Tuesday, March 30, 2021

on death and specimens


 

A friend brought me a giant joint from the dispensary and while I have only been smoking a little bit by bit to get to sleep some nights, the thoughts it brings, this particular strain, seem to be more chaotic than the others I have on hand.  I was convinced Saturday one night that my father would die alone in his house in his bed and it could be days before someone knew (thus there had to be some sort of un-obnoxious way to check in daily through e-mail or text or some robo-call system).  Then, as always, that I too could die this way for no particular reason, and no one would know until I failed to show up to work. Years ago, there was a fight between a couple upstairs--loud, with what sounded like a Christmas tree falling over and someone breaking down a door.  I could hear crying and talking afterwards, so I didn't think anyone was in danger, but two nights later, the police came knocking on my door and someone mistakenly had thought it was happening in my apartment, though I'm not sure how. I was very obviously alive, so I told them they might want to check upstairs, but I never learned what they may have found.  For weeks, I was convinced there had been a body up there, so much so that when I was watching Mulholland Drive for the first time during the holiday break, I had a panic attack after seeing the scene of the decomposing body in the bed.  Before they moved, my sister and her husband lived across the hall from an older  man who died alone.  Days before, when she mentioned on FB that the hallway smelled like garbage, I joked that it was probably a body.  It was. 

As someone who lives alone, even though I have regular contact with others who might know I'm missing, I've long reconciled that I may very die alone and be eaten by my cats (though if that's what keeps them alive, it's a sacrifice I'd be willing to make.)  Sometimes I joke that Moxie has a tendency to gnaw on my arm for attention while I sleep, and I say she's getting a head start if it's been too long since I moved.  It's morbid, but not the most morbid thing in my mind sometimes. Last night, I kept imagining my mother in the cremation chamber.  The details of her skin--her eyes, her skull, going up in flames.  Sometimes, weed is great and makes me happy.  Sometimes, it get s a little spirally and I have to rein it in. The sleep, however, when it comes feels deep and I wake up easily afterwards. 

I thought of this weirdness again as I dug a little deeper on my Walter Potter research for the next themed project.  All of those tiny kitten corpses arranged and clothed anthromorphically.  How much they freaked people out (and continue to do so) much more than regular sorts of taxidermy. Someone I know once mentioned that shed helped take care of a cache of the Potter dioramas in the home of a local heiress, whose giant dogs broke the glass.  I don't remember which creatures it involved, but she had been tasked with carefully and meticulously picking out the glass shards from the bottom of the case among the taxidermied animals and it had to be repaired. The kitten ones in particular trouble me, though the others are just as disturbing. According to what I've read, Potter secured kittens from farmers who euthanizing them to control the populations as they often do. All of the animals, in fact, sourced from the public for his dioramas. 

Somewhere there is a kinship between Potter and Cornell, and perhaps that is another project altogether, but I think I might focus my writing project on this particular one, since it's roots are mired in the child's nursery rhyme and so that is linguistically a launch point. I weirdly know quite a bit about Victorian death customs from other projects and research, so that information will no doubt come in handy. We shall see how it goes...

Monday, March 29, 2021

on the cusp of april



Today, I am wearing my Stevie Nicks T-shirt and a long black tiered skirt in homage, and am feeling very much my uniformed late 90's/early 2000's self.  The pigeons are back out in the nest on the ledge they barely fit in after scoping it out last week then dissappearing for a few days. They are rather comic in their "if I fits, I sits" attitude in a nest meant for much smaller birds. My mood over the weekend was buoyed by landing a vaccine appointment for midweek, which means by early May, I will be fully vaccinated, which made my inner world a little calmer. The outer world however goes on much as it ever has, and I've yet to check the news today to chart the concerning rise of positives.  

My immediate world this week will be filled with collecting art drop-offs for urban legends and building the virtual exhibit.  Soon it will be April, and once again, the decision on whether or not to jump in the pool of NAPOWRIMO. I actually do have a potential project in mind devoted to the Walter Potter dioramas, and themed projects due seem to fare better in the pressure cooker of poetry month shenanigans.  Such subject matter would suit well my AUTOMAGIC manuscript, which is about 3/4 of the way done, and which I'd like to finish by the end of the year now that I am wrapping up some other longer manuscripts which I intend to either publish or submit (I will likely be self-issuing DARK COUNTRY and ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER, possibly this year, but COLLAPSOLOGIES fate is still uncertain.) In the meantime, there are zines I am working on and trying to get out there on the regular (conspiracy theories, the text of which is brand new and totally unpublished with the images I am working on for exhibit will be coming in April, followed by extinction event in May.)   As for submissions, I am working on placing more of the plague letters, so hopefully watch for some of those in publications soon.)

I've been working to finish off the conspiracy theory poems before the end of the month and finally have them to my liking. They are awash in this sort of personal folklore informed by urban legend vibe, so they fit nicely with the new collage work that will be part of the exhibit. It's taken three months to get only 12 pieces to my liking with a lot of breaks (February was a huge one.) but I am pretty happy with them. I read a few at the Pretty Owl reading alongside the tabloid poems, but otherwise they haven't seen much daylight yet.  

April is also my birthday month, and turning another year older feels strange and unfair after a year that doesn't really feel like it was a year at all. Though I suppose in many ways I am incredibly lucky to have survived it (knock on wood) when so many others have not. I am also navigating the strange world of "late forties" when I still feel like I am 26 and that very little time has passed in 20 odd years. I was watching thrifting blogs over the weekend and nearly choked everytime they speculated anything from the 90's was vintage. I have a couple things in my closet, maybe not that old, but certainly from the first couple years I was living back in the city that are nearing up on vintage. There is this weird time stretch as you get older where the early decades of your life seem not all that long ago, but you get whiplash when you think about how anything over 20 years seems like the 70's but it's actually the 90's, and now, the aughts.  I've lived in my apartment and been at the same job for 20 years, so this makes it even stranger with no different eras to really break it up. High school seems like a while ago, and so does college and grad school at DePaul, but everything else is just  NOW (early NOW or lately NOW, but still NOW)  

I caught the first reunion Real World episode on youtube and had a strange curisoity to what happened to these particular people in the past 30 years, but still more strangely, thinking what happened to ME in the same span of time.  In 1992 when I saw bits of that 1st season in NC, I was a freshman studying marine bio.  Then I was back in the midwest doing theater and studying English.. Then I was in grad school studying mostly novels.  Then I worked in the elementary school.  Then I was here at Columbia.  These years varied a little, but were much the same. All along writing, sometimes more. sometimes less. My MFA  Years My first readings and recognition. My first chapbooks and books. Starting the journal and the press. The etsy shop years selling mostly vintage finds.and paper goods. The studio years growing the press. Job and responsibility shifts at the library, but still the same library, the same desk covered with stickers. In other aspects, there were many cats, friends, novels, dresses, cocktails, and men, but everything kind of runs together since I was the rather stationary point around which they revolved. I did not move, but the world moved around me, which sounds sort of egotistical, but it's the only way to describe the sensation. Many people routinely cast off and become new selves, in entirely new places, but I am, after all,  a Taurus, so it's less likely..lol..



Saturday, March 27, 2021

meanderings


I've written before about the last year's impact on my own creativity, but it's been something particularly on my mind of late.  A year ago, I was strangely frozen for a month or so after lockdown.  On one hand, it seemed like an excellent time to delve into projects and use supplies that always seem to be waiting for me to have more time in the melee. Here i was working from home, which required some effort to fill the hours I was getting paid to work (though I'd be lying if I said I pulled full 8 hour days--there were naps and household tasks littered in with the work stuff I was able to do more leisurely and with less service desk interruption off site).  I would fill 5 or 6 hours a day with random meetings,  hiring committee work, exhibit building, social media and resource blogging, virtual programming stuffs, articles and grant application writing, but less of the day was eaten by processing materials for ILL, which occupies chunk of every day onsite. I had time for the writing and thinking portions of my work for the library, as well as to attend webinars on programming and even present a couple times.   

Even with saving a couple hours in commute (my daily bus ride is 45 to an hour each way.) I felt I was wasting my possible artmaking or writing time--time I would have killed for just months earlier.  Also, the time balance I am always trying to achieve with the press, not only for filling orders, but layouts and cover designs and a million little artsy projects for the shop I have a list of somewhere. None of these served me well in that first month of quarantine.  I was able to finish off a couple lingering larger book orders, and make a dent in the regular orders I was already behind since the studio move.  But I definitely wasn't thriving. I spent a good portion of March, April, and May at home depression napping and wondering if I had made all the wrong choices in life.  I was feeling unstable in all sorts of ways--health, finances, creatively. I tried to do NAPOWRIMO at the beginning of April and failed even earlier than I have historically--everything I was writing seemed useless and not spectacular. What was the point when the world was a mess?  

I was blogging quite regularly here in those weeks, mostly to document the days and keep the hinges oiled, and eventually the words came back. By the time I went back to work downtown at the end of June, I was going full throttle on the collapsologies manuscript,, which I wound up finishing by the end of the year, so not all of 2020 was lost. Granted, this happens when you are able to chip away piece by piece without getting overwhelmed by the whole of it, but it worked, Visually, however, I was kind of blocked.  I would make small efforts, but my concentration wasn't there.  Unlike writing in which my process is usually to chisel bit by bit, day by day, I tend to create things over several days of more concentrated effort. Even the things I designed for others, while done, weren't things I was loving in the way I love some of my work.  Done was better than perfect, but it made me feel broken. 

The videos at first were a distraction and a simple need to create promos for SEX & VIOLENCE in a time when your options for selling books were limited to the internet.  I did find I really enjoyed them and wanted to continue making more. I'd like to think I was channeling my energies in just a different medium, but visual art felt like something I was hiding from.  Or pushing off until my emotional ground was more steady.  In my crying jag of last week, pondering a bump in infections that could be the beginnings of a third wave, it all felt endless, my mental state, when a few weeks earlier it seems like we were closer to being back to normal.  Or more importantly, that I felt like I was on the way back to normal--not even in logistical things like gatherings and outings, but feeling like the world was a safe space to create in.  To make art, to write, to read books and be immersed in things like I was before. 

Later this week, I realized that maybe it will never be a safe space again and I have to just to get over it--that feeling of brokenness. Spurred by a deadline for the Urban Legends exhibit that I need to start hanging this week, I just needed to get on with it and make something. I have a couple more in the hopper and will share when they're done, but you can get a sneak peek above and on my Flickr the direction I'm going (these will also be the companion pieces for my conspiracy theories poem series, which I am almost finished with). It felt good.  It felt like normal. Or at least my normal was a little closer.  I don't know if it will stick, but today I am feeling good about things.  Those were just digital meanderings, but today I'll be drinking tea, opening all the windows in the dining room/studio, and airing out my dusty supplies for possible non-digital things and we'll see how things go...




Friday, March 26, 2021

cover love | found materials

 



Many dancing girl covers have their impetus in found materials, ephemera, & public domain materials, and they make some of our most striking cover images. Postcards, natural history illustrations, vintage photos and more...  Enjoy! 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

swallow


I spent some time earlier this week compiling all the SWALLOW videos into one place to make a sort of video chapbook of sorts where you can see them all in range of the others. Enjoy!

notes & things | 3/25/2021

 While I have been in better sorts for the past couple of weeks, Tuesday there was a dip that found me crying for no real reason in the middle of the day in the middle of the library.   My mood usually improves as the weather does, but an upward spike in covid in the city had me frustrated with the stupidity of humans and just not ready to ride a third wave out, especially when vaccines seem, even once they open to me next week, something not all that easy to get an appointment for (especially if you do not have limitless time to spend on the internet and transportation to far away places to get them). I was mostly crying not necessarily because I fear getting sick (every day, unavoidably out in the world)  but I'm not sure how much longer I can go in this state of paralysis where I can't read, can't really create, have no concentration and mostly am phoning it in and pretending to be a human. Facing another summer of it had me in tears when it feels like it could be so very close.  At least until I made the mistake of reading the news.  

In better spots of my days, I am busily humming away on new dgp releases, though it's hard to not be intensely scattered.  Things that used to be easy breezy take forever. There will be a slew of catch up 2020 titles coming to the shop soon, so watch for those. While it makes for a crazy time right now as we launch into 2021 releases as well, taking a bit of a time allowed me the opportunity to catch up on a horrendous backlog of orders from late 2019 into lockdown (a time when I was uprooting the whole operation and releasing way too many books in too short of a time). I think the wise words about knowing not when to quit, but when to rest were very important as I thought about upcoming plans for the press, which I considered scaling back significantly in my burnout.  This was combined with a slowdown in income for the whole operation.  Obv. not releasing titles makes things expectedly slower, but also just people not spending as much $$$ in general, and authors not regularly ordering author copies for readings (becuase, you know,  there are no readings *covid sigh*) It's a huge blessing that I was already free of studio rent becuase we would have certainly have been evicted. On the other hand the slowdown allowed me to catch my breath a little, so it worked out for the best. Now it's just a matter of moving onward. 

In the library, things are beginning to happen for our Urban Legends focus topic, which last night entailed a campfire zoom story hour. We were able to choose from a great selection of artists  for the exhibit that debuts in a couple of weeks.  I've also been being kinder and a little more flexible in my own workload and schedules when previous years were more rigid. We got such a great swathe of art--video, painting, soft sculptures, stained glass, it should be an awesome show. 




Monday, March 22, 2021

ghost pretending to be a poem




A short discussion on the merits of prose poetry appeared in my facebook feed last week, which I promptly misread as the above title and thought yes, perhaps that is right.  In another conversation with the library's artist-in-residence, who had invited me to contribute to a zine she's constructing, she asked whether she should label my contribution as "poetry" or "prose" and I had no really good answer.  (They were some of the plague letters fragments, which are more epistolary in nature, but probably still very much poems, though as a fiction writer, she was unsure.) A couple years ago, I applied to the NEA fellowship in the prose category, sending them the exquisite damage pieces, which are lyric prose.  I had enough prose-labeled publications in journals and the book publication of the shared properties of water and stars backing me up, but it still felt like I was a fraud, though I'm not sure everything I write is poetry.  (My application last year, filled with ordinary planet verse pieces, was similarly unsuccessful.) I describe my books in my bio and on my website as poetry/prose/hybrid collections, but would guess each of them falls more along one line or another.  the fever almanac is the only book that is verse all the way through, while everything else varies after, if not dips into prose poems almost entirely. sex & violence, for example, with the only variation being the list poems in /slash/ . Then now, feed, which I'd describe as prose poems and lyric essay. The next book, dark country, is entirely prose essay and poems. 

In bios, I tend to describe myself as a writer and book artist, which encompasses more generally the writing I do (poems, blogs, essays) and the art  (zines, collage, installation, painting). But always think of myself more simply as a poet in the world, whatever form, written or visual that manifests as. Sometimes, even the images are poems,  Years ago, when I compiled and wrote our submission for a very big academic library contest which we won, people joked that it would, of course, take a poet to catch the eye of judges in a sea of submissions. And in many ways, that application was a poem of sorts. Other submissions and library writings, also occasionally poems. In the last weeks of her life, in the care home, my mother, in better sorts, bragged to the nurse "She's a poet!" when I was visiting and it always seemed a weird thing to tell people.  Sometimes, outside of the context of other writers, it's also a weird thing to say.

"Poet" has a lot of baggage, I suppose.  At my cousin's wedding in my twenties,  at the point where I was beginning my MFA studies, one of the other members of the wedding party, grooms side,who I had knew in high school, responded to that description by asking if I was  "like really depressed or something.".  I wanted to respond, "actually no, anxiety-addled, yes, but not usually depressed." Poets, in history, for the normies are usually either the traipsing around ala Lord Byron or crying, head in the oven, ala Sylvia Plath.  That's if they even know those as reference points.  I'd probably make a greater comparison to Poe and joke about human hearts beneath my floorboards and a fascination with dead women.  

There was a time when I avoided "poet" as a descriptor, since it seems like such a strange thing to be in the ordinary world. Like a unicorn or a mermaid. Possibly fictitious and rarely spotted in the world. Sometimes I  prefer to say I "write poetry" rather than "I'm a poet. "  When I say I'm a writer, folks usually expect, when pressed further, that I will say novels or essays or news articles. And no, I say poems, about the time their eyes sort of glaze over. "Written anything I've read?" and me,   "Well, how much poetry do you read?" Because sometimes, even poetry (outside of greeting card verse and maybe, this year, inaugural poems) is not a cultural reference point for the general public.  Three times in the past couple years, I've stumbled upon normies (which I call non-poets) reading Rupi Kaur and want to recommend they read something better if they are going to read poetry at all.  I'm not sure the Kaur audience would look at my work, or the work of many poets who write in prose, and understand that they are poems at all.  And maybe they're not.  

And maybe all of them are ghosts that take the forms of words. I loved the equation of hauntings with memories and emotions they talk about in The Haunting of Hill House. So maybe every poem and painting is just a ghost taking on form, as much as humans supposedly are ghosts contained in flesh and bone. Every story inhabiting it's form, whatever it is, like a spirit rattling cupboard doors and flickering the lights from time to time.   


Thursday, March 18, 2021

mother tongues




The bulk of feed was written in 2018, shortly after the death of my mother.  The central portion, the hunger palace, existed before that, although the focus was more on the young girl body and disordered eating than it was the circumstances of the last year of my mother's life, but somehow, these two threads became one--the parts particularly about childhood and the foregrounding in her death.  What had been a lyric essay project about my own historical body image issues &  how they echoed my mother's became extremely poignant in those last months of her life.  The fragments in the series were eventually integrated into a single piece that appeared in 2019 in The Journal, and now, in  this book. Other similarly themed projects followed that same year. The Hansel and Gretal inspired plump.  The changeling focused the summer house. swallow, which is another dip into adolescent body image. The final segment,  the science of impossible objects, was another series that previously existed and some pieces already existed in draft form, but it took on a different lens in 2018.

What to do with all these mother and daughter, food and body related pieces, but make them into a full-length book. I began pulling it all together in 2019.  Looking at it now especially, there are so many echoes of each segment in those that surround it.  The apocalyptically shorn Barbie of the first section is echoed in  the "Barbie cake...so big, it swallowed us all."  The bee changeling of the summer house is revived in plump as the witch (this was unintentional, but worked out nicely.) The animals that take over the house in the hunger palace are the same animals that gather to watch the slaughter in plump.  May perhaps be the same animals lifted from the museum in the science of imaginary objects. Or the "the outside animals that long to be inside animals" of the summer house. There is also violation of the body.  The gauntlet of boys hands and predator/prey in swallow.  My mother's creepy cousins in the hunger palace. The trapper's son in plump, "his fit around my throat."

It's particularly interesting to write a book about mother, about being a daughter, about (I guess metaphorically) being a mother, when mothering is, in this sense, an act of creation, of art making. So much of this entire book felt like a purging of sorts, which is also in many ways, it feels important to get it out in the world.  

You can pick up a copy here .



Monday, March 15, 2021

notes & things | 3/15/2021



It's been an angsty week, tinged by vaccine worries, eagle eyed watching of the infection rates waiting for any jump, and conflicted personal feelings. It all shook out in the end, I suppose, (well not the vaccine stuff) but it's been a weekend of delightful stimulus funds in the bank account and lemon poppyseed bread. I am setting most of it away to go toward April's rent to avoid breaking myself every first half of the month, but I did get a new leather tote, some secondhand/like new shoes, and some fancy hand soap.  Despite a snowy, terrible February, spring does appear to be going to be a thing. I was a little teary-eyed over the tiniest fingers of tulips pushing out of the ground where the sod had been cleared away along downtown streets.  The ice has finally dissappeared on the ponds & harbors and I went nearly a whole week without having to wear pesky tights (though Friday was chillier and pushing it.)  Normally this would be a weekend of drunken hoards in downtown bars, but hopefully it doesn't cause a spike.  They did stealthily dye the river green yesterday.  Even the lakefront is more open than it has been in nearly a year. 

I've been doing some cleaning and plotting where to send the plague letters poems.  Yesterday there werr new chapbooks to assemble and proofs to look over.  I am still staring at the loveliness of FEED, and felt an enormous sense of joy placing a copy on the shelf with it's siblings. However they've come into the world, I still marvel at how I managed to have this many poems and books in me (and really, it's only the beginning.)  There are still finished books I need to either submit or publish (animal, vegetable monster ,and collapsologies), mostly finished manuscripts (dark country), half finished manuscripts (automagic), and probably another couple that are bare seedlings or just little kernels turning in my brain.  

This week's task is putting the final touches on the very last video for swallow and submitting what I am getting ready to go out today. A whole bunch of new cover designs. Choosing the art for the Urban Legends exhibit at the Library and some other programming bits for that. Plus the usual slogging through ILL and hoping we'll be able to hire someone eventually  (though after 3 years, it seems like finding a unicorn, we were so very close last spring, but covid dropped a hiring freeze in place.)  

Today, it occurred to me as I got dressed that a year ago, I was very much mentally in a different place, but also still very much the same. I am glad to be out in the world this spring, and despite a snowy squall mid-day today, the world is not long for winter neverthless. 



Saturday, March 13, 2021

apocalypse ravioli: one year later

 A year ago, as the world was shutting down, slowly and yet all at once, I found myself in a house with virtually no groceries.  Part of it is that I usually shopped for a two week period, and then only for what I needed.  Breakfast stuffs, salad, pasta & sauce, maybe some chicken for soup or the ingredients for pizza, Most of my eating took place at work where I usually have takeout, vending machine fare or microwaveable meals. Nearing on a paycheck, I panicked that I'd get sick or the world would end, and I had nothing to hole up with for an indeterminate period of time, so I took the money I had in my business account and placed an Amazon pantry order for some things, but the problem was that everyone had the same intention, so virtually nothing I was looking for was in stock. So I made some odd choices--gluten free macaroni, a giant can of tuna I will probably never use, low sodium soup, chef boyardee ravioli .  I then picked up some other things like bread and eggs at the little convenience store near my apartment late at night, which was mostly empty and  still very well stocked.  On the news, people were rushing the grocery stores with an air of panic, shoveling canned goods and paper products into full carts. It all seems a little silly and dramatic now. 

The last morning I worked downtown, I stopped to get coffee and I spotted two men carrying several giant multi-roll packs of toilet paper down Michigan Ave. That day, we had a socially distanced staff meeting and made plans to close the library indefinitely, but I worked til 8pm that night, while we encouraged our student workers to go stock up at CVS and Walgreens because the grocery stores were long-lined, short stocked,  and full of people.  A friend bought bags of rice and beans and seemed shocked when I told her I was ordering snacks and frozen dinners because what if it was the end of the world and the power grid failed?   She later said she really didn't know what to do with the dry beans, was sick of rice, and really wished she had snacks. 

That order took four weeks to be fully filled, by which time I'd been paid and able to place a regular  grocery order (I had just a month before switched from Peapod to Amazon Fresh. )  There were still weird shortages and people hoarding strange goods. For a month or two, you had to grab delivery spots in the middle of the night.  I toggled between Fresh and Whole Foods, where I had developed a love of their bakery bagels. It was months though, before ordering groceries got back to normal. A couple weeks ago, I was putting things away and spotted that can of ravioli in the cupboard and wondered if I should just go ahead and eat it.  If the worst of covid has passed, and barring any other disasters, it's easy to think I could. But I'm not so sure.  

I think about the things I've learned and done this past year. I finessed my cooking skills once I was working from home and got a little bit more culinarily adventurous. I got really good at building online exhibits and programming. I watched every apocalyptic disaster movie on streaming, all of The Office, and the entirety of the Friday the 13th sequels.  I went back to working onsite in July, but I still managed to finish a manuscript of poems. To go to Rockford a couple times to see my dad & sister before rates went up in the fall, then again at Christmas after a short quarantine. I've done readings, hosted meetings, and ran trivia nights on zoom. I released a new book into the world last summer and another one this week.  Sometimes doubly masked, I've white knuckled it on bus rides to and fro for months. While my co-workers and I share distanced spaces and chat, I haven't socially seen anyone but my boyfriend in months. 

What didn't I do?  Read books for pleasure for one (lack of concentration).  Or really, outside of a couple more practical paintings and couple postcards, make art.  While I filled orders for books, I lacked concentration for layouts or cover designs. Just reading manuscripts last fall was unbearably hard, as was answering the simplest emails. I didn't eat takeout for months because I wan't sure it was safe.I didn't go to movies or thrift stores or the places I enjoy greatly. At first, I didn't spend money because I thought for sure, the academic world would collapse and me with it.  When the first stimulus came through, I bought sheets and new bedding since that was there I spent most of my time.   

The worst of it has not been locking down, which I actually do pretty well. I like my apartment and hanging out with my cats and wish I could do it more, but moreso, also know that it makes me a little crazy and afraid of the outside world. While on one hand, going back out into the world had me scared of my commute, staying at home had me scared of everything and with too much time to doomscroll and predict the next disaster. I liked waking up later, taking my time in the shower,  and making liesurely breakfast.  I did not like doing so with my phone clutched in my hand waiting for the apocalypse. Sometimes, even now, waiting for vaccinations, I feel like we're in the last few minutes of the movie and the monster seems dead, but the door is still very far away and we might not make it. I try to limit my scrolling and access to news at least til later in the day.  This helps a little. 

Since I had to go back to work and so much of the world, especially now, seems to be going back to normal, at least, thankfully,  in reduced capacities and masked, I keep encountering those who have been  basically fully locked down for a year and it surprises me, though it shouldn't, as a good number of library staff who don't touch the actual collection have been home since last March.    I had shorter weeks during scary spikes, but ultimately, we're still short staffed and I need a full week onsite to not be super stressed the days I'm there. For me, it seems less like stasis since last summer and more like a series of obstacles I've been trying to get through alive.

 


Friday, March 12, 2021

the self-publishing diaries: feed



My latest full-length book, FEED, is now available in the shop! 



Way back in the beginning of time or at least the beginning of this blog (2005 or so) I was trying to get my first book published.  Actually, it could probably have been considered my second book if you count the monstrosity I put together on the eve of my 25th birthday and submitted to exactly one very large book contest I never had a chance of winning (hello Yale Younger Poets, I'm not so young anymore.). That book exists nowhere but on lost hard discs from the word processor I used all through grad school (thank god.)  but a better, second manuscript took shape in 2003-2004.  I submitted it to a few contests and actually, in it's various incarnations, it did reasonably well with a couple of semi-finalist & finalist nods. It was also a weird time, when many poets, mostly in the blog world were also similarly trying to get their books accepted.  Many did.  most did eventually.  I called it my  "book baby fever," what struck many of us at the same point in our careers and around the same ages, many of us already publishing quite a bit in journals and doing the things poets were supposed to do.  But it was rough.  Foetry was all the rage, and it seemed like competition was not only the thing we had to fear, but also rampant shenanigans. It seemed like there were so many poets vying for so few slots even then (today, times that by 50). The poetry book contest system sort of like an immense lottery, and even the best manuscripts sometimes lose the draw.  

I occasionally had my moments of doubt. What if that first book never got picked up?  What if I wasn't cut out for this?  What if I just sucked immensely? It made people crazy.  It also made people mean (sometimes even me).  How we were all  rushing for the same few scattered crumbs.  The wise amongst us looked for new ways to combat the bottleneck.  Publishing cooperatives.  Starting their own presses.  Self-publishing their own work. I wound up getting lucky when Ghost Road took the fever almanac under their wing, even though the press itself was short-lived and the book long out of print. Other, later books and publishers happened later sort of serendipitously through querying publishers I thought might be interested and solicitations. (Dusie, Sundress, Noctuary).  When Ghost Road shuttered and my 3rd book manuscript, girl show,  landed back in my lap, I sent it to Black Lawrence, who had caught my eye in terms of their author list (so many past dgp-ers) and design acumen. A year or so later they accepted it It reinforced my faith that good things were possible outside that contest system. But then again, it was quite a bit of luck.

Which is not to say self-publishing wasn't on my mind quite a lot. Especially at first when I wondered if I'd ever be able to see my name on the shiny spine of a paperback.  Smaller projects, I had done and done well and often . My trial run for dancing girl was actually my own little chap, Bloody Mary.  While the more academically oriented writers I knew poo-pooed self publishing, the other worlds I was steeped zines/DIY and predominantly open mic poets actually embraced it. I once sat in a publishing panel trying to argue for it against two very academic white male poets and got so frustrated I was nearly in tears. But even still, while I  loved watching poets around me seize the means of distribution and get their work out there (some very successfully at that), I was hesitant to do it for my own full lengths.  On one hand, I had a great publisher and had worked with so many others. They did the heavy lifting of design, promotion,  and distribution--all things I was well-schooled in for chapbooks, but are a little heftier with longer projects. 

Fast forward to the last 3-4 years, I've been writing a lot. At a pace I hadn't really been working at before.  Not all of it is good of course.  Some of it is quite bad.  Some feels very urgent to be out in the world. Other work, not so much. But slowly sometimes, smaller series begin to constellate into larger manuscripts. Suddenly, a book starts to come together and I let it happen. feed in particular feels important in light of my own history and obsessions, but there are others coming down the pipeline.  While I gave my current publisher (Black Lawrence)  first dibs, they, of course, aren't able to take everything that comes their way by current authors and still keep open opportunities for new voices. So that left me, after sending a couple books their way that didn't catch their fancy, with a few different options.  I could try finding other, different or new presses that might be interested, but reading fees are a beast with so little return. .  I could brave the contest system again, though options are even smaller for mid-career authors than for beginning ones, especially a few books in. Then there was self-publishing.

It sometimes gets a dirty rap. Words like "legitimacy" get thrown around a lot. I used to get mad about it, but now I just mind my business. There is of course the danger of publishing something that sucks or that you're embarrassed by, but this happens sometimes with traditional publishing, so I'm not sure it matters.  There is also a myth that no one will take you seriously, that the "literary world" frowns on it.  I actually eventually learned that if there kind of is no such thing as a "literary world" as much as there is a multiverse of small worlds and overlapping groups of poets & publishers. The worst thing that can probably happen is no one reads your book, which is depressing, but not the end of your career in writing, Even successful poetry books pale in comparison to other genres in sales figures. Even at their best, in poetry the stakes are pretty low. 

So much of the promotion of one's work falls to the author anyway, even with fancy well-staffed and heeled publishers.  I;m not sure it makes a difference, outside of doing some of that heavier lifting (design, promo, distribution). The people who will hopefully buy my book are the hopefully people who are interested in it regardless of whether it comes via another press or my own. I guess, this far along, I've run out of things to prove and really just want to share my work and find an audience.  You do this of course with traditional publishers, but if your'e willing to do some extra legwork, you can do it on your own.   I promise.



Tuesday, March 09, 2021

taurus

 



A few years ago, I wrote a modern little retelling of the minotaur myth that was published in installments at Chanillo. Check out the whole project, including images in this e-zine edition. 


read it here...

Saturday, March 06, 2021

chicago love letter



This morning. over coffee, I was reading this essay, a sort of love letter to the author's little corner of New York that has no name, that has changed much over time and due to the pandemic.  In truth, as she described it, I suspected all of New York to be this way--but surely I am wrong, having never been there, and each neighbohood having its own flavor, maybe even moreso than different pockets of my own city. It occurred to me recently that i have now pretty much officially lived inside this city as long as I did not--my life, (barring that year or so in Rockford working at the elementary school) split cleanly down the middle, the dividing line my choice to attend grad school at DePaul and my subsequent move to Lincoln Park when I was 23.  

I had grown up in a handful of places.  First ,the trailer in a trailer park outside Rockford that boasted wood paneling and green shag carpet throughout.  Then the little house in Loves Park, with its slanted upstairs room I was just brave enough to sleep in a year or so before we moved. At 10, too the house my dad still lives in now, a budget ranch new construction built on land that belonged to grandmother who had recently died.  A street of houses surrounded otherwise by river and woods and cornfields out past the fringes of "town, " We were about a five minute drive from the nearest bit of civilization, a Stop N Go. but I grew up with a neighbor's horses outside my bedroom window and over a low, wooden fence they often jumped.  To get to the school bus stop at the end of the street you had to travel the winding blacktop that led to "the glen" a woodsier area closer to the river, which was more amply crowded with abodes--some houses, some trailers, some lean-to shacks-- inhabited by people who had been there since before my grandparents had settled on higher ground up the road.  That property was a trio of houses, first my grandmother's low slung red house (eventually replaced with a cousin's sleek  tri-level in the 90's)  My aunt's cabin-like ranch up and behind near where the bypass cut through. On the other side of the fence, another family that had spread over a few homes on a perpendicular street. (and the owners of the horses.)  My parents alluded to similar groupings of families up the road that stayed strangely tied to the land they grew up on. 

I've spoken before of my feelings of inevibility when it came to the city. I was 15 or so when we came into Chicago on a filed trip visit--first to the Oriental Institute in Hyde Park, then the Field Museum.  I'd be lying if I said the lake wasn't a huge part of it, but also the brick lined streets of HP, the sleek buildings of downtown higher than anything I'd seen.  The bustle, the traffic, how everyone seemed to be going everywhere and things seems to be happening.  Not in the sleepy, shut windowed, overly parking-lotted suburban way.  But something different. How it always seemed to be moving, even when you were still in the middle of it. I also like the oldness of it, the architecture.  The feeling of history, the culture everywhere--the museums, the theaters, the galleries,  This was the life I wanted and it flashed before my teenage eyes and set something in motion.  I had detours, of course, imagining I'd be happier on the Atlantic when I still wanted to be a marine scientist. The few months I spent in Wilmington on the coast, which was nice, but felt too far away from the people I wanted to be around.  I was also a terrible scientist but a good writer.  Thus, the midwest pulled me back. 

Chicago is one of those places that is always changing as much as it stays the same.  Certain parts are immutable.--the cliff of buildings that lines Grant Park.  The things within them change, but the structures are the same. The tree-lined streets of brick townhouses and grey stones in many of the residential neighborhood. Those couple of years in Lincoln Park were cramped and expensive, but I loved walking around in the darkness and watching the inhabitants through wide open windows live rather moneyed lives with floor to ceiling bookcases and Pottery Barn furniture.   When I came back after a year away, I chose Edgewater and it's cheaper rents.  Here, things change more..less historic codes and more building replacement.  My (slightly above) mid-rise deco building looming high above later-constructed classic Chicago 4-in-1s, interspersed with a few remaining nearly lakefront mansions and brick 3 or 6 flats.  .  Granville, the cross street, has changed a lot with new construction near the el tracks.  Many businesses came and went as they all seem to do on el stop streets-- thai restaurants, pizza parlors. But some things remain from early in the 2000's--neighborhood dry cleaners, Metropolis Coffee, convenience stores. .  But the hi-rise lined Sheridan where I catch the bus is still exactly the same, mostly populated with people who've lived there for decades with amazing views over the lake, and this far north, without LSD getting in the way..   Loyola has has also gobbled up much in the area around and on my block.  Before the pandemic it seemed they were so prosperous they might swallow everything. iIn the fall, when the dorms were closed due to covid, their windows sat dark and empty and the street was largely deserted much of the time at night. 

When I went pack to work after the lockdown last summer, I didn't know what to expect of downtown.  I had seen the photos of deserted streets.  Of coyotes in the middle of the Mag Mile. Of protest-adjacent looting and vandalism at the beginning of June.  But really, it was much the same as I'd left it--a bit more shutetred and boarded up, but mostly the same.  Despite many people working from home, it still moved the same way--people commuting to jobs they had to be on-site for, tourists who seemed to care little less about the virus and were staying in the hotels that still remained open. There were many that were not, having shuttered to ride it out until things got back to "normal" whatever that was. The stores and restaurants remained open with limitations. Moving around at rush hour was a little less dense than before on public transport, but the city was still here, still alive. That first day, I nearly got off the bus and wanted throw myself down to kiss the sidewalk (a bad idea anytime, but more so obviously now.) The lake was giant and swollen and still blue even if the beaches remained closed. 

The biggest changes I noticed later, after the semester started and I was working later hours.  At night, what had once been a bustling South Loop all the time was now a ghost town.  In fact, even in the daytime it was a ghost town, especially once it got colder.  The campus that once sported students lounging outside buildings smoking (less than two decades ago, but still some) was empty, with most off-campus entirely. But at night, I could walk the block and a half to the bus stop and encounter no one but the police who spent a good part of the last year parked waiting for what? Looters? Trouble?  Random crime?  In other times, the streets would be only slightly less crowded than the daytime. There were no drunk Soldier Field goers making their back to their hotels.  Tourists walking to the lake and Buckingham Fountain.  When indoor dining was limited esp,  no restaurant staff making their way home after closing.  No symphony or theater goers, mostly seniors, streaming onto the bus as it traveled up State. At 10 pm the bus crowd was made of these and other second shifters like me  just getting off work (retailers, housekeeping staff). Students heading to he north side after night classes at various institutions. Folks on downtown restaurant outings heading home. Most nights even now, there are just a few of the same faces, all masked,  on that second to last bus of the evening, but I imagine this will change as we open up more. 

I was a little teary wondering one night this week, staring at darkened windows,  what will be left.  How many places won't come back.  Much of the Mag Mile, which already had empty storefronts pre-pandemic, is even emptier now. Even seemingly successful retailers like Macys, Express, and the Gap are pulling up stakes there. Places have left and closed an relocated, but never so many at once.  It does seem most shops have taken down the wood over their windows after cautiously putting it up around the election turmoil.  A lot of restaurants just won't make it. Museums are slowly re-opening, but it will be a while before performing arts venues can. My boyfriend, who works for an acting school and used to run karaoke has been limping through with online & small classes in the former and nothing for a year in the latter (esp. sad since he greatly enjoys doing it.). Summer will return, and many things will re-open that shuttered in November with that second wave.  I only hope there isn't a third. 

But then again, Chicago is always changing and this maybe is just hastening those changes.  In about a week, they will pull up the winter grass beds where the tulips have been slumbering and are ready to wake. After a snowy February and cold snap,  ice on the lake and river have been melting and are probably completely gone by now. Though there's no parade, they will still dye the river green next week for St. Patrick's Day.  Soon, you'll be able to walk around without being uncomfortable and people will empty out into the streets. Last night, glancing into a couple restaurant windows along the way, I was surprised by how many people are far braver than me and were dining in.  It's still too soon, especially un-vaccinated at least for a few more weeks, but maybe by summer it will be an option. A friend visited the Field Museum and  The Art Institute in the fall and said they're so big, it's easy to avoid people, so maybe I'll do that very soon.  Outside of work and commuting and a couple visits to Rockford, one socially distanced dining-in  in September for my dad's birthday, and an outdoor bar outing in the burbs in early October, I haven't done much socially the past year,  I am okay with this, homebody that I am, but it's nice to have the option to eat in a restaurant or see a movie safely without worrying it may kill someone. 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

voice and the spaces between, part two

As an addendum to my previous post on reading poems aloud, tonight, I stumbled upon an old recording from a Chicago Poetry Center reading in 2004 and was thinking how strange it is to encounter your older self.  I feel this much with writing--poems and blog posts and old drafts of things, but much stranger audio-wise. I kept thinking how my voice sounds different, but maybe it's all in my head.  The girl (and I say girl, though she was already 30) who showed up in the swanky SAIC ballroom clutching her handmade copies of Blood Mary seems very far away.  I was there becuase I had somehow won their juried reading the previous spring. You could have knocked me over with a feather when not only did people want to buy copies, but they wanted, in one of my first writerly moments, to actually sign them. 

I was not entirely new to readings at that point, but it may have been one of the first times I read for a reasonably largish audience that was not part of an open-mic oriented event. My first reading ever was at the Evanston Public Library in 2002.  (My first try at the Juried Reading had garnered me 3rd Place, so all the finalists read in Evanston and the CPL's Poetry Fest. )  I was terrified, because outside of having read my work aloud in undergrad workshops, I was completely a novice. Other things, sure. Dramatic readings in theatre classes in high school and college, story hours at my first job in the elementary school library. But I had never read my own work for a real audience.  Taking the el train north, I nearly panicked and bailed, though I'd brought my sister for moral support. I still remember the anxiety of going somewhere new, which is my brain chemistry curse, was now combined with the anxiety of having to get up in front of people and read.  It was hard, but the second one was easier. A year or so later, I read in the Myopic Book's basement to two people (one of whom was the host.) In the months after, there were open mic events and poetry festivals, and while usually just a couple poems, they helped me be more confident.  I was also in a writing program, which after the vivisection of the workshop, I really grew to love reading to less prickly audiences who seemed to really like my poems instead of tearing them apart. By the time the reading at the Poetry Center happened, I was just getting comfortable and actually I sound pretty good..only a couple of stumbles, not too fast or poet-voicey. 

Also, what stands out is the poems themselves, which are mostly pieces that eventually went into what became the fever almanac, which I was in the process of compiling during those years of 1st book fever. A year or so later, Ghost Road would accept the manuscript.  A year after that, they would publish it. The poems vary slightly from what was included in the book..bits swapped and cut out.  I think there is a title on one of the poems that actually was swapped to another poem. If I remember correctly, most were pretty freshly written that summer and fall. 

It's strange to confront that 30 year old version of me, who in many ways was just starting out.  I'd been writing poetry since I was a teenager, but this was the point where the efforts toward a career in it began to bear fruit. While I'd gotten my first publication five years earlier, I'd spent the intervening time beginning to publish regularly in web journals, putting together those first chapbooks, and applying to the MFA. 2004 and the Poetry Center prize was the first big sort of recognition, the first big "yes" that felt like I wasn't just deluding myself that I was a decent writer. It seemed tenuous in those days--the demands of real life and day jobs and my first forays outside academia. Many times I nearly abandoned it even as I clung to it. 

That 30 year old hadn't had her heart really, really,  broken yet.  Hadn't suffered the sort of losses that come with getting older. And it's stranger still to think of the value of those things to one's writing at the same time.   She hadn't been worn down to a stone, but still had some rough edges. She also hadn't become quite so dissilusioned with the poetry biz status quo and was quite a bit more the optimist than the realist she finds herself now. At the same time, in some ways, it might have well happened last week. Last month. Last year.  I don't know if pandemic time is especially disorienting, but maybe it's always like this. 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

mini interview

 

 

I'm taking part in an installment mini-interview over at Poetry Mini Interviews, read it here...

feed update


Last night, I approved and finalized the very last set of proofs for FEED--a feat that had been hanging over me for weeks during which I just never managed to quite get them done.  My days would start out with intention, but my nights, when I normally work on editing stuff, were clogged up with other work.  At long last, every t is crossed and every i dotted and all that's left to do is order a batch of copies. There were only some minor tweaks and corrections in the actual text, but most of it was margins and design stuff you get stuck with when going it without another press taking care of it. While I get to play and test print galleys for chapbooks, a perfect bound is a little more trial and error, and I'm surprised that first attempt came out so well--esp. the cover, which is glorious. I will definitely use the same printers when doing subsequent books for sure.  It did make me immensely grateful for chapbooks and their smallness, which is a much more tidy vehicle usually and over the years, I've been able to streamline the layout and proofing process. 

I should have copies in hand before March is over, and will be able to get them in the shop then,  Maybe they'll find readers, maybe no one will buy one at all, but its done and out there in the world, and perhaps will fall into the hands it needs to.  It feels like such a personal book, and maybe its the subject matter or my own headspace. As we head into a year anniverary in lockdown, it's hard to imagine that a year ago I was waiting for SEX & VIOLENCE to be released into the wilds and how much that book has found readers, so I hope this one does as well.  I'm finding that the self-publishing experience, while it seemed scary in the planning, has actually been a rather sane and orderly, especially since I could work with my own timelines, which seems important with pandemic brain.  It's valuable to have another press, another editor with a design team.  But there's also a lot to be learned doing these things yourself.  The book exists, now the hard work will be finding the readers.. 

But for now, you can check out the book trailer, as well as the swallow videos that offer a glimpse to what's in the longer book. Enjoy!