Saturday, April 13, 2024

napowrimoing: part 2

 Another handful of bits from over on Instagram of NAPORWRIMO yields, which have actually also resulted in some more bot collab Alice series images I thought I was finished with...

Friday, April 12, 2024

mothers and monsters


 The past week's movie outings have included, as I mentioned, a screening of Ti West's House of the Devil (a great 1980s throwback that doesn't miss a beat at feeling like it is truly an 80s satanic panic film) as well as two similar, and somewhat related movies about nuns. One, The Omen prequel The Last Omen and the other Immaculate. Both are movies that feel, even in their basic premise, very similar. Young novitiates arrive in Italy to take their vows and give up the pleasures of the world only to find that the church and the people in it have far shadier and possibly demonic intentions for their bodies. 

I was thinking about this in relation to choice and abortion and how the themes in both are very much about not having control over your own body and what happens to it. The women in the movies are potential vessels, who are tortured, tied down, assaulted, and all manner of horrors in the interest of producing a Christ-like child or an anti-Christ depending on the movie, but both feel very much like feminist takes on possession/birth movies and the church itself. Particularly in the brutality of the ritual and birth scenes in both films.

The First Omen

They have very different outcomes, though the women do escape their captors in different ways and with different twists (one startlingly brutal, the other triumphant, but hinting at a potential sequel to come in The Omen canon.) The gist of both seems to be that people within the church, sometimes even the church itself, for all their deference to God, are very apt to play God themselves when it suits them, while women get wrapped up in the story as birthing machines (actual or potential.) This was, of course, brought home with House of Devil, in which the heroine escapes the house full of Satanists, but winds up in a hospital pregnant with some sort of demon spawn we're led to conclude. It's incredibly interesting, considering the legacy of similar movies like Rosemary's Baby, how embedded the idea of demonic pregnancy and the fear around it are woven into the culture. I am halfway in to AHS: Delicate, which is working toward a similar vibe. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

notes & things | 4/9/2024


I meant to write this post earlier in the day, but the day somehow got away from me amid pesky writing deadlines and then a movie outing for a screening of House of the Devil. Now, I am making lasagna at 1am and tying up my loose ends and to-do list.  But it was still a day in which we watched the light change with the eclipse from the apartment window, how it cast shadows differently on the surrounding buildings. With no clouds, how the light was darker, yet remarkably clear. I feel like I missed the last eclipse in the windowless gloom of the library, so this was getting to see a bit more. We are still here, nevertheless, despite a few moments of twilight and the conspiracy-crowd promising the rapture. A few moments of eerie shadows, but the sun, as expected, returned to produce a rather sunny spring afternoon. I realize that I have witnessed, during five decades on the planet, quite a few eclipses and also several planned apocalypses that failed to happen. Nothing is all that new under the sun or moon, including these convergences of all the celestial bodies lining up.

Otherwise, I've been working on several chaps that are ready for printing, slogging away through the Alice poems that go with the images (see above) for NaPoWriMo, and making some fun art bits that may or may not be related to a writing project I want to do (and also some that are just for fun with the bots.) I am fine-tuning prompts and edits and getting much closer to what I am looking for than I was earlier this year. Every once in a while, the generator throws something at me that is freaky weird and ultimately unusable, but still lots of fun nevertheless. 

Today, despite the midday eclipse, was actually one of the first days I did not need a more wintry jacket, which hopefully means I can put them away and swap out some warmer weather duds for what's hanging on my clothing rack currently. Spring, despite the colder days recently, appears to be rising, with more stalwart flowers like daffodils and tulips fully in bloom. I suspect a few mild days and the buds will be more noticeable on the trees, which may be green by the end of the month. Even now, the birds start making noise around 2am, as if they, too, are getting ready for longer days. For me, it's much easier to stay productive for longer when it's not dark at 5 or 6pm.  

This week brings my next tattoo appointment on Wednesday for a bit more botanical loveliness on my arm., more movies at the end of the week, and trying to finish up my taxes, of which the rounding up info is done, but the tallying still needs to be finished to know the extent of the damage. My income last year was split between a slower earlier part of the year and a heavier load of assignments and writing hours after August, so I didn't quite hit my freelance income goals, but am on track to do so this year. Still, I was able to muddle through doing progressively better each month The shop still managed to eek out a tiny profit according to the calculations I did make over the weekend, despite releasing a smaller queue of chap series titles and outsourcing all covers, which I worried might be something that dipped me into the red. My own books helped, as did some of the postcard and journals that were new last year. A couple of chapbooks in the series sold well, so we are in good shape for this year's titles anyway regardless of what happens.

Friday, April 05, 2024

celebrating successes, both big and tiny

Writing that last post got me thinking how I've often written about the YESes and small successes that were important in helping your carve out your poetry career (though this always feels like a strange word to use as there is rarely any money in this job, nor is there any definable way of charting success when achievements and goals are all over the map.) I guess I can speak for myself..those moments that felt somehow important in a slew of other good things, and they might not be the ones you expect. But as such, I've put together an informal list of moments or small successes in my creative life I felt like were somehow extra sublime to experience as a writer.

1. The time after a gallery reading when another Chicago poet told me that my work was like Sylvia Plath and David Lynch had a baby. 

2. My first book signing at the swanky SAIC ballroom with the Poetry Center of Chicago after I won their contest in 2004. I was terrified with very little reading experience, and went with my little handmade copies of Bloody Mary and was somewhat aghast when someone handed me a pen and asked me to actually sign them. While winning the prize earlier in the year was very shocking to me, this experience sticks with me even more. You can actually listen to that reading at The Poetry Center site about halfway down the page here

3. Reading for the biggest audience I possibly ever will at the Guild Complex's Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic circa 2005, which made me feel like I was sort of out of my element as more a page poet than a stage poet, but loved the huge and energetic audience nevertheless.

4. The morning I received a phone call in late 2005 from Ghost Road Press saying they wanted to publish my first book, THE FEVER ALMANAC, then later getting to sign that very book at AWP in Atlanta the spring after it was released.

5. While the spring of 2007 brought many things, including my MFA completion, it was the little colllab project with Lauren Levato Coyne, at the hotel andromeda, based around our shared love pf Joseph Cornell, that feels like one of the projects I was most proud of, We debuted it that summer at WomanMade Gallery during a reading themed around collages with the late Maureen Seaton.

6. After my chapbook feign with NMP/Diagram was released, I ran into an author who talked about how she had had her class sit in a circle in the dark by candlelight and read portions from it, which seemed like the way all my poems should be read for best effect really...

7. One of the most popular things I've written was actually in some ways the most fun and ridiculous. In 2012, Sundress released my little series of missives to a James Franco to much attention. When I ran into Erin  a couple years later at AWP, she told me that downloads numbered in the thousands, and I realized that may in fact be the most readers I had ever reached or ever will.  Those poems would eventually appeared in my book with Sundress, MAJOR CHARACTERS IN MINOR FILMS.

8. After it had been dropped when my first publisher closed up, I had begun to wonder if my thesis manuscript, GIRL SHOW, would ever be published so was very stoked/relieved when Black Lawrence accepted it in late 2011, the first of three books they would eventually release in the coming years.In some ways, it brought me back to writing seriously after a couple years of writing very little and drifting. 

9. In the year after my mother died in late 2017, I started a more strident daily writing routine, mostly to give myself a focused task to start each day with rather than spiral into my own thoughts. I was able to keep it up, and while I do take occasional breaks (no longer than a month usually) I have managed to keep a steady stream of output in the years since, which has resulted in 6 longer books of poems and 3 others in the works in just 6-7 years, over double what I was writing prior to that. 

10. In the late summer and fall of 2019, amidst studio moves and general chaos, I got the chance to spend some research time and do a reading at the Field Museum of Natural History. I was charged with writing some work inspired by the museum, and wound up with a chapbook of poems, extinction event, that I really do love and enjoyed immensely reading from tucked amid the Hall of Birds (even though I had to pause the reading twice to let groups of pre-schoolers in school uniforms pass through hands all linked

11. In 2021 I published my first self-issued full-length collection, FEED, which turned out amazingly and was very rewarding to see through from start to finish. While I had to get used to doing the heavy lifting work of publishing like design and promotion that had been handled by the trad publishers I had been working with previously, there was something great about having full creative control on a project. 

Thursday, April 04, 2024

fake it til you make it

 On the heels of writing my post about penning a letter to my former poet-self, I stumbled upon a discussion on Threads that seemed to correspond well with that vein. It was a question about when you feel like you are finally "making it" as a writer, or that you have "made it.". While most of the posts were fiction writers, there were a number of common responses. That first major YES--be it an agent or a publishing deal. Or releasing your first self-publishing venture.That first glowing review. A community of readers built around your work. Being able to support yourself as a writer. And, my favorite, enough of a cult-like following to a)have fans and b) have them make fan art of your characters.  

I imagine this often changes depending on where you are in any given career. When I was struggling to place poems in the early years, making it meant an acceptance (or even a favorably worded rejection.) Making it meant that first chapbook or that first full length-book. Maybe that prime grant or residency or reading gig if you pursue those sorts of things. Making it rarely coincided with money, maybe only in the case of fellowships or book prizes. With poets, not really royalties, though if you were famous enough (think Rupi Kaur or Gwendolyn Brooks) you could make some money touring and reading your work in front of audiences. If you were lucky and liked to teach you could get a job teaching poetry or facilitating community workshops, or some other administrative job related to poetry.  Maybe you could work for a publisher or a mag, though these rarely pay you for your effort unless you reach a certain scale. 

Without money, the making it markers probably move continually like goal posts as a couple writers in the discussion suggested. You do A which leads to B which is eventually supposed to lead to C. That prized first book, the book prize, the poems in what people always call A-list journals. The residency that allows you to write or the prime teaching gig at a university. In all the discussion only a few praised the intangibles of "making it.". Finishing a project you love or writing the perfect poem or short story. Or feeling like you've gotten a book or project out of your system to your immense satisfaction.

I've always felt that really making it would you had readers, even a few, (ask me any given day and I will tell you whether or not I'm there Someone to enjoy (or at least ignore purposefully) the work that you do, the world you create. People who if not eagerly awaiting a new project, don't turn away when you show it to them anyway. I feel like the internet has both allowed this better connection between author and reader and at the same time, made it harder to feel like anyone sees you at all. Sometimes both of these at the same time. 

As for the goal posts, I did the first books and some chapbooks and at least one measurable cash prize for a local contest in the aughts. I've read some really cool places that occasionally even involve an honorarium. Every once in a blue moon, I land in a paying journal. In the past couple years, I have transitioned into a professional writer who makes a living with words, but of course that's lifestyle and culture writing, not poetry. My royalty checks from traditional publishing are still pretty negligible, but I do make a tidy profit on self-published books.these days. Not enough to break the bank, but enough to buy some dresses and books and other treats for myself. 

And yet, beyond readers, if you asked me today, I may say that it's balance. Feeling like you have it, which in turn can make you feel like you've "made it." Between the creative work and the other things you have to do to survive, the general life stuff, esp. if you have a kids or spouses or other obligations. To be able to balance being a creative with, I dunno, being a person in the world. To be continuously writing and thinking about writing. To center it in your life, but not to the neglect of everything else. 

I'm not there, just yet, but maybe someday...

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

napowrimo-ing along

 I will be posting my NaPoWriMo offerings over on Instagram all this month, but will pop in here to share some every once in a while. This is a set of texts designed to go with some of the Alice images I was making in collab with the bots which were lots of fun. As for the poems, they are raw and un-cured and going up as soon as I have them drafted, so I promise nothing in the way of At the end of the month, I will pull them all back in and do any revisions needed and make a little zine for May of them along with the images, so stay tuned...

dear poet, revisited

 April, if any time of year, seems the perfect time to write a letter to your past poet self. To that 19-year-old addressing SASE's frantically  over summer break. Or that 15-year-old writing poems about flamingos as dead seagulls in her diary. (Even then, so many birds.) Or maybe to the poet who looked at the world one day, amidst grad school and other plans, and said THIS. This is what I want to be doing with my life. This is what I am good at. I've done it somewhat before. A letter to that girl, or maybe to poets in general. A calling out across time and inky pages. A holler across great distances.

Truth be told poet, this poetry thing will bring you as much occasional angst as it will joy. You will get better, but mostly readers will probably care less as the shine wears off and the newness wanes. Getting that first book will be hard, but sometimes the subsequent ones will be even harder or may even never happen for some, so be grateful if it does. You will probably face down the specter of quitting at least a half dozen times, sometimes when the world, either yours or the world in general, will be in upheaval. When poetry seems like the most over-indulgent way to spend time or exist in the world. When you will wonder why you've sunk years and resources and mental energy into something that usually takes more than it gives by far.

When people talk about the "poetry world" it really doesn't exist. Or more that it exists, but as a loose cancellation of different circling and overlapping poetry worlds. You will fall in with at least 3-4 different communities of writers, of which sometimes you are the only overlap. Sometimes you will feel like you belong to no community at all. Or that you must make one, carve one out with your own fingers, through journals or presses. Sometimes, things will feel like transactions and this is when you will hate it all the most and be most in danger of tipping over the side and into the drink.

You will be tempted to blame the poems, but really, it's not the writing's fault. The writing will become gentler to wrangle and easier to handle. To get it to do what you wanted, mostly by giving up wanting everything at all. To merely follow rather than lead.  You will wander, your hand gripping its tail for miles and across decades. You will alternatively feel like you are writing too much or not even remotely enough. That if you are writing too much, people will get bored with you and your books and all these words. That you are just TOO MUCH sometimes with all of it, though also at the same time, not enough.  That maybe the gains you've had are simply luck and timing and chaotic change, and really, you don't belong here, wherever here is. Or worse, that there is something inherently wrong with everything that comes out of your fingers and to the keyboard. That somewhere, the doubters were right in workshops and gossipy clutches of grad students, you just aren't that good. Showy and ambitious, yet just not good.

And you may begin to think this too. So, of course, don't. Also that maybe THIS is why you've failed to garner many of the keys to the kingdom--the journals and accolades and attention. Which is of course, wrong, since so many keys are based on class and education and who you know or hang out with. That of course, even if they weren't outside your league, there is never enough of them for poets many of whom are probably better/luckier/more hardworking than you.

So you go on like this for years possibly, at turns ecstatic about your work, but also slyly doubting it's quality. Thankful that its easier to get what you want from words now after all these years, but also highly suspicious that it all may be for naught. You remind yourself how many great writers from centuries before probably felt this way about their work, some rather famously, so it may just be par for the course for writers in general, but especially poets. Where the stakes are high and startlingly small all at once.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

poetry: pantsing vs. plotting

 Spend enough time in spaces occupied by fiction writers like YouTube and Instagram and you may be familiar with the idea of "pantsers" vs. "plotters." Recently I came across this piece on how process and poetic routines differ for writers. I hadn't thought these things applied to poetry at all, but then I wondered how I could have missed that they very much do.  In my early days as a poet I was probably more of a plotter than I've ever been since, starting out with ideas of what a poem should be and where it should go. This, of course, led to a lot of disappointing results and failed endeavors when what you had in mind and in your head failed to come together on the page.  I could have went on like this for years, decades even, writing a fair number of decent poems that met some internal set of standards. I would say its possible my entire first book, THE FEVER ALMANAC, written between 2001 and late 2004 or so, are these kinds of poems.

In the mid-aughts, I was enrolled in an MFA program, which definitely had a more experimental lean at least in terms of students if not faculty. A lot of what I was reading seemed so much more effortless and fresh than what I had been writing. I was also beginning my first forays into visual art and collage, which was subtly changing the way I wrote. Soon, I was definitely more of a pantser, not quite sure where poems were going as I mixed and matched snippets culled from notes and lists I kept of lines that I assembled into poems.  

This was also true of collections, both shorter and longer ones, that were usually assembled around some general loose framework of thematic or narrative concerns, but which, for the most part, I didn't quite have fully fleshed out until the project was finished. Writing this way made it fun again and much less angsty than my first years as a poet, since much of what I discovered was far more interesting and just better in quality than what I carefully planned. 

Probably a decade later, I sensed another shift in process, this time more driven by sound and rhythm than imagery, but still surprising in the results, even if I had a general idea of what I wanted to do with a given project. This of course meant, very often, what started as one thing very quickly could morphed into something else entirely, whether plot or persona or theme. A series of love poems became about the me-too movement. A set of poems about a favorite horror movie became about waiting and class disparities. A chapbook intended to be about a serial killer became more about the women whose lives he unraveled. 

This was especially satisfying when creating a narrative or engaging in world-building from scratch. Which is of course perhaps when you may need the plotters the most. But I especially love the feeling of making it up as I go along, which gets me far more satisfying results than if I knew what was going to happen all along. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

notes & things | 3/23/2024

Our springtime drive-in outing yesterday was thwarted with a sudden profusion of snowfall this late in the year after virtually nothing much all winter. Of course, we'd already made it to McHenry and checked in at the hotel, so alas spent the evening not at the outdoor theatre as planned for opening night, but instead eating massive amounts of snacks in the hotel room with its little view over the snowy vista of the river and making our way through the first three John Wick movies neither of us had seen. 

It's been a busy week that began with seeing The Penelopiad at the Goodman, which was just the sort of female epic I would have loved to have seen when I was in the midst of working on the Persephone poems. There were quite a few movie outings, including a French film where people inexplicably turned into animals (The Animal Kingdom), some monster-laden Korean sci-fi (The Host), and the remake Suspiria, which was as confusing and dream-like as I remember from watching it before. In between there were late night diner meals, lots of writing, and slow, but productive, mornings. 

In this last week or so of March, I am gearing up for April, which seems odd to call a national poetry month, since every month is poetry month round here, but it gets an undue amount of attention each spring. April is always a month of note for me with my birthday and in general, just a new momentum as the weather changes and days get longer. I am still waffling over which of a few ideas for series I want to tackle to start off NaPoWriMo, which I always have mixed feelings on. Not the daily writing, of course, but more the daily posting, which feels like dropping a dime into a deep well and never hearing it hit bottom. I post a lot of work, usually after it's had some time to gel and gain its footing. Those new drafts can be rougher, and infinitely more vulnerable. And it's all shouting into a void, a void that gets more echoey during April. However, some of my favorite series have had a birth or been completed in Aprils past. 

Today, after we got back, I spent some time making up the decor writing I took yesterday off from, then delved into making April's monthly zine, HOME IMPROVEMENTS (see cover above), which is mostly about grief and ghosts and how homes become haunted by both the living and the dead. The poems, which have collages, are also the center section of RUINPORN, which I will be properly pulling together later this year and probably sending out into the world in 2025. There is still another section that needs some more poems and more work, but it is already a longer book, even with just four parts.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

poetry killed the radio star


In the summer of 1996, before my last year of undergrad, I was on a writing spree.  It had all started, of course, before that, when I was 19 and pumping out terrible slender poems, or maybe as early as age 15, scrawling those terrible blue diary poems. The interest continued, but the practice waned a bit through a couple years where my focus was more on studying lit and doing theater stuff. But that summer a poetry workshop the previous spring had launched me into writing more frequently (if not better.)  This meant that I spent the summer, free of other obligations until some play rehearsals started up in August, devoting myself to poetry in a way you never really get time to again. Both the writing and the submitting, which was mostly to slightly dodgy publications listed in the back of Writer's Digest

I would hand-write poems, then type them up on the navy blue electric typewriter that sustained me all the way through college (that is, until I started spending more time in the computer lab that last year.) It was a cumbersome machine and I could never find the right correction tape, so mostly awkwardly  hauled it and a tiny bottle of white out around the house with a box of poetry stuff to work on the floor in front of the sofa, outside on the deck, or at the dining room table (I had a slender desk with shelves in my bedroom, but it was more a place to store stacks of books and a drip machine that made tea. )

The poems I was writing had relinquished, thankfully, the tendency to want to rhyme I'd sported all through the workshop.(I was actually good at it, making the rhymes, but the poems were pretty bad otherwise.)  I call this my fiercely terrible Emily Dickinson phase. The things, sans rhyme, I wrote that summer would win me a couple of poetry prize nods (honorable mentions and second places) for college prizes the next spring.They weren't exactly amazing, but they were better.

The biggest thing I remember from that summer was recording every poem when I was done drafting it. I used a portable boombox I also sometimes carried with me from workspace to workspace. Listening to my voice reading me helped me write better in a way, hearing how the words sounded off the page. Somewhere in this apartment I still have the tape I used, though nothing to play it on. Who knows if it would even play after close to 30 years. I'm also not sure if I could handle meeting my 22-year-old self again, much in the same way my old paper journals make me cringe.

I think of this every time I make a recording now though. On my easy little oval mic that plugs into my computer. 30 years later and my voice is actually still probably the same voice--a voice that I always wish was deeper and more mature, but still sounds clear like a bell and soft. I remember hearing Plath read her own work the first time after being seeped in her work for years and being surprised that she sounded nothing like I would have imagined her to. She was not the flustered girl of her diary entries and letters, but her voice rich and bone serious. I also remember sitting in my Modern British Poetry class at DePaul, listening to Eliot read The Wasteland, scribbling notes and doodles in my spiral notebook and all the gears in my head turning.

When I am recording a poem now, I usually try not to listen too carefully to the audio, since that voice does not sound like how my voice sounds in my head and the disconnect is a weird one. I remember being so surprised though the first time I heard someone else reading one of my poems in an audio file. It almost became a different poem in someone else's intonations and rhythms entirely. 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

book birthday | feed

Today, the Facebooks reminded me that this little volume turns three, which feels impossible and so long ago all at the same time. It will probably always hold a special place in my heart since it was the first voyage on the self-publishing journey, that involved a whole lot of learning curve in terms of formatting, designing, and editing my own work. 

This was also, of course, the book that took shape in the year after my mother's death, and is in many ways, is about mothering in general, even the series of poems written before that awful fall, like the summer house and the science of impossible objects, but especially those written in early 2018 like the hunger palace and plump, and of course, swallow. The book always feels like a purging, a sort of therapy, and I'm grateful for that. 


Soon, the baby is full of bees.  Bees in the bathtub, bees in the bassinet. Floating the surface of your coffee each morning without fail, tiny wings sticky with cream. Who can be a good mother amidst all this hum, the summer house thick with hives. The lives you've given up to get there.  Every tiny shoe, every tiny spoon slick with honey. Who can be a good mother to a child made of wax, even now softening in the sun. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

fragments and voice


Every once in a while I will read a poem I like in a journal or online and it is such a tidy little knot of a poem, all of its Ps and Qs in place, Ts crossed and Is dotted. It's like a thimble full of honey. It exists in a vacuum of space around it, and somehow addresses some big question or thematic issue. While I am not a Mary Oliver fan, her poems were often like this. Observation----> Conclusion.

I do not write those poems. Maybe I did, once upon a time. There are certainly poems in THE FEVER ALMANAC like this, maybe even in IN THE BIRD MUSEUM. But in the mid-2000s my writing became much more fragmented. This coincidentally was around the time I started working in collage, which is all about fragmentation. I cannot help but think these two things are related. 

There is rarely a single voice, even though sometimes it's me, or sometimes a persona. More often it may be a series of voices, a fragmented conversation coming from another room. This is probably why I feel most comfortable writing in series, since as a whole, they make sense (sometimes) in a way that I would never be able to achieve in a single poem. I was excited when years ago, I learned there was a word for--polyvocality. Even when it's a singular subject or voice, that voice is often fractured or fragmented in a way that works similarly. I felt this when writing GRANATA, which was why the p-o-v changed so many times throughout the project. Similarly, when I was working on PELT and could not decide who was telling the story--Antoinetta or Lavinia. The dog girl or the portraitist. In the end, it wound up being both.

I remember reading an essay once on poetic voice and fracturing of self that resonated with me. That the human voice is fractured no matter what. That all points of view are subject to error and fragmentation. Sort of like Picasso trying to present all points of reference in a painting. This may be why I am always reluctant to overly use "I" in poems, since really, I am a collection of fractured thoughts and impressions, just as much as a piece of art or writing is. 

My poem series always feel like an approach at something. From all sides and angles. A whole delivered in fragments and shards. It's something I've been thinking a lot about with the GHOST BOX project, which is set to include written fragments and visual work, both regular collage and AI generated images like the one above, all of which work together to create a world and a story.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

four years out

 Yesterday, I realized that it had been exactly four years since lockdown started and the covid madness began. On March 13th it seemed like a temporary pause that would move off over the water. It had been buzzing in the news like a far-off alarm the previous 2-3 weeks, causing enough ruckus that the college decided that Friday to go completely online. We were wrong about the brevity, of course, and it would be months until I returned to the library. Months more until we had the shield of vaccines. Actually, a couple years still until I felt comfortable going out, masked, then eventually unmasked.  

In hindsight, the lockdowns weren't especially effective, and actually an immediate mask mandate probably would have been better. But the knee-jerkers would have also not complied with that, so who knows. We'd have been fucked either way. As such, the pause brought a lot of people full stop. Out of the routines and pressures that life had become in those lead-up years. My situation was particularly strange, since we had reached a critical mass of understaffing and extra work that two people in a department could not hold the door on for much longer. When we returned, the pace was slower and starting to build when I left. Most staff, the librarians, had not even returned, so still much fell on the folks who were on-site. This was another nail in the coffin that was my leaving in addition to lots of excuses on how positions couldn't be filled because of covid shortfalls and pay increases that we were told were now even more impossible. 

When I look back at my journal entries from that period, there is this stunned stillness. It was a while before I could write or really accomplish much. But it came back. That summer, I worked on several projects and did a lot of work-related things like online exhibits, workshops, and presentations over zoom. I was talking to J about this weird time and he mentioned that the lockdown was the first time we got to spend more time together since both of us had slightly freer schedules, already five years into the relationship. It was also riddled with social unrest and curfews that had him coming over earlier to comply. 

By summer's end, I was back at work with shorter weeks and hours, but by fall, we were open the full slate. Sparsely populated, but open. Things began to ramp up as vaccines were issued over the next year, people began to return to masked normal, just as I was closing the door on that chapter of my life. I did not get to see the full return, but by spring of 2022, even I was taking my mask off in movie theaters I now had time to go to. I've had a few colds since early 2023 and isolated plenty each time without testing (which actually, going out, would probably expose more people). They could have been covid, or just as likely could have not been. 

Sometimes, it seems like a bad dream, but really, so many say, bad as it was, that it was wake-up call. That it gave a moment for contemplation and change. A course correction. A metaphorical (and sometimes literal) brush with death that caused you to question how you were living. And all of this is true. Having come out of a tense situation where mortality seemed always to be six feet away, how many people realized that they weren't exactly living the best version of their lives? Or that how they'd been doing things was not how they wanted to be doing them?  I felt this first with art and writing related things, but later with work-related things that ultimately set the wheels of leaving in motion. All of 2021 I kept telling myself that if I decided to stay, it would be because I wanted to, not because I HAD to. When I finally made the plans and put in notice, it was just this enormous rush of relief that I had done the right thing. 

Yesterday, my day was actually not unlike the covid era. I woke up for breakfast and coffee before digging into work at home, where my days are still lots of work, but more leisurely and less stressful with zoom meetings and nonsense. Later, I made fun AI art weirdness and drafted a poem before making fajitas for dinner, a pandemic favorite of mine when I finally had time to cook in my kitchen. While we have been going out quite a bit, this week has been quiet, so I haven't left the apartment in several days and I am okay with this. What is missing is that anxious doomscrolling and perusal of the news (always unsettling, but it feels less fraught to not be following infection and death numbers.)

I'm not sure what life may have looked like without that pause and reconsideration. likely something would have eventually broken things down, but it may have taken longer and I would have been less likely to jump into the maelstrom of freelancing. We all thought maybe the world was ending as we knew it and that, if it wasn't, we'd best be damned living better, doing better, and being kinder to ourselves. 

the alice experiments


Working a bit more with the bots this past week to generate and manipulate images (see the cabinet card pieces below.) Sometimes you get some really cool results, sometimes not so much (and sometimes you get terrifying results that are just not good enough quality to even work with.). I was working on some fun little Alice in Wonderland images and it has me thinking of returning to the Alice poem project I started a few years back and that has been languishing since waiting for me to pick it back up and just it off....I'll be finishing up the ghost box poems (which you can catch in progress snippets of on IG), so maybe that is where I will turn my attention next...

You can see more of them here...

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Saturday, March 09, 2024

notes & things 3/9/2024

Tonight we spring ahead an hour and into the thickest part of March, where the weather this year varies from day to day but overall is milder than the usual end drags of winter. One day we have the windows open while we sleep and work and the next, firmly shut against what sounds like a steady and angry train whistle of wind blowing constantly between the buildings. I am taking my spiffy new camera, courtesy of J for Christmas, to the bar tonight to take some shots of him hosting karaoke for his soon-to-be-website, so will likely still be out and about for the sudden shift of the witching hours. 

Today I've made some goofy images in AI that can be harvested for collages and am settling in for some new layouts. I also packed up the first round of orders for GRANATA, signing and writing notes to the gracious friends who have bought a copy. I will still be posting snippets and audio poems on Instagram for the next few weeks to, of course,  entice you to purchase a copy if you haven't yet.. (I don't make a huge amount of each copy since I pay for printing costs, but it's still more than royalties with traditional publishing, so any amount helps me keep doing what I do.) I will also be doing a sale in April for my birthday on older titles with more info on that available soon. 

As for creative things underway, I have been having fun with digital images and collages and making strange little bits for my own amusement (see above.) I've also made progress with daily writing on a new series of poems that will probably eventually be a zine. So far, there are about a dozen salvageable pieces shaking around with some more to come as I gear up to start something entirely different for NaPoWriMo next month. Which something is still up for debate, but it may be the Mary Shelley/ Frankenstein-inspired project I've been waffling on starting up for months (I wanted to work on it and share some of it in October for #31DaysOfOctober, but it just never happened.) 

Each spring I question whether I should commit to 30 poems (I write daily sometimes, but definitely skip some days and take the weekends off.) The imperative does keep me moving, and some of my best shorter writing projects were either finished or started in April of some year or another, including the villains series that recently became a zine

Otherwise, life lately is fancy croissants and tea when we can afford them, a couple new sundresses that are still too scanty to wear, and lots of decor and DIY writing on everything from Victorian architecture to using vintage suitcases and trunks for storage. We had a brief lull in outings this week and next, but will be heading to the Goodman to see The Penelopiad on St Pat's Day and out to the opening of the drive-in the following week. April is shaping up to be a bear, but mostly good things like another tattoo appointment and many movies (the time capsule has moved onto 1994, plus there are some new things we'll definitely be seeing horror-wise.) Also, of course, my birthday---and a milestone one at that. It feels completely and utterly impossible most of the time since I mostly feel like I turned 26 and just have been sort of floating here. Also I feel like I have de-aged in the past couple of years (including the lessening of grays when I look at my roots each month) since leaving the library. It's amazing what removing constant stress, bitter quiet resentment, and money worries will wreak upon the body in a good way. (well I still have the last of those in this economy, but things are much better being able to control my freelance income)


Monday, March 04, 2024

now available in the shop

 This lush and sensuous modern retelling of the Persephone myth juxtaposes her journey to the underworld with that of the girls who were transformed into winged monsters in the wake of her abduction.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

selling out: branding for poets

A few weeks back I bookmarked this Vox article with the aim of reading it through more thoroughly. Revisiting it today, it got me thinking about this weird dual state most writers or artists find themselves in. It may be a modern age thing, since many of the artists we know from the distant past, particularly literary ones, had other people doing the heavy lifting of issuing, promoting, and curating the work. While the artists could simply hide in a garret all day and then turn up at a bar or cafe occasionally for appearances or readings (or getting in fights with other writers.) 

This is, of course, not the lit world that baby poet me was born into in the 90s and early aughts. Even the machines that put work out into the world, like journals and small presses, relied much on the author's own promo, platforms, and appearances to sell work. Maybe if you landed a Big Five publisher or were financially stable enough to enroll a professional PR person, you could sit back and solely focus on the work itself, but that was not even an option. Especially for writers who not only had to split their time between writing and promoting but also whatever else they were doing to actually make a living--teaching, freelance, or other day jobs. Many writers like to talk about the good ole days when you could just bow out of the process mostly once you're genius had been manifested and move on to the next project, but I don't think that was true for most authors, no matter your genre, and hadn't been so in a while. 

I took to finding ways to promote work early when I actually didn't have that much work, and maybe that's why, now, two decades in, it feels much less arduous.  It takes time, of course, time you could probably be writing. But since I find all sorts of ways to waste time (streaming bad TV shows, scrolling reels, watching thrifting hauls on YouTube) and not writing, I suppose it could be a far worse way to spend my time. In 2001, I made my first author website, along with my first curation project, wicked alice. I had just begun publishing frequently in similar online journals and wanted to start my own. I used a free website generator that had ads for at least another two years before I bought a proper domain.  In 2001, even MySpace was in its fledgling days, though later I did have one of those briefly. What we know of social media was still years off for most of us. 

That early website was mostly just a way to corral an internet presence into one place as more and more poems wound in more and more journals. It provided a place to direct people to, a landing spot if readers were interested in reading more. I didn't start blogging until late 2003, on Xanga, which was much more community-feeling, sort of like an early mix of Live Journal and what Tumblr would eventually be. Between 2003 and 2007 or so, I like to think of as the golden era of poetry blogs. I hopped to this space in early 2005 and have been here since. On those blogs, many people stuck to craft discussions and reviews and strictly writing-related topics. But this space has always felt like partly that, but also part diary or journal, part sounding things out or thinking out loud. It was also part of a general conversation with other writers before short-form social media became the norm around 2009-ish.

Those same authors would later move to things like Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter. I used Tumblr as my domain forwarded homepage for a while in the 2010s, and I liked the shareability of it, but left when new no-porn guidelines kept getting collages with even slight nudity blocked by bots. I moved that homepage to another Blogger account since I needed a slightly different set-up than what I have here. It's not a site that gets a lot of traffic, even as much as this blog, since most of my direction to things comes via social media, but it's a nice landing spot to get to everything else to include in bios and business cards and such. From there, you can get to the shop, my YouTube video poems, my portfolio on Flickr that I use for art, and Instagram (where I post most of my content these days). I still spend a good amount of time on Facebook, but it's more for keeping up with friends and family and occasional randomness. I do put links to books and share things to keep folks apprised of what I'm up to, along with other freelance writing bits, but promotion is not its main purpose. It's also behind a friend wall to keep out trolls and mansplainers. 

Instagram is where you will most often find me doing promotion-like things on the public side of the internet, though much can be said to approaching even that platform a little differently the past couple of years. More as a way to share work and creative "content" and not just purely as a promo or "branding" (whatever that is or means to you) vehicle. It's maybe more the aims of what I post there vs. what I actually post there. Instead of just directing people to publications and book sales pages, I try to create more meaty things that can be enjoyed wholly via the medium like reels and video poems and poem postcards. While I veered away from TikTok after a month of trying it out last April for NaPoWriMos (it felt a little too wild west and random for continued use, but maybe I will return this April for that. ) I do like video as a potential delivery for words, be that text-driven pieces or audio readings. I actually get a great amount of joy creating the things themselves, which while not scratching the same itch as actual writing or artwork, still is enjoyable in the same way graphic design is or building a website.

As for the "brand, " I'm not sure. It's a gross word when it seems wrapped up in commerce, but it's probably more innocuous when you view it not as limiting and cutting off parts of yourself but as a way to exist on the internet as a creator in an authentic way. I get that those two things may seem completely incongruous, but I don't think they have to be. I don't believe there is anything to selling out unless you find yourself doing things you don't want to do or for all the wrong reasons. I also think not all platforms are right for all writers. I hated Twitter mostly, so it was easy to walk away amid its downfall, but I do like creating for Instagram and YouTube a lot, so the importance is finding one you like and figuring out how to enjoy it. Many writers prefer not to have an internet presence at all. I think you should have something, even if it's just a link to a public portfolio in Google Docs that tells people where to find you.  

Friday, March 01, 2024

secret agents


Last week, I was talking to my lead editors at HD about some recent work and they startled me a little by mentioning that I was a poet (it's not currently in my bio there, which is focused more on decor/DIY writing, but it was when I started) It's obviously not, of course, a secret. since anyone who looks at my website or socials can see it or buy my books. But I also spend a lot of time writing things for other people, far more time than I spend on creative work. And it is a mix of subjects and publications, most of which have their own unique style and voice.  But, then again, I'd never considered how the "poetic voice" of my writing impacted those. My editors thankfully encouraged me to bring more of that poetic voice into my pieces, the idea of which I loved, since I had tried, these last two years, to stamp it out completely. 

At first, it seemed necessary since a lot of my work was academic lessons, ie there wasn't much room for me in those. Or by-the-book dictionary entries for the antique site or passages for the real estate site in a sort of breezy neighborhood tour tone.  Even my film writing for the gamer site had a sort of formula and media tone we all shared. Then later, even in lifestyle spaces, I read a lot of other pieces to try to match what I saw there. I guess I didn't know writing in my own voice was an option.but I'm glad it is.

My surprise that I had been found out as a poet was the more curious part, especially since, from the time I started writing when I was a teenager, it sometimes felt like a secret identity outside certain spaces. I was writing poems all along, but I was known more as a newspaper staffer. Then a theater kid. In college, as a lit major or theatre techie, not as much a writer myself, though I did things like public in the litmag and take occasional workshops. I went to grad school solely devoted to lit, then started working in libraries, where I was even more undercover. I'm pretty sure I never talked much about writing when I worked in the elementary school, though I must have since I did get invited to a couple classes to talk about poetry and was picked to judge/coordinate our entries in the district-wide writing contest. (the very same one I bailed on in 8th grade when I tried to write a horror novel and instead turned in an alphabet book.) 

I was pretty slow to reveal it to my fellow co-workers at Columbia. The exception being the librarian, an interim department lead and later a friend, who hired me, who was really excited I was a creative writer and I think, in hindsight, probably hired me becuase of that since the pool was no doubt filled with people with more academic library experience than I had at the time. But soon he was in another department and it was a while before my other co-workers were aware I was even a writer, much less a poet. I was working really hard and doing things like founding lit mags and submitting work, but it probably wasn't until I started the MFA program that anyone knew what I was doing when I wasn't clocking long nights at the circ desk.  It still was something I didn't really talk about, beyond requesting occasional nights off to attend readings. 

In my personal life, it was perhaps even more on the down low. My parents and sister knew, of course, though my mom always said she didn't really understand any of it until she came to my first reading in like 2005. Some extended family members understood more than others.But only a couple ready my books. I was winning contests and getting my degree and finishing book # 1. I was seeing someone for a few years who I occasionally shared work and accomplishments with. The only people who really knew me as a poet, however, were other poets. Even as that relationship mostly ended and others began, I didn't exactly lead with the fact I wrote poetry, though if they were around long enough, I eventually at least talked about it, though only a couple ever really read my work in detail. Many were not particularly literary-minded to be honest. This was refreshing and disappointing all at once.

Even later, when I felt like my poetic exploits were more out there among the people I knew, poetry felt like this thing that belonged to another world, even though I did much to entwine it sometimes with my job, mounting readings and panels and exhibits that occasionally featured my work. There was library-me, who wrote articles and presentations about library programming and promo strategies and how to create a murder mystery. When I pretty much solely drafted our award-winning ACLR application in 2017, a feat that involved countless hours of work, the head of the national organization nearly laughed out loud at the fancy reception we'd earned when our director revealed a poet had wrote the entire thing (though I still think this, and the unending engine of my resentment over many things happening then and not being taken seriously, is why we won--a particular kind of word witchery.)

Still most days, I don't go about in the world exclaiming I am a poet. My mother, right before she left the care facility a month or so before her death, was one day boasting to the aide who was helping her, that I was a poet and it seemed sort of ridiculous in light of the sort of important work this woman was doing. Somewhat are frivolous, as all art is, and not at all necessary. Mostly because I always feel that no one cares. Or that that sort of work isn't valuable in the world. The real flesh and bone world, not the poetry world. Which I know isn't true, but if I wanted to be valuable I would have persisted in my desire to be a scientist or teacher, both things I gave up and decided to forge a life with words. There's a line in the American Psycho musical that always hits a certain way when I listen to the soundtrack:

"You're not moving mountains. Or changing lives.

You're just killing while you're killing time." 

Still, sometimes it does feel like I am a secret agent. That I'm like Batman, except I write my little lines and tell my little stories instead of solving crime. Like there's a secret code word all of us poets know and reveal ourselves accordingly. 


Thursday, February 29, 2024

notes & things | 2/29/2024

Leap Days always feel a little magical. Almost like they don't count. An extra day in the year. An extra rotation that requires nothing especially productive. I've been doing my best working on some DIY articles I need to finish before end of the day, but not much else, which means I'll be up early tomorrow to finish press stuff before I do some more writing in the afternoon and early evening. We have some D&D plans on Saturday, something I never thought I'd be into as much as I am, certainly not at this age, so I won't be able to push anything back and still be able to be lazy Sunday, the one day I try to leave for myself. 

The weather has turned back to more seasonally appropriate, but it's been a busy one, with a couple films early in the week (including the horror brilliance that was Stopmotion and the irreverent fun that was Drive Away Dolls) and a production of Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.  For discount tickets we had really amazing seats,front center of the dress circle in a theatre that is actually not that big. The whole production had a very Victorian asylum/hospital look I adored and some gender-swapped casting that may have made me more sympathetic to the villain.

I am also getting ready to launch GRANATA tomorrow and should have the first stack of the final version early next week. I wound up changing the spine color to be different from a color I've used before for the spine of ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER, from dark green to a pale gray-blue, A minor change but a pretty one nonetheless. Keep on eye on IG, where I will be posting audio poems, reels, and snippets from the book...

Otherwise, I am just playing around a bit more with AI snippets in collages (see above) and liking the somewhat monstrous results that may wind up being a fun zine project down the line.. 

Monday, February 26, 2024


some recent AI collaborations with collage....

Saturday, February 24, 2024

doomish and beautiful

Yesterday's mail brought the proof for granata, which meant spending today, free of other writing projects, marking it up and fixing any margin issues inside.  Any remaining pesky typos or off punctuation. This one was a little less tricky with lineated lines instead of prose blocks, but the lines do run a bit longer than I usually go, which meant some additional adjustments. There was also some small movement of images that were a little too far over, and some final typography touches that were simply cosmetic. It's always a joy to feel the final project come together and bound so neatly, especially this one, that started as an indeterminate shorter series of poems in summer of 2022 and eventually grew into a considerably longer project that incorporated over 20 pieces of visual art as well. Amazingly the cover was absolutely perfect this time (I have a hard time centering text when you can't readily see the trim lines in action.) It's even more beautiful on the back cover where you see more of the images.

As I was slowly sipping coffee and reading one final time through the poems this afternoon, I couldn't help thinking about 1999 once again in particular. Not unusual since we have been taking mini-trips into the cinematic past with the time capsule series each week, but more that it was the year I really began taking a possible career in writing more seriously. Today I sit and scribble notes and update print files on what will technically be my 14th collection of poems (if you count little apocalypse, which is technically just an e-book, but will eventually be in print at some point in the future.) In 1999, I sat at another dining room table, in another apartment, in another neighborhood, and wrote poems out longhand on paper before typing them into a beige word processor that saved work on floppy discs. I was writing a book then, just as I have now, that was about mythology largely. Many of poems then drew from Greek or Roman myths--Daphne, Cassandra, Calypso, Helen of Troy. While that book was terrible and the sort of book you would expect a 25-year-old to write, some of those poems, the better ones, would eventually see print in my chapbook, The Archaeologist's Daughter. Though it may be telling that none would make it into my first full-length several years later. 

In those days, it was a lot of myth and history and fairytales happening in my work. I think when you are a young writer who has barely been out in the world and are only experiencing things through the lens of things you read an learn about in school, it's liable to end up this way. My first published poem in a journal was about Paradise Lost.  My second, later that summer, about Salem witches (strangely not even as good as the "Swimming the Witch" piece I'd write a couple years later.) That first chapbook is filled with these kinds of pieces based on art, literature, history, fairytales, and myths.

In a couple years, I would write about them less, but still sometimes they'd crop up in other places, or at least the feel of them would. Or maybe just that they became more modern or specific. The urban legend poems of Archer Avenue, or the poems in errata about Victorian novels. The next time I'd tackle fairytales was  the book of red artist book project (Little Red Riding Hood), then the shared properties (Goldilocks and the Three Bears)..By then, it was less about the fairy tale and more about the modern interpretation. The next time I took on myth, it would be taurus, which was about the minotaurs set in the midwest, the series from which the dark country full-length takes its title.  I continued to work with history--the HH Holmes poems, for example, or the Walter Potter series. The artist and dog-girl poems of pelt

So it seems natural that I would circle back around to myths for a longer project again via granata. As I was working on them that summer, I kept calling them the "smutty Persephone poems" even though I already had the working title in place. Reading them now, they feel very lush and sensuous, moreso than a lot of what I've written in the intervening year and a half. It's of course, not just Persehone's story, but also that of the Sirens, who were punished or gifted with their transformation depending on who you ask. I begin with a quote from Ovid, who frames it as a gift. But then Ovid may have been wrong. I tried not to be too beholden to the classical age, so these poems move about in time, as all stories about gods would I suppose. A sort of timelessness that smudges the setting a little and saves it from feeling too archaic. When I organized them, I wanted them to feel a bit circular, or maybe more like overlapping circles. The art pieces came fast and furious this past summer, all at once and over several days. They form another layer of circles linked with the text.

All in all, I am excited to show it to readers, though I realize poetry about Persephone and other Greek influences are a dime a dozen. But hopefully, this little book is yet another stone in the wall of all the books that take on the Greeks, even across great time and distance from the time of the stories.