seminar during my MFA at Columbia devoted to Oliver, Sexton, and Olds.  Years later, had you asked me about any of these poets, I would probably wrinkle up my nose and, with exception of Sexton and Forche perhaps, call them slightly facile. My tastes had moved on to writers like Jorie Graham and Anne Carson if we're talking literary heavyweights.  Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (ie. the male poetry world if we're getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they'd chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don't think that's the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a "flower poet" and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She weilds this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still weilds it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems--not anymore--but I can see the value in work--the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

Friday, October 09, 2020

31 days of halloween | girl show


While this book was not explicitly written in a horror vein, there is a certain gothic-ness about it.  Published in 2014 by Black Lawrence, it was also my MFA thesis manuscript at Columbia, and the longest single focus project I've ever written.  There are bird girls, fan dancers, and conjoined twins aplenty.  My favorite part of this project, similar to others, was the research--so much on sideshows and early-mid 20th century circus & vaudeville culture (and also where I learned about the Hilton Sisters--who I named the siamese demons after). 

notes & things | 10/9/20


October is plugging along , and while Tuesday I noted that the trees were still pretty green and lush,  Thursday, suddenly the park was exploding in yellow. Fall, like spring, seems to happen slowly, then all at once. You might gradually notice it's getting darker earlier every week, but then suddenly daylight is swallowed in what seems like mid-afternoon.  Last night, there was a huge, orange, low and fiery half-moon rising just as I was going home that seemed spooky and appropriate for the season.  I wasn't keen on spending too much on fall decor, so I settled on a bunch of orange-ish dried eucalyptus and this little friend up top (who will be staying long after Halloween).

I've been busy at the Library..October usually means full swing after the amping up of September, and things are still good on campus Covid-wise, so we may get to finish out the semester onsite after all.  There are exhibits to plan, virtual and physical, a faculty work showcase I am building the site for, various ARTIVISM endeavors. It's still weirdly quiet, with very few hybrid classes and a lot of students barely setting foot on campus, but it looks to have definitely been a wise decision. I am also warily watching Loyola stats, and despite some rather raucous partying happening in my building here at the edge of campus, they are doing similarly well. The holidays will no doubt change things, but right now, Chicago seems like one of the safest places to be in the country. 

And in the vein of messes, I did wind up listening to the VP debate Weds night as i was working, and Harris is, as expected, doing very well (I could very easily see her as president net go round.)  Not that she has much to contend with.I was knee deep in page design, so I was sad I missed the foreboding fly. The last two weeks are crazypants (is Drumpf really sick?  Is he dead? Is it all just a ruse to get votes?  To lose votes? I don't even know anymore--not even sure I care.).   My vote is already signed, sealed, and delivered, and it does seem that people are turning out for early voting in droves and already skewing democrat. I have to believe in the good of people.  I'm not sure there is any other way to continue. 

At home, I am watching horror movies and shows, including the contentious UTOPIA, which I loved so much it kept me up all week wanting to keep watching one more episode.  Yeah, a little tone deaf on the release in the current climate, but I dug it. Gillian Flynn does a really good job writing for the small screen.  This weekend, there's HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR, which I feel like I've been waiting forever for, plus a long queue of movies in every streaming app I'm subscribed to. As far as the pandemic, fall feels much more easily to exist in a little bubble and hide out all weekend.  I have several crockpot recipes to try, poems to write, coffee to brew,  and a bottle of pumpkin shower gel that smells like a dessert, so I'm set...

Thursday, October 08, 2020

31 days of halloween | terrestrial animal


A few years back, I stumbled upon some marketing material for mid-century era bomb shelters, and later, a sale listing for this house in the desert built to survive nuclear war. It was a sweet piece of mid-century design, still intact, but also slightly horrific to imagine life there, either before or after the bomb--the imitation of nature, but underground. It is part of little apocalypse, and spawned a little mini-chap that was part of Dusie's E-book Kollectiv in 2014, which you can read here...

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

31 days of halloween | (in) vertebrate


This fun little collage series plays with monsters and creepy creatures a little bit, so of course, fits our theme perfectly!

31 days of halloween | necessary violence


A couple of years ago, I got it in my head that I was going to write a series of poems devoted to the story of the girls involved in the Slenderman stabbing in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 2015. The research for it involved a lot of reading/documentary watching about the case, as well as delving into Slenderman lore more generally. At some point I invited my sister, Becky Webster,  to contribute some visual pieces to the project since her work tends to be a bit spooky and gothic in general and thus, NECESSARY VIOLENCE was born.  

While initially it was published in print only, you can read a pdf version of the entire project here...

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

video poem | swallow #4

you can see more in this series, here...

Monday, October 05, 2020

31 days of halloween | another cautionary tale

This poem, which was part of my feign chapbook, and later included in in the bird museum. was one of the first times I wrote explicitly about horror movies.  Those manuscripts are mostly about how there is always a certain amount of danger in knowledge and experience, and this is definitely a hallmark of the genre, particuarly when it comes to final girls.  It's a theme that would resurface in projects like /slash/ and exquisite damage.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

31 days of halloween | what's inside a girl?

This is more recent, and one of my book trailer videos from SEX & VIOLENCE, but I loved it's horror movie credit feel...

*{All month long , I will be sharing work that delves into the strange and spookier side of things--poems, drafts, books, projects, artwork and more, some old, some brand spanking new.}

Saturday, October 03, 2020

31 days of halloween | archer avenue

Way back in 2005, I worked on a heavily researched and very fun project about another urban legend / Chicago ghostie favorite, Resurrection Mary that resulted in a chapbook. While the sightings have died down over time after peaking in the 70's  and the Willowbrook Ballroom burned down a couple years back, I had a glorious good time reading about the history of the sightings and going on ghost tours that autumn. And of course Mary is just one of these vanishing hitchhiker legends that crop up everywhere and in every culture, all of them really fascinating in their own way.  Chicago's was something that caught my attention in junior high and even then I was obsessed...

*{All month long , I will be sharing work that delves into the strange and spookier side of things--poems, drafts, books, projects, artwork and more, some old, some brand spanking new.}

Friday, October 02, 2020

31 days of halloween | strangerie


There is a whole lot more from this series coming at the end of the month in printed form, both image and text, but this is a little series of digital collages I made a couple years back. I am planning an oracle deck for them a closer to Halloween for my Patreon offerings, but here is one of my favorite images from the bunch.  You can see the whole passel on instagram....


*{All month long , I will be sharing work that delves into the strange and spookier side of things--poems, drafts, books, projects, artwork and more, some old, some brand spanking new.}

Thursday, October 01, 2020

31 days of halloween | bloody mary

One of my favorite things as a kid was this urban legend, subject of many slumber party tauntings, but as far as I know, no actually successful attempts to carry it out.  Not sure if even my adult self would be willing to go that far.   I think most urban legends are just that, legends, but lets not take any chances. 

This poem was included and was the title pieces in one of my first chapbooks and was included in my first larger book, the fever almanac, way back in 2006. 

*{All month long , I will be sharing work that delves into the strange and spookier side of things--poems, drafts, books, projects, artwork and more, some old, some brand spanking new.}