Saturday, June 29, 2019

exquisite damage and the suburban gothic

This weekend, I am working through some more fine tuning edits on exquisite damage, which is mostly done, but needed a little distance to iron out some rough spots.  This week, I also am planning a couple more collages to accompany the text portions.  I started the project thinking about my love of the horror genre, of the gothic, particularly a more suburban, midwest gothic that plays such a central role in many horror classics (Halloween and It Follows come immediately to mind.)  The sort of things that lurk at the edges of the world we think we know. It's origins are similar, but it's manifestations different from purely rural gothic--theres a thicker gloss on it all--a variation between the perception and the reality.

I worked with something similar in the shared properties of water and stars--that dark shadow sitting squat under suburbia, but this project is more personal and grounded in my experience as a child who loved horror and grew up in the 70's & 80's. Last spring, one of the speakers at the pop culture conference on horror touched on the definition of the gothic--how even in the Victorian ages, it's appeal lie in a safe way to transcend the relative safety of the middle class.  If we were comfortable--not in actual danger--we sought out ways to experience similar danger from a a safe remove.

When I was a teen, I had all these romantic fantasies that involved whatever boy I was crushing on at the time saving me from something--a disaster, a plague, a plane crash. the apocalypse.  It was a twisted princess fantasy I suppose--the prize not so much security, but survival.

"Sometimes, I'm swimming and there's a body, floating bloated in the water. I scream and the man who saves me gets to have me.  Which is pretty much the plot to everything."

The rush of being afraid, that rush of endorphins was similar to that of love.  Or at least my fevered teenage mind thought so.

And of course, imagined fears only go so far in touching on the REAL fears of suburbia--kidnappings, rapes, school shootings. (less prevalent, of course, in my years, but viewable in the lens now.)  But even these need a safe distance--survivors of actual trauma do not always like horror (with a few exceptions). All the urban legends we think we're are afraid of vs. the very real things there are to be frightened of. 

What I wound up with is a series of vignettes mixed with personal experience, something not quite just prose poems, not quite lyric essay, also something that, by presence of myself as "writer" addressing you, as a " reader" becomes a little bit meta.--an echo to victorian gothicism.  The visual elements are a nod to midcentury style--lots of detritus like floral wallpaper, shampoos ads, television sets, and creepy basement seances. 

Eventually, I intend for them all to be a zine project, and the text fragments themselves to be part of my longer dark county manuscript. In the meantime, for a peak into this series, some links:

* (w/ accompanying artwork)

5 things you might not know about me

1. When I was a kid, we spent pretty much every weekend in Wisconsin, where my grandmother had an RV in a campground/resort.  My aunt & uncle owned a slot nearby, so those particular weekends were a mess of extended family and a whirl of activity--most of which was me following my older cousins around trying to be as cool as they were. (Outside of my sister, virtually no one was my age on that side of the fam.)   Other camping trips included visiting my grandfather up in Black River Falls, as well as many camping trips my parents took us on our own to various places.  Me & my sister spent a lot of time on my dad's fishing boat and in a terrible little canvas pup tent freaking out about daddy long legs, but it was glorious fun.  Contrary to what you might expect of my city dwelling heart, I really like camping, but require only two things:  1) showers 2.)a comfy air mattress.  Otherwise, I am good.  I am not even scared of daddy long legs anymore once I learned they weren't really spiders.

2. In 3rd grade, I won the upper grades spelling bee and had the first taste of ambition and success that made me crave it more.  I had sort of stumbled through the lower grades, sometimes getting in trouble for not doing, or failing to do my reading homework right. Even though I was an early & adept reader, I hated grammar homework with a passion, and spent many lunch hours trapped inside as punishment for not doing what I was supposed to. I don't remember 1st & 2nd being hard, but I was struggling in the 3rd. When I won the spelling bee, my teacher, who had written me off as just an idiot, suddenly decided I was smart but maybe was having trouble seeing the board.  I seriously think I may have thrown my eye test out of spite, though, and spent 4th grade in glasses I really didn't need (ditched completely when we moved the next year, by which time I was one of the top readers in my class regardless with near perfect vision at my 5th grade physical. I found I liked being rewarded as a word person, and it sort of formed my identity.

3. I played the clarinet in junior high,  Or I should say I was very mediocre and never practiced the clarinet, but somehow still wound up in the concert band in 8th grade. I remember very little of how to read music today, but I was decent at it then. I, of course, went in wanting to play the flute, but they were in high demand and would have had to rent it outside the school, which wasn't going to happen.  Thus, the clarinet.  I basically spent two years eyeing the cello players thinking I should have joined the orchestra instead of the band, but we did do concerts on occasion, and once, well to an Illinois-wide competition (where we lost, mostly becuaue I was not the only one that  I mostly spent my weekends, blowing off my practice and watching Svengoolie with an an existential dread of Monday.

4. My senior year of high school, I somehow wound up in an acting class filled with freshmen (I had planned to take a zoology course, but it conflicted with something else important. When the counselor called me over the summer to ask what I wanted to do, he rambled off theatre and I said sure). I wound up LOVING it and quickly got a decent role in the fall play.  For a hot minute, I was determined to be a Broadway star, spurred by a class field trip in to see Les Miz at the Auditorium, and this learned every single word from the score--and could sing it even now in its entirely.  (as well as my second fave, Into the Woods.)  Becuase I left high school determined to become  scientist, I figured that would never happen, but a couple years later I wound up back in the theater--mostly working backstage--lights, costumes, stage managing, and it formed my social group in those years.  I wound up adding Theatre as a minor to my English Major and vaguely entertained the notion of writing plays (which has not yet happened, but, hey, who knows?)

5. As mentioned above, I went off to college thinking I wanted to be a marine biologist--mostly since I had a charismatic AP Bio teacher who made it seem really exciting, strong opinions about saving the earth (as witnessed by my preachy editorials in the high school paper) and a best friend who was also into environmental causes (and actually did become a scientist/teacher!) While I probably just really liked the idea of swimming with dolphins (oh boy, did I love dolphins!) and living near the ocean, I decided to attend UNC-Wilmington, where I soon confirmed that I have the math skills of a 7th grader and that I should stick with words. I think that semester was valuable in that it cast me into the world and gave me a stereotypical college experience with dorms and frat parties,  but I was sort of relieved when I landed back at RC and its staid liberal artsyness.  I really should never have allowed my inner mermaid to make my career plans.  Lesson learned.

Friday, June 28, 2019

writing & art bits | june edition

*This month, I've been rounding out the poet's zodiac poems, which are now complete and ready for some tweaks. I've also been dipping occasionally into the artist statement series, but it's slower going there.  Next week, I'm hoping to fine tune some of the exquisite damage pieces and resubmit the ones that haven't been picked up yet.  I've also a couple ideas for collages in that project that haven't quite taken shape yet I'd love to get to if I have time during the shorter week.

*As mentioned a few posts back, I got some great news about a reading in September (date TBD) at the Field Museum, and get to spend some time amongst the exhibits.  I've been feeling an affinity toward something very eco-gothic and about extinction, so a natural history museum might be the perfect place to begin.

*The Journal, whose editors were working with me on shaping up my very first non-poetry submission did wind up accepting the hunger palace, and it will appear in the next print edition.  I was initally hesitant to send out the fragments of the greater progress, mostly since I felt strange about its therapeuticness.  (I felt like the effort of submission and the possible response was inconsequential to the need for me to write it.)  But after some distance, I decided to try sending out the whole shebang and they took it.  The edits were some ordering changes and some sense making (consistency in tenses and such, some trimming of superfluous poeticisms, but I'm feeling pretty good about it, and maybe that was exactly what it needed.

*Next on the art agenda are some tiki themed collages for our filler exhibit on the first floor.  Lethal Ladies will be going up in September, but this couple months need some replacements as the previous show's artists pick up their work. Since I love the patterns of the fifties, I thought I make work digitally with some of them.  Again, we'll see what I can get to this week before the holiday.

*I've been doing some more studio tidying, with an eye toward opening up the second Friday of July.  I wound up canceling June--too many big chapbook orders all happening at once and I needed my Friday night and the ability to mess things up. Sometimes I feel like I don't have enough in stock to even bother, but then again, I have a lot of prints and originals no matter what, even if there are a hundred or so projects I still mean to.  I even have some of the larger size prints of the hunger palace pieces (see above), as well as some crypto society prints in 11X17.  And of course, a million mini-prints  from various series I've made for a couple tabling events that didn't sell.   The chapbooks & zines are a harder sell when most of the folks are looking for visual art, but I sell some every once in a while,so I need to restock some of those.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

dgp cover love | variations

While I do about 70 percent of the design for the covers in the chapbook series, there are also many instances in which we wind up using art or full-on designs from other artists at the request of the author (or sometimes artwork created BY the author).  These usually  have amazing results, and I thought I'd share a few of the recent collage covers that I WISHED I designed...enjoy!

{collage by Julia Drescher}

{collage by Giana Angelillo}

{collage by Aman Safa}

{cover by April Pierce}

{art by Alexandra Eldridge}

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

creating the weekend writing retreat

I'm not the sort of person who travels well.  For one thing, there is always a shortage of money, and its sibling, time (I have limited vacation hours used for other purposes and mostly get stir crazy anyway if I am away from my home more than 3 days or so.)  Thankfully, I am able to live alone (except for a few cats) so the distractions I have at home are not other people or kids, but more so unfinished housework, the internet, random errands that eat up my day.

Over the past few years, I've gotten highly proprietary about weekend time, and unless it can't be avoided, I rarely schedule or make plans for these days.  I spend all week working, either at the library or in the studio, so also  try to any social things during that time, whether spending time with friends or my boyfriend,  errand running, etc. During the academic year n the library, we switch off weekend duty, and so I try to cluster mine together as much as I can.   Summer weekends however, except for a handful of trips to Rockford, are my own.

Over the past couple summers, , I've been working in increments on perfecting my own little mini-retreats. Some weekends are more successful than others.  Some end with something to show for it, others not so much.  Sometimes I sleep way too much and binge watch Netflix and get very little art or writing-wise done. Some weekends still end up devoted to too much household work like laundry and dishes if I haven't had the energy to do these tasks during the week when I get home at night.  Occasionally a sudden social or work thing will pop up that interferes.

It's an imperfect pursuit, but I am working toward something good, the perfect writing weekend, so I thought I would share my notes.

{The What}

Perhaps the first thing is to figure what you need and what you hope to accomplish.  Sometimes, I devote weekends to editing or spending time with a certain project--more time than my daily writing allows. Sometimes, I need to plot out something new, or do more research, or compile research I've already done.  Sometimes they are generative, in which case I turn to spending that time with inspirational sources or just thinking about a certain idea..

{The When}

Weekends are a good stretch, but if you have the option, you can always  take longer.  There is a certain unwind and wind period that benefits from a bit longer or a stretch if you can swing it.  Sometimes, it's catch as catch can, so any weekend you can make it happen works, ideally cleared from all the detritus. Two days is actually a lot, especially if you begin your wind down time on Friday night (making plans, schedules, preparations, disconnecting) and get up Saturday raring to go.

{The Who}

Many writers love involving other writers & artists and working toward the synergy of something like larger retreats or colonies. There are many things to be gained here--comraderie, accountability, other people sharing in your work.  I think there is room for both those sorts of retreats that involve others and the benefits of solitude, so maybe you can aiming for a mix of both.  Simply doing things like having lunch or dinner with other writers, or going to a reading or book club or workshop can satisfy the need for these things while still granting you some alone time during your weekend.

{The Where}

I like working at home, but if you don't have the gift of solitude, other places can also work.  Housesitting, cheap hotel rooms, vacation rentals.  If you can't leave home, but would prefer to work elsewhere, there are other options that offer an escape from home, but the ability to go back as needed.  Coffeeshops, bookstores, and of course, libraries.  Anywhere with work spaces, staff that don't mind you lingering,   and maybe coffee or tea readily accessible.  I managed edits on my first book an entire summer sitting for a couple hours nightly in the cafe at a Barnes & Noble downtown (my sister was staying with me during that time, and we always were having too much fun at home,  so I needed somewhere I could work without distracttions)   So anywhere that meets a few requirements can work.

{The How?}

Ideally , wherever you wind up, clearing yourself of other obligations is key.   Ideally, you will amass beforehand everything you might need during--food (simple or already prepared food is good, takeway of you can afford it, or you might want to make your own meals as part of your daily routine,)  Just make sure there's no need to go shopping and that everything is there at your fingertips.This is not to say outings are strictly forbidden, but aim to have outings be condusive to artmaking--go for walks, or picnics, or to readings, performances, museums with the intention that they will feed your creative impulses.

Prepare by having other things you need close at hand--pens, papers, supplies.  Materials that inspire-books, podcasts, movies (a friend swears that she loves to stream horror movies in the background while she's drawing and working on projects).  I like to do some reading, both with craft in mind and totally escapist, which helps me connect to work that is not my own. Read interviews and features on other wirters and related materials. Look at art that inspires you. Since my process is both written and visual, I vascillate back and forth between mediums sometimes.

I like to start the day by looking at some older work and reconnect with it.  Sometimes, the world passes so fast and once something is published, it's near forgotten and on to the next thing.  Reconnecting helps me see where I've been and where I might want to go. It also helps, even in fallow periods to remind myself that I have put something into the world and I will yet again.   Even re-reading an old chap or poems online from years ago can be valuable for this reconnection.  This weekend, for example, I spent some time with my very first chapbook, The Archaeologists Daughter and how foreign, yet prescient some of those poems seem nearly two decades later.

It also might be helpful to think bout how much you like structures and schedules.  Do you have a goal of pages?  Of time spent? Is it more free-form?  Can you unplug completely or do you find things like the internet useful to your process.  In which case adjust accordingly.  Do you prefer dogged pursuit or a whatever- happens happens approach?  Both can work and your goals and process will determine which is appropriate for your needs. I allow for sleeping in and ample napping since those things help me be more productive when I am awake, and then usually work into the night.  But you might be an early riser who prefers to be up and productive before the rest of the world wakes up. Figure out what works for you.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

revisiting the archaeologist's daughter

This weekend's revisit of older work included a read through of what was technically my first chapbook The Archaeologist's Daughter (2005).  Time-wise, it wound up following two other self-issued chaps in 2004 due to a lengthy publication schedule, but it was the first written and the first accepted by an outside press.  Moon Journal Press had been the first publisher to take my work for their journal a couple year's previously--so when I had put together my first chapbook, of course I wanted to send it there in 2002. It was the first thing I could talk about as a book--that I was publishing a book!--so it was tremendously exciting.

Most of the poems inside did not make it any further into a full-length.  This was not always necessarily due to quality--though there are some doozies in there I wish I could pluck out.  But on the whole, re-reading now, some of the pieces are decent poems in the style I was writing in then (lyric, lined poetry, with definite Sharon Olds/Louise Gluck style leanings--the authors I was devouring then.)  The earliest poems stem from about 1999, when things were just beginning to get good--written the spring I was finishing up my MA and about to be launched into the world.  Some were written when I was back in Chicago that first year and writing poems at the library's circulation desk, spurred into productivity by my first publication efforts online.

They begin with the title poem, which is all about interpreting the past via artifacts--of which the rest of the poems serve, touching on more personal history and cultural history--fairy tales, history, literature, mythology.  There are poems about Daphne, mermaids, rapunzel, gold rush brides, Degas dancers. I always say, my first efforts were very much allusion-heavy since I hadn't yet found sufficient material in my own life to write about it heavily--I was after all, only in in my mid 20's.  What did I know of anything?  It ends with a poem about loss and Pompeii, about how it rounds its edges over time, so maybe I was wiser than I give myself credit for in hindsight.  That first poem and the end poem form a set of bookends for everything in between, about artifacts and memories, but also about domesticities, and the way women become lost to history. One of the oldest pieces in there has to be "Geneology", a poem about how that subject is always so male-focused, sur-named focused but that we never know as much about the women who gave up their family names, but are just as much a part of our genetic makeup.

There was a period of time, about a decade ago, when I looked at this collection and scoffed at how rudimentary my writing skills were, but there is definite goodness in places.  I had an ear for rhythm, for example, that was in no way as intentional as it is now, but still developing.  A couple of the poems ("Swimming the Witch" is  definitely one, maybe "Columbus" and "On the Way to California") are actually pretty strong, if not slightly overwrought.

"The girls in Salem are full of venom,
their flesh pressing the seams of dresses
sewn by mothers just last year. 
Their desires are milky as egg whites
in water, the inside rims of pots
boiling black on the stove--
fennel, saffron, snake root.

They blame you fro the barren field, 
still birth, blood moon, rabid dog.
Your legacy is the murmur of circles,
a bolt of lace unraveling, a hundred
crows alighting on branches."

-"Swimming the Witch"

I did have a maddening tendency to use run-ons gratuitously and pile on the similes. But not too shabby in general, but clunkier than I'd like. If I look, there are a lot of threads that would come up in later work--domesticity for one, the work of it and how women move in the world vs. men. There was a later poem in the fever almanac ("the language of objects") that echoed the sentiment of the title poem--the inability of objects to accurately tell the stories that surround them.  I name check other poets--Dickinson, Millay. There is a mermaid poem in there, of course, and I'm pretty sure it echoes and earlier poem about Calypso in my files--both about being the "other woman" in relationships. There are five poems that did make it into the fever almanac, all of them more personal, less allusion-based work.  Most appear in the first section of the longer book, and most slightly revised later--"Nebraska," "Drought, " "Divination," "Volition" and "Degrees."   (There are probably about 4 different published versions of that first one out there--though final one in the fever almanac one is the best.)  At least one  of the poems ("Drought") was a portion of the pieces that won me my first third place nod from the Poetry Center Juried contest in 2002 before winning a couple years later with newer work.

As for the physicality of the book, there was an initial printing error by the printer, so there is a version where the title page is printed on the inside of the cover, which is a delicious pale pink parchment.  I have leftovers of those and another 50 of the correct version under my desk at the library, where they were shipped to and were never lugged home.  The design was done by someone who regularly designed for Moon Journal (Missy Isely-Poltrock) and captured the book, perfectly with its fragmented shells, teacup, and feathers.  There was also another photo on the title page of a plastic mermaid (an image I would later use in many poems.)

When the book was released in 2005, I was already neck deep in other poem pursuits.  Mired in MFA studies, and in a definite skewing of my work toward more innovation. Also the struggle to get that first full-length book into shape and find a publisher,  so it was probably more of a blip on my literary landscape than I probably intended it to be.   I remember a reading at the Prairie Moon bookstore in the suburbs with other MJ writers in the fall of 2005 with my parents in attendance.  A good review in Rhino magazine by Mary Biddinger. Some giveaways and online swaps. But mostly I had moved onto other things and never felt like I gave this chap its proper due in terms of readings and marketing.  

"Bowen's ability to create a whole from a virtual mosaic of concrete details reminds us that we are in the hands of a poet who is also a visual artist, not to mention a researcher who is able to render times past with authenticity and precision."--Rhino

If it catches your fancy, I still  do have some copies available for free (just shoot me a message at the dgp e-mail address or on social media).  I was also stoked to see that the enitre Moon Journal series is available at Smith College in their archives.  So this chap may have a life that continues on even now that the press has shuttered and it lives mostly in a box under my desk...

Friday, June 21, 2019

notes & things | 6/21/2019

 It's officially the beginning of celestial summer, or should be, despite the fact that earlier this week I was reaching for heavier jackets and the space heater whenever the windows were open too long.  Even tonight, which is a little milder, is still dropping into the 50's--no doubt probably some weirdness of climate warming/jet stream wonkiness. I have a blissfully unencumbered weekend excepts for some dgp proofing and getting things ready to print on slew of new titles and clearing out the inbox. I'm set to start reading submissions in about a week, so I am trying to get my organizational ducks in a row.

I am trying to enjoy these long evenings, though, chilly as they are, because beginning now, we will start to lose them bit by bit, and since I was spending a good chunk of time in the studio tonight, took a couple nights off this week and was home before the daylight was gone.  I've been dragging, and feeling my 7 vs. 8 hours of sleep more than usual. It does not help that sometimes it's closer to 6 if I get streaming something good and want to get in one more episode (this week it was Dead to Me.) Despite my mind and body being tired, I've actually been a little more level emotionally than I was for a bit there, so even a cold summer does wonders in terms of seasonal affective disorder.  And actually, with no A/C I'd love a milder summer topping in the 70's during the day.

Writing-wise, this week brought some final edits on my piece that was accepted at The Journal, and some good news about an opportunity to read at the Field Museum this September (more on that soon.) I'll get free access to the museum to write about something there on exhibit, so I am already brainstorming ideas. It's one of my favorite places in the city, and my favorite museum (it edges out the Art Institute by a hair.)  I'm incredibly nostalgic about it--it was our field trip destination that fateful day at 15 years old when I glimpsed Chicago for the first time and decided I wanted to live here, so every time I'm in there I get a certain euphoria.

This week also brought some preliminary temporary tattoo designs for the shop.  As I've been hunting up pretty flora and fauna, I've found certain things lacking, including some vintagey black and white botanicals, so I'm going to concentrate their first, for my own purposes, and eventually will offer them in the shop when I have them perfected.  They're turning out to be a fun wearable piece of art, and I like that I have the freedom to change things up and think other folks will too.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

cover love | some recent dgp design exploits

basically, a whole lotta blue and a definite summer vibe, now only if summer would get here.....

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 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...

Monday, June 10, 2019

notes & things | 6/9/2019

It's been a kind of cloudy weekend that does not seem quite sure of whether it wants to be hot or cold, which has led me to alternately opening and closing the windows, and at some point even turning on the space heater and covering up with my quilt instead of the summer bedspread.  I've been alternately watching the last couple seasons of GOT again, and working a bit on my library memoirish project (see the latest snippet below.)  It's still got a long way to go and is mostly just fragments and a loose outline, but it's looking good even at this stage.  I'm also aiming to have the last four bits of the poet's zodiac in hand to set aside for a bit and return to later this summer for editing.  I've also been napping profusely, odd since I have also been drinking too much coffee and eating waffles slathered in raspberry jam.

I'm still working my way toward some larger book orders in the studio, which has put a cramp in my tidying/prep for the open studio coming up this Friday--things are still chaotic and sort of a mess and I might postpone til July, I haven't decided. It depends on how much progress I make this coming week. Meanwhile, it's rather quiet in the library with all the students gone, and I've turned my eye toward some writing projects and general prep for fall.

We are far enough into summer to feel like we are at the beginning, but within a couple weeks, we'll hit the solstice, which is always crazy to me, that feeling that we are barely started and summer has hit it's peak.  Of course, the same thing happens in winter, with January/February and usually March/April lingering long after the equinox. Summer is always long until it's not. In May it seems like there are endless possibilities, but I know that September will be here much faster than we know.  So much of our lives spent in seasons other than this one. But for now, the lilacs are in bloom and we occasionally get a sunny, moderate mannered day that is glorious.

I've even yet to get out my proper summer clothes since it's been a bit too chilly and unpredictable for sundresses and sandals (most of my days lately are an odd assortment of spring dresses, cardigans, and denim jackets. I never know what changes in temp will happen over the course of the day, sometimes up and down by 30 degrees in a few hours.)  Of course, many weekends in the city I spend inside regardless of how nice it is outside, devoted to writing and reading and hiding from the world, but I do have some summer plans set for the 4th of July weekend and maybe other things for August.

Meanwhile, I have playing with more of the temporary tattoos I bought around my birthday.  I've been posting some shots on instagram to capture them before they are gone. They last usually around 3-4 days, and kind of like regular blooms are here then gone, which seems fitting. The temporaryness of them part of the appeal.  Also the variation is nice and not what you'd get with a for-real tattoo. (Obviously). They also appeal to my childhood love of stickers and I want to wear/collect them all.  I'm not going to pressure myself with thoughts of the real thing just now or make any plans on the real thing (besides I spent all my dedicated money on studio furniture and my Cricut machine, so it will be a while til I have the extra cash.)   I kind of think of the  faux ones like jewelry or commitment, but still a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

from bookish: a life in libraries


My father taught me the alphabet when I was around 4.  I must have been pestering him—the sing-songy echo of Sesame Street already in my brain and just a little fine tuning needed.  At night, when he returned home from work, he would sit me on the floor in front of him or in his lap and prompt me to begin the song. When I made it through entirely he would reward me with chocolate.  I remember it on the level of being as challenging to get through that song as it was to later learn my times tables a few years later.  Or Constitutional facts in 8th grade.   (Which my father, by then, took much less interest in, so I bothered my mother, my grandmother, and anyone else who would listen. By then the alphabet was old hat.  I had walked into my kindergarten classroom and eyed the letters in their long strip above the board and something just clicked.  Soon I was reading store signs. The backs of cereal boxes.  I was soon reading as much as I was talking, and this already, was quite a lot.  

But before I was reading, I was still somehow writing.  Writing, at that time meant long lines of scribbles, my approximation of cursive on every spare sheet of paper I could find—the backs of receipts, my father’s cast-off  envelopes from bills.  Finally, my aunt procured for me what may have been one of my best Christmas presents ever—a simple canvas tote bag, filled with notebooks, both newsprint and spiral, and a set of pens in multiple colors—green, red, blue. (which was about as daring as it got in the late 70’s.)  I took everything out of the bag immediately and spread it around me methodically.  An entire world seeming to open up before me.  If you asked me now to recent my stories, the ones I filled those notebooks with, I’d scarce remember a single one.  But I remember the satisfaction of the loops and lines the ink made on the paper. How grown up it seemed, to be writing, to be taking part in some exchange for which a code needed to be cracked.  I was ready, long before I learned my alphabet. Long before I set foot in school.  I was ready. 


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...