Saturday, April 20, 2019

zombie jesus day



When I was 8, I still believed in a lot of things, including the fact that a giant rabbit hauling loads of chocolate could somehow slip into my room, past my very awake parents, and leave me an Easter basket.  Granted, I got some cool shit. Always one non-candy thing--roller skates, a sticker book, and when I was 11, a shiny new ten speed.   We were never even remotely religious, but every Easter morning, we'd wake up to find baskets full of treats and commence on our usual ride, after a stop at McDonalds for breakfast, out to the golf coarse in nearby Rockton (I don't know exactly why--only that it was a manageble drive for Sunday morning and my dad was probably scoping out tee-times. )    We did it enough times that I associate the holiday with the tradition, though there were surely variations--the year my bunny melted in the car as we were helping to clean out my step-grandfather's house after his death. The 2-3 years I was weirdly sick (even before touching the candy at all).  Usually, the afternoon would be spent at my aunts and the extended family--complete with ham (not my favorite)  and even more chocolate--first divvied into baskets, then later just in bowls to fill our own bags.

Over the years, Easter was never something I aimed to get home for (see the above mention of ham, I'd never had missed my aunt's 4th of July's chicken & potato salad festivities.)  Up to the very, very end, mom still made us baskets.  Every year.  And the years I wasn't home, she either saved mine to bring in to me, or sent me money to make my own.  She even made them for a friend who was visiting with me.  Over the years, they were much less grand (and heck as a teen, she sometimes let us pick out the candy we wanted ourselves.) But the endeavor would be good for some Reeses eggs and other assorted holiday goods (including Peeps that always seem like a good idea until you actually eat one.) My childhood faves included those liquid wax bottles and the candy buttons you ate off the paper.  And Cadbury eggs, especially the Caramel variety.

Even last year, where I missed the holiday entirely, my dad later handed over a bunch of candy and said it was my belted Easter haul.  I still tend to think of the actual holiday as super maudlin in nature..but the traditions are the things that matter--especially when all of the holidays are secular and family based.  If anything, I can appreciate the pagan celebration of spring, this year, since it's so late, everything is coming into bloom--the magnolias by the bus stop, the tulips on Michigan Ave.   Though it snowed heavily just a week ago, you would never even know it. This year, I'll be in the city, but I might just grab myself a bad of Cadbury eggs...

Friday, April 19, 2019

confessions of a book whisperer




I've been lucky enough that the handful of manuscript critiques I've taken on have been pretty damn awesome manuscripts or loose material even before I laid a hand on them (and hopefully continued to be awesome after I put my fingers in them..lol..) But I was thinking today about what I am reading for, looking for,  in any given project on that first pass through. What threads you can kind of catch and pull on that will unravel and then thread together in the end.

An in truth, every manuscript is different.  I've been working right now with a past dgp author now who has various strings of poems in different thematic veins that we are attempting to parse a book out of--identifying things that hang together well. Other critiques were for books that were almost fully formed and just needed a second perspective and someone to spot some new strategies for organization, or even to help them articulate why they were making the decisions they were. To do things more intentionally than they may have before.

I've never been a fan of workshops for all sorts of reasons--not really for individual poems--not really for line edits and a thousand different possible roads you could take with a stanza or line, but working more intensely on mansucripts feels different somehow. More whole.  The poems exist as they exist--and now, what do we do with them.  Almost like clay--the ability to move them around and build different sorts of structures--THAT I love.  I love the first reading, which I always feel is a little like a divination, what is this manuscript, these poems, saying and how can we get their message to be even clearer. Then a sussing out of themes and possible structures. Where to go from there--poems that are needed, poems that can be shed. I like to think of it sort of as being a book whisperer...

When I was putting together the fever almanac, I had no idea what I was doing and could have used someone to do something similar.  And I guess I did eventually figure it out, much in the same process I do for other authors.. And maybe it's a testament to that process that, when it comes to my own projects now,  I kind of do it now before the fact--the subsequent manuscripts are more clearly focused at the time things begin to constellate--my smaller series falling into line with others they have thematic or subject matter ties.  sex & violence become a full book after I finished the love poems and thought they echoed things in dirty blonde and honey machine that might be worth the time of polishing.  feed was a manuscript at the point I had finished the hunger place and plump. The only exception may have been girl show, which actually had many people's suggestions along the way on structures and sections  (it was my MFA thesis.)  Maybe some re-ordering during the editing process of sections with Sundress' help on major characters in minor films. 

I wouldn't say the books write themselves exactly, but they emerge much more fully functional than they did initially.  Sort of like ikea furniture that isn't exactly in pieces all over your living room, but more just need some bolts tightened and the casters put on.

(I do still have at least one opening for consultations in the summer if you'd like to work with me... check here for details)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

napowrimo #16

artist statement

Think of it like making a cake.  A little sugar.  A little salt.  Something fatted and glistening, floating in the bowl.  The bones grew to fit the holds and breaks, but no one  accounted for the mouth, burned out like a church. In the end, I was too heavy to hold it all together. Stray dogs wandered my spine and sparked when they touched the knobs. I couldn't stop the delicious quiver.  Kept rubbing myself against the stove.  My best sheets bleaching in the sun. I was too plump with spite to see the girls, fully formed, falling from the spoon and into the batter, where they drowned, choking on all that sweetness.

transparency and the writer's life



I once read an interview with a random poet where they talked about their creative process, hammering in how deplorable they found it that other poets spend so much time in front of screens, They. of course, did not, preferring instead to be entirely internet-less at home (though I suspect they still had a phone and weren't completely disconnected form the world.) They also found it deplorable to force writing, to commit to page counts, to poems, even when the muse wasn't flitting about.  Instead, said poet wandered about the countryside, waiting for the burst of occasional inspiration and then sat down at a typewriter and banged it out. Meticulously revised it over months, over years. (of course, this poet was a tenured professor, so therefore had the summers free to sit about waiting great-pumpkin-like for the muse.)  There was also no discussion of the indecorous work on submitting and seeking publication, which surely sullied the that very same muse. In the interview, it seemed like a nice life, full of smart people and smart conversations.  And they had books, several, and prizes and publications and all the things that writers get absolutely wet for--fellowships, grants, residencies.   But no indecorous discussion of how they actually got them.

Every once in a while, I'll encounter these sorts of poets for whom their creative lives are hidden behind a thick veil And sometimes there is this unspoken pressure to be doing things while, in fact, seeming not to do them.  Not to want them. Not to even try, lest one be considered too thirsty. You wanna play it cool, like you're not always seeking and querying.  But you probably are. Occasionally, I'll encounter a poet publishing like their first book and be surprised to learn that they had sent it out to contests 50-100 times before it was picked up, but that they were doing it completely on the down-lo. I'm always suspicious of poets who seem to get things easily, but then I've acknowledged that its not always as easy as it might seem from the outside.  Me, I sent it out about 10 times over 2 years and then bitched about it endlessly on the interwebs.  It was either going to get picked up or I would annoy everyone to death.  Eventually I was lucky.

And maybe I'm a poor example, having been blogging for nearly two decades, having always put all of it out there in the open. Everything from my earliest publications, to my serious book anxiety before the first one was picked up, to my MFA study rants. And that was merely blogging--the veil slipped even further when social media showed up.  Now, you not only know what I'm working on what I'm striving for, but also, sometimes, what I ate for breakfast.  A year or so ago, a poet was discussing the hazards of considering the work when we know all too much about the author via social media.  New Criticism, no doubt,  is probably dead, and in it's place, is it valid, in a review , to reference the personality of the author?  How can we not?  Is there such a thing as entirely private writers? (truthfully, if I haven't put it out there on the internet, I've put it in my work.) And really, I have no answer to this question of whether we should or shouldn't.

Because of things like facebook, which allow amazing opportunity for community and connection, I always a little weirded out by the poets who eschew them entirely.  Surely, maybe they are more productive (though waiting for that fickle muse surely can't be that effective in terms of time use and productivity.) But then again, so much of what I find there and the community attached spurs me on. (and a life without cat memes is a sad life indeed.)  I'm not sure I ever believed that writing needed to happen in absolute isolation. And what are we if not products of our culture?


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

writing where you live


It occurred to me a couple days ago that I have now lived in Chicago almost as long as I did not..that my life, by next year, will be roughly split down the middle. I am not sure how long one has to be transplanted in a given spot before one can rightly claim it as home, but I think a couple decades surely does it.  I've seen many poets come and go for all sorts of reasons. In and out of the city, chasing degrees and teaching positions.  Met many an awesome writer who is only here in a transitory state. But I am (despite my occasional desires to flee Chicago for NOLA) pretty much staying put, at least for the foreseeable future.

As an MFA student, I once took a class devoted to writing "Chicago Poems" and it involved both reading the work of others and writing our own.  What's crazy is I do not remember much at all what we read that semester. Cannot remember if they were more place based projects or devoted specifically to THIS place.  But I do remember what I wrote--the archer avenue poems--steeped in urban legend and Chicago history--and moreso how much I enjoyed that particular project. Granted it was only the fall of 2005, and I'd been in the city less than a decade at that point.  But I was, as I mentioned a couple posts ago, a geek for Chicago history and PBS specials about neighborhoods and train lines.  Resurrection Mary herself, I'd been onto since junior high when I was checking out all those ghost story books from the public library.  It was natural that I would immediate gravitate to that subject matter when prompted to do a specifically Chicago project.

By then, the city was already filtering into my work in other ways.  The third section of the fever almanac, which had just been picked up that fall, had decidedly more urban poems than the preceding two sections (and in fact, closes on a poem "predictions" inspired a bit by the 1992 flooding of loop basements and train tunnels  I did not live in the city quite then, but we'd come in for a french class field trip that week and saw all the disarray.)  I'd fallen in love with Cornell by then, right there in the old modern wing of the Art Institute and was writing poems about the boxes, which seem Chicago-ish by association. My second book would include the Resurrection Mary poems, and major characters in minor films would be the next book set mostly in an urban landscape--"coyotes of lake shore drive" being a good example. Then of course, there would be "shipwrecks of lake michigan"--the urban mermaid poems.

Much of my work has hovered  in the semi-ruralness of my childhood. Though maybe semi-suburban describes it equally well--having came of age in the outer reaches of a mid-size city, which is a little different than small town-ness. I.e, my high school was huge, but there were no streetlights and the neighbors had horses. Deer ran through the yard on the regular, and it was a good 10 minute drive to the nearest outpost of civilization. There were other houses, but the street was bordered only  by cornfields, river, woods, and a stretch of interstate separate by concrete wall.  So, subsequently,  you have things like girl show, almost entirely rural (Nebraska).  Or the Wisconsin woods of beautiful sinister.  Or taurus, which I imagined to be set in central Illinois.

But some of the poems based more in my own actual  life are set in a more urban environment. Filled with trains and buses and apartment buildings ( no shit, I once wrote an homage to my apartment called "letter to my art deco lover.")   Or, they  are Chicago-based research oriented projects like the HH Holmes series, which allow me to learn more about this city where I have put down such deep roots.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

100 rejections update



So far I am running 2:4, which again, even with rejections outpacing acceptances, I'm still submitting more than I do most years.   It occurs to me that 100 might be a bit unfeasible, especially since I don't do simultaneous subs (for logistical reasons--it's hard enough to keep track without all that withdrawing when things are accepted.)  I wondered if perhaps I might set my sights a little lower, like 50. Or 20. But then again, much like with NAPOWRIMO, the rewards are in the trying, not necessarily in accomplishing the actual goal. So I suppose the aspirational numbers are irrelevant.

I have gotten a couple acceptances from places who have previously rejected me. (Radar and Elsewhere).  And a rejection from somewhere I am about to give up the ghost on (Sixth Finch).   Also, today a rejection from a fancy academic print mag I suspected would reject me (Gulf Coast), though maybe not for those poems, which are some of the best I've been writing (the swallow series.)  I promptly fired them off to an favorite who has published me previously (Hobart)  and a new discovery (Poached Hare).  I currently have about a dozen others out there floating since February. It's too soon for most of the April daily poems, but we'll see what I get in the next month.

Since I've hit up even the hardest to crack of my favorite lit mags, as well as some places that published me previously,  I am mostly looking now for cool new journals who might be a fit with my work. Moreso web than print, but I'd love to discover some print journals I haven't come across that have really nice design and fit my aesthetic (or, I guess, my aesthetic fits them.)

I was thinking about the days of postal rejection slips, how eagerly I would check my mailbox (which now I check once a week tops and it's all catalogs and things related to my TIAA-CREF)  How every envelope was a little like Schrodinger's cat--either a success or letdown, but so full of potential in that moment. I guess I've traded it now for e-mail and stalking my submittable account, which is somehow less dramatic, though much easier than all those SASE's.  My first acceptance ever was a form letter with a scribbled note with which poems that I still have in a scrapbook somewhere from 20 years ago. If you went back and told that 24 year old all the amazing things that would happen to her in this business--the publications, the readings, the books, the shear number of poems-- she would scarce believe you.

Monday, April 15, 2019

april snowstorms, may flowers



At tomorrow night's HOW-TO-TUESDAY, we'll be trying our hand at paper flowers (because most of the real ones probably froze to death covered in snow  yesterday.)

The Library, 624 S Michigan, 1st Floor, 7pm 

I've been itching to try some new things for diorama purposes, and this is the perfect opportunity to experiment...

everyone must play






When I finished watching Braid, even after the first and second time, there was something disorientating that reminded me of something like Mulholland Drive. Or at least the feeling I had after watching it--because they are obviously very different movies.  Perhaps its the same sort trip where fantasy and fiction blur, where no narrative thread or sense-making is to be trusted. Where you think you've caught the thread, but like a balloon it slips from your grasp.  And indeed, maybe that is the point, since so much of this movie is about make believe at its core.  And really, moreso than sense-making is cast out the window in favor of the visual ride the film offers--a blend between hyper femininity and violence, between sweet vintage inspired pastels and hyper-lurid acid trips.  The lulls in the movie are just as troubling as the frenzied parts, if not moreso. And granted, outside of the twisted violence of this very particular make-believe, it still had this childlike feeling of altered reality I appreciated to no end.   When I've talked before about the pretty and the terrifying making the very best juxtaposition, this is very much the perfect example of that.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

notes & things | 4/14/2018



Today, April snow.  Fuck, an April blizzard and after yesterday was actually quite mild.  It is in no way jacket season yet, and the one day I attempted it, an evening cold front brought regret.  Today, relief, that the Artists & Scholars Colloquium went off well, but I wish more had attended the entirety of the afternoon, so that will require some tweaking in timelines and what happens during what part of the day. The two panel discussions were amazing--one the general artists panel for the exhibit, and one my own Spooky Little Girls topic, which wound up being really interesting--and crossed many genres and representations, not only of girls as monstrous or wicked, but also as seductresses, how puberty and sexual awakening sometimes makes them monstrous in so many cultural veins. 

Today, I am drinking a lot of tea and working on a manuscript critique.  Am waiting for some groceries and making my way through the screen adaptation of 11.22.63 (and trying to ignore that the lead role is played by James Franco, who, despite my usual hate, is actually sometimes decent in dramatic roles.   Or at least unnoticeable.)  Since the landlord does not know what to do with winter in April, it's ungodly chilly, so I spent most of the day under my covers and now have moved to my desk with the space heater about a foot away.

This week brings a paper flower workshop on Tuesday which should be easy enough. And the film marathon at the end of the week, which will be fun. I am struggling with bandwidth, work and the colloquium having pulled me in many directions, and have fallen behind on NAPOWRIMO, which I might catch up on if all goes well today, but am okay if not (I do take time off sometimes, but pretty much write daily on the regular every month. )  Usually, I don't write on weekends anyhow, but instead like to spend more time editing.  I did set aside the Holmes pieces late in the week and switch to something else-- a little series of what I'm thinking of as "artist statements." So we'll see how that goes.

I finishing up a few huge batches of chaps, including the first copies of the Mansion anthology, which will be sent on its way this week.  Plus am getting into orders from early February finally.  Spring is moving so fast and soon it will be summer and we'll be open for submissions, but I want to be fairly caught up with orders & releases before I start reading manuscripts for next year.