Wednesday, July 28, 2021

paper, ink, keyboard



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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, July 27, 2021

notes from the submission wilds


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

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

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

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


dark country mix-tape

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


Monday, July 26, 2021

dgp notes | july 2021


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

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

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

Sunday, July 25, 2021

writing and visual art collaborations




 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 24, 2021

notes & things 7//24/2021

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

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

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


Friday, July 23, 2021

film notes : relic and middle age fear cycles




There are many things I could write about in the context of this movie.  In fact, I hesitated to mention it, either on FB where I usually try to point people in the direction to awesome things. To my bestie or my boyfirend, both of whom love horror as much as I do. Instead, I wanted to sit with my opinion for a couple days--and while it's a great movie for all sorts of reasons, I'm not sure I would recommend to others who I know it would have a similar effect on. It made me sad and uncomfortable, and in a shakier mental state than I am now, it may have eviscerated me. 

The plot follows a woman and her daughter attempting to care for (and in the beginning, even find, her mother, who had not been seen in a few days and may have been behaving strangely. As the grandauhgter scooched her way through the doggy door to gain entry I was sure there was a gruesome discovery, but no, the gruesomeness and gloom stretches on.  She is missing.  She returns.  There is obviously something not quite right--supernatural or no. In the end, the whole film is a horror-laden metaphor for aging and dementia--and a very well-wrought one at that. It spares no expense in it's mystery and building gloom, it's moldering, expansive sets,  and finishes triumphantly. 

However, I would not recommend it, least of all to myself. Least of all the last few years. I've mentioned before my mother's state in the months before her death.  The delerium that was the result, not of age, but infection, but something she couldn't quite get out of the grip of. Or seemed to be getting away from, but declined in the end. She was not so old, and things like alzheimers do not run in either side of the family, so while other's might have thought that decline was age, Im guessing it was more  physiological, hough her nervousness and anxiety certainly did not help. It was a theory that was proven correct as she healed and got better through the autumn--at least at first after the surgery on her foot and a hospital stay nearly a month long. But regardless of neurological or physiological, there were so many scenes in the film that reminded me of my mother--her hallucinations.  The men she believed were entering the house every night and moving things around. When she moved to the rehab home and was still a little loopy, she kept talking about little girls playing in the room.  About butterflies and moths flittering near the ceilings.  Insects on the floor.  The weekend in August that landed her in the hospital she was at her worst, she kept pointing to the floor at imaginary bugs. Having imaginary phone conversations holding nothing to to her ear. The first sign, though we didn't recognize it, was waking from an afternoon nap and mistaking it for morning. That was early July the last time I was home and she was intact. .  By the next time I visited in late August, she could not guage reality from whatever was happening in her head. 

So much of this movie feels like that dark hand closing over my mouth and taking out all the air. It also picks and strums at other anxieties--about my dad dying alone in his house.  About my own impending older years and what will happen. .About the weight of aging parents as we reach middle age. About a generation of us facing these circumstances.  Luckily my mother got much better before she got worse. Was even fully herself in early October.  But she did--get worse, though it wasn't as much delerium later in the fall as it was a kind of depression that ultimately broke her already compromised heart.. The last time I visited her, two weeks before her death, she was newly returned home. Was planning to  be recovering slowly under my dad's care, but as the weekend progressed she seem inconsolable--not eating much and crying. When I left, I wasn't as sure as even the week before she's be getting any better. She did not. That very sunny day in early November, she gave up.

My favorite part of this film, and it's aboslute worst, is the unfolding rooms discoverd by the grandaughter.  She moves some stuff in a messy walk-in closet and discovers an entire house behind the other house. Moves about trapped and in between the walls. Only this house is crowded with things , moldy, and decrepit. The ceilings narrow fun-house style and the walls move.  Soon, the grandmother, changed into a monster, but also not a monster, chases both younger woman through the maze before they smash a hole into the wall and emerge above the fireplace into the house as we know it to fight off the grandmother/monster. All of course and apt metaphor for the older woman's experience of the house--the prim exterior and the winding interior. Moments of lucidity, then madness. An earlier scene where she fights to bury a photo album in the yard lest those memories by taken by whatever stalks her.  So much there, and so much I probably could not bear to watch again to fully appreciate. 

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

what dark swimming lies within



One day last week, I was in the middle of the day in the middle of the block in the middle of downtown and smelled not the lake, but the sea. It was just a moment, like a hole had ripped in reality or geography and the lake, which has its own scent when the wind is right off it of fish and water and grass, but this was thick and salty--also fishy, but different. I looked around to see if there was a stray mermaid, or perhaps someone with lotion or shampoo that smelled like the ocean,  but no one was anywhere near me and while I've been decking myself in coconut bath goods and maybe smell a bit like a pina colada at times, I don't carry the sea on me. 

Oceans smell different. Parts of the ocean smell different.  The Gulf of Mexico looks and smells different in Mississippi and around St Petersburg's crazy clear depths.   Having been granted a half tuition scholarship, I almost went to U. of Miami my freshman year, who had a busting marine bio program and the benefit of being anywhere but the midwest I was struggling to escape from. In the end, it still would have been unnafordable. When Hurricane Andrew took a bite outta that area a few months later I was glad I'd wound up in North Carolina. There, the Atlantic was different from the Atlantic I'd visited in other Florida spots as a kid.  Rougher and more dangerous even while it was beautiful.

In a few years, after I was back in the midwest, another hurricane would whip across Wrightsville Beach and on the Weather Channel,  I'd watch it wreck the pier we spent so many nights at--eating fries from the snack bar and playing video games. I was so young and optimistic and always in love with the wrong person. But my hair would get sea-salty just from proximity. I'd go to class still smelling like the ocean.  They would rebuild the pier--nicer and more sturdy for future storms. Over a decade ago, I took a birthday trip to Myrtle Beach and took so many photos of the water with my camera, and felt again, the way the Atlantic makes you feel like the sand is moving and not the water. I imagine what it would have been like to stay--whether or not I'd become the biologist I intended at 18.  I was a poor scientist  and the coast was so far away from my family. But also, I'm not sure I could constantly live under threat of the sea, every August, possibly rising up to swallow you.  So I remained landlocked. I've been to Missssiippi, to Gulfport a couple times where Karina did swallow most of the town.   Where my aunt huddled in her closet while the wind and water ripped the house apart around her.  Where they built a 13 foot high memorial filled with objects of the dead. When I was in New Orleans, every resident began most statements with "Before Katrina--" and a sort of sad shrug. On the other coast, I  only saw bits of Puget Sound when I visited Seattle. And saw them mostly from the train before sucked into the whirl of AWP. The Pacific Northwest just felt sort of damp and chilly and smelled mostly like pine and, downtown, like weed.  

I am also not sure I could live in California where the ground regularly moves under you. There is a solidity to the midwest, despite it's weather highs and lows.  This lake, which sometimes looks and acts like a sea, is still just a lake.  And while the past few years she seemed intent on creeping and swelling beyond her banks, and when the wind was bad, also seemed intent to consume more, levels have been more normal this year, though still a little high. The NYT wrote an article a couple weeks back about global warming and the rising and falling levels of Lake Michigan and what might bode badly for the city in cases of extremes. In 20 years, I've seen highs and lows, but the highs seemed alarmingly high in 2019 and 2020.

Still, she's always more beautiful when she's angry. Sometimes, on my ride home in the summer, I'm dissapointed when it's calm and mirror like, and love it much more when it's choppy. I've seen Atlantic size waves crashing on the beaches sometimes--different shades of blue depending on the light, or grey when it's especially churning and muddy. I've seen a capsized boat in a storm ass up in the water near Ohio St. Another, tipped on its side after hitting one of the concealed breakwaters a couple summers back. Though not an ocean, the lake swallows a couple swimmers, a couple boats every year. A friend who lived a block closer than I do used to talk about the crazy, spooky sounds the ice made in winter as it cracked up. There are hundreds of shipwrecks in Lake Michigan, including one just off shore on the south side you can swim to that ran aground and sunk.

I've always felt an orientation to be near water, to navigate my world by it. I jokingly call it my mermaid inclinations (thus my twitter handle.). The rivers that skirted both neighborhoods I grew up in (the somewhat treacherous and deep Rock and the shallow, muddy Kishwaukee.) The many, many lakes to the north I practically lived in as a kid all summer long.  I did not become a marine scientist, but I did become a poet who writes endlessly about mermaids and water.   It not surprising that, the coasts not working out, I wound up here.

* the title is a bit from the last poem, "predictions"  in the fever almanac (which though it's out of print, you can read it in pdf form here.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

anxiety brain and the great what if?



Sometimes, things seem a little unreal. I'm not sure how I can be contemplating my first week in over a year where i will technically not have to wear a mask in the library, but can also be scanning the headlines again anxiously as those numbers creep up.  Logical brain totally understands--vaccines, low Chicago numbers, , tight campus policies, yadda, yadda--my anxiety brain, which drives the vehicle most of the time, is like WTF?  I have felt safer in the workplace than anywhere since I am not that close to other people for very long and everyone was masked anyway. My dealings with the public, with things not so busy, were limited as well and most handled virtually.  The bus was what worried me, and while the capacity limits expired a while back, people are still required to be masked there, so that feels safer anyway.

Logical brain tells me that if I were to somehow become infected by some contagion flinging asshole, I'd be fine. I'm not keen on getting sick at all, particularly even if lighter cases can leave you with some problems afterward. Or just so much we don't know about spreading it when your vaxxed. Or just so much we don't know in general. Vaccines work, and there's solid proof of that, but also, anxiety brain whispers, what if you're like a unicorn whose immunity is out of whack somehow?  I had the moderna, and didn't really have many side effects outside of maybe a little tiredness that night and a sore arm for a couple days. Others had more. What if it wasn't enough?

Anxiety brain mostly should shut up, but watches while the world barely skips a beat.  In a week or so, scads of probably unvaccinated youngins will descend on downtown for Lollapalooza . My boyfriend, newly vaccinated, is back to hosting packed karaoke every Saturday night.  Restaurants, stores, and downtown streets are stuffed with tourists.  Things are fully and totally open, though I tend to be very nominally out in the world in general, so my life doesn't change much either way. When I was in Rockford in June, I both thrifted and dined sans mask, but then worried lowkey afterward I'd made a mistake.  Outside of that, besides work and commuting and stops for coffee, I think I only have been inside a store once lately--a Home Depot quick stop with a friend. I may see more extended family before the end of the summer, all vaccinated and probably outdoors mostly anyway. Not much changes if this is going to be another Oh-Shit! situation. 

But then everything changes. I spent a year not being able to read or make art.  Not being able to to layouts and cover designs and any sort of task that involved concentration or detail work. Around the time I got my second dose, I felt my body uncoiling like a spring that had been tight since last March. I had lived another alternate reality where I did weird covid math calculations when cases began to rise about ho many dead people that would mean in a few weeks.  Where I doomscroolled endlessly and didn't want to leave my bed some days.  I felt stress in my body always.  Add in political ridiculousness and an anxious election and 2020-early 2021 was not so much of a span of time, but a year plus long low key anxiety attack. About a month ago I was feeling pretty good it was all going to be over soon. The coil loosened and my lungs opened up again. Now I'm not so sure. 

In April, as cases crept up mid-month (though declined as vaccinations opened up), I sat at my desk and sobbed overdramatically-"I can't do this again!" It was not one of my finer moments. It sounded foolish, since obviously there is no choice. We have to to.  And I wasn't even talking about locking down or things that were a bad idea (actually I really appreciated the quiet), but just living anxious and hyperaware every second for impending doom. To have my brain hijacked for another year. To feel helpless, not even so much because of the actual disease, which just doing its things and living it's best disease-life, but the carelessness and selfishness of people that allow it to flourish, to spread, to mutate. Do we just get used to it? Does the death just become commonplace?  Do I have to go back to calculating risk so carefully--to worrying about other people if delta is able to get through vaccines and still be a problem. Will we be, as winter descends this November, in the same place we were last year?  I hope not, but it seems possible...

Monday, July 19, 2021

the self-publishing diaries | dark country




Monday was a full writing-devoted  day that started with a couple of new pieces, several blog entries for the week, and wrestling with adobe on my laptop to get the trailer for DARK COUNTRY under wraps, which took most of the afternoon. (it was initially more elaborate, but dealing with my laptop and my desk computer at work and their tendency to crash on me mid-editing, I decided to go simple and call it a day.) Friday I finished my formatting and margins and as soon as I upload the cover, a printed proof will be underway, which means I should have final copies if all goes well in early August.   Since all the sections were prose blocks, it was a little easier going than the design variations of FEED, and definitely more standard and less prone to error.  We shall see what she looks like--hopefully not crazy edits and a swift release. 

I do realize I no doubt have my work cut out for me getting copies into reader's hands, especially since this is just one of three I will be issuing this year (and people will be sick to death of the buy my book dance and just sick of my shit in general..lol..).  I could have waited and spaced them out a bit more, but it feels like there are new projects that are also beginning to queue up behind them--things that I will either submit to my publisher or self-publish when the time comes.   I feel like I should promote them, but the nice thing is that if they don't sell madly straight outta the gate (and who are we kidding, this is poetry) I am only affecting my own bottom line.  I am just ordering in small bunches, so the expense is minimal--just rolling what I made in the spring from FEED back into producing this book.  While obviously I can't move as many copies as a traditional publisher, I did alright with the last and hopefully will fare well with this one.  Truthfully, as long as they available and someone is reading them, that's enough for me. 

Since this video was pretty simple, I might do some more--similar to SEX & VIOLENCE where I had different sorts of videos to speak to each section of poems. Or at least a couple sections if not all of them. I have no idea if the trailers helped sales (that book did very well, even amid a pandemic release, or maybe because of that.) I also, if I can work some magic, may do some little shorts for instagram stories. Again, the stakes are low and there's room to experiment without a huge amount of pressure. But also, at the same time, you may lose people who just randomly happen upon your book in a publisher's catalog, the work of their publicity machine however big or small. All of which means there needs to be more hustle on your part even after the layout, editing, and design work is under wraps.  

While I plan to use B&N as my printer again, just distributing via dgp, and try to avoid Amazon, there is still a possibility that I could issue an e-book edition for Kindle. I am not an e-book sort of person, but know some folks are. I also know some self-publishing novelists have had success there--I have no idea if that translates to poetry, but it's worth investigating.  Mostly I am just feeling things out. 


dark country teaser trailer


Today, I finally managed to finish up this little teaser trailer for  DARK COUNTRY which is going to print as we speak. Copies should be available in early August, but here's a little VHS 80's laden slumber party fun for you...



putting it all out there


Sometimes, it feels like as writers, we are very much used to putting ourselves out in the world through our work. Sure, some poets are more autobiographical than others (this would shock the novelist who I once heard speak on a panel at AWP who insisted he assumed all poets were writing from a strict first person "I.") So much of my own work true and also sometimes not true at all. Or the tiny kernal of truth is there and the seed and flower grows around it maybe not entirely true. Or maybe true, but not what actually happened. Or maybe, as Bjork said, "you should not let the poets lie to you".

But even still writing is a way of knowing. Or reading a writer is a way of knowing. Some more, some less. There is much trickery and slight of hand in my work in the name of artmaking. This space is perhaps more authentic. More real. Some say social media is not real,but I've never been one to front in those spaces.  (the things I geek about and talk about and things I say are the same things I am geeking about and saying to the people around me IRL..sometimes verbatim.) My James Franco poems, for example, were culled much from this very blog. In them, I aid the same things I said on social media and to my friends at the library and to other poets-- so much so that my sister said it is the most real thing I had every written. Not all poems and projects work like that, of course, but some things are closer to the real me than others. Closer to the actual things that happen--barring persona-driven or narrative work.  And in some ways, even those things are built around a certain sort of truth. 

The closer to me something is, however, the more self-conscious it makes me being out there. While I talk about many things here--in other spaces--in my writing, it makes me really uncomfortable, for example, when so people I work with read my books.  When potential or current romantic partners read something.  (I feel quite differently about exes weirdly, since everything is in the past.) I don't know if my state of being "out there" so much works against me or for me sometimes.  I always am fascinated by mysterious writers, who speak to us only in the form of their work.  Like an oracle that only opens every once in a while.  These writers we only know through the pieces they have given us. If they inhabit social media, it's usually in a promotional capacity only--linking to publications and other news. Many have said they stay away because it interferes with their writing and concentration and wastes their time. I like it overall-some platforms more than others--but it's my way of connecting, esp. since in real life, I don't know that many writers--so my entire writing world lives in an online space. This has always been true--journals, blogs, social media--all integral to how I move about in the writing world, barring some early local open mic participation and my MFA years (and trust me, my online community experience was far more rewarding and productive.)

I often say I'm not sure how people did things--published poems, built audiences, engaged with community pre-internet.  My taste of it in the 90's as a young writer -even just submitting poems into the void of SASE's and form rejections from editors you never got to know felt lonely and isolating. You had to be hard core & resilient--especially if you lacked a local community to buoy you up.  But truth be told, sometimes putting yourself out there makes you vulnerable. But then again, sending your work out is a similar vulnerability. A friend tells me she hates social media becuase she doesn't want to know people that deeply and micro-level.  But I am curious. To know people by what they put out, even if it's not entirely genuine.  Even if it's a shiny, glossy shellaqued version of their life as some instagram influencers have been accused of. Even in the gloss there might be a bit of truth that is more interesting than nothing at all. Sometimes even truth in the fiction.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

bookshelf love post


It only took a year and a half (since I disassembled the larger bookshelf in the living room) but I finally, after months of piling everything just everywhere, I was able to re-org the shelves and make room for the much-culled poetry books on the fiction shelves. When I moved out of the studio, there was a bunch of stuff, including chap stock, my folding table, display racks that had to go into my entryway closet.  As such, I lost coat storage and the ease of access, so since the taller shelves were in danger of falling over anyway  and were near the door, I swapped them out with a coat rack (mostly so I don't have to climb over a bunch of crap to get coats out, while also fighting to keep the cats from getting locked in there.) The rack worked out awesomely, but it left the entirety of my poetry books without a home and no room on the fiction shelves.

There was an initial cull of both collections in the spring, but I still had books piled in stacks on the floor in front of it, on top, in the bedroom, behind the couch, with no where to store them. I put an embargo on fiction buying years ago--relegating any new titles to library loans--but books are hard to part with, especially since I will forseeably need more room for poetry purchases. (I wound up tossing even more the things I was holding onto--writing reference books, college anthologies that had somehow made their way through several moves. Random B&N bargain bin purchases that I read, but don't love enough to hold onto.   Even still, all the shelves are two deep, and a later project is to try to organize them alphabetical by author roughly to still be able to find things. But not today. 

When I was a teenager in my bedroom I took much care in arranging my paperback novels--always alphabetical by author, then title.  Eventually, the shelf was bigger and I filled it with the books I was reading as an undergrad--novels and anthologies, but also lots of plays and theatre books.  Most of those I left at my parent's house when I moved and my mother donated them sometime along the way.  In my first apartment I had a giant set of wood utility shelves to hold books as the collection grew, then moved them a couple more times before filling the shelves in this apartment.  It was then that I began buying more contemporary poetry titles and space got a little tenuous at times--they're a slender sister to novels, but in bulk, they still take up a lot of space. Don't even mention chapbooks, which are still in boxes and are destined for the cabinet near my desk once I discard my dvd collection (that I've not touched in years) and move all the stuff in there (cd's, photo albums, etc) to the tv. cabinet.) The grey long ikea drawers are filled with my stock of my own zines and art pints and originals. 

The top shelf closest to my desk is  occupied by stashes of my own books, including a stack of my first book, the fever almanac, that are the last copies in existence, as well as a handful each of the other, newer titles. Also, at least once copy of my zines, chaps, other book objects.  The sleek black spines of the last two larger books are in the front, and as I arranged them, it felt so strange and surreal even still that I have written books at all, much less several. Much less that are still several to come. For a girl who spent so much time contemplating and arranging bookshelves in her youth.  So much time reading and buying books--in bargain bins, at flea markets, in the mall bookstore.  I also remember my first Amazon orders in the late 90's--including the list of books for my M.A. comp exams. (and the strange time when Amazon sold only books, hilarious since I just got a bedspread and some bath gel in the mail yesterday.) How surreal to also be making books for other authors-- to be participating in the publishing world at all, even if it's tiny handmade editions.

The shelf below my own books are journals and anthologies that have graciously let me into their pages, including the very first ones--the vanity-esque anthologies, my first for-real publication in a tiny staplebound feminist journal. I have copies of everything--tiny handmade zines, glossy academic journals, hardback anthologies. Most times, I don't even remember which poems they published without looking. All in all, over 20 years of publishing, and even though I never think I've published much in print and far more in online journals, they take up a hefty amount of space. I submit less often to print journals--and so many are long gone--but if this grows I may have to claim more shelves. 

Sometimes, it feels even more ridiculous to keep so many books in a place where space is limited and while I, you know, work in a LIBRARY where I can pretty much get my hands on whatever i want and return it when I'm done. Nevertheless, I still like keeping them around. I used to say I'd need them to read during the apocalypse  (the joke being that this last apocalypse, I wasn't able to read much at all.)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

#authorfashion | summer dressage



I've been having a fun time posting daily outfits photos the past couple months on instagram for a couple different reasons--one of which is that I enjoy participating in the #psootd communities on the platform and browsing through other peoples pics and reels are an inspiration for outfits and looks I might not otherwise consider. Also, spotting new things I might like to incorporate into my wardrobe (this is also why I love watching try-ons and thrift hauls on the Youtubes.) Also, maybe giving back some of that inspo. Mostly, just reinforcing that you can be stylish and plus-sized, even when the world (via media and internet trolls) tells you every so often you don't belong in these spaces as a fat body. 

I am by no means a pro.  Sometimes my photos are blurry because I moved at the wrong time. Most often, I crop out my head because my hair is up in a towel still and waiting to dry.  I use my phone and tiny desktop tripod I bought for zoom last year in my living room.  ( I am a fan of the mirror selfie, but the only full-size mirror I have is on my closet door and has placement issues & terrible lighting.)  I occasionally get photobombed by the cats. It also lets me see what things look like and whether or  or I like how they look on me or whether I should rethink certain combos in terms of cut or color. 

I also just have a lot of clothes and don't go anywhere but work, especially during covid,(or on days off,  sometimes just to the mail box on the corner or a short walk around the block), so why not show them off a little? Most second-hand procurements from Poshmark or Ebay, but occasional new things from some of my favorite places (I really like Old Navy for sundresses in the summer, but also Torrid for more fall-ish things. Modcloth occasionally has something cute, as do the usual plus size retailers like Lane Bryant or Avenue. I've also occasionally stumbled onto Walmart or Target finds for a steal. Fast fashion is something I try to be conscious of, but I'm also aware that not everyone can afford pricey sustainable fashion, nor do many brands have the right sizing at the larger end of the plus-size spectrum. I love finding spendier brands second-hand. If I buy something, I make sure it's something I am going to keep in my wardrobe for awhile, whatever the quality. After a couple of months of refraining from new (or second-hand) purchases except accessories, I've been buying a few things for fall, including a couple second-hand half-price Anthropologie dresses I've been stalking on Poshmark.  

I've never been quite able to be one of those sleek minimalists with a well-curated capsule wardrobe.  I have different inspos and different vibes on different days. Different moods and impulses. I might want to be a retro 50's house-wife on one outing and a reincarnation of my 90's self on another complete with a velvet babydoll and boots. I also love pairing outfit to outing (well, when we had outings.) I don't like pants and pretty much haven't worn them since the early aughts, but I love dresses, even fancier ones than can be casual-ed up with things like cardigan or denim jacket. I have an obscene number of polkadots in my closet--also lots of stripes, though I am also a fan of cute florals, and lately paisleys. I've also had years where I bulked up on plaids. 

My love of clothes can probably be said to have been inherited from my mother. When I was a kid..I remember being obsessed with matching my socks to my clothes.  Sometimes my memories are strongly informed by what I was wearing.  The plaid yolked dress and red tights I wore on the 1st day of kindegarten.  The garage sale snakeprint  60s dress my mother said was too tight & short to wear in public, so I wore it till it fell apart at home. Back to school shopping was my favorite--even when we we put everything on K-Mart layaway. She was a bargain shopper, so until she retired and mostly shopped thrift, you'd find her scanning the racks for blouses under $10 (she mostly wore them with cotton leggings, though they were usually the baggier sort that were more like pants on her. ) Most of these expeditions ended with her trying things on when she got home and fashion-showing them to me and my sister and asking our opinion. She was known for always being fashionably on-point by co-workers and prided herself on her carefully matched earrings. 

The difference of course, and a knot I have been untying my entire life, is that half of the time, she hated what she bought. How it looked on her--how it was too clingy, too short to cover what she wanted to cover. When she died, my dad donated all of her clothes to the thrifts, and I would guess that most of it was maybe worn once, if that. I try not to blame her for how critical she often was of other people's fashion choices (including mine), mostly since she was most critical of her own. The body-hate ran deep, she even admitted it. I just remember fierce arguments when shopping as a teen over whether something was too tight or ill-fitting for me, so mostly I bought a lot of baggy men's sweatshirts and sweaters and hid my curves.   Clothes to hide in. Always covering up curves and flesh. So much body-hate was instilled from her growing up and then instilled in me. 

Of course, it persisted for years--lots of long skirts to hide my chubby legs. Cardigans even in the summer to hide my fat arms. Baggy, shapelessness. Lots of solid colors--neutrals.  I do love me some always stylish black and grays, but not all the time.  For awhile, until about a decade ago, I was two sizes larger than I am currently and it was just really hard to find things I like. Even the weight loss aside (mostly because I freaked out about getting older and finally gave up a sizeable  regular soda addiction and try to control my binge-issues while moving more to feel better), lots of things have also changed in that decade--body positivity in media, expanded sizing in retailers.  Just more clothes to choose from and more in line with what is offered in smaller sizes. Now, when I look at retailers, I occasionally see what clothes look like on bodies like mine. Now, skinny is not the default (and considering the average woman is a 16 --incidently the size I was a teenager that was deemed unacceptable that led down a path of a very unhealthy relationship with starvation/binging) it shouldn't be.   Also, just knowing and figuring out what I like and what I like on my body.  Even if it's above the knees  Even f It's sleeveless in the middle of July. Cardigans are for when you're actually cold and want a sweater (the library a/c is brutal, so you will usually find me with one in my bag.)   I laugh (and cry a little) about the years I spent sweltering in too many clothes because how dare I be a fat body in public?



Thursday, July 15, 2021

film notes | fear street and the mall bookstore


 This week and last, Friday night's have been devoted to  devouring each new installment of Netflix's trilogy built around RL Stine's Fear Street series--an excellent watch and full of all sorts of nostalgia--90's life in the first and the 70's in the second--including great music and nods to other pop and horror culture centerpieces like Scream and Carrie.. I was really only familiar with Stine from the Goosbumps paperbacks I had to run interference on when I worked in the library -- kids would literally fight over them to read the few scraggly well-loved paperbacks.  Fear Street, their older, more teen-oriented cousins, were only familiar to me in passing, having debuted around the time I was in highschool, but then again, was already well into more adult horror. I do remember them occupying the same Waldenbook's shelves that housed one young adult horror author I did seek out in those days--Christopher Pike (and always had to purchase myself , since the Cherry Valley Public Library didn't carry the newest things (and if they did, they were hard to get). Unlike Fear Street, most of Pike's late 80's books, with a few of exceptions, were stand-alones--not even always supernatural in their plot lines. One of my favorite involved a spring break trip to Mexico gone wrong. Another, a girl who survives a house fire by hiding in a shower and then has to solve her own attempted murder while everyone think's she's already dead. Another, where an actual dead girl has to solve her own murder. 

It was a delight to see Fear Street open with a scene set in a B. Dalton's filled with YA horror.  The Waldenbooks at the mall was set at the far end and tucked in a corner upstairs and opposite the movie theatres.  It was one of two bookstores--the other a Krochs & Brentanos at the other end, known more for their selection of more serious titles (I once bought a thick paperback of Gone With the Wind for my junior year term paper.  Later, a tea rose fabric-covered blank book I used as my North Carolina diary. .  It would be years before Barnes & Noble opened up in Rockford  (though it is now actually located adjacent to the same mall--a stone's throw from where you would have been able to buy the latest Bop or Tiger Beat in the late 80s'.  Years before Borders would come and go. Since the mall was ultimately a hangout with shopping opps, Waldenbooks had an entire section in it's small space devoted to teen novels.  And a huge selection of teen horror like Fear Street and Christopher Pike.  As that opening scene attests, books were cheap then--but I still had to save up money I earned doing chores to get my fix.  While my aunt kept me on a steady diet of passed off adult horror, and the library helped a little,  I was mostly on my own for these do they were some of the first books I ever paid my own money for and obviously setting in place an expensive habit.  I kept them for years until I passed them off to a younger cousin to make room for more "serious" books I was collecting in college. 

And of course, thus beginning a history of bookstore love that, in the internet age,, has become less common.  Now, I either get my books at the library on order them on the web.    Outside of a couple used and indie bookstores I like to stop in when in the right neighborhood, I'm in them less and less.  In the early aughts, I spent a lot of time collecting remaindered hardcovers from the basement of the Borders on Michigan Ave. I would head over to the Barnes & Noble to browse and work on stuff in the cafe, but their poetry selection was pretty uninspiring. (With my bookshelves precariously full, I eventually banned myself from buying novels and just get them through the library. ) Mostly, I sometimes feel like I miss and lose out on how much used to come my way serendipitously in those bargain bins..now I know what I want and go looking for it and my collecting is more focused.  There is only so much room and so many things to read. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

verse vs. prose: elegies and farewells




 When my mother died , I was immediately given a task.  In those first frozen shocked days  after her passing (after all  a surprise and totally not at all a surprise and something I'd been steeling myself for over a couple of days after months of blind hope.) My first task was to write something for the funeral. It felt like too much, in those moments, in the days between Monday afternoon and Friday, days in which I was back and forth to Rockford. Days in which I showed up at work one evening and tried to distract myself with hosting a collage workshop that I had to abandon midway. Too much to expect me to be able to breathe let alone write. And yet, on Thursday. I sat down in the studio and wrote a single page of prose, which I then read during the memorial service dutifully (after downing several airplane size bottles of booze I'd tucked in my purse).  I folded the piece of paper it was on, in the aftermath, until it was a ragged little cube and threw it away once I was back safely in my apartment. Every once in a while, I'll be looking for something on my studio laptop, a big clunky machine that is super slow, and I'll stumble across the file name "mom.doc".  I treat it gently, like a bomb, and never open it. 

Maybe I'll never be able to read it again.  But I felt I released something when I wrote it, and cried real good for the first time that week. Cried hard and long--maybe like I would never stop. What was surprising perhaps was that poetry, with all it's art and artifice failed me.  In that moment, the most real, genuine thing I could write was prose. Though true, sometimes even my prose is poetic--attenuated to rhythm and sound and flow.  But poetry is so much assemblage and effect.  So much craft, and I felt this needed to be more genuine--less literary.  That previous summer, a cousin (not a poet) had read a poem at my aunt's funeral and, because I'm apparently a terrible person, I noted the end rhyme and the forced meter--the platitudes and cliches one would of course fall into for a funeral poem--one that apparently my aunt--in her typical go-getter fashion, had approved in the weeks before her death. . Basically what a non-poet would think poetry looks and sounds like.  Years before, my mother's best friend had lost her mother and asked to have the minister read something from the fever almanac.  I offered a couple suggestions, but none of the poems therein seemed at all right as a memorial.  I don't remember which they chose. There's a certain kind of poetry--think Mary Oliver--that lends itself to memorials--I am not that poet.

Still, what is the use of poetry? I would be no better at writing verse for a wedding or any other occasion. No good writing anything inspirational--especially since most of my writing is either lyric or narrative and kind of dark in general. I have my humor moments, but sometimes it hits and sometimes it fails. When my poem "house of strays" was included in the American Academy of Poets Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems For Every Occasion, I'd joked about exactly which occasion that poem encompassed. I decided it was the perfect poem for ending a shitty relationship after staying in it way past it's expiration date (which was, after all, the impulse behind writing it.) I have in my head to write a book of humorous occasion poems for not at all important occasions..it may yet happen.)

There was nothing at all artful in my mother's elegy. It was maybe at most, well-written and  honest (with at least a couple attempts at humor, because, good god, we needed it. Also my mother would have approved wholeheartedly.) Formally, elegies, in a stricter sense, have rules about content and form. It may just be that poetry is always so fucking self-conscious of itself as verse, in it's tricks and deceptions. Everything I've ever written that was the most honest I could be--the James Franco poems, the love poem series later on. The most emotionally true things I've written have always been prose. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

adventures in midcareer poeting


Every once in a while poets on the internets throw around the term "mid-career."  I still sometimes struggle to grasp what it means, at least to me, when it feels like so much of your poetry efforts seem to always, even several years, several books in to make a name for yourself and find readers. It gets no easier, and maybe it even gets harder.  So much of the shininess of being young and precotious, a fresh new voice, fades out.  Even opportunities are less--all those first book contests and young poet prizes no longer an option. Some poets hit real hard in their mid-late 20's and are never heard from again.  

In any other kind of career outside the arts, there are expectations.  It will hard to find your footing at first, pay your dues, establish yourself.  By whatever you define as the middle of your career, you'll have some stability--or at least the feeling that the boards of the dock are not constantly slipping out from under you. Honestly, I do not know a single poet for whom this is true. You might find stability--in teaching, in other sorts of day-job endeavors, but poetry, and even more so poetry bizness,  is a tricky mistress--one who you do not always know will be there for you.  In fact, may have left you for the next new thing. 

I mentioned over the weekend the feeling that it's so very hard to follow the mantra "Do what you love!" when it doesn't always love you back. By mid-career, which probably coincides with middle age unless you got started later, you've seen a lot.  You've done a lot. You're probably near the top of your game, or as close as you'll ever be. You might have even had some success--maybe even buzzed happily along for awhile, convinced you were rowing just fast enough, and surely, the rapids were approaching--just enough to speed you along into something like a success and adoration. But there were no rapids.  Or they were harder than you expected and just dumped you into the drink entirely.  Maybe you successfuly built a sail, but there was no wind. (Forgive the endless boating analogies..I spend considerable time looking at boats on my commute everyday.) Or you made it to the rapids, but there were so many other boats you capsized before you got through. 

So you float. Neither here nor there. I hear so many poets talk about this, even those a decade younger. You have the skills to tie a knot and mount a sail, but you haven't seen another ship for miles, let alone caught a fish to sustain your hunger, which probably just gets bigger and bigger. I think the pandemic caused a lot of people to leave the river entirely. I almost did, or maybe I even sort of did. Two years ago, I would have described this all differently.  I could hear the rapids.  Now I'm convinced they don't exist as anything but a mirage to keep you rowing.  

What to do with this, once you make that realization, I don't know.  I still love the river, still love poems and readers and building things from words. Maybe a reconsideration of how I build my boat and where I really want it to go was in order.  What my priorities are to be as I begin to traverse this second half of something like a career. If this is the middle, there is so much behind me, but also, hopefully, fate willing, so much ahead. I'd rather not spend it waiting for wind that never comes. 

on dioramas and the poet's task


 I realized the other day that my two most recent zine projects were centered around dioramas--either the grandness of the Field Museum displays, which are always my favorite, or the intricately glass encased creatures of Walter Potter. There are similar themes that reach across both--nature and death, the act of stilling something to capture and interpret it.  The precariousness of humans, who capture their own existence whether accurately or inaccurately. (this is one the overarching themes of my animal, vegetable, monster manuscript, which nests both of these series.)  Through things like museum dioramas and art. The stillness that nonetheless implies movement or progress. It's obvious I love things like taxidermy and all sorts of flora and fauna (my second book is, after all, called in the bird museum and has a whole series devoted to Cornell boxes.  One of my favorite art projects was this installation, which I use as a backdrop for my website these days--it's ability to be both pretty and a little creepy at the same time. And really, as the Potter poems attest, what cold be more creepy, more uncanny than things not only dead, but frozen as if they still live (even anthropomorphism aside, which is also a little creepy, but also delightful.)

In extinction event, this dead/alive is forged alongside very real extinction and climate change concerns. I did some research into the artists who are responsible for many of the Field's most well-loved diorama work. The human desire to collect and display.  How much we never really know about the past but can only reassemble what may have happened, how the world may have been like--the dinosaurs, prehistoric rock formations, long extinct mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. How can we discern how anything really lived--especially humans--who are regularly rewriting their own history (if critical race study discussions have taught us anything, what we leave out matters as much as what we include.) Mostly, if you create diorama--paint a picture, tale a photo-what you do not include is just as important (and maybe more important, than what you do. 

When I was in elementary school, we often were tasked with creating shoe box dioramas and it was something, even with my rudimentary art skills I loved. I'd collect sticks and rocks and try to assemble something that looked like reality.   This may be why I spent so many hours in the old modern wing of the Art Institute when I was working on the Cornell pieces (until they moved them to the new wing and basically ruined how you experience them.) Later, I would make my own shadowboxes using vintage wallpaper, collage bits, and porcelain animals. Good, but not Cornell good. 

And sometimes poems are their own dioramas.  Their own glimpses of stillness that are more loaded than one might think.  Unlike a story or an essay that has an obvious destination--a poem is something small, like a tiny box or a little machine. In my second book, I often think of a piece called "midnight pastoral" which seems entirely its own sort of diorama or shadowbox. A girl and a farmer and a ladder into the night sky. Other poems that possess what I like to think of as moving stillness. A scene in which so much is happening if you look closer. And the Field's dioramas feel like this.  You might notice the hyenas or the lions, but also, there are other birds and insects that make the scene not just about what is happening center frame, but what was happening a moment ago. And what will happen after. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

why i can't write fiction


 While I've been working on getting dark country ready for release, I've taken a bit of a hiatus these past three weeks or so on new things, using that morning time, when I get out of bed early enough, to do some promotion stuff. I  had also paused on the spell poems project, since I felt a hesitation n where I was going and what I wanted it to be. Since I feel like I am knee deep  in writing these days anyway (editing older work, revising some other bits, writing blog posts, and creating a lot in general (this includes some new visual things.) I feel less guilty not writing everyday--at least in small stretches.  After a month or so I usually get anxious that I need to move along with things--that if I want to get through my rather large list of inspirations and potential projects, I'd better get a move on.  But I give myself small breaks in between stretches of productivity.

When I come back to things, I usually find that ideas are flowing better if I was stuck.  That I have, maybe not even consciously, been working on the kinks in my head without knowing it.  My funk last week (spawned mostly by economic anxieties as I get older and retirement inches closer in the next 20 years)  had me writing--not poetry--but a little bit of horror genre fiction that I thought might eventually be a novel over the past few days first thing in the morning and enjoying that process. (all of this spawned by the feeling that fiction writers at least occasionally have things like advances and movie options.)  But looking at it after the initial bloodspill onto the keyboard, it's competent, but I don't like it as much as my poems--the freedom that having very few rules in terms of structure and plot allow. It's ok, but nothing special (I've often thought I am harder on the fiction of myself and others than I am of poetry.) I was about 6,000 words in when I looked at it again last night before bed, and well...meh...    

I kept thinking my plot was decent, but wouldn't this be better in verse?  More poetic, whatever that means?  More fragmented and circular in its logic? So I filed it away and maybe will go back and rethink it as a different genre. I love world building and narrative, but I like it on my own terms. From the time I was 12 and trying to write a horror novel inspired by Stephen King and his ilk, I've made vague, unsuccessful gestures toward fiction. In college, I took a workshop and wrote these long, Faulknerian studies that made no sense and prompted the instructor to say I'd be better suited for poems. Later, when I was stalled out on verse in my summer off from the elementary school library job, I filled notebooks with stories I thought might be worth some income (hilariously, I never even typed them up, much less sent them out. )  From the time I was just beginning to publish and write a lot of poems in 2001 or so, I was devoted to my main genre--even if over the years, that meant I wrote a lot of prose poetry--a lot of things that told the sort of stories I would tell if i were writing short fiction or novels.  I am also led predominantly by image, by sounds, in a way that I feel is underused when I'm trying to write fiction. It makes the fiction seem flat and the voice uninteresting to me once I've gotten everything out on the page.  The story-building process is enjoyable, but once that has worked it's magic, it feels less alive for me. How do I tell a story that is still readable?  Isn't it more interesting to feel the story, to build it from parts?  Rather than to lead the reader on a well wrought path, to set the reader loose in the forest and whatever happens, happens.   

The good news is my rather ho-hum efforts recommitted me to spending what valuable, so very limited time time we have as mortal humans on a dying planet on poetry rather than trying to beef up my income with mediocre fiction, no matter how much the spectre of old age and instability haunts me. There is no market for poetry. No income beyond tiny bits here and there and a lot of silence in the canyon.  No way out I suppose, even if you do the things fancy poets do like win awards and residencies and well-placed reviews.  Even success never looks quite like financial stabiliy. Maybe just embracing this instead of fighting it will put my mind at ease and stop those intermittent panic attacks.  Today I woke up and over breakfast,  wrote a really good piece in the spell project and felt the blood rush into my limbs again.  Sort of like treading water and enjoying the lake while it may still swallow you yet.  But oh, the woods are dark and deep...

Sunday, July 11, 2021

notes & things | 7/11/21

 This weekend has been unusually cool and cloudy and feels more like September than mid-July, which, don't get me wrong, I love compared to battling high humidity & heat without A/C. It's a weird disconnect, since it has me thinking about fall dresses and Halloween at a time when they should be farthest from my mind. But then, I am always that girl, longing for the next season and not content in the current (barring winter, of course, no one is longing for that.)

It's been a weird week.  It started productively but then whittled away to a loose around the hinges Friday.  Early, I managed to finish all my edits on dark country, and after I get it formatted for size, we are one step closer to a printed galley. I also wrote a few good entries for this very blog on writing about flowers, my own sexuality, revisiting older writing projects, and writing about your exes. I also managed a few more lovely postcard landscapes.  Once my work week started on Wednesday, the days are less ordered.  I had a crying jag about my lack of retirement savings and ending up homeless on the way to work, which started a collapse of the day early on that I never quite my good mood back through meetings and other library-related nonsense.  

I like to say my mid-life crises happens in spurts not overarching periods of time, so while I feel enormously content about my life choices I have my moments of feeling like I've done everything wrong.  Devoting myself to writing & art, which has been a trip, when I should have done something more lucrative and practical and won't end up with me living in poverty in my old age (or hell, my young age.) How surely its great to do what you love, but hard to do with what does not love you back. I've accomplished most of my creative goals and some I didn't even know I had, but there's a feeling that maybe I had the wrong goals after all. It does not help to be stuck in a day job where I feel kind of undervalued and overworked due to short staffing and yet don't really want to leave a place i rather like otherwise unless I can go out on my own.  (jumping without a net means you hit the ground harder and faster.) Poetry is also undervalued and still a lot of work for not all that much in return. Maybe I should choose a different genre.  A different path.  I felt this way a lot during the early days of lockdown, intensely, but it still comes rolling back in sometimes like a tide. 

Sometimes, my mood will be lifted by talking to co-workers, by getting breakfast, by taking a walk, by working on something I enjoy.  Other times, like this weirdly gloomy weather, it stick around a few days.  There are days where I question nothing.  There are days where I question everything. Rinse and repeat. The cutesy signs and mommy bloggers on pinterest post "Do what you love!"  Yeah, sometimes, unless you have a trust fund or a rich husband, that doesn't work out for you so well. But then again, maybe I should just hope that I make into old age healthily and happily and everything will work out. As I said, it comes and goes.

Today, however, is a good day.   There is good coffee and early fall-vibes even though it's July. I've been enjoying the Fear Street trilogy on Netflix and am looking forward to the last installment later this week. I have some collages I want to work on over the next couple of days.  Also, getting the trailer for dark country under wraps.  I need to record a session on library marketing midweek for an upcoming conference. We are at that mid-point of summer where things start moving faster into fall and the next thing you know, classes are starting.  It does look like things are looking good in Chicago, so we'll be as close to normal on campus as we have been in a while. 



Friday, July 09, 2021

film notes: writer brain




My favorite moments in the very awesome Shirley, the Shirley Jackson biopic is when she suffers attacks, not of alcohol abuse or mental breakdown, both of which she was afflicted, but of a far better/worse affliction--the writer's mind.  Where anything--the way the light falls, a book falling to the floor, someone speaking--sets off the story-making part of the brain.  In Shirley--they are almost like hallucinations or seizures, so gripping that they nearly take her out. The entire movie lives in that space between reality and the writer's mind, so much so they become the same at times. Or hard to distinguish between them. Jackson's work on Hangsaman, it's story of a missing girl, becomes inextricably wound with the wife of her husband's protege she befriends and how the women overlap in the writer's mind, both hers and the young wife, uncovering her own abilities as a creator and desire for independence. The episodes for both seem both magical and terrible--in Jackson's case, almost debilitating in and of themselves. 

One of my favorite recent horror movies is Mike Flanagan's brilliant Hush features a crime novelist trapped in her home at the hands of a psychopath we don't quite know the motives of (not to mention she is entirely deaf, which ads more challenges to her situation.) She thwarts him by using that writer brain--by predicting where to hide, what to use as a weapon, what he might do next. I personally have a strange love of the Final Destination franchise, which I like to call anxiety porn, where the viewer is constantly seeking out cues as to what the next danger is. Sometimes I wonder whether the steady clicking in my head--the flashes of my imagination that hint at impending disaster (buses plunging into the lake, bodies falling out buildings)  is anxiety or writer brain. Or even could they be one in the same?  I  remember being shocked that some people don't have these highly vivid dreams in their head in broad daylight--don't daydream quite so completely, and this took me wholly by surprise. Or that people maybe have them as children, but lose it later on. 

When I was a kid, I sometimes played out entirely fake situations and conversations in my head, and sometimes, spilling out of my mouth.  The car was one of my favorite places to daydream on long rides, and I remember crouching down behind my mother's seat, whispering,  conscious that she'd notice that I was mouthing my made up scenes, and already, at 5 or 6 kind of self-conscious about it. I was never one to have an imaginary friend--but more--had many that lived in my head an enacted out their stories,  When it came to writing, before I even knew how, I would fill notebooks with squiggles I imagined as stories.  While I often pulled others--my sister, my cousins, neighbor kids--into my play, I spent a lot of time in this imaginary life myself and it didn't go away as I got older.  When I wasn't reading in other people's written worlds, I would just sit in my room with music on playing things out in my head, something that continued into high school. Hell, maybe even adulthood.

I wonder often if novelists and other story makers live this way--esp. since I do even as a poet. How so much of writing and thinking about stories and characters and world-building feels like like a dissociative state sometimes. And is that all writing is? So much time in our heads with other people, other lives, that we are never fully in this one?  


Thursday, July 08, 2021

writing as exorcism


Sometimes, I am more prone to dreams about exes. It will usually happen randomly..something will flash through my head briefly--a location, a memory, bad or good. And there that person will be in a dream setting--sometimes about them, sometimes not at all about them. The failures of the relationships play themselves out again during sleep over and over, even when I have not set eyes on or otherwise thought about that person in as much as a decade. The dream version of these lovers rarely have learned their lesson over time, though my waking self has. Sometimes its merely bittersweet.  Sometimes, it's infuriating. 

Poems work similar, though I've often written in a more sly slanted way about former lovers.  Sometimes, they were combined, like a hydra, from many different parts.  the fever almanac feels less about one relationship than about several through my 20's. Other projects have a snippet--the male characters in girl show, for example take inspiration from a couple men I'd encountered. major characters in minor films combines a couple different relationships, one of which is broken out more fully in dirty blonde.  Even within manuscripts, there are variations.  shipwrecks of lake michigan is about one ex. dreams about houses and bees, another. radio ocularia, a kind of mixing of both

Of course, as Taylor Swift will attest, breakups and heartbreak sometimes make the best art, or at least the best entertainment. And, as a writer, I reserve the right to bend the details to my own devices.  Especially when the relationships have passed their expiration date.  It's a little trickier when you are still IN the thing you are writing about. how to write a love poem in a time of war started out as a sweet valentine and tuned into a #metoo inspired examination half way through, and while a sort of complicated love letter, it was very real and raw (and I would say much the better for it.) Since that little set of love poems, and because circumstances are happier in that arena,  I'm not sure I've written so much about my own relationships in other recent projects, barring &nbsp, which I think of as about intimacy and loneliness specifically. Most of my other recent projects have had their inspiration outside of my own life--maybe a quick dip in the spell poems I've been working on recently, but nothing major.

&nbsp, when I get the odd chance to look at it and think about it (most of it was written over a few weeks pre-pandemic, when my brain was clearer,  and I haven't been able to get back to it properly) does feel very much like an exorcism of old ghosts. The sort of men who knock around in my brain after I sleep--the good or badness of them. If poems are a spell or a prayer, maybe this well work to banish them and their dirty boots all over the floors forever.  Or maybe I'll just hole up with the ghosts sometimes, like a seance, and write the really good sort of poems that come from bad romantic choices.  

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

beautiful, sinister


 

As I've been working through my final edits on dark country, facebook reminded me this week was the eight year anniversary of beautiful, sinisters chapbook release from Maverick Duck Press. They are, by far, the oldest pieces in the book, the sort of series I was never sure would end up in a full-length because they were so much their own little story (luckily, I've written several, similar, sequences that all fit together like puzzle pieces now.) The earliest of them go way back to 2007 or so, since i'm pretty sure I was working on the beginning in the final throes of my MFA studies.  I finally finished them in 2011, at a time when I was barely writing anything else.

As I've gotten them ready for the longer book, there were many changes, not so much in content or structure, but just in the prose. In punctuation.  Last summer, shortly after lockdown eased and I was putting the book together, I spent some time retyping every poem in the series to fix the things that had bothered me in hindsight.  I cut a couple segments.  I cleaned up some p-o-v issues, holdovers from when the project was intended to be a longer one. At the time, it was definitely the most narrative I'd gotten, the most story-like thing I'd written until the shared properties of water and stars, which actually would be released the same summer, though it was written later.  

The chapbook was a fragmented and circular tale of three sisters growing up in Wisconsin.  A missing mother--violence and betrayal. A town that had been covered in a lake, but still pulled at its inhabitants. Later, I'd write with this narrative bent a lot, but it was still new to me then--and therefore more unwieldy. It also was written over years in which it had time to transform from one thing to another, to take on various names (the final title was a line from one of the last pieces I wrote.) I wasn't at all confident in what I was doing (some may say I never feel like that), yet people seemed to like the pieces--they were well published individually and Maverick Duck was the only place I sent it to as a whole.  

What strikes me most is actually how I was being careful to be less "poetic" than I had been with my writing, which was a struggle and freedom all at once.  Flash fiction writers and lyric essayists must have these same concerns. Is this prose that is more like a poem.  Is it a poem that is more like prose? But shouldn't it be all the best things of both?  And if so, what are those things? How is this different from things I wrote later--taurus? necessary violence? All things I've been mulling over as I put these pieces together and fashion them into a book.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

more landscapes and woodland idylls

When I take out my paints lately (the gift of those couple extra days in the week) I've been gravitating toward landscapes, even though I often have intentions for other things.  It might be that I am longing for an adventure somewhere out in the wilderness (or more wilderness than the city offers anyway.) I am also obsessed with mixing colors in rich colors--earth, sea, pine--that lend themselves to nature more than anything else. I am also working on scanning some of the other bits and starts from last year, when I felt like I was unable to paint anything, but did manage a handful of landscapes/lake or seascapes (for purely utilitarium purposes--I wanted a landscape for kitchen wall next to the fridge. ) I'll be working to get those scanned and sharing some of the more postcard sized ones soon. 

During the worst of my feelings last year--my dissastifaction with humans and their pandemic behavior--I longed to retreat to the wilds and Thoreau it for awhile. The ultimate joke of Walden is of course, he wasn't that far out in the wilds at all.

 I have these idyllic fantasies of retreating to Wisconsin, where I spent many stretches of childhood summers sleeping in tents and campers and vans. Swimming in lakes and sitting around campfires. I'm chill with camping if I can at least take a shower and sleep on a nice air mattress, but cabin life would be ideal.  I spent some time looking up prices on lots up near Black River where my grandfather once lived. I even found the cutest abode on a little creak that I couldn't even possibly afford, but for a day, imagined living that life.  Except that I hate being out of the city in winter and it's not only unavoidable in Wisconsin, but worse than Illinois. I also hate driving, especially in winter.  Also, I'm not sure I'm cut out for rural life--my dependence on having groceries delivered and ordering tacos in the middle of the night larger than you might expect. 

So it's a crazy unrealistic idyll to think I'd enjoy that sort of living beyond a weekend here and there. I follow a few YouTube van lifers who became cabin lifers during the pandemic and they seem to have a sweet life, but one found

a wolf spider in her kitchen the size of her palm that had been living behind her cabinets..  I would have to burn the house down if I was not certain it had been removed. (truly, South Loop roaches in the library are formidable opponents, but I don't feel like they will eat my face off if given the chance.)  I grew up in a semi-rural setting, but luckily the larger critters remained outdoors and mostly unseen.  Deeper in the woods, there are larger monsters for sure.  A nice place to visit, but I don't think I'd want to live there permanently. Not to mention I have the most beautiful of all lakes just steps from my front door. Who needs giant spiders and pine trees when you can look at this lovely everyday?