Monday, March 04, 2024

now available in the shop

 This lush and sensuous modern retelling of the Persephone myth juxtaposes her journey to the underworld with that of the girls who were transformed into winged monsters in the wake of her abduction.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

selling out: branding for poets

A few weeks back I bookmarked this Vox article with the aim of reading it through more thoroughly. Revisiting it today, it got me thinking about this weird dual state most writers or artists find themselves in. It may be a modern age thing, since many of the artists we know from the distant past, particularly literary ones, had other people doing the heavy lifting of issuing, promoting, and curating the work. While the artists could simply hide in a garret all day and then turn up at a bar or cafe occasionally for appearances or readings (or getting in fights with other writers.) 

This is, of course, not the lit world that baby poet me was born into in the 90s and early aughts. Even the machines that put work out into the world, like journals and small presses, relied much on the author's own promo, platforms, and appearances to sell work. Maybe if you landed a Big Five publisher or were financially stable enough to enroll a professional PR person, you could sit back and solely focus on the work itself, but that was not even an option. Especially for writers who not only had to split their time between writing and promoting but also whatever else they were doing to actually make a living--teaching, freelance, or other day jobs. Many writers like to talk about the good ole days when you could just bow out of the process mostly once you're genius had been manifested and move on to the next project, but I don't think that was true for most authors, no matter your genre, and hadn't been so in a while. 

I took to finding ways to promote work early when I actually didn't have that much work, and maybe that's why, now, two decades in, it feels much less arduous.  It takes time, of course, time you could probably be writing. But since I find all sorts of ways to waste time (streaming bad TV shows, scrolling reels, watching thrifting hauls on YouTube) and not writing, I suppose it could be a far worse way to spend my time. In 2001, I made my first author website, along with my first curation project, wicked alice. I had just begun publishing frequently in similar online journals and wanted to start my own. I used a free website generator that had ads for at least another two years before I bought a proper domain.  In 2001, even MySpace was in its fledgling days, though later I did have one of those briefly. What we know of social media was still years off for most of us. 

That early website was mostly just a way to corral an internet presence into one place as more and more poems wound in more and more journals. It provided a place to direct people to, a landing spot if readers were interested in reading more. I didn't start blogging until late 2003, on Xanga, which was much more community-feeling, sort of like an early mix of Live Journal and what Tumblr would eventually be. Between 2003 and 2007 or so, I like to think of as the golden era of poetry blogs. I hopped to this space in early 2005 and have been here since. On those blogs, many people stuck to craft discussions and reviews and strictly writing-related topics. But this space has always felt like partly that, but also part diary or journal, part sounding things out or thinking out loud. It was also part of a general conversation with other writers before short-form social media became the norm around 2009-ish.

Those same authors would later move to things like Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter. I used Tumblr as my domain forwarded homepage for a while in the 2010s, and I liked the shareability of it, but left when new no-porn guidelines kept getting collages with even slight nudity blocked by bots. I moved that homepage to another Blogger account since I needed a slightly different set-up than what I have here. It's not a site that gets a lot of traffic, even as much as this blog, since most of my direction to things comes via social media, but it's a nice landing spot to get to everything else to include in bios and business cards and such. From there, you can get to the shop, my YouTube video poems, my portfolio on Flickr that I use for art, and Instagram (where I post most of my content these days). I still spend a good amount of time on Facebook, but it's more for keeping up with friends and family and occasional randomness. I do put links to books and share things to keep folks apprised of what I'm up to, along with other freelance writing bits, but promotion is not its main purpose. It's also behind a friend wall to keep out trolls and mansplainers. 

Instagram is where you will most often find me doing promotion-like things on the public side of the internet, though much can be said to approaching even that platform a little differently the past couple of years. More as a way to share work and creative "content" and not just purely as a promo or "branding" (whatever that is or means to you) vehicle. It's maybe more the aims of what I post there vs. what I actually post there. Instead of just directing people to publications and book sales pages, I try to create more meaty things that can be enjoyed wholly via the medium like reels and video poems and poem postcards. While I veered away from TikTok after a month of trying it out last April for NaPoWriMos (it felt a little too wild west and random for continued use, but maybe I will return this April for that. ) I do like video as a potential delivery for words, be that text-driven pieces or audio readings. I actually get a great amount of joy creating the things themselves, which while not scratching the same itch as writing or artwork itself, still is enjoyable in the same graphic design is or building a website.

As for the "brand, " I'm not sure. It's a gross word when it seems wrapped up in commerce, but it's probably more innocuous when you view it not as limiting and cutting off parts of yourself but as a way to exist on the internet as a creator in an authentic way. I get that those two things may seem completely incongruous, but I don't think they have to be. I don't believe there is anything to selling out unless you find yourself doing things you don't want to do or for all the wrong reasons. I also think not all platforms are right for all writers. I hated Twitter mostly, so it was easy to walk away amid its downfall, but I do like creating for Instagram and YouTube a lot, so the importance is finding one you like and figuring out how to enjoy it. Many writers prefer not to have an internet presence at all. I think you should have something, even if it's just a link to a public portfolio in Google Docs that tells people where to find you.  

Friday, March 01, 2024

secret agents


Last week, I was talking to my lead editors at HD about some recent work and they startled me a little by mentioning that I was a poet (it's not currently in my bio there, which is focused more on decor/DIY writing, but it was when I started) It's obviously not, of course, a secret. since anyone who looks at my website or socials can see it or buy my books. But I also spend a lot of time writing things for other people, far more time than I spend on creative work. And it is a mix of subjects and publications, most of which have their own unique style and voice.  But, then again, I'd never considered how the "poetic voice" of my writing impacted those. My editors thankfully encouraged me to bring more of that poetic voice into my pieces, the idea of which I loved, since I had tried, these last two years, to stamp it out completely. 

At first, it seemed necessary since a lot of my work was academic lessons, ie there wasn't much room for me in those. Or by-the-book dictionary entries for the antique site or passages for the real estate site in a sort of breezy neighborhood tour tone.  Even my film writing for the gamer site had a sort of formula and media tone we all shared. Then later, even in lifestyle spaces, I read a lot of other pieces to try to match what I saw there. I guess I didn't know writing in my own voice was an option.but I'm glad it is.

My surprise that I had been found out as a poet was the more curious part, especially since, from the time I started writing when I was a teenager, it sometimes felt like a secret identity outside certain spaces. I was writing poems all along, but I was known more as a newspaper staffer. Then a theater kid. In college, as a lit major or theatre techie, not as much a writer myself, though I did things like public in the litmag and take occasional workshops. I went to grad school solely devoted to lit, then started working in libraries, where I was even more undercover. I'm pretty sure I never talked much about writing when I worked in the elementary school, though I must have since I did get invited to a couple classes to talk about poetry and was picked to judge/coordinate our entries in the district-wide writing contest. (the very same one I bailed on in 8th grade when I tried to write a horror novel and instead turned in an alphabet book.) 

I was pretty slow to reveal it to my fellow co-workers at Columbia. The exception being the librarian, an interim department lead and later a friend, who hired me, who was really excited I was a creative writer and I think, in hindsight, probably hired me becuase of that since the pool was no doubt filled with people with more academic library experience than I had at the time. But soon he was in another department and it was a while before my other co-workers were aware I was even a writer, much less a poet. I was working really hard and doing things like founding lit mags and submitting work, but it probably wasn't until I started the MFA program that anyone knew what I was doing when I wasn't clocking long nights at the circ desk.  It still was something I didn't really talk about, beyond requesting occasional nights off to attend readings. 

In my personal life, it was perhaps even more on the down low. My parents and sister knew, of course, though my mom always said she didn't really understand any of it until she came to my first reading in like 2005. Some extended family members understood more than others.But only a couple ready my books. I was winning contests and getting my degree and finishing book # 1. I was seeing someone for a few years who I occasionally shared work and accomplishments with. The only people who really knew me as a poet, however, were other poets. Even as that relationship mostly ended and others began, I didn't exactly lead with the fact I wrote poetry, though if they were around long enough, I eventually at least talked about it, though only a couple ever really read my work in detail. Many were not particularly literary-minded to be honest. This was refreshing and disappointing all at once.

Even later, when I felt like my poetic exploits were more out there among the people I knew, poetry felt like this thing that belonged to another world, even though I did much to entwine it sometimes with my job, mounting readings and panels and exhibits that occasionally featured my work. There was library-me, who wrote articles and presentations about library programming and promo strategies and how to create a murder mystery. When I pretty much solely drafted our award-winning ACLR application in 2017, a feat that involved countless hours of work, the head of the national organization nearly laughed out loud at the fancy reception we'd earned when our director revealed a poet had wrote the entire thing (though I still think this, and the unending engine of my resentment over many things happening then and not being taken seriously, is why we won--a particular kind of word witchery.)

Still most days, I don't go about in the world exclaiming I am a poet. My mother, right before she left the care facility a month or so before her death, was one day boasting to the aide who was helping her, that I was a poet and it seemed sort of ridiculous in light of the sort of important work this woman was doing. Somewhat are frivolous, as all art is, and not at all necessary. Mostly because I always feel that no one cares. Or that that sort of work isn't valuable in the world. The real flesh and bone world, not the poetry world. Which I know isn't true, but if I wanted to be valuable I would have persisted in my desire to be a scientist or teacher, both things I gave up and decided to forge a life with words. There's a line in the American Psycho musical that always hits a certain way when I listen to the soundtrack:

"You're not moving mountains. Or changing lives.

You're just killing while you're killing time." 

Still, sometimes it does feel like I am a secret agent. That I'm like Batman, except I write my little lines and tell my little stories instead of solving crime. Like there's a secret code word all of us poets know and reveal ourselves accordingly. 


Thursday, February 29, 2024

notes & things | 2/29/2024

Leap Days always feel a little magical. Almost like they don't count. An extra day in the year. An extra rotation that requires nothing especially productive. I've been doing my best working on some DIY articles I need to finish before end of the day, but not much else, which means I'll be up early tomorrow to finish press stuff before I do some more writing in the afternoon and early evening. We have some D&D plans on Saturday, something I never thought I'd be into as much as I am, certainly not at this age, so I won't be able to push anything back and still be able to be lazy Sunday, the one day I try to leave for myself. 

The weather has turned back to more seasonally appropriate, but it's been a busy one, with a couple films early in the week (including the horror brilliance that was Stopmotion and the irreverent fun that was Drive Away Dolls) and a production of Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.  For discount tickets we had really amazing seats,front center of the dress circle in a theatre that is actually not that big. The whole production had a very Victorian asylum/hospital look I adored and some gender-swapped casting that may have made me more sympathetic to the villain.

I am also getting ready to launch GRANATA tomorrow and should have the first stack of the final version early next week. I wound up changing the spine color to be different from a color I've used before for the spine of ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER, from dark green to a pale gray-blue, A minor change but a pretty one nonetheless. Keep on eye on IG, where I will be posting audio poems, reels, and snippets from the book...

Otherwise, I am just playing around a bit more with AI snippets in collages (see above) and liking the somewhat monstrous results that may wind up being a fun zine project down the line.. 

Monday, February 26, 2024


some recent AI collaborations with collage....

Saturday, February 24, 2024

doomish and beautiful

Yesterday's mail brought the proof for granata, which meant spending today, free of other writing projects, marking it up and fixing any margin issues inside.  Any remaining pesky typos or off punctuation. This one was a little less tricky with lineated lines instead of prose blocks, but the lines do run a bit longer than I usually go, which meant some additional adjustments. There was also some small movement of images that were a little too far over, and some final typography touches that were simply cosmetic. It's always a joy to feel the final project come together and bound so neatly, especially this one, that started as an indeterminate shorter series of poems in summer of 2022 and eventually grew into a considerably longer project that incorporated over 20 pieces of visual art as well. Amazingly the cover was absolutely perfect this time (I have a hard time centering text when you can't readily see the trim lines in action.) It's even more beautiful on the back cover where you see more of the images.

As I was slowly sipping coffee and reading one final time through the poems this afternoon, I couldn't help thinking about 1999 once again in particular. Not unusual since we have been taking mini-trips into the cinematic past with the time capsule series each week, but more that it was the year I really began taking a possible career in writing more seriously. Today I sit and scribble notes and update print files on what will technically be my 14th collection of poems (if you count little apocalypse, which is technically just an e-book, but will eventually be in print at some point in the future.) In 1999, I sat at another dining room table, in another apartment, in another neighborhood, and wrote poems out longhand on paper before typing them into a beige word processor that saved work on floppy discs. I was writing a book then, just as I have now, that was about mythology largely. Many of poems then drew from Greek or Roman myths--Daphne, Cassandra, Calypso, Helen of Troy. While that book was terrible and the sort of book you would expect a 25-year-old to write, some of those poems, the better ones, would eventually see print in my chapbook, The Archaeologist's Daughter. Though it may be telling that none would make it into my first full-length several years later. 

In those days, it was a lot of myth and history and fairytales happening in my work. I think when you are a young writer who has barely been out in the world and are only experiencing things through the lens of things you read an learn about in school, it's liable to end up this way. My first published poem in a journal was about Paradise Lost.  My second, later that summer, about Salem witches (strangely not even as good as the "Swimming the Witch" piece I'd write a couple years later.) That first chapbook is filled with these kinds of pieces based on art, literature, history, fairytales, and myths.

In a couple years, I would write about them less, but still sometimes they'd crop up in other places, or at least the feel of them would. Or maybe just that they became more modern or specific. The urban legend poems of Archer Avenue, or the poems in errata about Victorian novels. The next time I'd tackle fairytales was  the book of red artist book project (Little Red Riding Hood), then the shared properties (Goldilocks and the Three Bears)..By then, it was less about the fairy tale and more about the modern interpretation. The next time I took on myth, it would be taurus, which was about the minotaurs set in the midwest, the series from which the dark country full-length takes its title.  I continued to work with history--the HH Holmes poems, for example, or the Walter Potter series. The artist and dog-girl poems of pelt

So it seems natural that I would circle back around to myths for a longer project again via granata. As I was working on them that summer, I kept calling them the "smutty Persephone poems" even though I already had the working title in place. Reading them now, they feel very lush and sensuous, moreso than a lot of what I've written in the intervening year and a half. It's of course, not just Persehone's story, but also that of the Sirens, who were punished or gifted with their transformation depending on who you ask. I begin with a quote from Ovid, who frames it as a gift. But then Ovid may have been wrong. I tried not to be too beholden to the classical age, so these poems move about in time, as all stories about gods would I suppose. A sort of timelessness that smudges the setting a little and saves it from feeling too archaic. When I organized them, I wanted them to feel a bit circular, or maybe more like overlapping circles. The art pieces came fast and furious this past summer, all at once and over several days. They form another layer of circles linked with the text.

All in all, I am excited to show it to readers, though I realize poetry about Persephone and other Greek influences are a dime a dozen. But hopefully, this little book is yet another stone in the wall of all the books that take on the Greeks, even across great time and distance from the time of the stories.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

all the tortured poets


A couple weeks back I was both a little excited and a little wary when I heard that TS's new album, coming in a mere two months referenced tortured poets in all their glory. The word "poetry" always feels strange out in the world of pop culture of mainstream news, when all of the sudden we look up from our tiny little desks and readership and everyone seems to be looking for us to have some sort of take or response. It happens every time there's a new poet laureate or during the Biden inauguration with Amanda Gorman's reading. Or poetry hits the news or magazines that people besides writers read.  Every time they talk about wildly successful insta-poets and how poetry is such a force. Mostly it feels this way because we've been here, stoking flames for decades, while only the occasional flame-up catches the world at large's attention. It's like people suddenly notice we exist, and yet at the same time, very much do not. 

I am excited to see what she does with it--this literary slant. I am suspicious of pop stars or musicians who write poetry. Not that they can't write good poems, just that they usually don't. Even amazing lyricists sometimes don't quite make that leap to good writing. The sort of things that make you a great songwriter might not mean you are a good poet. Earlier, I was listening to Amy Winehouse's "Black to Black" and the line--

And life is like a pipe
And I'm a tiny penny
Rolling up the walls inside

and it feels so much like poetry, as does much of her and songwriters like TS and Lana del Rey, but does it translate to the page, which always feels like its different rules and expectations. And yet it's funny because I feel like I am the poet I am because of listening to a lot of great female songwriters over the years, starting with Tori Amos in my early 20s. I always think about Jewel in the 90s, who was also a good songwriter, but her poems, while not absolutely terrible, were the sort of thing you wrote in your late teens, which was actually when she wrote them I suspect. We all wrote those poems. I think with a  few more years and some serious contemporary poet reading and she would have been a much stronger writer for the page. When her book came out in 1999, I was writing better poems than in my early 20s, but not the better poems I would write in the next couple of years that formed my own first book.

But then, I think what I am trying to free myself of is that ivory tower snobbiness of even having the audacity to say what is good poetry. What is crafted and what is shit. I certainly don't belong in that tower. And mostly feel like I have been sitting on the steps and occasionally knocking on the door. So who am I to deny or make judgments on who enters or exits. 

Of course, the question must be asked if we're tortured because we're poets, or poets because we're tortured? As for writers, especially poets, trying to fend your way in a world where most people are apathetic about those who create with words can make you feel a little tormented if not under duress exactly...