Saturday, April 13, 2024

napowrimoing: part 2

 Another handful of bits from over on Instagram of NAPORWRIMO yields, which have actually also resulted in some more bot collab Alice series images I thought I was finished with...

Friday, April 12, 2024

mothers and monsters


 The past week's movie outings have included, as I mentioned, a screening of Ti West's House of the Devil (a great 1980s throwback that doesn't miss a beat at feeling like it is truly an 80s satanic panic film) as well as two similar, and somewhat related movies about nuns. One, The Omen prequel The Last Omen and the other Immaculate. Both are movies that feel, even in their basic premise, very similar. Young novitiates arrive in Italy to take their vows and give up the pleasures of the world only to find that the church and the people in it have far shadier and possibly demonic intentions for their bodies. 

I was thinking about this in relation to choice and abortion and how the themes in both are very much about not having control over your own body and what happens to it. The women in the movies are potential vessels, who are tortured, tied down, assaulted, and all manner of horrors in the interest of producing a Christ-like child or an anti-Christ depending on the movie, but both feel very much like feminist takes on possession/birth movies and the church itself. Particularly in the brutality of the ritual and birth scenes in both films.

The First Omen

They have very different outcomes, though the women do escape their captors in different ways and with different twists (one startlingly brutal, the other triumphant, but hinting at a potential sequel to come in The Omen canon.) The gist of both seems to be that people within the church, sometimes even the church itself, for all their deference to God, are very apt to play God themselves when it suits them, while women get wrapped up in the story as birthing machines (actual or potential.) This was, of course, brought home with House of Devil, in which the heroine escapes the house full of Satanists, but winds up in a hospital pregnant with some sort of demon spawn we're led to conclude. It's incredibly interesting, considering the legacy of similar movies like Rosemary's Baby, how embedded the idea of demonic pregnancy and the fear around it are woven into the culture. I am halfway in to AHS: Delicate, which is working toward a similar vibe. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

notes & things | 4/9/2024


I meant to write this post earlier in the day, but the day somehow got away from me amid pesky writing deadlines and then a movie outing for a screening of House of the Devil. Now, I am making lasagna at 1am and tying up my loose ends and to-do list.  But it was still a day in which we watched the light change with the eclipse from the apartment window, how it cast shadows differently on the surrounding buildings. With no clouds, how the light was darker, yet remarkably clear. I feel like I missed the last eclipse in the windowless gloom of the library, so this was getting to see a bit more. We are still here, nevertheless, despite a few moments of twilight and the conspiracy-crowd promising the rapture. A few moments of eerie shadows, but the sun, as expected, returned to produce a rather sunny spring afternoon. I realize that I have witnessed, during five decades on the planet, quite a few eclipses and also several planned apocalypses that failed to happen. Nothing is all that new under the sun or moon, including these convergences of all the celestial bodies lining up.

Otherwise, I've been working on several chaps that are ready for printing, slogging away through the Alice poems that go with the images (see above) for NaPoWriMo, and making some fun art bits that may or may not be related to a writing project I want to do (and also some that are just for fun with the bots.) I am fine-tuning prompts and edits and getting much closer to what I am looking for than I was earlier this year. Every once in a while, the generator throws something at me that is freaky weird and ultimately unusable, but still lots of fun nevertheless. 

Today, despite the midday eclipse, was actually one of the first days I did not need a more wintry jacket, which hopefully means I can put them away and swap out some warmer weather duds for what's hanging on my clothing rack currently. Spring, despite the colder days recently, appears to be rising, with more stalwart flowers like daffodils and tulips fully in bloom. I suspect a few mild days and the buds will be more noticeable on the trees, which may be green by the end of the month. Even now, the birds start making noise around 2am, as if they, too, are getting ready for longer days. For me, it's much easier to stay productive for longer when it's not dark at 5 or 6pm.  

This week brings my next tattoo appointment on Wednesday for a bit more botanical loveliness on my arm., more movies at the end of the week, and trying to finish up my taxes, of which the rounding up info is done, but the tallying still needs to be finished to know the extent of the damage. My income last year was split between a slower earlier part of the year and a heavier load of assignments and writing hours after August, so I didn't quite hit my freelance income goals, but am on track to do so this year. Still, I was able to muddle through doing progressively better each month The shop still managed to eek out a tiny profit according to the calculations I did make over the weekend, despite releasing a smaller queue of chap series titles and outsourcing all covers, which I worried might be something that dipped me into the red. My own books helped, as did some of the postcard and journals that were new last year. A couple of chapbooks in the series sold well, so we are in good shape for this year's titles anyway regardless of what happens.

Friday, April 05, 2024

celebrating successes, both big and tiny

Writing that last post got me thinking how I've often written about the YESes and small successes that were important in helping your carve out your poetry career (though this always feels like a strange word to use as there is rarely any money in this job, nor is there any definable way of charting success when achievements and goals are all over the map.) I guess I can speak for myself..those moments that felt somehow important in a slew of other good things, and they might not be the ones you expect. But as such, I've put together an informal list of moments or small successes in my creative life I felt like were somehow extra sublime to experience as a writer.

1. The time after a gallery reading when another Chicago poet told me that my work was like Sylvia Plath and David Lynch had a baby. 

2. My first book signing at the swanky SAIC ballroom with the Poetry Center of Chicago after I won their contest in 2004. I was terrified with very little reading experience, and went with my little handmade copies of Bloody Mary and was somewhat aghast when someone handed me a pen and asked me to actually sign them. While winning the prize earlier in the year was very shocking to me, this experience sticks with me even more. You can actually listen to that reading at The Poetry Center site about halfway down the page here

3. Reading for the biggest audience I possibly ever will at the Guild Complex's Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic circa 2005, which made me feel like I was sort of out of my element as more a page poet than a stage poet, but loved the huge and energetic audience nevertheless.

4. The morning I received a phone call in late 2005 from Ghost Road Press saying they wanted to publish my first book, THE FEVER ALMANAC, then later getting to sign that very book at AWP in Atlanta the spring after it was released.

5. While the spring of 2007 brought many things, including my MFA completion, it was the little colllab project with Lauren Levato Coyne, at the hotel andromeda, based around our shared love pf Joseph Cornell, that feels like one of the projects I was most proud of, We debuted it that summer at WomanMade Gallery during a reading themed around collages with the late Maureen Seaton.

6. After my chapbook feign with NMP/Diagram was released, I ran into an author who talked about how she had had her class sit in a circle in the dark by candlelight and read portions from it, which seemed like the way all my poems should be read for best effect really...

7. One of the most popular things I've written was actually in some ways the most fun and ridiculous. In 2012, Sundress released my little series of missives to a James Franco to much attention. When I ran into Erin  a couple years later at AWP, she told me that downloads numbered in the thousands, and I realized that may in fact be the most readers I had ever reached or ever will.  Those poems would eventually appeared in my book with Sundress, MAJOR CHARACTERS IN MINOR FILMS.

8. After it had been dropped when my first publisher closed up, I had begun to wonder if my thesis manuscript, GIRL SHOW, would ever be published so was very stoked/relieved when Black Lawrence accepted it in late 2011, the first of three books they would eventually release in the coming years.In some ways, it brought me back to writing seriously after a couple years of writing very little and drifting. 

9. In the year after my mother died in late 2017, I started a more strident daily writing routine, mostly to give myself a focused task to start each day with rather than spiral into my own thoughts. I was able to keep it up, and while I do take occasional breaks (no longer than a month usually) I have managed to keep a steady stream of output in the years since, which has resulted in 6 longer books of poems and 3 others in the works in just 6-7 years, over double what I was writing prior to that. 

10. In the late summer and fall of 2019, amidst studio moves and general chaos, I got the chance to spend some research time and do a reading at the Field Museum of Natural History. I was charged with writing some work inspired by the museum, and wound up with a chapbook of poems, extinction event, that I really do love and enjoyed immensely reading from tucked amid the Hall of Birds (even though I had to pause the reading twice to let groups of pre-schoolers in school uniforms pass through hands all linked

11. In 2021 I published my first self-issued full-length collection, FEED, which turned out amazingly and was very rewarding to see through from start to finish. While I had to get used to doing the heavy lifting work of publishing like design and promotion that had been handled by the trad publishers I had been working with previously, there was something great about having full creative control on a project. 

Thursday, April 04, 2024

fake it til you make it

 On the heels of writing my post about penning a letter to my former poet-self, I stumbled upon a discussion on Threads that seemed to correspond well with that vein. It was a question about when you feel like you are finally "making it" as a writer, or that you have "made it.". While most of the posts were fiction writers, there were a number of common responses. That first major YES--be it an agent or a publishing deal. Or releasing your first self-publishing venture.That first glowing review. A community of readers built around your work. Being able to support yourself as a writer. And, my favorite, enough of a cult-like following to a)have fans and b) have them make fan art of your characters.  

I imagine this often changes depending on where you are in any given career. When I was struggling to place poems in the early years, making it meant an acceptance (or even a favorably worded rejection.) Making it meant that first chapbook or that first full length-book. Maybe that prime grant or residency or reading gig if you pursue those sorts of things. Making it rarely coincided with money, maybe only in the case of fellowships or book prizes. With poets, not really royalties, though if you were famous enough (think Rupi Kaur or Gwendolyn Brooks) you could make some money touring and reading your work in front of audiences. If you were lucky and liked to teach you could get a job teaching poetry or facilitating community workshops, or some other administrative job related to poetry.  Maybe you could work for a publisher or a mag, though these rarely pay you for your effort unless you reach a certain scale. 

Without money, the making it markers probably move continually like goal posts as a couple writers in the discussion suggested. You do A which leads to B which is eventually supposed to lead to C. That prized first book, the book prize, the poems in what people always call A-list journals. The residency that allows you to write or the prime teaching gig at a university. In all the discussion only a few praised the intangibles of "making it.". Finishing a project you love or writing the perfect poem or short story. Or feeling like you've gotten a book or project out of your system to your immense satisfaction.

I've always felt that really making it would you had readers, even a few, (ask me any given day and I will tell you whether or not I'm there Someone to enjoy (or at least ignore purposefully) the work that you do, the world you create. People who if not eagerly awaiting a new project, don't turn away when you show it to them anyway. I feel like the internet has both allowed this better connection between author and reader and at the same time, made it harder to feel like anyone sees you at all. Sometimes both of these at the same time. 

As for the goal posts, I did the first books and some chapbooks and at least one measurable cash prize for a local contest in the aughts. I've read some really cool places that occasionally even involve an honorarium. Every once in a blue moon, I land in a paying journal. In the past couple years, I have transitioned into a professional writer who makes a living with words, but of course that's lifestyle and culture writing, not poetry. My royalty checks from traditional publishing are still pretty negligible, but I do make a tidy profit on self-published books.these days. Not enough to break the bank, but enough to buy some dresses and books and other treats for myself. 

And yet, beyond readers, if you asked me today, I may say that it's balance. Feeling like you have it, which in turn can make you feel like you've "made it." Between the creative work and the other things you have to do to survive, the general life stuff, esp. if you have a kids or spouses or other obligations. To be able to balance being a creative with, I dunno, being a person in the world. To be continuously writing and thinking about writing. To center it in your life, but not to the neglect of everything else. 

I'm not there, just yet, but maybe someday...

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

napowrimo-ing along

 I will be posting my NaPoWriMo offerings over on Instagram all this month, but will pop in here to share some every once in a while. This is a set of texts designed to go with some of the Alice images I was making in collab with the bots which were lots of fun. As for the poems, they are raw and un-cured and going up as soon as I have them drafted, so I promise nothing in the way of At the end of the month, I will pull them all back in and do any revisions needed and make a little zine for May of them along with the images, so stay tuned...

dear poet, revisited

 April, if any time of year, seems the perfect time to write a letter to your past poet self. To that 19-year-old addressing SASE's frantically  over summer break. Or that 15-year-old writing poems about flamingos as dead seagulls in her diary. (Even then, so many birds.) Or maybe to the poet who looked at the world one day, amidst grad school and other plans, and said THIS. This is what I want to be doing with my life. This is what I am good at. I've done it somewhat before. A letter to that girl, or maybe to poets in general. A calling out across time and inky pages. A holler across great distances.

Truth be told poet, this poetry thing will bring you as much occasional angst as it will joy. You will get better, but mostly readers will probably care less as the shine wears off and the newness wanes. Getting that first book will be hard, but sometimes the subsequent ones will be even harder or may even never happen for some, so be grateful if it does. You will probably face down the specter of quitting at least a half dozen times, sometimes when the world, either yours or the world in general, will be in upheaval. When poetry seems like the most over-indulgent way to spend time or exist in the world. When you will wonder why you've sunk years and resources and mental energy into something that usually takes more than it gives by far.

When people talk about the "poetry world" it really doesn't exist. Or more that it exists, but as a loose cancellation of different circling and overlapping poetry worlds. You will fall in with at least 3-4 different communities of writers, of which sometimes you are the only overlap. Sometimes you will feel like you belong to no community at all. Or that you must make one, carve one out with your own fingers, through journals or presses. Sometimes, things will feel like transactions and this is when you will hate it all the most and be most in danger of tipping over the side and into the drink.

You will be tempted to blame the poems, but really, it's not the writing's fault. The writing will become gentler to wrangle and easier to handle. To get it to do what you wanted, mostly by giving up wanting everything at all. To merely follow rather than lead.  You will wander, your hand gripping its tail for miles and across decades. You will alternatively feel like you are writing too much or not even remotely enough. That if you are writing too much, people will get bored with you and your books and all these words. That you are just TOO MUCH sometimes with all of it, though also at the same time, not enough.  That maybe the gains you've had are simply luck and timing and chaotic change, and really, you don't belong here, wherever here is. Or worse, that there is something inherently wrong with everything that comes out of your fingers and to the keyboard. That somewhere, the doubters were right in workshops and gossipy clutches of grad students, you just aren't that good. Showy and ambitious, yet just not good.

And you may begin to think this too. So, of course, don't. Also that maybe THIS is why you've failed to garner many of the keys to the kingdom--the journals and accolades and attention. Which is of course, wrong, since so many keys are based on class and education and who you know or hang out with. That of course, even if they weren't outside your league, there is never enough of them for poets many of whom are probably better/luckier/more hardworking than you.

So you go on like this for years possibly, at turns ecstatic about your work, but also slyly doubting it's quality. Thankful that its easier to get what you want from words now after all these years, but also highly suspicious that it all may be for naught. You remind yourself how many great writers from centuries before probably felt this way about their work, some rather famously, so it may just be par for the course for writers in general, but especially poets. Where the stakes are high and startlingly small all at once.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

poetry: pantsing vs. plotting

 Spend enough time in spaces occupied by fiction writers like YouTube and Instagram and you may be familiar with the idea of "pantsers" vs. "plotters." Recently I came across this piece on how process and poetic routines differ for writers. I hadn't thought these things applied to poetry at all, but then I wondered how I could have missed that they very much do.  In my early days as a poet I was probably more of a plotter than I've ever been since, starting out with ideas of what a poem should be and where it should go. This, of course, led to a lot of disappointing results and failed endeavors when what you had in mind and in your head failed to come together on the page.  I could have went on like this for years, decades even, writing a fair number of decent poems that met some internal set of standards. I would say its possible my entire first book, THE FEVER ALMANAC, written between 2001 and late 2004 or so, are these kinds of poems.

In the mid-aughts, I was enrolled in an MFA program, which definitely had a more experimental lean at least in terms of students if not faculty. A lot of what I was reading seemed so much more effortless and fresh than what I had been writing. I was also beginning my first forays into visual art and collage, which was subtly changing the way I wrote. Soon, I was definitely more of a pantser, not quite sure where poems were going as I mixed and matched snippets culled from notes and lists I kept of lines that I assembled into poems.  

This was also true of collections, both shorter and longer ones, that were usually assembled around some general loose framework of thematic or narrative concerns, but which, for the most part, I didn't quite have fully fleshed out until the project was finished. Writing this way made it fun again and much less angsty than my first years as a poet, since much of what I discovered was far more interesting and just better in quality than what I carefully planned. 

Probably a decade later, I sensed another shift in process, this time more driven by sound and rhythm than imagery, but still surprising in the results, even if I had a general idea of what I wanted to do with a given project. This of course meant, very often, what started as one thing very quickly could morphed into something else entirely, whether plot or persona or theme. A series of love poems became about the me-too movement. A set of poems about a favorite horror movie became about waiting and class disparities. A chapbook intended to be about a serial killer became more about the women whose lives he unraveled. 

This was especially satisfying when creating a narrative or engaging in world-building from scratch. Which is of course perhaps when you may need the plotters the most. But I especially love the feeling of making it up as I go along, which gets me far more satisfying results than if I knew what was going to happen all along.