Tuesday, June 18, 2019

prettier if you were thinner....

Perhaps because even my earliest poems have often had roots in the physicality of the body, and in my first book, particularly in regard to language and the body, I am often pulled into discussions about writing the body, which until recently was more a generic sort of body--subject to desire, to illness, to transformation,  to monstrousness. To mistreatment, to violence and damage.   But even still, it was mostly a female body without defined borders, and only recently has it become the plus-sized body, the "imperfect" body according to societal standards.    It all perhaps coalesced around the hunger palace, which while I started it a couple years back in relation to my own struggles with body image and disordered evening, I was only able to finish it after my mother's death, and so it ultimately became also about that.  About that physical body in the last months that she battled, struggled against, had hated all her life. I was on a bus back to the city when the idea of wrapping these threads together occured to me, early that fall, when it seemed she was, in fact, getting better.  I ended up finishing it in the months after her death. 

plump followed--written mostly toward having something to contribute to our Grimm anthology project, but chosen because so much in fairytales has to do with food and sustenance, and in the case of cast-off children, starvation.  plump is about food, but also about mothers, which ties nicely together with the science of impossible object series and the summer house (which is about changelings.) two other parts that make up the whole of my feed manuscript.

It is however, the swallow poems that I think of most when it comes to writing this sort of body--the body that takes up too much space, physically and metaphorically. And also, the girl body, the becoming a woman body, that is more awkward than not. So much of this series is my childhood, Barbie Dolls and Dirty Dancing references, vapid slumber parties and the ways girls inflict trauma upon girls.. 

"In the rain, any girl can look like prey. It's easy to mistake 
the hunters for the hunted." 

Since I began writing them, I was more and more convinced that this is some of the best writing I've been doing.  (Not that the other stuff  is less quality per se, only that these come from a deeper vein of realness I don't often get to tap.  As a whole, they round out the longer manuscript very nicely--which ends up being ultimately about mother and daughters and inhertances, good and bad...

Monday, June 17, 2019

beyond the ghost landscapes

A few years ago, I made a bunch of watercolor postcards that eventually, with some accompanying poems, became an artist book  ghost landscapes: a travelogue.  Admittedly, I was new to watercolor and was just playing around with some really nice watercolor stock and intended it just as an exercise, but I liked them so much that I exhibited them in one of the library art shows and decided to write some pieces to go with them. (landscapes were a good place to begin, and I've since moved on to doing more florals when I take out the watercolors these days.)

But I also had no idea how handy they would be in dgp designs, and several covers have sported these little landscapes in full or in part: I always love it when existing artwork makes a perfect cover (and also when cover art touches off a new series of un-related art) but here are a few permutations of the ghost landscapes.

the perfection

Over the weekend, I watched Netflix's The Perfection twice I liked it so much.  A friends had recommended it to me a couple week's back and we'd talked about the eerie ability of Allison Williams to be creepy ass emotionally blank (ala her performance in Get Out), but otherwise, I did not have any expectations going in, which went a long way in my experience of the movie.   With the mention of cello playing rivals, it immediately evoked something like Black Swan, but then seemed to possibly be a plague movie/body horror film, then morphed into something altogether different with some rewinded storytelling.  By the end you get a really well crafted and satisfying revenge film.  (Bonus points for a cover of Hole's "Petals" at the end.)  In a review I read, a critic likened the film to a virus, that as soon as you think you had a handle on it, it morphed into something else entirely.

I love this as a narrative strategy. It was a similar thing years ago when I was reading Gone Girl, that hinge in the middle of the book where the POV changes and you're like WTF?  It's a very tricky device if you're a writer--that sort of reader/viewer manipulation, and some things no doubt fail entirely. I love how this film also flips back and forth between genres and does so really well-because it's pretty scary in all of them...

Sunday, June 16, 2019

beautiful drownings

Facebook has reminded me that this little lovely is actually three years old this month, so I thought I'd celebrate her in all her mermaidy-goodness. Sometimes in late 2012, I vowed that I wanted to write a book about mermaids, an artist book that turned out to be the shipwrecks of lake michigan, and while the rest of the segments in salvage are not mermaids specifically, there is something of them that coalesces and constellates into a cohesive whole, be they the illness/body poems of radio ocularia, the strange midwest surrealism of ghost landscapes, or the unhappy relationship poems of dreams about houses and bees. On the whole, the tone of the book is uniform, perhaps in a way that is a first when it came to anything that wasn't a  focused book length project from the beginning.  Since I had some vague desires that the book feature an old-school Sailor Jerry tattoo mermaid, I was amazed at how beautiful BLP managed to make it look.

You can get your very own copy here
read a review in the The Literary Quarterly
some samples appear here:
Verse Daily
Academy of American Poets

Saturday, June 15, 2019

the myth of poetry stardom

Jeannine Hall Gailey had a recent blog post about instant star narratives, and the danger they have in not at all reflecting the path of most writers.  They discourage us when they don't play out quite so fortunately.  They make us bitter and disappointed.  They might make some folks stop writing altogether.  Of course for every story that seems like instant stardom, they are the stealth writers who look like they are an instant hit, but actually have been working at it and sending that book out dozens of times til they hit the winner. There are those of us who have always been pretty open about the journey and adventures in po-biz, but others who are quiet and determined.  I often think the cases of actual instant stardom have more to do with either random chance (like getting struck by lightning) or connections and privileges that put you in a favorable place before you even start.

Of course, such narratives are usually not sustaining.  Even the shiny, fresh-faced poet du jour eventually writes more books that aren't so easily placed, or their lives get more complicated and it's harder to play the poet game so vigorously--to network and send out work.  Sometimes, even to write it.  2005's literary darlings, for exmple, have already been re-asorbed back into the scribbling masses by 2012 and may look just like the rest of us struggling to get it out there.

My own journey is marked by periods where things moved slowly, then quickly.  Then slowly again. I pulled the very first version of the fever almanac together in late summer 2003.  I was just about start my MFA studies and thought it was a good demarcation point.  By then, I had been writing poems in total for 14 years  ( I started as a teen in that dreadful blue diary) .  I'd been writing seriously for about 11, stemming from the early college days and when I first started sending out work.   In that time, I'd majored in English, garnered some college lit mag and vanity publications, and won a couple poetry prizes at graduation.   When I enrolled in my MA in Lit program at DePaul, it was another year before I was wring anything decent enough to be called good, or finding anything like my own voice.  I started writing anything worth actually reading in 1999.  Four years later, after getting a few publications in small print & online journals, I'd had a chap accepted by a small feminist press (The Archaeologists Daughter)  By that point, putting together a decent full-length book seemed a possibility.  That first version was a mess looking back, but it managed to get finalist status in a contest somehow.  By then, my work was changing, and there were only a dozen or so pieces that went into that manuscript before I switched to another.  The final version that was published was actually a hybrid of poems plucked from that second manuscript in that final round of revision summer of 2005.

I was having serious book-fever in 2004 & 2005, and remember being super-frustrated.  Many poets around me online were getting their first book acceptances.  The internets were rife with Foetry.com and claims that all of it was a game stacked against everyone not running in certain circles.  I must have sent it to about 8 contests with nary a whisper.  I hatched a plan to self-publish if the year ended before I managed to place it.  The almost- final version, did make a semi-final slot in a biggish contest, and I sent an even tighter version to Ghost Road, a recent discover, late that summer, which they accepted that fall.

Afterwards, while I felt that it restored my faith in the publishing world, I did realize what a game of chance it all was--that I sent it to them and that they actually had openings.  Because it wasn't a contest, and a newly emerging publisher, perhaps the submissions pool was not quite as thick with swimmers to actually be seen. That I had somehow avoided the bottle neck and emerged with a shiny book contract in a very traditional way--I had merely queried then sent the manuscript like they did in the old days. I can't say it was published because it was the best book, or any better than everyone else who was looking for a first book publisher that same year. It was the right book at the right time.

Later books, of course, would prove easier, but only via fortunate circumstances.  Dusie Press was still young and the editor and I shared many obsessions in common that led to in the bird museum (#2) finding a publisher before even the first book had even come out. Having published in the journal and taken part in the chapbook exchange, I simply asked the editor if she'd like to see it and she loved it.  The editor of Noctuary, which was just beginning,  requested to see the shared properties of water and stars (#4) as I was finishing it.  Within 6 months, it was a book.   Sailing on the popularity of the James Franco pieces, I queried the press that published the chap (the amazing Sundress Publications) if they would like to see the longer book of which that series was a part. I've been blessed to have wound up with some wonderful insight into where certain projects might work and made connections over the years that open those doors a little wider, which is something that only comes with time and experience in the lit community.

My thesis manuscript, girl show (#3) was perhaps the longest in the running.  I had sent it, and it had been accepted, at Ghost Road as well, which then shuttered a couple years later.  I sort of floundered for about a year, unsure what to do with it.  In the end, I condensed it into a chap (which did well in at least one contest where it was a finalist) but also sent the full version to Black Lawrence, who did wind up taking it in 2011, then publishing it a couple years later..  Again, probably a bit of dumb luck in sending it at exactly the right time--by then BLP was chugging along nicely and taking on more poets, and I've been amazingly lucky to have also published subsequent titles with them --salvage (#6) and the forthcoming sex &  violence (#8). 

But all in all, except for having a very lovely set of books on my shelf and a sense of accomplishment for actually having filled their pages with words, I can't say publishing a book has changed much in my way of life.  I still have a day job where most of the people I encounter do not know about my books, or even that I'm a writer.  Outside of occasional tiny royalty checks from a couple of the publishers, there hasn't been much financial gains. I'm not an academic, and I know having books might make tenure considerations easier, but since I don't really seek out positions or awards or fellowships, my books are pretty much useless there. When you a re trying to get that first book accepted it sometimes feel like this is the thing--THE THING--that will make you a real poet.  But it's not.  Writing the poems is what makes you the poet. I had two books by the late aughts, and for several years, I felt like barely a poet because I wasn't writing hardly at all.

Even with those successes, it still feels hard when you're trying to figure out where to send something new, particularly if the work feels different and you haven't figured out which press it would fit into.  And subsequent books are usually harder--2nd books especially so, since even if you win a contest, there are very few for 2-3 books and you've yet to establish the sort of career  that might make it a bit easier in the long haul.  Some advice?  Forge those connections and find those publishers. Study the books of presses you admire and think about how your work might fit.  Don't be afraid to take chances on new publishers that are willing to take chances on you. Sometimes, it helps to swim ahead of the bottleneck  Aside from contests, there are a lot of open reading periods out there waiting to read your book. If you enter contests, pay attention to who is judging and whether their style meshes with yours (not always a requirement, sometimes judges make surprising choices of work not anything like theirs) but usually you look at a winner and think, well, yes, I can see why that held appeal for that particular judge.

And in the end, do what feels necessary for you.  If you have spent hundreds unsuccessfully on reading fees and still no takers, but feel you could market and sustain an audience for a self-published book, that is another option.  I've long believed that you create the market for your work whoever does the printing, so self-issuing might be another way to go. It's a ridiculous  bottle neck and becomes moreso every year, and sometimes we don't want to wait for the winds of chance to blow our book into exactly the right editor's hands at the exactly right moment..

Thursday, June 13, 2019

15 years

One of my very favorite parts of the year is when I begin to see the slow trickle of new work coming in when the open submission period begins.  It's usually a small burst the first day, and then 1-3 on subsequent days and then a flurry of activity in that last week or so  This year, I will probably start reading in earnest in July (I'm bogged with some large book orders this month and am still playing catch-up on spring orders for some titles, so I'm pushing other things off.)  I am also working on layouts for the summer titles and some stragglers from spring.  Summers are meant for reading though, for proofing galleys My schedule changes up and the days don't seem so frenetic. 

It's hard to believe this is the 15th birthday of the press--that in 2004, I was just beginning to put together what would be our first official title release that fall, the snowball of which has been rolling ever since.  Hard to believe that it even could have been that long, since, I feel like I blinked and more than a decade passed.  There have been so many books, so many amazing authors, many of whom are doing grander and bigger things now. Many of whom continue to send projects my way even still that I love.

While it's a lot of work, and sometimes I struggle with balancing press life with library work life, and both of those lives with my own creative life, it's so amazing to collaborate with the authors to make awesome little books. To build this collective thing that has a life beyond me.  poems do this sometimes, so do my own books, but the press seems multiple and vast, and the net of things grows a bit larger every year.  I love looking at lit journals and seeing how many dgp-ers are in its pages.  I love when news comes my way of the thrilling things they are up to, winning awards and kicking ass.   To have made this thing with others that breathes on its own.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

lethal ladies | coming fall 2019

As both perpetrators and participants in our shared cultural fascination with the subject matter, women have made vast contributions to true crime-related art forms.   From murders to heists, deceptions to general unruly behavior, we will explore the patriarchal structures  and societal constraints/expectations that true crime, and its subject matter, subvert & transform.  Further, how we as artists and consumers create and further these conversations within the genre. 


I've been working this week on promo & planning for this fall's focus topic, which is all about women and true crime.  While we had initially decided to devote it to serial killers in general, I've spent the last couple years feeling a little complicated about giving so much attention to men who kill (predominantly) women.  The solution?  Women who kill men, of course!  Well, maybe not only killing, but in general, behaving badly (or against societal expectations.).  We'll be hosting an exhibit, doing panels and readings and such. We are also searching out a book about Elizabeth Bathory for Book to Art Club,  which should be fun...(we've already plotted for one session we'll be making bloody bath bombs as our attendant artsy craftiness.)  

(If you remember, we kicked off our festivities with the above card sets at Zine Fest, and we'll be adding to the collection with new ones that will be in the Small Works vending machines this fall.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

love letter to the scholastic book club

Once every couple of months, we would sit at our desks, fidgeting for what we knew was coming. Our fingers itchy for the colorful newsprint as the teacher separated a stack and instructed the kids at the front of the room to pass it back. The Scholastic Book order went in once or twice a semester and it may be the only thing I can remember from those years with absolute clarity—the feel of the newsprint between your fingers, the smell of the ink.  Perhaps even the taste (weird things sometimes made their way into my mouth.) Our instructions were simple—take it home, consult your parents, and bring back the sheet with your carefully inked selections and a check for the amount.  Simple enough, surely, but the teacher may have never known the drama and angst such an undertaking.  I would start before I left school that afternoon.  The circling.  The bargaining. 
I was typically allowed at least one order each go-round.  I spent a couple days, madly circling the things I wanted, then would sit down with my mother to parse out exactly what we could afford.  Usually, it was at least one book, sometimes two.  In later years, I was all about sticker albums, but earlier, it was all fiction. A few weeks later, we’d wait, fidgeting again for the drop. For the books with their smooth, glossy covers to be parceled out. I loved the feel of them, loved to stack them carefully on my desktop.  Loved the plastic tote bags your order would arrive in, sort of a ziplock bag for books.   I would take them home and devour them.  Sometimes, they didn’t make it unread through the walk or bus ride home. .   At first of course, it was thin saddle bound paper back picture books like the Clifford series.  Then perfect bound, longer volumes as I got older. I eventually hunted mostly for mysteries and ghost stories, if I had to narrow my choices, these were a good bet. I probably had them read inside of a week,and was left to wait, breathless, next appearance of that newsprint flier in the teacher’s hands at the front of the room.


I'll be posting snippets of a fragmented memoir project I am working on about how libraries (both using, studying, and working in them) has shaped me as a person and as a writer/artist.  Follow along here...