Monday, May 30, 2022

notes & things | 5/31/2022

The nice thing about working alone is that you can declare any weekend a three day weekend, which was basically what I did last week out of town. This weekend, there is way too much to accomplish to fit into a short week be completely idle.  Even when this weekend is the official three-dayer, which is something I used to look forward to immensely when working at the library.  Memorial Day was always about catching my breath, the semester having ended and then busy planning things like zine fest, which we participated in pre-covid, out of the way . It always felt like we were poised at this tipping point where the summer's more leisurely rate kicked in and mostly we were just planning for fall. 

I still feel like I am floating in this strange land where the academic calendar rules that have guided my life til now no longer apply. Those highs and dips in demandingness persisted through my own schooling and then into every job I ever had, no matter what the grade level. Instead, there is this cloud of now and soon and maybe later, but nothing is definite outside a few deadlines I've imposed and some timelines that exist for other paid work. 

I realized yesterday that this begins month four of freelancing, but it does not feel like those months have flown by quite so erratically as full-time work. I still have a lot to do, both paid and unpaid.  I try to balance these out--whether its the content writing or press / shop work or my own creative projects. Some days I do more of one than the other depending on some different factors. like looming pay periods, which set a fire under me to get some more work done in time to hit those deadlines. Other things demand more intensive research or drafting best done in the first part of my day.  Some days I get up earlier then take a nap midday, others I start around noon and work straight through. There are small errands and post drop offs, but I stay pretty close to home, which I hope will vary a bit when covid numbers get a little less dicey for spending time indoors. 

The last couple days, it's been warm and balmy, and the beaches a couple blocks away crowded with revelers. I've mostly stayed inside, eating ice cream and strawberries and binging the new season of Stranger Things, which feels like a waste of good weather, but there is much more summer ahead. Let's hope its one that is long and lingering in the best ways.  

Sunday, May 29, 2022

i burn like nothing you've seen

In my reminiscing about the end of my MFA years and the impossibility of that being a stretch of 15 years ago, I also have to give a nod to some of the projects I released that year, which not only included my FEIGN chapbook I mentioned a while back, but a couple other fun things, including my Joseph Cornell project, which I am planning a longer post on, but there was also this short little chap of poems that set the tone for what would be my next manuscript after my thesis.

brief history of girl as match was initially issued as part of the awesome little Dusie E-Kollectiv, which I later took part in again with terrestrial animal in 2014.  While that year, we did swaps at AWP in Seattle, in 2007, it was solely through the mail, which meant I spent a whole month getting chaps in my lonely mailbox from writers who would later become some of my favorites (and some would even later be dgp authors.)  The physical edition, which was pretty small, was a tiny little square chap with only a dozen poems. The chaps were also later published electronically online for all to see, so you can see an electronic version here. 

Most of the pieces were written in that final year of grad school, sort of around the poems I was writing for girl show, which was fairly locked in in terms of subject matter and theme.  I feel like since 2004 or so, I've very much been a project poet who sticks to one thing at a time, but sometimes there are a couple different things happening at once and I go back and forth. Those couple years though, it felt like I had many projects and balls in the air for various courses I was taking. These were an exception, not really written to fit into anything or for any particular class-related project, most of them written in spring of 2007, though a couple might date from before (a couple were from my poetry forms class in 2006--the litany and epistolary poems in particular.)

What it ends up being is a short little study on women as muses vs. women as creators, which was something I was particularly interested in that year, as well as setting the stage for the next non-project book I would write, major characters in minor films. Though I wasn't sure for a while I would actually ever write another full-length collection, these formed a spine for that book and a general direction. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

15 year itch | notes on the mfa

It occurred to me that it's been 15 years since I finished my MFA. (Also 30 years since I graduated high school but that seems even more impossible.) I had to recheck the math, since it hardly seemed that long of a stretch. Once again, I blink and entire decades pass. 2007 was a weird year, both academically, where I found myself getting over a terrible bout with mono in my early 30's and an early Chaucer class, that I am pretty much sure I slept through 40 percent of and am amazed I passed.  It was a crazy time personally, trying to navigate the most fucked-up of all my past romances and the hardest to untangle. I finished my thesis manuscript (girl show) albeit reluctantly and stubbornly.  It actually would get picked up by the press that published my first book, but would wind up back in my lap after they shuttered a couple years later. I made changes I hated to appease my thesis advisor, printed it out on fancy rag paper, and handed it over, mostly just to get the whole thing over, which after 4 years of part time study while working full-time was kind of slowly killing me. 

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits-bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30's. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful "what are you writing now?" I did lots of other things--like move the press operation into the Fine Arts--start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap--and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I've been pretty steadily writing since--an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It's hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I've been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn't sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

notes & things | 5/24/2022

It was a brief weekend in Rockford, where everything is blooming at the prettiest time of the year--green and lush, but not yet weedy and humid. It was too chilly to be outside much, so I only saw bits in passing, including my very favorite snowball bushes at the corner of the house (actually two corners, but this one is the largest and most show-offy.)  I landed back in the glittering city tonight to sullen cats and a chilly apartment where I left one of the living room windows open.  The neighborhood is its summer kind of quiet now that the dorms have emptied at the end of the block and the general traffic between them ceased.  There will be much less traffic and students in my own building, and shorter waits for elevators. The lobby, which has been under construction for the past month or so is shaping up nicely. While I thought for sure they'd go sort of basic with white, they painted the walls the most lovely dark olive, which of course, is my favorite color for just about everything of late--dresses, paintings, text colors. 

Tomorrow it is back to writing work and press work and no doubt longer days since I took today off.  I actually don't mind long hours and a lot of work, mostly because it's nice to have those things and be able to set my own pace and not have to leave the house if I don't want to (and I rarely want to, especially as those numbers creep up again..)  The shuttle bus to Rockford was full of travelers, about half with no mask to be seen, so I felt a little vulnerable (I've just been wearing my surgical masks and ran out of KN-95s for the supervirulent months when I was commuting daily.) As I eye my dwindling mask supply, I am aware that each time I've ordered more, I've said to myself, just one more pack and it will be over.  Because some people like to act like it's over, it will probably never actually be, ya know, over. 

Despite saying I was waiting to start my next creative project til the beginning of June, I was antsy to get started last week. This is the female centered-epic I've been thinking about since the beginning of the year. Initially, I thought some dactylic meter might be a hoot, but it was clunky and I abandoned it for longer, free verse lines after a couple gos at it.  So maybe it is not an epic fully, but I plan to model my structure and other elements on heroic forms as much as I can.  I don't know how long it will be--shorter or book-length but we will see. Many times I start projects intending them to be longer and I find I like them much better more condensed after all. There have been longer sequences that were book-length or almost (honey machine, extinction event) that were trimmed down considerably to trim off excess that didn't need to be there. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

gatekeepers and community

I was scrolling FB recently and chimed in on a post about ridiculously rigid guidelines for poem submissions and the editors who make them.  While I understand their needs to be some basic framework and procedure to save yourself editorial headaches and facilitate easy reading (esp if you have more than one editor considering.), some guidelines are laughably complex and send me, as a submitter, just looking for somewhere else. Obviously, you want to have read what they publish and stay within the length and genre guidelines, not use attachments if they prohibit them, etc.  you also want to put it in a  readable font, submit only during submission periods, include a bio if necessary or remain anonymous if they read submissions blind.  These are reasonable and easy, but some get nitpicky about fonts and page numbers and all sorts of minute details that will, they usually say, promptly get your work thrown in the virtual trash.  I always get the impression the editors who love these sorts of guidelines and inflexible rules really get off on their role as a gatekeeper and their ability to dismiss accordingly.

The same day, I was writing about Charles Eastlake and his snooty pronouncements that Victorian decor was overly wrought and ornate and all needed to be thrown in a fire. It was followed by critics saying Eastlake pieces needed to be thrown into the fire.  It got me thinking about gatekeeping and tastemaking on a larger scale and how it works.  I've never felt like editing was gatekeeping, but more just a curating of things I want to show people.  But of course, it's all gatekeeping in some way.  What you choose to highlight. What you do not. I am lucky that I get enough submission, but not too many that make things unwieldy. And can publish enough to accept about 10% of what I get every summer.  These are numbers I am happy with, though some might raise their noses and think accessible publication is not quite rare and erudite enough. That by having a more open gate, the prize is not worth it.  I always file this under stupid things writers say, esp. when talking about journals and their acceptance rates and whether things are "Top Tier." I always think you want to be in a journal that has wide reach because people think the work is great, not just because they are hard to get into. The New Yorker for example has great reach and prestige, but I can count on one hand the recent poems in there I actually liked. 

The whole zine community ethos, of which I have always felt more in line with, is "Fuck the Gatekeepers!" and in many ways I agree. Gatekeepers are suspect, and I say that fully knowing I suppose I am one.  What I choose to publish or not publish is very much based on what I like or don't like. I may pass on something completely publishable that doesn't excite me. Something other editors have passed on might tickle my very peculiar fancy. Editing is subjectivism at its core, and beyond some basic principles of quality (ie, you're poems don't deal in cliches or sound like dirty limericks) I will at least read it with interest. I also have weird days where I love everything and days where I hate everything, probably for no real reason that has anything to do with literature or poetry at all. 

But gatekeeping aside, the flipside of those same principles is community.  I feel like I am totally for fucking the gatekeepers when it comes to doing things like self-publishing and getting your work out there, but you are also being granted, in many ways, access to a community by making it past a gatekeeper. But then again people see communities in different ways...and rarity is sometimes desirable. Kind of like that club with a line out the door and formidable bouncers vs the completely open-doored bar across the street. People want the line, not the open door. 

But then again, so much of our lives as writers depends on some kind of community. So if you eschew gatekeeping, you also can be sacrificing community. Or maybe not. I always hold up zine culture, in which many people are all doing many interesting things and there is not a gatekeeper to be seen . Except of course, there is--since only certain numbers of vendors can take part in festivals or programming. At some pint, there has to be a decision made because the sea of creators is just too vast. And maybe this is also poetry, just that the bottleneck comes lower in the bottle. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

notes & things | 5/14/2022

I blink somehow and another week slips through.  We've had a spate of warmer weather..really least away from the water. Temperatures more suited for late summer than late spring, but here by the lake, it's still rather mild and cool.  The water that remains after a cold spring will till have a cooling effect for a few more weeks, after which I will no doubt be pulling out my fans.  Today, I had initially planned to head down to campus to take in the year-end Manifest celebration, but this morning was still a little worried about those rising numbers and potentially being in crowds. I had some work to do on the neighborhood writing project anyway that I hope to finish early next week.  I have a big batch of books to make, and some other e-mails to answer and layouts to finalize, so I may be working through the weekend, especially since I plan to head out to Rockford next Friday and so this coming week will have to be a little more condensed.

I am still paused in my next writing exploit and plan to give  myself until June 1 to figure out what I am doing, what exactly I'll be working on over the summer.  Wil it be more of half completed unnamed mss #14 (I kind of have a name, but am still trying it out in my head). Or will it be the epic project, which as it's name suggests, feels like a hug undertaking I am not sure I am ready to embark on just yet. Toward the end of the summer, I'll start working on edits and finalizing automagic, which I would love to release around Halloween given its spooky, Victorian feel. However, I am still recovering from the final sprint that was animal, vegetable, monster. Over the last couple days,  I excitedly sent off signed copy orders that are still filtering in. If you haven't ordered, keep an eye out this week, since I'll be doing a 3-in-1 sale with other recent books.

I've spent this week knee deep in furniture styles (Jacobean, French Provincial, Victorian, Eastlake) and architecture details, as well as another assignment on vintage vending machine cards (this time devoted to TV westerns.) On Monday, I was downtown and thought I smelled lilacs, but realized they were the hyacinths in the planters around the perimeter of the Cultural Center.  I was able to sit in the park a little more comfortably than last week under a rein of white petals from the trees, that are now filling in everywhere you look.  I swear to god a week ago it seemed like spring would never come, but then it always does in a just a couple of warm days and spreads like wildfire. 

Sunday, May 08, 2022

notes & things | 5/8/2022

I have been trying to figure out if working alone expands or condenses the passing of time.  My routines are different and dictated by me, but they are still routines that sometimes feel like the days fly by.  I turn around and it is almost the beginning of a new week, though to be honest, the last one did not properly end. Despite my promise to free up weekend, a lot of good things are gaining fruition on the freelance front and a number of things landed that I had to tend to, including a large assignment writing a neighborhood guide for a real estate site, a really fun thing, but prep research swallowed a good number of hours amidst some other random tasks.  

I also found out my first piece for the antiques / collectibles site hit the mark, so have been assigned another this week and am waiting to hear if my trial book cover design is a winner for another contract job--all various things I am trying to line up to add a little bit more cushion to the freelance work as I eye potential apartment changes and rent increases. They will allow me to move back and forth between different things and keep steady income streams. The shop will also grow with new things over the next few months (I've been moving slower since there is a lot of catch up even after three months on chapbook business so that's where my priorities are at the moment. So my time on that daily is a lot of layouts, orders, and admin work.)

Other than those things, the rest of my days are usually working on my own writing stuff and making reels and other promo materials for the new book, and soon, more video poem content. I get up around noon most days, and work til 10 some nights, but its nice to have freedom to set that schedule, which is actually when I am most productive regardless (also the shift I worked even when I had a day-job.) 

I've been doing a few edits on unreal city (which I hope to submit a few pieces of out in the world when they are ready.  I've been waffling since abandoning my NAPOWRIMO efforts on whether to write more in the series I was working on there, or start the new thing that I have been both relishing and avoiding in equal measure.

It's been a couple cold days, but there has been some sun, and the trees are doing all sorts of miraculous things that they do every year, though its a couple weeks later than usual. It really may be spring, but I will believe it when I see it.                                             


Tuesday, May 03, 2022

films, readings, and other social media fun...

I will be posting some great little snippets of ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER over on instagram in the coming weeks, including mini films and reading for them here...