Tuesday, August 31, 2021


 A couple weeks back, I stumbled in my YouTube wanderings on this excellent little piece about the rise of poetry's popularity in the last few years. This happens every once in a while.  The rest of the world who mostly likes to pretend that poetry doesn't really exist in the present and always in the past (the Beats, the Romantics, E.D., Shakespeare, etc.) suddenly gets a match lit under their asses and notices us.  In this case, that match seems to be the rise of insta poets and the popularity of Amanda Gorman's inuaguration piece, but it's happened before (anyone remember the 90's flick of slam and how even MtV noticed?.)  Poets, of course, have always been here, hammering out poems for very small audiences (mostly of other poets.) We're usually are a little like WTF?  Poetry is cool, but I was here even when it was uncool. Writing the shit out of it when absolutely no one at all was noticing.  One day, I stumbled on a book a student worker in the library was reading on the circ desk, someone who I did not know was interested in poetry at all.   Rupi Kaur. I sat if back down like a bomb that might go off. 

Becuase poetry is a THING now.  And we should be excited, but what I hear more often is complaint. That social media is a poor vehicle.  That the poems are shit.  That the taste for these poems and their purveyors are sort of akin to sugar rushes and frosting--pretty, but with no substance. That they are warping the world's view of what poetry is and who has claim on those distinctions. And indeed, I would ask, as the video does, who DOES?  One of the best parts is the discussion is about how the rise has been been, by and large, among female writers and readers. Especially women of color.  Writers who felt that the traditional/academic doors were open to them, so they made their own on places like instagram and YouTube. As an indie publisher--as someone who has oft self-published for many of the reasons these writers talk about, I am partly "Hell, Yeah!"  I am also partly jealous as any of us would be who toil forever in obscurity.  Though at the same time,  cringe over how bad the poems sometimes are--or maybe not bad--but how some seem more like something you would write on on inspirational chalkboard than a poem. Live Life Love-poetry. 

But I get it. In fact, I've watched many interviews with Kaur, and though she falls into dreaded "poet voice" in her readings, I like her in her more casual interviews--one in which she talked about people telling her to avoid self-publishing lest no one take her seriously.  To which she responded "No one tales me seriously now." And she certainly is a model for business savvy and using social media as a bridge to audiences. I like her and her work much more than when a celebrity writes a shitty book of "poetry" and it's immediately a best seller.  

But it all does bring up some questions.  Why can't their be "popular" poetry.  Why does academia seem to think it holds the bar? Sets the bar?  What does poetry for the people look like?  How much does gender play into it--how women always struggle to justify the things they like because men set the standards? Are certain venues and forms taken less seriously and written off simply for existing in one form and not another?  For appealing to this audience and not that one?

Monday, August 30, 2021

oh nostalgia...

 It might just be the back to school yearnings that hit every year late August (or it might be that the world feels like an end-of-days shit show) but I've been thinking about the 90's.  About my own college experience in that weird time where the internet was only just becoming a thing, but most of us didn't really have access to it. I would never be bold enough to say that it was a better time, because I'm not sure that's true, but there is something comforting about a world where racists and idiots had fewer platforms, or at least those platforms you had to seek out, and not just streaming, full force onto your screen one after another, telling you reject masking and vaccines and instead take livestock medications. I like to feel the world was smarter then, but maybe I am just putting a gold-toned rosey hue over the past. 

Occasionally, I'll try to imagine what my life was like then before so much time on screens.  I was in school of course, majoring in English and  minoring in Theatre, and so much time was spent in classes, reading for classes, and doing various set building and stage managing tasks for the college theatre dept. In between, I spent a lot of time in the library, either upstairs reading bits of things that piqued my interests (Beat poets, Anais Nin, and the Bloomsbury Group) or in the basement reading lit and theatren magazines.   The first year, coming off high school habits, I was a joiner--an SGA officer, on the Activities Council, doing some volunteer work.  This shifted as I became more focused on theater and had less time for extra curriculars, but these were one way, as an off-campus student, I made friends and connected with people. Otherwise, I was probably at home with my parents. I wrote and read of course, sometimes more than others--my summer's being especially good for more liesurely uses of my time. While I made a little money here and there--set work, running lights, proofreading anthologies for professors--my education was mostly paid for and my living expenses low. My parents threw some cash my way for housework and various tasks, including a few dollars for lunch, which I sometimes hoarded up and bought books instead at the newly opened Barnes & Noble.

For leisure, I liked listening to music and flipping through magazines, Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmo, Glamour-- usually passed off from an aunt with lots of subscriptions (and who also fueled my horror novel addiction.) In many ways, this is probably no different than what I do in my free time on a computer--watching fashion hauls, persuing pinterest, and listening to Taylor Swift on repeat.  Just a different mode. Nights, after my parents went to bed, I would lay claim to the single large tv with satellite connection and watch whatever was on (horror / paranomal if I could find it, but sometimes the weather channel or HGTV). Sometimes til dawn, while writing--in my journal, bad poems or short stories. Also plotting out where to submit. and reading copies of Writer's Digest checked out from the public library. Also, not different from my current life, just switch out satellite for streaming and more options.

While most of my social interactions were related to theater friends, my dating life was parse most of time outside a couple crushes and brief ill-concieved hookups,  I can't say I spent much more time with people unless we were forced together for creative projects. I did like to hang out with my sister on the weekends,,who was still in highschool, and we would go to movies and the mall, or to B&N to peruse the bargain bin and then to Taco Bell. We'd also hit flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores with my Mom. But mostly I was home doing my own thing. 

At the time, I kept a written journal, in those Mead marbled composition books, which I still have a stack of squirreled away in my apartment. I wrote about the things I was studying and reading, about what I was doing, how my writing efforts were faring.  I also kept a notebook filled with cut-outs from magazines--clothes I wanted, hair styles, home decor (my own analog version of pinterest.)  Somehow over the years, I threw these out, though I wished I kept them as a way to connect with that girl in the past. I do have a vision board collage I made in 1994 that is a hoot to look at.  Also, all the poems I ever wrote, which also paint a fuzzy picture of my obsessions. 

Somehow, the 90's feel so vastly different, though by the above, you wouldn't be able to much tell. My parents did not not have a computer in the house until I was well out of it in the early aughts.  I myself, though I spent time online at work, did not have a laptop at home til 2005. Culture felt different--more geared toward smart people, though that also may have just been my frame of reference. Somewhere in the 90's is a girl sitting in a room with lava lamps and a black velvet Jim Morrison poster, drinking flavored coffee and reading constantly--everything--, or trying to undertstand her three semesters of  philosophy coursework (my interest in those classes less the reading and more the philosophy major dude I was crushing on.). I was convinced I would be smarter if I listed to classical music while I studied, though I would have preferred NIN. One summer I discovered my mother's Janis Ian records and listened to those and Tori Amos cassettes in tandem for three months.

It was a different world, but still sort of the same...

Sunday, August 29, 2021

on writers block and breaks

 The last few days, it's been hot. Like swampy and apocalyptically hot, but I woke to some rain today and it seems to be breaking.  If I am stuck at home on those hot days, I usually give myself permission to be unproductive--at least in terms of movement or going back and forth. Yesterday, despite the heat, I did manage to clear out and sort August e-mails, which get unruly as we close out the submission period and with many things in progress as we come into fall. While it's merely a matter of typing, it still, with heat brain, left me exhausted.  I am hoping today I can do some writing things, which also do not involve much movement until it cools down more---plotting out some submissions of newer work, making another short video for dark country, and creating content for the blog. 

Friday, I got a peek at the new season of AHS and its vampires & writers & writers-as-vampires vibe, and while I'll definitely write more about it as i watch more, it got me thinking about writer's blocks and writer's breaks and creative burnout, all of which I have been afflicted or blessed with the past year.  Though writer's block may not be the correct phrasing, since sometimes the block is that there are too many things trying to get down the river rather than a lack of water at the source. There's always water, though sometimes it's just a little too much and leads to the same problems. Or there's water, but it isn't where it needs to be. 

I have many ideas of what to start.  Sometimes even where to start.  Though sometimes, I get overwhelmed. Or I get distracted.  Sometimes it feels like a lack of focus, especially when other non-writing things are chaotic and you feel like writing is where your focus should be. This happens with work sometimes, with the press, with other random things that are just part of daily life. I think,with my daily writing over the past three years, I've gotten over this a little, but it still hits me sometimes.  Seriously, you have so much that needs to get done and you are going to "waste" time drafting a poem instead of fixing your shit. Sometimes, it helps to be more intentional during these time--to either keep writing because its never really a "waste" at all  or to give yourself permission to set aside writing to focus on something else. I've been more intentional about my writing breaks and setting them unapologetically,  which makes me feel less like I'm grasping for time and am better able to use that time when I get it back. 

Maybe it's a matter of refilling the well after finishing a manuscript.  Or figuring out if there are other roads--styles or subject matters or forms--that are worth persuing.  Sometimes, it's a break mid-project--this happened with the last bit of my collapsologies mss.--the spell poems--recently.. I had an amazing start and wasn't entirely sure where I was going or if I'd be able to even get there.  So I took a few weeks off, well into August, before going back. It helped quite a bit. 

I've also felt the heat of burnout--and this applies to all things I do--work, writing, editing. Sometimes worse than others.  Sometimes a thing I can fix by shifting priorities and sometimes something I just have to get to the other side of. I feel like this is more what writers mean when they talk about "writers block," since the mind is usually able to provide, but the world gets in the way. "Focus" may be a better term,  Being "in the zone"--whatever that is is so important, and what we struggle--esp as people who make a living doing other things. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

tents and spiders, oh my....

 So many of my childhood memories center around camping--especially since my parents came from families that were also crazy about camping (well, at least my dad's was.) My grandmother, after years of raising six kids, helped to run an RV store owned by my step-grandfather, so they spent most of their summer months in Wisconsin when they could get away. My dad owned a pickup camper I have vague remembrances of, then a large blue van we outfitted with a bed and cabinetry where me and my sister slept in sleeping bags on the floor. Later, there were tents.  Then another pickup when I was in high school.  We eventually migrated to cabins, then hotels, as we all got older, but a few years ago, we still went on some tent outings with my cousins for much raucous now-alcohol fueled fun. 

The campfire, of course, was the center of all pursuits.  Stoked up in the morning by whoever was up first and sometimes burning throughout the day. My mother had an ability to cook really elaborate meals using that and a simple camp stove in the tent years, though we did have a microwave in the later truck camper (also a TV/VCR). At night, we'd make smores and toasted marshmallows and try to get her and my dad to tell us ghost stories, only one of which I remember was scary. In larger gatherings, my parents would play cards til late at night under those plastic colored string lanterns. My sister and I would be tucked into the van with whatever spoils to keep us occupied--candy, coloring books, magic slates. I spent entire days in my dad's boat while my parents fished playing with cap guns, Go-fish with my mon,  and reading Archie comics.   

Camping or vacation was always this free time, in which all rules of life were suspended. Even my mother, who was not a big reader (and usually complained that the rest of the family was lazy for doing so much of it) would stock up on True Story magazines at the market which she would devour and then pass of to me in my teen years. It was meant for leisure, though what I remember of camping was also a lot of work--the cooking, the cleaning, the setting up and taking down. (esp, during the tent years.) We'd swim in the lake, ride our bikes around the campground, and make regular trips to the corner store for penny candy or ice cream. We'd shower in coin operated showers and fear the outhouse toilets every time for what might be lurking beneath. 

One of my favorite parts of sleeping in the tents was many of the same things that led me to pitch blanket forts in the living room. Me and my sister would shut ourselves behind the zipper, where she would usually fall asleep fast and I'd be left to read or color or fill out word games under a battery operated flashlight or lamp I'd wield around periodically to look for wayward bugs.   The last trip, in 2015, at 41 in the same tent with my parents, I awoke to a daddy longlegs crawling across my arm and did not freak out. This was a testament to how much I'd grown, though if it'd been an actual spider, I might have died. 

I went camping a couple times for Girl Scouts (once in a cabin and once in tents.  Also as part of a charity camp with cabins) but these are less memorable than our family trips. In the years before we lost my mother, we also regularly  had gatherings at their house, where my cousins would bring their camping vehicles & sleeping bags for the living room and we'd hole up a couple days for a party where no one had to drive home (and which once involved a pan of weed-laced brownies that will go down in history.) Here, they'd gather around the fire pit in my parent's yard, play poker, drink and hang out on the deck late at night and it is almost like Wisconsin, though I could sleep safely in my bed.  

Summer seems to hold these memories in focus every year and make me long, if not for camping so much, maybe a cabin stay of some sort---a getaway where time isn't exactly real and the rules of life suspended for a few days.  

Thursday, August 26, 2021

loss and permission

Monday morning over coffee, gearing up for my day devoted to writing, I read a line in a blog by Lesley Wheeler that had me nodding slowly  How the death of one's mother, while usually pretty devastating, also entails this weird freedom.  My mom & her best friend used to joke, both having lost their mothers, one early, one later, that whatever mean thing they gossiped or said about someone else, that karma could not possibly do anything worse to them since their mothers were dead. This, I also feel sometimes. But the freedom in writing most of all, esp. since I am quite certain, even without the narrative of the last year of her life being a central part of FEED, there were poems in other parts of the book I would not have been comfortable with her seeing.  Or maybe "comfort" is not the correct concept.  I would not want to be hurtful, since that is not how intended it at all. The discussion of dieting and body image that involve her and my young self, are of course, the reality, but also I don't think they are things that would have done any good to my relationship with her. Which was actually a good relationship over all, though complicated by some things--her anxieties about me and my sister, my reluctance to share almost everything, but very much not some things (relationships, health & money issues b/c of those anxieties and her tendency to gossip.) There was much my mother did not know entirely.  But most of it was to keep her from worrying---which is also why I wouldn't have wanted her to see many of the poems that I would include in feed

I have no doubt that she did her best, as best as she could having had so much leveled at her and her body over her lifetime. In addition to the time she said, gazing into a hotel mirror, that she'd hated her body her entire life, she also once said something I did not include in the book, not because I was afraid of her reading it, but because it still makes me insanely angry at her in many ways.  I was probably in my early 20's, and we were probably talking about diets. About being fat, and she said very sadly "I would have wanted anything for you the two of you (me and my sister) except being fat."   It enraged me, and I fired back something nasty, I'm sure.  Because, in reality, there were so many things we could have been.  Stupid, or mean, or racist. Terminally ill or raging alcoholics, . By that time, I was already done with diet culture, so it was especially infuriating.  That of all the things she's have wished for us--happiness, money, intelligence, she was stuck on that. . And we turned out pretty well--both smart, well adjusted,  and talented (and my sister is far more gracious and saintly than I am.)  If fat was the worst thing we were, we were doing pretty good. 

But I probably never would have addressed this with her when she was alive.  Even if she still were.  And so much of the feed, had she realized what I was saying--that decade s of having body image and disordered eating issues was coming from her as much as it was coming from the culture at large. And really, it's all under the bridge, but becuase I am a writer, it never really is. When I invited her to a reading, the first she'd ever attended to hear me read my work, it was pretty early and poems from my first book.  I told her beforehand that the "mother" in those was not always her--in fact, virtually ever. . That I tell stories about other people in my poems, so to never assume they were autobiographical. This changed of course through the years, as I mined my own experience more directly. As I just had more experience to mine from and the lens of the artist.. I was always pretty safe though, because outside of readings, she rarely read my work outside of poems here and there in e-journals.  My books, though I dutifully gave her a copy she proudly showed everyone, she later admitted she usually only skimmed, since she didn't "get" them.  My sister once told me she had been mining her for info on my romantic life, and I laughed, since  all she really had to do was read the books. She didn't live long enough to see the book that gave that particular info she sought from that conversation (sex & violence), but so much was embedded in the other books if she'd only known how to read them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

notes on love | polyamory and possibility

Yesterday I briskly unfollowed someone on social media , who was writing some inspirational advice about the tarot and relationships, but also were hating on polyamory. The gist of her argument seemed to be that people used polyamory as shield to avoid taking relationships to a deeper level or some such nonsense that was highly inaccurate and a little bit offensive. Mostly I am used to the poly hating in contemporary culture (which I really don't get..if it's not for you, move along.) and shrug it off, but it irked me enough I was thinking about it when I woke this morning, thus this entry....

Mostly because poly is often misunderstood, though also people often wield that relationship style in the world for many, many different reasons and experiential backgrounds. People open up marriages that feel they are missing something or someone. People seek out partners that meet any number of needs. Most of the poly people I know are pretty happy in their relationships, but also some are not (similar to everyone I know who practice monogamy.) As a solo poly person, the "solo" part usually takes precedence over the "poly" part, considering I've mostly been in a single relationship for the past six years (and really currently only have the bandwidth for that one.). While I have been in more than one relationship at at a time (at most 3 during certain points in my 30's) , they varied in emotional intensity across the board. Some were more friends than lovers. Some more lovers than friends.  Some hit both marks and those were the most rewarding, though some of them had their own issues that had nothing to do with polyamory and had to end.  I do believe you can be in love with more than one person in different ways.  Also that platonic relationships are just as love-bound as sexual ones. And in truth, because sexual relationships change over time, these are the strongest ones and the ones that should be nurtured most (though this probably makes me more a relationship anarchist than just poly). 

The solo part, I was always aware of, even when I was in no relationship at all during swathes of my early 20's. I started "dating" late, not in high school, but in college, and if you could even call it that, found I was most comfortable as a single rather than a double. That when I pictured my life path, it was not coupled, but alone. Sure, I wanted love and romance. But these were just things that added relish to life..like art and work and beauty--not it's structure.  I like to say the frosting, not the cake.  I looked around at models--how others lived their lives--and was not attracted to what I saw.  Even my parents', who were together until my mother died, was a good, sound marriage, was not something I could see myself emulating, being a different sort of person than my parents. Even under the best circumstances, marriage, as an institution, often fails women. Even cohabitation and definitely childrearing places the bulk of the work, actual and mental, on women.  Relationships, even the best ones, are often wrought with compromise. Good compromise and bad compromise.  People change over time. Life fucks shit up.  Not to mention the societal expectations that are imposed, the social programming, the fairy tale fantasies we are fed as we grow up. If you choose poorly, it can be disastrous and sometimes deadly. I've also recently read that the nuclear family can be incredibly isolating, particularly for women, who are sometimes urged to put their husbands/children's needs above all else, which, in an abuse situation, isolates them from other social groups and family.  The two-by-two model is kind of rife with holes. 

As a single person, whats less an introverted and creative person who liked large amounts of time alone and always had, I (at the time, I thought selfishly) wanted most of my time to be my own. I wanted relationships, and I certainly wanted sex.  To be desired and feel desire, which is it's own kind of drug, though not perhaps one you should give up your own stability for. Also, I needed, as an anxious person in general, to have control over certain things--many of which you surrender under the auspices of coupledom (or at least most couples I know.)  Men have, in the past, leveled at me that I am a control freak..to which I responded "Have you met me?"  I do not think this is a bad thing. It has served me well most of my life. For all of my anxieties about financial stability and living alone--of shouldering household expenses entirely myself, I doubt even a partner always solves that.  I know plenty of domestic couples who not only struggle, but it causes constant friction in otherwise sound relationships. My parents fought their whole lives about the money they did not have, about the housework, which my mother shouldered unjustly and overwhelmingly. There was a lot of resentment that is good for no one.  It was a good marriage in all other ways.  But I watched and learned.  The spirit of "we're in this together" is a great feeling, but sometimes it only goes so far.  I also never imagined myself having children, which of course, is best served by more than one parent (though I would argue those parents do not always have to be the nuclear couple.) As for growing old alone--dying alone--I suppose we all do.  My retirement dream is actually living in a community of women in my older years like Golden Girls..lol..

As for the poly part, one thing I have always loved is a lack of drama (well, monogamy drama)  The typical path for monogamy is serial..ie you go from one relationship to another and maybe an end game of marriage--that infamous escalator. Love is levels--dating, cohabitation, engagement, marriage.  If you fail on these levels, back to the bottom for you.  But what if you love someone, but meet someone new who you could also love. Monogamy would say you have to end the current partnership to pursue the new one. That one is more real--more genuine--than the other. Back to the bottom of the escalator, the other person, no matter how much you enjoy them, be damned.  NRE (new relationship energy) makes whatever is new seem like the best thing ever. This happens because of both biology and conditioning. While my concurrent relationships were not always on the same level of each other in emotional intensity, they were all important.  In the right circumstances, I love hard and I love deep. Poly offers opportunities--if anything in feeling out what works for me and what doesn't. What I want and what I don't want. What I have bandwidth for, what is best left alone. I don't think I would have made such discoveries, plumbed such knowledge as a serial monogamist, where every relationship that ends is considered a failure, as set back An experience on the escalator that comes to an end to make room for others. 

As for love, I sometimes have mistaken it for obsession.  Or mistaken obsession for love.  My own or theirs.  But sometimes, when the wind is right, it's far more. Goes long and deep. And I would argue is stronger for not conforming to societal expectations about levels and escalation. All is possibility. Improvisation.  Different types of love and passion and just as real as anything I see in monogamous couples, and in my case, free of the weight of cohabitations, of mingling finances, of that physical too-closeness that can be smothering if you're of a similar temperament. This not to say that needs and circumstances don't change--for better or worse--but that you should feel free to design your life in a way that works--not how the world and eons of monogamy culture have dictated. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

writing things loose

 I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive--post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable.  Since it is August and I am prone to distraction an waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently.  After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I longer too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if I my time were, at least for a little while, my own. 

I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown.  Finally. It actually hasn't bee that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was accutely, anxiously very present.  Granted, I was also finishing automagic at the same time and moving back and forth between them--the former rooted very much in the actual world and the latter, not at all really. Very different books, but helpful when one or the other felt cumbersome As I wrap them up, however, I am still waffling over what is next.  I have some non-poetry essayistic  things I dream of working on.  A couple other half-finished things.  Some just conceived and not yet down on paper.   I should just put them all in a hat the first of September and draw one to get to work on. It seems as good a system as any.

Going back to older things sometimes is a bit rusty, since sometimes the thing you were writing, upon revisitation, is not how you remembered it being.  Are not the poems you thought you were writing.  That somehow what you want from it, what it gives, are two every distinct things. I was thinking about it like a lid on a jar that somehow has sealed itself tight again.  You just need to knock it on the counter a few times to get it to open again. 

notes & things | 8/23/2021

 The cicadas have decided today that they are going to make a racket all day long.  I thought it was because some clouds confused them into thinking it was evening, when I can usually hear them (I say them, though even one can make enough racket to seem like a crowd.) We are still a couple years from the 17 year ones, though there are virtually none of that brood in the city--just our yearly regulars you'll occasionally spot dead on the sidewalk (along with giant dragonflies that cluster the lakefront.) There is also a sizeable black spider outside my living room window, who I great each evening as I light the led candles on the ledge inside.  Bigger than his brethren--thick chonky bodies with spindly legs. I've named him Fred, I say "Good evening, Fred."   We've made a deal he won't ever come inside and I won't freak out about him. 

Summer has that worn out, soggy feeling about it now. Buggy and too humid. My apartment will cool down a little, but whenever I get closer to the windows I feel the heat pressing in from outside. I am still waiting for the change of light, but today, it's kind of intermittently cloudy and may rain. I sprung and bought a few fall things last week after we got paid- off ebay--one gold velvety Modcloth dress and a shimmery sweater dress that was Calvin Klein at a steal at less than $30. I found myself also looking for 80's prep-school vibes--argyle cardigans and pleated skirts. This ties into my graviation toward mid-century secretary/librarian looks, but with an 80's spin (a decade I don't usually take much inspiration from, contrary to Gen-Z tastes, having lived through it and most of it just awful.)  Certain 1920s things are also turning my head, though the lines on pre-Depression dresses don't suit my body tyoe in any fattering way..low waisted and boxy. I am much more comfortable in the next decade where things had actual waists, but I do love a sort of old Hollywood in the 20's vibe..things like feathers and chiffon and sparkle. Maybe I need more drapey kimono's and cloche hats in my life. Despite having an abiding love of summery sundresses..fall is my favorite wardrobe season by far. 

Today is writing day, but I am also printing chaps like mad to assemble tomorrow, as well as some other papery fun for prizes in our library scavenger hunt.  It is t-minus two weeks til we are back in the flow, and despite the world around Columbia being a covid enflamed mess, I feel better that there is a vax requirement and mask mandates on campus. So many of my friends teaching at other institutions, esp in the south, are worried as fuck.  Loyola, thankfully, since I live practically in the middle of campus, has similar policies,.  Great since I am sure they will be as safe as they were last year in terms of partying about. (not)

I've been considering a news fast, mostly since I am once again grabbing my phone first thing immediately to doom scroll, which does no one any good.  Having done what I can, having done so since the beginning, I can't do much more about the alarming headlines than I already am. Mask up, avoid crowds or unnecessary gatherings, get a booster if needed. This seems to be going to be a long run. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

the cult of girlhood

 When I was a kid, I spent significant parts of summer camping up at the RV my paternal grandmother owned near Lake Wisconsin, which was next to an RV owned my my eldest uncle.  Since my dad had waited until well into his 30's to have children, long after most of his siblings, my cousins were all older, mostly female, and prone to doing the things all teenage girls circa the late 70'/early 80's did--ie spend hours getting ready to go nowhere in particular. Since I was the sole child mostly in those years (my sister still a baby) I tagged along with them incessantly. To the drive-in, to get iced cream, to the little playground in the campground where they sat on a huge tree segment polished for climbing and carved with the markings of every teenager who vacationed there, where they talked about teenage things and flirted with boys from other campsites. The most acute memory was the getting ready though--even if it was just to go to the beach--long hours showering in the public coin operated bathrooms.  They would take me, huge totebags in tow--full of potions and hair tools--eyeshadows and creams--and then spend over an hour in front of the huge sink mirrors in the concrete building. Sometimes they did strange things like wash their hair with eggs or beer.  Shave their legs. Pluck their eyebrows and curl their lashes.  They'd curl and blowdry and tease, then spray each other with endless colorful cans of Aquanet. It was all this strange world I did not inhabit, so mostly I would play with the shampoo bottles and the coin operated machine and wait for them to finish once I was, myself, bathed and dressed while listening to them talk about things I neither knew about nor understood. 

A cousin on my mother's side was the sort of girl who almost a cliche, A good hearted cheerleader dating the football star (who she foolishly married at 19 and who turned out to be an abuser.)  Homecoming queen.  County Fair Queen. I would stay overnight in her yellow farmhouse bedroom, filled with ribbons and tiaras and aspire to that kind of girlhood.  To the sort of things I saw as I flipped through her highchool yearbook.  My grandmother on that side would let me play for hours with her jewelry box full of costume jewelry, mostly clip on earrings and clunky bejeweled bracelets. The makeup on her vanity, nail polishes and pots of rouge.Tiny white sample lipsticks. Besides the set of encyclopedias in her living room, they were my favorite things in the house.   

My mother, when she was working, was particular about getting ready. Each morning, you'd find her up earlier than us having showered the night before, curling her short hair with a curl brush, dousing herself in hair spray, and teasing out with a comb.She was less ornate with the beauty implements, but just as precise.  She'd slather her face in foundation and powder, dust on eye shadow, some blush and mascara.  Then hit her hair with another round of hairspray as a final touch, then turn the bathroom, which was one of two, but the most functional one, over to me and my sister to shower and get ready. I was the last in, since I liked to sleep to the last possible minute and then throw myself together (some things never change.) When I was a teenager, I normally quicky blowdried my hair, messed with my bangs with some product (the early 90's--oy!), put on some cover up to hide oily skin, added some lip gloss and that was about it.  I never took to makeup as much as my mother.  Or perhaps because of her, which she sometimes tried to foist upon me.  As I got older and my skin cleared, I forwent it entirely, maybe at most carrying some powder and lipstick in my bag. When I wore eye makeup or blush after that, it seemed painted and unnatural in the mirrror and not a particularly useful use of my time. 

Over the years, I have (pre-masking) loved wearing tined lip balms and matte liquid lipsticks.  My favorite is lip pencil and balm, which has great staying power even through several cups of coffee. Unless I have a blemish (or you know the cats decide to jump on my face overnight) I usually forgo even concealer (though I have noticed on days when my dark circles are more prominent, I can make myself look a little less like a haunted victorian child.  I'm sensitive to many things around the eyes--even using certain hair products--so I avoid anything there. Ditto with my hair, which is usually wet when I leave the house all four seasons at least a little. For all my love of clothes, makeup is not something that accompanies that love. 

Still that cult of teen girlhood was sort of magical when i was a kid--my cousins, my mother, even my sister who wears some makeup sometimes.  The potions and lotions.  While I do not wear much makeup, I am a hoarder of various bath gels, shampoos, body scrubs, bath oils, face masks. Esp.  things that also come in pretty packaging. Also nail polish, though since the things I do are hard on my nails, I usually only paint my toes. I was thinking about how much those hours watching my cousins in that bathroom getting ready formed my idea of what teenage girls did with their time. My own teen years of course, more solitary.  More cousins would not be born into the family until those girls started having kids a decade later. By then I was already coming into adulthood. 

So much of those years is memory--riding around with them listening to Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.  Washing our hair in the river at another campground where there were no showers. When I was working on dark country--esp, the beautiful, sinister and exquisite damage portions, these were the experiences I had in mind. The settings I was writing within. When I was a teenager, we camped less as a group and more often just as a family unit--so those years were mostly me reading on the top bunk of the pickup camper and fighting with my mother incessantly, But still, with my sister in tow, I would carry my tote bag to the shower building and spend some time washing off the grime of the campsite, getting ready for nothing much. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

stability & uncertainty | the creative life

The past few years, I go through strange bouts of contentment and sudden, sharp jabs of discontent. These usually have to do with workloads and money and forever, the unpaid work of being a writer and an editor. Of being permanently understaffed at the library, where I've often taken on things far beyond my pay grade, but also had things foist upon me due to staff changes (things that used to be whole other positions, sometimes in other departments).  It seems tacky to talk about job woes on the internet, but I have always tried to be honest in this space. And these aren't things I haven't said to my superiors dozens of times, but they too, have limited abilities to change things--budget cuts, institutional stinginess, lack of hands, hiring freezes.  They are good people and I consider them friends. They are trying.  I am trying.  Covid threw a wrench in a lot of things, so these are minor. 

I have the dream to eventually be able to float on my own creative work and the press (and therefore, be better and more intentional at these things as well.)  But it's a risk that sets my Taurean heart into a tailspin of panic.  Even outside of things like health insurance and retirement saving, there is living and existing in a rather expensive city where I live alone and shoulder all expenses. I nearly topped the whole house of cards trying to pay two rents in the fall of 2019.  My living expenses are just covered by my library job (just), but I live as frugally as I can/ was raised  (waiting for sales, thrifting most things, buying second hand clothes. watching my restaurant/entertainmment budget, using public trans, cheap electronics, and very little traveling even before covid.)  Because I live paycheck to paycheck. I have no real savings beyond my 401K, which is still smaller than it should be.Occasionally there is some money left over for small treats like iced lattes and fancy bath gel. But not always.   

When I was selling Etsy in the late aughts, there were more ample extra funds from selling vintage and other things--art, paper goods, soap, jewelry.  There was money flowing in, but I was neglecting all the things I wanted to make--namely more books and zines.  To focus on the reasons I started the press (rather than spend rare studio hours making custom bars of soap or wedding invitations.)  Eventually, by 2011,  it was getting hard to be seen there and more expensive to sell, so I moved the shop to freestanding, but lost a lot of internal traffic. When I decided to focus more on books & zines, with the other stuff more as a side offering (art, prints, stationery), what followed of several years of making do, kicking in with my library income when we had a slow month.  The chapbook series mostly eats it's own mostly in toner , ink, postage, and paper stock. Other things I sell eat up more in supplies and packaging. Profits from one book get rolled into producing others, some of which sell well, some with slower rolls. Nothing, however, is guaranteed from month to month. I got really tired explaining to people how I couldn't afford to go to things like AWP and when I did manage, it nearly wiped me out and took months to recover from financially. (well, that was before they tried to kill everyone with covid in 2020, so I certainly won't be going again.) 

I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward.  The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript.  Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions.  Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else.  But, without any safety nets,  my own fear is very real.   I pictured myself 20 years down the line...the retirement savings I only barely have--how it's impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore?  Does anything? And even if it does most of the time,  should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later? 

The winds shift back of course.  Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it?  If money was no object (had I married a rich man...lol... or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present.  But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way.  That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones--ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me.  I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble.  That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.)  On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of  my creative practice.  It also, however,  made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can't work in a state of instability.  Of uncertainly.  Creatively or otherwise.

Which  is, of course, the worst of all puzzles.  To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

moon cats

In preparation for our upcoming BAD ART: KITSCH, CAMP, & CRAFT focus exhibit, I've been indulging this week in a little whimsical digital collage work that is not at all serious in it's intention, but kind of cool in its results..you can see more of them here... 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

fall planning and projects

I am sill waiting for that change of light that signals fall, but it hasn't happened just yet. Still, the weather is milder than it was a week ago, and we've shed the smothering heat. I've been primed for fall for weeks, but am especially feeling a certain excitement now. I've mentioned before that fall pursuits always feel more serious in their endeavors, a seriousness which no doubt reflects new beginning and new semesters--that internal clock that persists. I've been marking sweater dresses on pinterest for fall sales and queuing up horror and true crime.  I am ready. But at the same time, I am so not ready.  

Our library programming this fall is definitely of the more flexible variety.  We have no idea how and when in-person things will fare, so are augmenting with virtual experiences and content. Bad Art:  Kitsch, Camp, and Craft exploits are in planning nonetheless. For my contribution, I'll be making some silly little collages involving cats and space, but also, hopefully, some black velvet florals. Submissions have been rolling in and one of of student staffers is working on some horror interpretations in the style of Lisa Frank, which are amazing.  On other fronts,  have a couple zine projects planned for fall, including the strangerie deck and a zine for the tabloid poems, so watch for those in September & October. 

I am just about set to dive into submissions for next year for dgp, the schedule of which will depend on how well I am progressing on this year's books.  2020 issues have taken a bigger bite out of year, and this year's releases are smaller and looser in their timelines going in, but I'd still like to stay mostly on schedule and wrap up some other books still blowing in the wind from 2019 that were already delayed when the pandemic hit. Having bitten off a more manageable chunk this year, it feels less scary, but still a lot of work.

Writing in the fall feels different than summer. I am much more likely to do more research driven project in my back-to-school excitement.  I was remembering my first semester of grad school in my lit program and how much the ability to research was changing each year--getting easier.  How technology was making things easier (no huge, volumous MLA  indexes for example, which I used a lot in my undergrad time in the basement of the library.)  Now, so much is available with a click.  I feel like such an old lady when I talk about card catalogs and indexes, things which people even a few years younger than me are wholly unfamiliar with.  Now you can write a whole research paper without leaving your computer. As technology dawned, my research got better, faster in the late 90's.  By the time I landed in classes again in 2003, you could pretty much find everything you needed.   These kids don't know how good they have it, says the old lady inside me.     

As soon as I finish with the spell poems, I plan to either go back to some of the starlet poems I started near the end of last year.  Or possibly some other little project too new in conception to talk about just yet. There is also bits and ends of several things started and unfinished lingering from the last couple years, some pre-dating the pandemic.  I've been good at finishing things, but sometimes it takes a while.  They get set down and neglected for other shiner things. More pressing needs. I'd be foolish to say I can wrap them up befroe the end of the year because I probably won't, but there is progress in the trying. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

of boats and distant shores

If you happen to check the news frequently (something I probably should not be doing quite as often as I so) it's incredibly easy to feel deflated. Defeated.  So much happening and all of it bad.  Afganistan falling.  Earthquakes and hurricanes. Covid burning a swathe across stupidly unvaccinated America. When I check the local news, so many shootings daily.  Because the world is fucked up world of violence and guns and mysogynists and racists. And that's on top of natural things, many of our own creation and neglect (plagues, global warming), though some not (earthquakes, obviously.) It's easy to feel like so much is for naught.  Twenty years of war.  Of dead soldiers and citizens. Of money and efforts that in the end, resulted still in Taliban control of the country. Or  covid lockdowns, vaccine rollouts, job losses, deaths--people who got swept up in the first couple of waves and never made it out of the water. The healthcare workers who risked their lives and lost them.  How every time it seems we are moving forward or making gains, we lose so much ground and start again that we never get there. 

While obviously far below a national disaster, it's easy to feel like our lives are like this too on the micro-level. A few months ago, even though I have a good system of post-its that comprise my daily to-do list, I would finish my week feeling like I could not tell you what I had accomplished that week.  Obviously, something.  But if I didn't get triumphantly to everything, I still felt a failure for all that I did not finish or do. Those notes that had to be pressed to the following week.  This weariness cut across all swathes of my life--writing and art, the press, library things.  Even housework and organization tasks. But also the awareness that things keep coming at you, on all those fronts, so there is never a feeling of finishedn-ess or accomplishment--just more to do. I felt this way so much that I started keeping an additional  tiny notebook where I listed everything I did accomplish. It helped, but only some. Because I apparently like boat analogies, imagine that you are setting sail, and it all depends on whether or not you can keep the boat from taking on water.  Except, there is only more water replaced by what you've dumped out. And there's more of it.  And faster. 

But then, maybe I just need to change the frame of reference.  Yes, the boat is still full of water, but look how far away the shore we left.  How we can just see the lip of the opposite one.  Maybe in the efforts (of war,  people were still saved. People's lives were still different.  In the covid battle, for every selfish asshole, the streets of the city have been filled with people masking up and being careful. Someone is still alive because of the choices they made--that we all made (though the reverse is also true.) Nothing is really for nothing at all, though it's hard to convince yourself of that when the boat sinks a little more each day. When you're tired of rowing and bailing out the sea at the same time. When that shore is barely visible at all. 

Though perhaps it's possible to live in these middle, transitional spaces without losing your shit.  The boat in the middle of the ocean.  The calm in the middle of a storm.  We tend to think of things as the beginning and and of a journey--to freedom for everyone, to the end of the pandemic, but ignore the small shifts in wind that add up. I am trying to pay attention to these shifts, these tiny increments when I scan the news, because really, it's all I can do...

film notes | very bad things

 Last night I indulged in a little trashy TV viewing (well trashier than usual) watching first an expose on the the weird sex NXIVM cult and then, CRUEL SUMMER, a fictional  (but w/ true crime vibes) story built around the kidnapping of a girl in the 90's that may or not have been left to die by the girl who wanted to take over her life. It has a strange braided storyline, that could work if it were a little clearer, but I was still hooked and will continue watching.  I've only recently subscribed to Hulu again, so spent some time filling my queue there with some great true crime and cult documentaries that had me giggling again over this SNL skit as I clicked add.  When we did our LETHAL LADIES programming a couple semesters back, we kept asking the question why women in particular are fascinated with this genre of entertainment--via doc, via podcasts, via true-story movies. All gobbled up voraciously by women like me. 

I would be inclined to think it's just my tendency toward horror, but I've met many women, my mother was one, who don't necessarily like horror, but love true stories of very bad things happening in women's lives.  I have a poem in major characters in minor films about actress Meredith Baxter Burney's tendency to appear in Lifetime-ish movies where , for example, she has an eating disorder or a husband with a secret family. Those networks are, for the value of entertainment, littered with such movies. Sometimes, they are violence driven--stalkers, abuse, killer cheerleader moms. Casey Anthonys and Scott Petersons. My mother loved it all, but drew a line about horror.  Her tendency to also love hospital shows made me wonder if her initial claims against gore in movies was BS, but later she admitted she just didn't like being scared, which was especially ironic considering she watched far scarier true-to-life things than most entirely made up horror movies. But somehow, those were usually talking about something that had already happened--a violence that had been contained. Not that you experience in the world of a film designed to scare you. 

Sometimes I am in the mood for such things--though I will take a scripted horror film, even a mediocre one, over true crime usually. It might also be my childhood love of Unsolved Mysteries and ghost story shows that occasionally find me wading into weirder true crime--the Cecil Hotel documentary earlier this year for example which I devoured in one sitting. I like serial killer documentaries, though more often they just make me angry at the world that creates violent, entitled men like Ted Bundy.  That never really allows any sort of justice for the victims or survivors. Sometimes horror is like this, but the ends are usually more satisfying (well, mostly, I am still really pissed about Promising Young Woman.)

When I was a kid, my cousins, who lived next door were forbidden from horror movies.  Well, forbidden in their own home, but never in ours, where they were playing 24/7 unless we were watching Thundercats or something.  By the time me and my sister had developed a certain callous over our fear, they were still freaked out pretty easy, to the point of avoidance in later life. I always wondered what that was like--to be so afraid that you didn't, as we did, know what you were afraid of.  I knew full well that there could be monsters in the half-open closet.  A clown under the bed. Killers in the woods.  That your dog could get rabies and attack.  That your car could be evil. That these things were probably not real, but you should be ready just in case. I think for many women, it works the same with true crime.  You know that the world is fucked up and scary place for women where really bad things happen.  The more you know, the more you feel you have control.  That you can spot the warning signs better and aren't just bumbling baby-like through the world and into danger. Not to say men do not also love horror and true crime, but it's totally a different itch it scratches than for women. And this is probably why women are more voracious in their consumption. 

I was thinking again about this this morning as I was queuing up bits of DARK COUNTRY for Twitter promo, and how much of the book is about navigating those sorts of violence and the premonitions of such violence. I was a child who was really into horror from a very early age, and as such, unlike my mother, I LOVE being scared on screen, though I think it also gives me the illusion of control and mastery over the real world (probably not the case at all, but it feels better.) The entire last section of the book was inspired by a speaker at a horror convention who talked about middle class fear.  How once people were agrarian and settled in their houses and not starving to death, they developed an appetite for stories about the worst of their fears. It's hard to love horror when you are actually in danger and this may be why a lot of recent black-led horror (ANTEBELLUM, the THEM series.) seems to fall flat with the communities it seeks to give voice to. It's an unsafe, fucked up world for all of us, especially if you are a BIPOC, so it's hard to navigate what scares and what is just milder version of torture porn, however real and unjust. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

the books we need to read


I've often heard that we write the books that we need to read. Or maybe that some version of us--past or present-- needs to read.  This has been true of some of my books, though others were based less on need than want.  girl show and shared properties for example were pure interest and entertainment.   major characters in minor films was a purging of sorts for bad relationships. feed was one that was pure need.  From it's body issue concerns that would have been useful to my teen self to the death of my mother, writing about which was necessary for my own healing. Also another kind of purging. 

dark country is also a little bit of both--interest and want obviously, encompassing so many things that are my passions--horror, urban legends, dark little stories. Also, teen girlhood with it's twisty paths.  But I was thinking this morning over coffee about 14 year old Kristy and how pleased she would have been with this book enveloping so many of her favorite things. Maybe it's the back-to-school nostalgia, or how I once spent a week in august with my parents ensconced in a Black River cabin, on whose sleeping porch I spent the majority of reading Christopher Pike one novel after another. I found myself remembering how comfortable the iron daybed was, how dark the sky was outside the screens.  How there was an enormous purple armoire in the corner that I was convinced was haunted--not becuase it did anything weird or spooky, but because it was huge and old and painted a strange, lovely color for an antique. 

I also had a cold and a sore arm, courtesy of my freshman year innoculations that occurred the day before we left.  This was the year where it rained much of our visit, not the previous year where we got a flat tire traveling through a huge fire due to drought--a fire that I wrote so many poems about. How we just made it through before they closed the roads entirely.  That year, Wisconsin was thankfully not in flames nor drought, but the remnants were left behind in charred trees and absent vegetation along the highway. Years later, Black River would have too much rain and river--it's 1993 floods left buildings in up to 6 feet of water. Hatfield, where we usually stayed was out of commission for a while after that. But then so much of the midwest was waterlogged that year.  By then I was in college and most of our visits had us staying in town at the Arrowhead and only visiting the lake. 

14 year old me used the rain as even more of an excuse to stay tucked in on that daybed, nursing my cold with Reeses cups and Red Vines and reading since beach trips and fishing expeditions were few.   As soon as I finished one I'd start another.  Probably more than one book a day, checked out from the library or procured at Waldenbooks with allowance money. Mostly all horror, though there might have been some teen romances in there as well. In those days, so much was trying to figure out how to navigate high school, which was weeks away--my only idea of that strange new thing coming from these novels, teen movies of the John Hughs ilk, and, of course, horror. 

So perhaps dark country is mostly for this girl. Though parts are set in the 70's, some in the woods, some in corn fields.  Some, the Slenderman poems, right smack in this decade. Some based in urban legends, some in mythological retellings.  Some in my own autobiography, others entirely based in fiction.  Though she had fallen for Poe in junior high and was trying to write a "novel" , it would still be another year before she write her first poem.  But she would have loved this book, and hopefully so do you...

get a copy here....

Friday, August 13, 2021

the self-publishing diaries | pros & cons

In yesterday's mail, the first batch of copies of DARK COUNTRY--a beautiful thing to behold and something that will be in the shop next week for purchase. I've spoken a bit in this space on the experience of self-publishing after previously releasing things via traditional presses for the most part--two different experiences, but each with strengths of their own. Since this is my second time around and I'm getting the hang of it, I thought I'd might lay out a few of the particulars, since this would have been great info I would have loved when I was first trying to get a book published. Also info that  even have tracked me in a different way had I known many of the things I've learned in the past 15 years of publishing--books and chapbooks, small presses of various sizes, self-publishing, etc. 

Depending on which circles you run with as a poet, self publishing is received in one or two ways--either a clever thing to do with your work in a tricky and nearly non-existent market (I've found this attititude in open mic and slam poetry circles, also among general DIY-ethos folks.) Or, its basically, especially in academic circles, a foolish, self-indulgence you will mostly regret. Some folks are really passionate on other side of the argument. Some kind of ridiculously so. For me, it was an option, especially as POD technology became more available as a viable and doable option, but I was in the thick of submitting to open reading periods and contests, one of which worked out and published my first collection.  It could just as easily have went alone, though my skillset as a designer and publisher was much less, so it might have been a rather disastrous mess of a book all those years ago.  Other books followed with other amazeballs presses, by submission or happenstance, but all along I thought eventually I might want to explore issuing things on my own for a number of reasons that I am finding to be of benefit, 


Since money is often our greatest impediment as the poet-creatures, I thought I'd hit this one first.  Getting a book into print costs money--either for you or for the press that issues your work, so there's no easy way of getting around it. Just the physical construction of the book is costly--let alone the editorial and design work, the marketing and promotion, to back it in the world and make readers aware of it.  Again, shouldered by you or someone else.  POD definitely makes things more do-able, the cost per unit not terribly high in most cases. If you do your own design and editorial work as I do--front your own marketing efforts, you can keep it manageable. feed was under $3 per copies plus shipping, while dark country was closer to $4 due to length and it's larger, square shape. POD, thankfully, allows you to place orders in small batches to keep from sitting in a pile of unsold books (particularly since the pandemic limited reading engagements.). Since I was selling them directly under dgp and out of the shop,  I only ordered 10 of feed and at first then ordered more as needed and those sold. Then more.  There is postage of course, about $10 per batch. But even with all of that I was able to finance feed with the money I got from a reading at the Poetry Foundation in Feb. This book with my tax refund money. Selling enough copies, I broke even and then some. Even all said and done, publishing both books cost less than the hundreds I once spent submitting to contests and open reading periods trying to land book #1.  In addition, I also keep all profits on the books as they sell, which given most royalty arrangements with traditional publishers is a lot.--especially since I have also published without royalties at all.  In those cases, the presses were smaller and I was totally glad they rolled them into continuing the press--but this way, these funds get rolled back into dgp or other artmaking endeavors and the circle continues. It can get more expensive, of course, if you have to hire a designer for example, or a copy editor, or pay for advertising and ISBN's, while these things in a traditional press part of the benefits you get cost-free. Though I feel they charge too much, there are also the dreaded "vanity presses" that will entirely do all the work for you for a large sum of money.  If you're weirdly wealthy and want someone else to do the heavy lifting, these might be an option, though still the brunt of promotion and audience cultivation may fall on you. (and I'd argue you're better off doing it yourself.)


When I decided self-publishing might be an option, I had decided that I wanted to distribute my books directly from the dgp shop, though many folks go through Amazon or B&N and sell on those sites. This is something I might do in the future, but I liked the idea of being able to sign books, to include swag, to have ore of a direct relationship with readers.  To be more small, as I have always been with chaps and zines and various things. To have that direct line of maker to audience. Of course, traditional presses are the winner here--distributors, bookstores, direct sales, all happening on another level.   Also, just being free of the mailing and shipping part might be appealing since these things also cost money and materials (in my case, something I was doing anyway.) As a self-publisher, all of it falls on you, and the books only go out through the channels you create, rather than the ones created by the press which can make things harder.  Presses also have their devoted readers who buy many of their books just to support them.  If you go it alone the road is rockier and less paved.  I've always mostly distributed anything I've ever sold on the web, so bookstores, beyond places like Quimby's, haven't been something I've sought out, but the best approach is to build a relationship with your local bookseller. The chain stores carry minimal poetry if at all, but indies are often champions of local authors especially, even if it's by consignment. And, of course, if we every get free of covid, sometimes the most successful places to sell books is readings and book fairs for any book, no matter who brings it into the world.  


This one varies depending on how deep your skillset in layouts and design. Because I have much experience here, this part was natural to me and cost me no extra funds. Not that it was easy, by any stretch, but only that it was do-able.  I was stabbing blind at formatting when I put together the first file for feed, but  by the time the second rolled around, I was better at figuring out margins and such.  Typically, printing chapbooks, you can just do it over if the margins are outta wack.  With print galley copies also being something you have to pay for, you don't get as much freedom to experiment, I also have the knowledge and abilitiy to design my own cover from years of doing it for other people's work. With a traditional press, beyond your input in the process, most of this is handled by the designer or design team and comes back to you only in proofs. Since even with traditional publishers I often had a hand in the cover imagery, this was not that far of a stretch for me. Some presses, not those I've worked with, are more or less likely to involve the author, so self-publishing definitely gives you more creative control in the finished product. .  It varies. If you are not up to it as a self-publisher, there are ways that you can hire outside designers to make your book look fabulous, but it will be out of pocket. Ditto on the interior design and editing. 


This may be the one area where traditional publishing comes out far ahead of the game, in that they are already good at running the promo machine for their titles in most cases.  They can see to things like press releases, social media marketing, advertisements and review copies and usually front funds, and/or efforts for these things without the writer doing much at all.  This is true in theory, though as most poets will attest, even the traditional presses with huge promo budget rely on their authors to some some of the legwork in the form of hosting their own websites and social platforms, doing readings to sell books, talking it up to their friends. As a self-published author, its all you, and this is what mostly in the past, beyond technical capabilities, gave me some reservation--what good a beautiful book if you cannot get it to readers.  Things to consider- the audience for your work--your social engagement game.  Whether or not you are willing to hustle a little more to get books into hands.  While hard for any author at any stage, this is particularly true of emerging and authors new to publishing, who might not already have interested audiences or marketing experience.  These are also, if desired, things you can outsource to professionals.


Moreso than the practicalities of issuing your own work, there are other things to consider as you decide the path for your book. What do you want?  What do you want to get as a result of putting the book out in the world?  Things like tenure and jobs often poo-poo self-publishing, so if you are looking for those things it might be best to seek out a traditional publisher.  If you just want to distribute your work, to have a book for interested audiences to purchase, either path works about the same. If you're looking for the security (for you or readers) of a publisher's seal of approval, that also is a factor. I make fun of the legitimacy monster all the time, but for many poets, they need that feeling that someone is willing to invest in their work. And that's totally okay, esp. if you are just starting out. Also, you might not feel comfortable just putting things out there without an editor's hand guiding you in the right direction--making edits and suggestions and greasing the wheels a bit. If you want to participate in Pobiz (with a capital P) and run in the circles of fancy prizes and high places, then you'd probably be best to emulate it's denizens. (I would argue though that the poetry community is far larger and more diverse than Pobiz and it's possible to have an amazing career in that community) And actually, that there are many audiences and many communities--whatever the kind of work you write.  


For me, self-publishing, though it took years to come round, was a kind of natural choice.  The reasons were many: Less time struggling up the river and past the bottleneck of books that are just as good--many better-- as mine.  Less frustration as a midcareer author in a publishing world where so much focus is on the next new thing and first books even in the tiny sliver that cares about poetry at all.  While I've had publishers who usually gave me imput on design anyway, it was nice to have total control over timelines from the start.  I found myself at the close of 2020, having just released a new book with my regular publisher that spring, with a build up of projects that I wanted to see in the world as full-lengths.  I had sent a couple to my BLP for first dibs but they had passed. I did not then want to spend 100s of dollars playing the open reading periods/contest submissions.   While I suppose I could have sought out traditional publishers for all three, I am not sure I was keen on waiting years and years for them all to be released.  My takeaway from pandemic year is not  that any of us are vulnerable to death or disaster at any time--so seize the day--but also to try to live that life free anyone's permission or approval that these books are somehow less than my other traditionally published ones becuase I am putting them out there under my own imprint, (I call this my FOOF era, ie "fresh out of fucks"). Sometimes you talk about self-publishing and seizing the means of production and people look at you like you just threw up on their shoes.  Whatever.  Since I had the means and the ability to make books happen after years of publishing chaps, something of a following of readers (small, but enthusuastic..lol..) why not do it?

I don't know what road I'll take after these books.  Maybe a little of both is nice.  I love the community aspect of publishing with an existing press and the design stuff is a heavy load, so it's nice to have someone else in charge of it (formatting the book took many, many days and then still needs work once you're in galleys.)  Things like review or promo copies are nice to not have to worry about. Sales figures were about 30 percent less with feed overall than sex & violence a year earlier (which was a bestseller at SPD after all) , but the earnings were significantly more since I get a larger portion of profits. I like being able to control the timeline, but it's not the most important thing going forward since this weird clustering of projects isn't always my reality.  

Ultimately,  launching a collection is hard even with a publisher backing you up, but double that if you're on your own. I feel like selling books now is hard anyway with a lack of readings and events, so I've no idea if one approach is better than another in the long term--so we shall see...I'm just making it up as I go along...

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

workshop dreams and nightmares


It's been a bit humid the last few nights in my apartment, cool enough to sleep with the window fan on, but not as comfy as it could be.  Mostly I toss and turn a lot, shed clothing, seek out the covers only to throw them off an hour later. . Becuase I wake often, perhaps I dream more--or at least remember my dreams more. Sunday night, one about collecting packages in a building I no longer live in. Another about going back to grad school--some sort of small writing MFA program with everyone significantly younger than me and me hating it immediately. 

The dread which I woke to for a situation I am not, nor do I plan to be again, telling only in its intensity.  Maybe I've been thinking about grad school for other things too much. Or thinking about my Sealey challenge selections and how they were often suggested by my MFA peers (maybe one of the best things about grad school.). I don't, despite brief flickers of interest in cinema studies, plan to enroll in any sort of grad program, least of all writing.  Especially since the latter, while I can point out certain things in the value it provided, mostly was something, even a little way in, I began thinking was a mistake almost immediately.  I stuck it out, because I don't like to quite things I start. Because it wasn't costing me much money (staff discount at CC).  Because I wanted the success of having done it, even if I didn't completely enjoy doing it. 

Had I been 40 instead of the cusp of 30, I probably wouldn't have endured things that didn't bring me joy, but I was still very young then. (I also would not have felt I had to make changes in my thesis to graduate  that I changed back when the book was published.) While I made the decision  to do the MFA, it was a toss up between getting that or my MLS (which I only regret in a purely financial way, but which also would have been a mistake.) Later, mid way, I would wish I'd done the Book Arts program, which was far more in line with my creative practice and interests. While I appreciated the years I was doing it for a bit more efforts directed toward poems, I think most of my education might have happened similarly just by my own directions--by experiments and reading, by focusing a bit more on things I was already doing on the side. Even that focus was still split...I still had a 40 hour a week day job, was editing an online journal,  and a couple years in, started dancing girl press.   While my MA years get credit for renewing my love of TS Eliot and unlocking something that led to better poems, I don't remember my MFA years doing much beyond offering a chance to work on some good project prompts, but at the same time, making me angry and resistant to other people's hands and eyes on my work. 

A couple years out, it made me frustrated with writing at all. I still felt the eyes and hands on my work. Every line I wrote, I could hear the snide, occasionally aggressive and dismissive comments of others. I still sometimes do, but I just laugh it off now and don't let it get to me.  Not to say all was bad..many people were excellent readers of my poems and offered great feedback/criticism--useful things and suggestions. And I am not one to refuse to take criticism--but how critical is "Please write another poem." as advice?  It was more the assholes--and the format of the workshop itself that was mostly useless and sometimes detrimental even coming occasionally from the leaders, who were often writing completely different genres of poems. My summation of the experience was that we never really could come to consensus what a good poem was, much less lead a writer to writing one. As such, many writers grew frustrated, convinced themselves they didn't want to write at all anymore if this was how it was done. I often think folks are just being overdramatic when they bemoan the workshop's impact on literary culture (in conversation, in articles) but they are kind of right. Add in contest culture and bottlenecking and I would have been hesitant to travel down that twisty path at all were I not already on it.  

I've been following along and living vicariously as many poets I know talk about workshops and classes and conferences and getting feedback on their work and maybe I am the asshole but this would be the last thing I would go looking for at this stage in my writing life.  Not because I am so very good I don't meed help, but more that all my problems are something I need to figure out on my own. I write the crappiest crap sometimes, but I need to fix it and I'm not sure someone else's hands in the batter would make a better cake. While I love talking submission strategies, creative prompts,  and writer-biz talk, I mostly keep my drafts for myself over the years and really only show them to editors.  In a couple cases I've had to dodge people who insisted on getting me into a writing group since I think I'd rather slam my thumb in a door repeatedly than sit through another workshop. For reals. Also, while I enjoy teaching other types of workshops--bookmaking, zines, collages, you won't find me heading a writing one unless it;s more of a generative or prompt-driven thing (I've done some fun ekphrastic sessions in the past but mostly in the spirit of making--not vivisection.)

And ultimately, it may come down to what I was talking about last week regarding learning styles--my desire to seek things out, to figure things out on my own. But I've always found that the best things I've written were in the dark with the lights out and no one in my head but me..

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

what we plant

Lately I keep noticing an apartment building on the way to work that boasts not one, but several huge hibiscus bushes. Huge not only in the size of the bush, but huge in the size of the flowers--big as dinner plates and an absolutely gorgeous mix of reds and pinks. It's like this almost every summer--those enviable blooms, though I have no idea how those bushes survive Chicago winters. My mother, once having possesssed hibiscus that was the fussiest thing in the world. More of a small tree than an bush proper, she'd move it from room to room--one too hot, one too cold.  It occasionally could summer outside, but would have to be retrieved if too chilly. It would be bloomless and on the verse of dying, only to come back, full force in a flurry of flowers that lasted a few days then littered the rug around it. It always seemed like a plant that did not quite belong in the midwest at all, and really should have been overlooking some gorgeous Hawiian waterfall and not in our living room.  She'd nurse it back to health when it got really sad looking, and it lasted for years, always in the wrong climate until she finally left it outside too late one fall and it died completely.   Somehow, that sad tree/bush is a poem in and of itself. 

It's been on my mind, since we have a been stuck in a very tropical sort of hot this past weekend (which is not strange for us, but due to climate change, the whole country is suffering much the same fate.) Last night, there were storms and funnel clouds to the west, but all we got in the city was a couple downpours of short duration and maybe a tiny bit of thunder. At some point, I was waiting for rain, and the sky was this yellow as the sun set and absolutely still.  Tornado weather for sure, just not here.  On the phone, my dad watches the sky and  talks about tomatoes. With the exception of one year a while back where the plants all died, he gets an influx that's always a little overwhelming. Without my mom to help. his ability to can them into salsa is slower moving--a fight to keep them from going bad before he has a chance to do something with them.  Meanwhile, here in the city, I buy disappointing tomatoes delivered in my weekly grocery haul. My BLT's are never as tasty as his, but still I try.    The yellow sky that badly wants to break into a storm, is also a poem. The tomatoes, both his and mine,  are a poem.    

I've been working on the spell poems again this week, and I finally have a feel for the direction they are going and how I might like to finish them.  There's a clip to the rhythm of the poems when I'm writing them that is new. Or feels new.  I try not to let wanderings slow them down.  Last week, I sent some of the more polished ones off to a couple journals, one by invitation, the other a place I've been trying to get into for awhile. Despite my waffling in late July, I've sent a few thing out, from this project and another more complete one, and it feels good, to plant those seeds that might bloom later on. The poems are already poems, obviously but so is the planting.---the process and yeild a poem.  Or maybe less like planting a seed intentionally in any given place and more like scattering them to wind. 

In my daily readings for the Sealey challenge, I feel like the words of others often unlocks my own words a bit, and in many ways, prepare the soil for things to happen. Maybe not now, maybe in another batch of poems entirely, particularly the books this week that I am revisiting for the first time in over a decade. These poets voices, who influenced so much my own, influence it in different ways now, perhaps. Most of these poets have moved on to their own new writing styles.  Planted new crops and flowers over the old. But occasionally, you'll shuffle the soil and the old growth is still there. I flipped through the fever alamanac last night, read a couple of my own buried poems, and sure enough I feel their echos even in this new work.

Maybe its late summer, with harvest season so close and the days a smidge shorter that has me thinking in planting metaphors--such a stereotypical poet thing to do. I write more in the winter, no doubt, but so many poems--especially the early ones--take place in the summertime world.  But that slipping away, itself, is such a goddamn poem it makes my chest ache a little every time it happens.