Sunday, August 01, 2021

sealey challenge 2021

 I decided to join in this month on The Sealey Challenge--one book of poetry per day. When I was re-arranging my bookshelves a couple of weeks ago, I realized there were many things I'd bought or been gifted I hadn't read, as well as things I had read and loved that I want to revisit. I also have a sizeable stack of books on my desk at work and sitting around at home that I've borrowed from the library. I'll be choosing my titles weekly since much will depend on my mood from week to week and how one book sometimes lead to others.   This morning I grabbed some of the ones I want to start with, including one of my all-time faves, Daphne Gottlieb's FINAL GIRL, books from Sarah Maclay and Eve Alexandra I picked up years ago at AWP and remember loving, books by Rachel Galvin and Catherine Bowman I know I haven't read yet, and another by Natalie Eilbert I kept trying to read during lockdown, but kept abandoning due to Covid brain. All women of course, as the selections will likely continue to be, and ample inclusion of books by POC if I can help it. Today, I began with Juliann Baggot's LIZZIE BORDEN IN LOVE, which I picked up at another AWP and remember reading, but would like to go back to.  I couldn't find my copy of THIS COUNTRY OF MOTHERS, Baggot's first book that I ever read, but remember it being a sort of formative read way back in the early aughts, so I've since followed her work with particular interest (also her dystopian novels for YA are pretty amazing as well.)

I go through stages where I buy more poetry and others where I check more out from the library depending on cash flow. At things like conferences, I would load up on titles at the book fair but then they would migrate onto the shelves unread when I returned home. Thus occasionally, I will pull something out and be completely unable to remember what it was about--most likely becuase I haven't read it--so much gets lost in the shuffle.  Especially this past year, which has not been great for reading at all beyond editorial projects.  So I am looking forward to closing some of those gaps--even though there is still many new books I'd love to buy, Though if I find I like reading a book today and can keep up on it, who knows, I might just keep going...

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film notes | underwater world-building

 I've devoted this week in my movie watching to Guillermo Del Toro films, a couple of which I've seen, but not in a while and others I've haven't got to.  I began with Crimson Peak, which is a horrific bit of  beauty with excellent ghosts and a dreamy old castle --a story that feels like a melding of Jane Eyre and Rebecca with a little Flowers in the Attic thrown in for measure.  I also watched Mama, which was really good horror, proving that ghosts are scary, but so are feral children living in the woods, Pan's Labyrinth a reallly good reminder that the worst monsters are always human, something very apparent in my favorite so far, The Shape of Water. I did not realize that this film existed--2017, when it won a Best Picture award being a year in which I was not paying so much attention to things with my mom sick much of the year.  A retelling of The Creature of the Black Lagoon and a gender reversed mermaid story all in one, a cleaning woman at a 1960's Cold War military facility falls in love with a sea creature man.  Again, humans are the worst and the villain of this is particularly monstrous.  What kept amazing me was not the love story, which is sweet and tragic, but the sets and design--the costuming and the colors that make the movie, even not underwater, feel like it's happening beneath the sea. Since I have a vast love of mid-century industrial design, it's especially gorgeous--tank desks and office chairs in grey, green and blue as far as the eye can see. The labs at the fascility have that feeling no other time evokes for me and I wanted to live in it's strange underwater vastness. 

Del Toro is always much loved for his monsters and creatures, but it's those incredible sets and wide shots that kill me. Crimson Peak's crumbling manse filled with black moths. The cabin in the woods of Mama where the children are found, midcenury, but also in ruin. Pan's labyrinth and it's steep staircase into the earth. So much of filmmaking is that visual--those wide, unwinding shots. An immersiveness that swallows you completely. With The Shape of Water, I kept pausing the movie to make it last longer, to marvel at what was on the screen. 

I try to think about how that sort of world-building translates to poems. Since most poems are pretty short--even most series or books of poems are have less time, but I'd like to think this makes it more difficult but also easier, especially given that poems have a permission to be more dreamlike than fiction. To create that world in a small book demands skill. Rather than setting it up carefully, you have to jump right in before even building the boat sometimes  Or you are building it as you go.  S often when I am assembling a full-length mss. I am looking for the series of work that not only share thematic similarities, but also exist in the same world.  Or could if it were real. it's not necessarily limited by time or space.  In something like in the bird museum, the poems take place in a string from Victorian times to the present day, pausing in Joseph Cornell's world of shadowboxes, or 1930's Chicago with the archer avenue pieces. But they are the same world. salvage moves back and forth between the real world and the imagined, but both are equally real somehow and tethered to each other. This new book specifically takes place in a span of 40 or so odd years-the 70's Wisconsin of beautiful, sinister.  The 80's of my own poems about horror movies and taurus. The Slenderman stabbing poems set this century. The world of dark country is the same world, just spanning over decades. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

writing enough

Most of July I have not been writing new work and mostly been tending to DARK COUNTRY editing and promo business during the mornings over breakfast and whatever other odd things I don't have time to get to on my weekly writing day. The spells project is about half done, but I was waffling over the direction it was going, so tabled it for the month and will get back to it in August. I was not always someone who wrote daily, but now when I don't do it, I get itchy and feel unproductive--esp with so many things hatching in my head in regard to projects, unfinished or unstarted. 

Today I woke up pretty late and thought about writing, but then thought about some household projects--caulking the shower, cleaning the fridge--Saturday sort of things that were better uses of my time, but then felt guilty that the best use of my time should be writing--what I feel most passionate about.  So much gets in the way--day jobs, the press doings, commutes, laundry, dishes, and yet these things need to be done lest everything fall apart. 

I was mopping the floor (which kind of has to be done weekly to stem living with so many cats and their floofiness) and caught sight of my book shelf--arranged the other day to make room for the copies of DARK COUNTRY that will be dropping in the next couple of weeks. ) Sometimes, I am flabbergasted that I have, in the span of the past 20 years, written enough poems to fill the pages of all these books.  Despite day jobs, commutes, dishes. Despite the sort of things that take you away from writing or make it hard. I feel like it's balance. (and I can't even imagine what it's like to live with other people or raise children, even just keeping them fed and entertained, which also impede on that time.)

True, I don't have much of a social then again, none of us do during Covid.)  I save time where I can (getting groceries delivered to save trips and energy. Much takeout, microwave meals, and big salads to stave off cooking. Not running errands unless I have to. I see my boyfriend maybe once a week (he too has a couple different jobs and acting/film related things happening.) I have had larger and smaller groups of friends--writing or library folks, , but during the pandemic, most of us have retreated into our cocoons and wave to each other once in a while. I see my best friend at work mostly.  My family is a couple hours away, so I see them infrequently.  My downtime is mostly me watching movies in my apartment--those rare moments when I'm not working-- and I treasure it immensely. 

I think as writers, or maybe all artists, we feel like we should be doing more--especially if our time and attentions are pulled in so many dizzying directions. The more directions, the more helpless we feel.  But really, even one poem a year is enough and so much more than most people--non artists--will ever write.  Even if it never gets published. Even if we never share it.  I think as Americans we think in terms of excess, always. Quantity or quality. I am no different. I do think in writing more, I get better.  It[s not all great and some gets chaffed and never shown to anyone. The more you write, the more you mine, the more likely you'll find gold. But I need to retrain my brain on what productivity is, what enough is to get me through the moments where I feel lazy and uninspired.  Or worse, inspired, but too busy to put down what you have to do to pay the rent, which feels even more frustrating sometimes. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

paper, ink, keyboard

One day, I seemed to wake up and was composing poems entirely on the screen..  One day I was sitting in in the library, at home, or sometimes, even on a train or bus drafting on notebook paper or other scraps and the next, I was solely using the keyboard.  My first poems were scribbled on whatever paper was around--mostly decorative stationery I'd squirreled away for pen pal letters.  Sometime, I'd use three ring binder paper.from my school supply . At 16-17, I didn't have a typewriter, much less a computer, so they never made it beyond hand written.  I still have some in my files, some in the blue lock diary started when I was 15. When I needed to type something--term papers, contest essays--I'd use my aunt's electric in her basement underneath a large Elvis poster. My graduation money was used to purchase my own machine, which I would use the entirety of college, which only in my last couple of semesters did I move to the bank of beige computers in the labs. I was still writing poems by hand--then again on whatever paper I had at hand--spiral notebook pages, lecture programs, old triplicate files from the student government office. I still have some of these drafts, which I would then type up later on wafer thin typing paper dotted with correction fluid to send out to magazines in which the consensus was of course a resounding no (outside of more vanity operations.)

When I went into my MA in Lit program and got my first student loan funds, I bought a word processor at Sears, which had tiny hard disks, and since I was still too poor to get a computer (which were all pricey in 1999) I used this mostly to type up my school work--essays on romantic poets and victorian novels--but also poems, which I was beginning to write more frequently and a bit better. I have some of these too, mostly on notebook paper and with lots of scratching and restarting, usually drafted a few times until I got a more neatly written "final" version I would then type up. My first book manuscript pulled together at 25  lived on one of these discs and thankfully never saw the light of day. Post degree, I spent a year and half with little computer access and a failing word processor, but little was happening in the poetry dept.  I did write stories--stories that are tucked away in spiral notebooks, written out by hand, that I worked on before I moved back to the city.

When I started working at the library and  had computer access at work, I would still write things out by hand--on paper,, in the b&w marbled journals I'd kept for years, on spare library catalog cards & scrap paper. At first, since not all the computers had MS Word on them, I would just type and save them in my campus e-mail whenever I was on the circ desk at night. I had discovered the world on online journals, so outside of prints for my own records, mostly they existed digitally--where they'd live as drafts in my e-mail and then in the journals that published them. I still composed in handwriting though--and would carry a specific smallish notebook around with ideas and snippets in it that would eventually become poems. 

The shift was so gradual I don't even remember when it happened.  For a while I would compose in word docs, sometimes in private blogs.  By the time I was in my MFA I was doing a lot on screen just to save myself having to then transcribe on the keyboard, so it may have happened sometimes in those years.  By the time I was writing full-force again after a couple years of faltering, it was all onscreen. The benefits were obvious--I am a terrible typist--fast but also inaccurate--so transcribing things from the page means a lot of errors--more than if I am looking at the keyboard. Also, I was just in front of screen more..I got my first home computer/laptop in 2005. Spent my days in front of my desk or the service desk PC's. My life was just more onscreen than it had been.  This blog, for example, meant I was doing a considerable amount of composing other writing-things by keyboard  I also feel like it helps in the early stages when their would be much more scribbling and cross-outs to be able to erase and restart. To not have the page be a mess of black ink everywhere. For awhile, I still kept a small notebook for ideas and things I wanted to put in poems (and still do--though these are now  more loose things tucked into my sketchbook organizer).  But the actual poeming always happens on the keyboard. I still keep private blogs or even just blog pages for projects since I am always logged in with my google account (and this loads much faster than a google doc).  They live here in draft form until I firm them up and put them in a regular document., usually when it's time to start pulling strings together or submitting.  

What's crazy is I am not sure I could even write by hand anymore. I make lists with a pen, sometimes outlines for complex  work projects I then type up. Jot down words and phrases and titles. But I'm not sure that poems would happen in that space anymore. A few years ago, I wrote my unusual creatures pieces in an orange spiral notebook when I was visiting my parents and only had my tablet with me. It was not only the pieces, but a bunch of research and auxilary notes. It was a long time to get back to type it up, during which my interest had waned and a lot of things had pulled my attention away. Eventually, I digested what was there into a shorter series of poems created (you guessed it) on the screen.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

notes from the submission wilds

 Though I kept getting distracted (by dresses, by cats, by alarming headlines) my task for today's writing day was simple.  I had some promotional things to do and create for DARK COUNTRY, easy enough, and a couple blog entries to write out for later in the week.  Otherwise, having devoted yesterday to press things and accomplishing quite a lot, my other task was to submit some of my more recent work--including the bird artist and the spell poems.  One is a little victorian gothic narrative project and the other more contemporary and a little sharper in tone.  Good poems when I look at them, but when I sat down to the task, I had absolutely no idea where to send them. I like sending out work in general and sometimes forget how much I miss the thrill of an acceptance, but so much of my efforts get directed elsewhere in poetry-land that it's the thing I kind of have to force myself to do, and something that takes a chunk of time--to format the docs, to make sure I have no embarassing typos, to research journal guidelines and make sure I've formatted things to specification. Success means poems in front of new eyes and a feeling that I am contributing to the literary community. Even though there is some rejection, it's just par for the course after this long of flinging things out there and seeing what sticks.

But strangely, I've also reached an uneasy point where I'm not really sure where my work belongs. Many of the journals I've published in over the years and made a point to send work to have shuttered. I've tended mostly toward online publications over the years, mostly because they have the greatest reach, but some have short lifespans, and print journals sometimes even shorter due to funding. Many that still exist are taking breaks or just coming out of covid-slumber and aren't reading just yet.  It's also hard to keep a finger on the pulse of new journals..I find Twitter is sometimes the best for this, but Twitter moves so fast you have to go looking to find the gems. Another thing I like to do is check out the journals where dgp authors have placed poems, since if I like their work, it's not a stretch to think we'd appeal to similar tastes and aesthetic leans. 

I found some more horror. speculative places that might be a good fit for the first project, and made a list, but none seem to be open at the moment, so those will have to wait. I have a small list of places I like and who seem to like me based on previous experience, but I am also looking to spread my breadcrumbs a little wider and a little further from home. For an afternoon of searching I managed two actual submission before breaking to write this--one solicitation for a poem on thrifting for a project a dgp author is editing for, the other, 5 pieces from the bird artist to Grimoire, which is always a favorite.

Mostly however, I am feeling listless and unsure, which you would think after doing this so long, I might be immune to. Unsure where to send.  Where things might land in fertile fields. Whether I should just devote these time and efforts to tending work on other fronts. I have no answers, and probably won't but before I break for dinner in an hour, I intend to get these two other submissions out to somewhere.. 

dark country mix-tape

 I should have my final proof copy in my hot little hands by the end of this week, which means the release is ever nigh, but in the meantime I made this little playlist in honor of DARK COUNTRY's impending release--it's a little spooky, a little nostagic, and is mostly 70's and 80's tracks with a little 60's & 90's thrown in for flavor. The sort of tunes perfect for hanging out on some badly lit road in the woods in your boyfriend's Camaro and waiting for The Hookman to show up..

Monday, July 26, 2021

dgp notes | july 2021

Just a quickie reminder that there is still an entire month to get your submission in for this reading period. I am set to start perusing the offerings as soon as August hits and begin filling in the schedule for 2022, which seems impossible and yet it's coming.  I am still working through many of the covid-delayed books and this year's titles, so keep an eye on the shop for many, many new things, as well as, once we get closer to fall, new paper goods and other things (including those long promised tattoo designs.) I should also, at long last, have a little print zine bundle of my own (I've been releasing things online, but only in print form since my printers have been busy with chapbook titles, so I've held off on adding more to the load.)  Also dark country, my latest longer book, will be hatching in August, so watch for that.

The inbox is plump already with what look to be amazing things--and also some familiar faces.  I love that I get to publish a selection sometimes that span an author's work--sometimes many years in between.  Having been at this nearly 17 years, which also seems impossible, I've gotten to know so many authors, sometimes early on, who go on to make great waves in the community--publlshing profusely, , winning fancy prizes and producing the sort of work that gets talked about and loved. I'm so stoked that they found me and I found them.  I also love the newbie poets who are just starting out and will go onto great things. Or the poet who is know enough that I recognize their name, but who somehow miraculously shows up in my inbox. When things were bad last year (or let's face it, bad the last few years) and I thought about quitting, these were the things, the authors I wrote on a list to remind myself why I do what I do. 

It's not always easy, especially when other, non-poetry things are taking a bite out you. I'm learning to balance my efforts better. To say no to the things I don't need in my life in order to have more room for the things I do. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

writing and visual art collaborations


Even more than I love working in the language of both words and images for my own projects, I love even more working in collaboration with other writers or artists. This manifests in cover design for dancing girl press chapbooks most frequently, where I love being able to carve out a cover concept with the author that is perfect for their book. (Had I been smarter in my youth, I might have studies graphic design instead of poetry..)  Cover happen in many ways, and sometimes it's just as simple as choosing fonts and placing text on furnished artwork, but even this is rewarding (and one of the things covid-anxieties stole from me I've only recently gotten back--a sense of vision and creativity visually. ) 

I get really happy when I can take content suggestions and run with them, or get left entirely to my own devices. Sometimes a tone in the poems suggests a tone to the physical book I'd like to aim for. I also like the authors other choices when it comes to things like previous covers and web design, or even just their instagram (and some authors, god bless them, already have pinterest boards! set up or in process.)

While I've only done a couple instances of writing collabs,  I've done visual/writing collabs more frequently.  at the hotel andromeda, with Lauren Levato Coyne was the first--my text and her images and our homage to Cornell.  Another with my sister for necessary violence, which involved her work in various mediums (photo, painting, paper cuts) and my Slenderman poems--which manifested as both a zine and an installation for a show in the library, I recently pulled out Jane Flett's FOOL'S JOURNEY, which features her poems and card designs from multiple artists to create the major arcana. It was issued as a book and also as a limited edition deck and is a lovely thing to behold.

My writing collabs are fewer--a postcard poem project with Julie Strand in 2009.  A collab poem with several local poets remixing each other's work for a gallery show in Pilsen. I'm always a little hesitant to approach other authors with an idea since for years, my writing was an inconsistent beast, but I would be more open to it now hat I am better writing daily.  There are some more collab effort still in the mix, including the mermaid anthology project that has been on hold forever and maybe another go round at the billet deux concept. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

notes & things 7//24/2021

 We've landed in a spate of soggy, humid temps I am mostly combatting by laying on my bed, flipping through poetry books and scrolling instagram,  a couple feet from  the fan and waiting for the storms that seem to be rolling in as we speak. *cue distant thunder rumbling and the dirty smell of rain* Normally, I spend my Saturdays on cleaning and projects around the house, but I am calling it a  "heat index day" and doing nothing much in particular..  After much of last week was claimed by wrestling with technology and recording my presentation for a library conference on marketing, most of this week was catch up and a lot of hefting and moving books, so I hit Friday pretty exhausted. and in need of a weekend, even though it was one of these short summer weeks I am going to miss come fall. The week was productive outside the library as well, and I was able to put a bow on the final file of dark country and send it off for a final print galley. The process is very enjoyable of seeing it go from sheaf of messy pages to a fully designed thing--and even though it will probably need some adjustments, even that galley version in the mail is exciting. While working with traditional publishers has its own benefits, this feels, like when I make chapbooks or ziines---much more hands on from start to finish, seeing a book being made, which has its own rewards. Its also exciting because I went a bit more squarish with this book than the last, and while it meant some more formatting tweaks, I love squarish publications--especially since this collection is blocks of prose that look really nice that way. 

So I wait, and in the meantime, am working on more promo bits and bobs for the book for social media--including a very awesome spotify playlist, something that a previous publisher (Sundress) created for it's books and something I enjoyed compiling so thought I'd give it a whirl for dark country.  Also some short little videos for instagram and more postcards. I should have copies by mid-august for the shop.   August brings a couple other things, including a first dip into the dgp submissions that have come in this summer as we close out the open reading period at the end of August. I am also thinking of embarking on the #sealychallenge--reading one book of poems per day in August.  I have stacks that have accumulated during my covid anxiety year or no reading, so it's easy to choose which books for the list and at least lighten my to-read pile signifigantly as we head into fall.

And ahh, yes, fall.  We've reached the stage in summer--earlier than ever this year, where I start jonesing for autumnal things.  It started with eyeing dresses its still too early to commit to and now I am looking on Pinterest at  photos of fall foliage and campfires and once again, fail to fully embrace the season I am in instead of rushing to the next.  There is still time for summer, though hopefully not the sticky swamp variety that definitely sends me longing for cold weather.--stull a couple trips to Rockford, maybe some barbecues and beach days (let's be real--beach evenings since I am ever so no nocturnal and sun-avoidant.) This weekend a friend passed off copious amounts of blueberries I was eating by handful yesterday til they were gone--fresh off the farm and always better than store bought.  They taste like summer, as do things like sweetcorn and really good tomatoes. I need to remember to embrace it, even though my eye is in spooky season, since in a few months, everything will be dead and covered in snow. The days are already just a smidge shorter than they were, unnoticeable except I am losing my daylight at home a little swifter before I have to turn on a light.  When it gets dark at 4:30 by November, I need to remind myself now I shouldn't be longing for autumn.