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.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

all the tortured poets


A couple weeks back I was both a little excited and a little wary when I heard that TS's new album, coming in a mere two months referenced tortured poets in all their glory. The word "poetry" always feels strange out in the world of pop culture of mainstream news, when all of the sudden we look up from our tiny little desks and readership and everyone seems to be looking for us to have some sort of take or response. It happens every time there's a new poet laureate or during the Biden inauguration with Amanda Gorman's reading. Or poetry hits the news or magazines that people besides writers read.  Every time they talk about wildly successful insta-poets and how poetry is such a force. Mostly it feels this way because we've been here, stoking flames for decades, while only the occasional flame-up catches the world at large's attention. It's like people suddenly notice we exist, and yet at the same time, very much do not. 

I am excited to see what she does with it--this literary slant. I am suspicious of pop stars or musicians who write poetry. Not that they can't write good poems, just that they usually don't. Even amazing lyricists sometimes don't quite make that leap to good writing. The sort of things that make you a great songwriter might not mean you are a good poet. Earlier, I was listening to Amy Winehouse's "Black to Black" and the line--

And life is like a pipe
And I'm a tiny penny
Rolling up the walls inside

and it feels so much like poetry, as does much of her and songwriters like TS and Lana del Rey, but does it translate to the page, which always feels like its different rules and expectations. And yet it's funny because I feel like I am the poet I am because of listening to a lot of great female songwriters over the years, starting with Tori Amos in my early 20s. I always think about Jewel in the 90s, who was also a good songwriter, but her poems, while not absolutely terrible, were the sort of thing you wrote in your late teens, which was actually when she wrote them I suspect. We all wrote those poems. I think with a  few more years and some serious contemporary poet reading and she would have been a much stronger writer for the page. When her book came out in 1999, I was writing better poems than in my early 20s, but not the better poems I would write in the next couple of years that formed my own first book.

But then, I think what I am trying to free myself of is that ivory tower snobbiness of even having the audacity to say what is good poetry. What is crafted and what is shit. I certainly don't belong in that tower. And mostly feel like I have been sitting on the steps and occasionally knocking on the door. So who am I to deny or make judgments on who enters or exits. 

Of course, the question must be asked if we're tortured because we're poets, or poets because we're tortured? As for writers, especially poets, trying to fend your way in a world where most people are apathetic about those who create with words can make you feel a little tormented if not under duress exactly...

Saturday, February 17, 2024

bonus e-zine for february lovers

This series of poems started as a Valentine and ended up becoming something else entirely. Previously only available in a tiny edition of 30 published in 2018 and as party of my longer collection in 2020, SEX & VIOLENCE, I am releasing a special bonus e-zine version in celebration of Valentines and twisted love poems this February.

Read it here.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

notes & things | 2/11/2024

Despite stolen trees and a week of heftier-than-usual freelance work, February has been mild, with warmer temperatures and even some rain. It's a good sign, the later it gets in the month, that winter will be somewhat more gentle on us. That we will not get huge amounts of snow, ice, or polar vortex kind of cold. Valentine's Day is next week, and we actually get to go out his year, so will be heading downtown for dinner and to see Drunk Shakespeare. The alternative was real Shakespeare in the form of Richard III, which we are still going to try to get tickets for during a discounted theater week, but which seemed a little stark and dark for a day devoted to romance. 

I find myself craving chocolate during February, more than any other time of year, and perhaps it's just the association of the holiday, but also maybe my body is craving serotonin more than usual. Chocolate and tea. The latter of which I have plenty of, the former of which I find the apartment sadly bereft of and should remedy immediately. We ordered some paczi's a week early for Mardi Gras last week for a decadent breakfast, some of which were chocolate, though the lemon are by far my favorite, followed by the raspberry.  Also croissants. My social feeds are full of colorful king cakes, which I've grown wary of after finding the baby and its promise of good luck in 2020, the luck of which turned out to be covid lockdowns a couple weeks later apparently. If the obligation to bring the following year's king cake to the staff meeting was mine, it was never filled. There never was another staff meeting or everyone in the same room again. Even still, I imagine they are meeting via Zoom monthly, and it's all the same old bullshit.

I am progressing slowly on the preparation of the final file for GRANATA, and am finishing up some image formatting tweaks. Hopefully, I can have a printed galley in hand in the next two weeks, though I never know how long to budget for print time (it can take a couple days, it can take up to three weeks.) It's looking good though, and I think we'll still be on schedule for early March. I have a whole bunch of dgp chaps in progress that will also soon be available after the final tweaks in the layouts are ironed out, and then more to catch up from the fall. I am still knee-deep in summer submissions, and if I have something of yours, you are still in the running at this point, with most first-round rejections having gone out and moving well into second-reads of things of interest.  Unfortunately, it's about a 100 that I must narrow to under 30, so it's rough going. I hope to have decisions made and all responses sent by the end of March for books debuting late this year and early next. 

This morning we spent lazily in bed, finishing off the final episodes of Game of Thrones, and once again I am still in agreement that Dani's character arc was inevitable, but do also think that final season was entirely too rushed in getting there. It seemed fitting that I posted a bit of VILLAINS yesterday that was inspired by the Dragon Queen just a little.  Tonight is a double feature and pre-Valentines date night that will include Lisa Frankenstein, a stop for pizza at Pequods, and then a late night showing at the Logan of Bride of Chucky, two movies that seem to pair extraordinarily well. 

Friday, February 09, 2024

midwinter elegy


Today I woke up to realize that sometime in the past couple of days, the tree that has been in the courtyard between my building and the row of low townhouses next door (where they have remodeling the unit that once belonged to the Polish couple since fall) has gone missing. Strange for a kind of big tree, and stranger still I had to think for a minute why the area outside my windows looked different. Granted, its been bare for months, much less noticeable in winter months, but still there. The small sapling that occupied the front garden of the townhomes, once barely to the second floor twenty years ago, but until this week, cresting the 4th floor and moving onto the 5th. It wasn't wide, but I occasionally suspected that in a year or two, in full leafiness, it would be close enough to lean out the window and touch it. It was a constant, always losing its leaves in like one day in the fall, and taking until well into May to even begin to bud. I didn't pay it much mind in winter when you had a clear view across the courtyard, but in summer, it offered a little privacy between buildings. 

Yesterday, we slept til noon, and could hear some saw buzzing and construction down below in and out of sleep. I looked out there at one point later from the dining room and noticed they'd moved the fence forward closer to the stoop, but was distracted enough by my full day of writing to not even notice if the tree was missing during the daytime. Now that I think of it, it probably was. At some point yesterday, with my back to the window, it felt like the late afternoon light was different in the apartment, but I wrote it off to lengthening days. Only this morning as I rolled over did I notice I could see the rooftop unimpeded in the view from the bedroom and sat up with a start. 

I'm guessing the sawing yesterday may have been the removal, which probably was felled backward toward the alley mostly, quickly and quietly without a lot of fanfare. It felt like a bad omen, a loss, so much that I teared up and had to chide myself for crying over a tree I apparently didn't even realize was immediately gone. I feel like something I loved, that belonged to me, as much as anything in nature belongs to us, was stolen. I am probably being dramatic and superstitious, and this was certainly an act of man, not nature, but I can't help thinking that two large trees, decades old,  fell in the yard of my childhood home in the months before I lost each parent, both huge towering trees diseased and off-balance and taken out by storms and rot. It made me uneasy and anxious today, more than usual. Yesterday was also weirdly stormy for February. 

A couple months back, they had planted two small evergreen bushes toward the front of the steps, so I suppose these will have to be my trees now...

Tuesday, February 06, 2024


The February free e-zine has dropped and you can read it here

Monday, February 05, 2024

just who does she think she is?

My mother was a watcher. And by watcher, I mean someone who watched people carefully and observed mannerisms, flaws, details other people might not notice. Though she was not a writer, she probably could have turned those skills to the page, since their tendency passed on down to me, powers that I hopefully use for good far more than evil. One of the things she did repeatedly when I was a child, and a comment I heard her often say, was "Who does she think she is?" It was usually uttered in parking lots, where we waited for my dad to run into the store, and a woman, all ages, all body types, all types of dress was carrying herself just a little too confidently. 

And by confidently, I mean just normally. Maybe breezily or casually. And this may have been her biggest flaw. She wasn't like those of us who are anxious, uncomfortable awkward in life just hoping for the asphalt to open us up and swallow us completely. Certainly not like my mother, or me for many years as a teen, keenly and acutely aware of our body and its size, the way clothing fit or did not fit, how much time we spent pulling fabric away from curves. A women who really seemed to be okay in her body, whatever it looked like. Whatever she was doing. Kind of just existing. While my mother's own body issues plagued her for her entire life, I was not going to let it do so for mine.

And really, maybe it had not so much to do with body image slone. I watch a lot of YouTube style and thrifting videos, where women bloggers spend a lot of time apologizing or fending off potential attacks about their hair, the detergent they use, what they put on their sandwiches. Which seems silly until you actually look at the comments, and sure enough, they are responding to a sort of watchfulness on the part of other women who somehow like to spend time leaving negativity on other people's videos. This is especially true in body positive spaces, where many comments seem to say, how dare you?  Have a body and put clothes on it and enjoy them?  You're supposed to be miserable. Shut the fuck up. 

And then today, a Taylor Swift Grammy's win and some news of a new album, and my feed is filled with people who are tired of her being so much and so productive and just everywhere now, she should dial it back. To be less. Take up less space. And really it's the same bullshit. If she seems that nice in real life and is that successful, she must surely be a raging bitch and super problematic, cannibalizing those around her in pursuit of her own glory. She's surely not successful because she just works really hard. 

Not that I am in any way as famous/successful/rich as TS, but even I've felt it in some lit circles, at my old job in the library. That demand that you be less. Write less poems (because how could you be good if you're prolific), promote yourself less, publish less, take up less space, stop doing extra work that really needs to be done or you'll make co-workers look bad. Stop stepping on toes or over bodies that haven't moved in decades.   When I was in my MFA and dared win a contest or start a press or publish a first book (the same things my online writer friends were already doing in spades). But still, who do you think you are? 

There is a certain amount of taking up space that you're allowed, especially in any given corner. Especially if you are a woman. Occasionally I hear someone muttering the affirmation "I am enough." and I always laugh since I will usually apologize for being too much. Perhaps mine should be "You are not too much." Too opinionated, too driven or ambitious, too frank when asked a question. I preface new people sometimes, apologizing in advance for personality quirks they will surely encounter if they stick around long enough. Maybe I should be done doing that as well, as should TS for any attacks that she is writing too many songs or releasing too many albums, or just getting too much airtime at football games. That's just way too much space...

Friday, February 02, 2024

book birthdays and ballyhoo

In the fall of 2011, I had kind of given up hope on poetry. I was still in a strange period of not writing very much if at all following the completion of my MFA in 2007, which had soured me on poets having their fingers in my work for far too long. Instead, I was focusing on the chapbook series, which was growing, and the Etsy shop, which was thriving from around 2008-2010 in a way that sometimes seemed frightening and would have me making soap and candles in the middle of the night, spending weekend working on jewelry,  and frantically photographing vintage when I had good light in my apartment.  It would wane as 2011 went on, and by year's end I would abandon ship for a standalone shop and kind of refocus mostly on books, art, and paper with a few other lovelies thrown in. I had completed my thesis, GIRL SHOW, in 2007 and it had been snapped up by the publisher of my first book, Ghost Road, though the operation kind of began to fall apart soon after, with the official word, due to an editor's health predicaments, they would close in 2009.

I wasn't quite sure what to do with the book then, and sent it only to one publisher who I'd had my on for a couple years and was still relatively new sometime in early 2010. It was a while before it was accepted. Meanwhile I played out my usual personal life romantic dramas and got drunk a lot with librarians every week and placed writing at the back of my mind except for those James Franco poems that I started more as joke with friends. One Saturday in October, I received a very nice message from Black Lawrence, the only place I'd sent it asking if it was still available. I was gobsmacked, since I had long given up hope and possibly even interest in publishing more books at that point (and sometimes secretly wondered if I should be writing at all.) 

Technically, the book was my third full-length (at least that I wanted anyone to see) but it would eventually make its debut at AWP 2014 in Seattle, which after a harrowing 2 day train ride, I landed in underslept and slightly hungover after writer drunken shenanigans (because while writers cannot drink as much as librarians, they try)  I had signed my first book excitedly in Atlanta in 2007 and here I was 7 years later with the third book (well technically it was  #4 because that slender little book of prose, SHARED PROPERTIES had slipped solicited by an editor in mid-2013, but at the time, I considered it the third poetry book, but the lines would blend and shift over the years.). 

It was shiny and pretty when the first box arrived at the studio a few weeks earlier that January, when I was battling my usual winter blahs and a recently deceased kitty. The cover, which wrapped around slightly around, had turned out even better than I expected, and part of me was happy the book had been delayed since that more recent artwork would not have existed if it had been published earlier on. While the poems inside already felt like the past for me, they were sound and its still something I can stand on. The structure of the book formed very much by my group thesis seminar in the fall of 2006, but most of the changes I had made to please my thesis advisor the next spring to get the thing actually approved  had been reverted. I had a had quite the past year 2006 into 2007 on all fronts (mono, rending heartbreak, exhaustion of working full time in addition to classes) and was too tired to argue, but it seems foolish now that I didn't stand my ground.

Nevertheless, the book that was accepted and published was the version I would have wanted. It was also my most best-selling title with the press and still retains that status today, despite a couple other books that came after (SALVAGE in 2016 and SEX & VIOLENCE in 2020.) BLP is retiring it to out-of-print heaven this year after a strong decade, so it seemed important to celebrate its birthday, especially since it almost never made it out of manuscript, I do have a good size stash of copies for sale on my own and you can find them used in a couple places. 

More importantly, however, that little yes that came that Saturday in the fall of 2011 gave me a renewed sense of purpose that maybe not all was lost, and combined with those silly James Franco poems, got me writing furiously again in early 2012 and then I just kept going. 

not so serious fun

When you've known someone for almost a decade, you can rarely shock them. The other night, as we were getting ready for bed and Game of Thrones, J rolling a joint, me moving the cats out of the way that are always perturbed at giving up prime spots, he joked about taking his art seriously (the rolling technique) and I laughed loudly and said I never took anything, least of all art, seriously. This seemed to surprise him, which got me thinking about how artists (writers, what have you) should never take things too seriously, since seriousness seems the antithesis of art. And truly, it didn't occur to me til I said it out loud in that conversation that you CAN'T take yourself too seriously, otherwise it will make you want to cry. Or quit. Or die.

I think maybe there was a time of taking poetry too seriously. Not necessarily the game of it, which was writing, so of course it should bring joy, but the rules of the game of it. The things you are supposed to do or very much not supposed to do as you conduct yourself in the world as a writer. This led to much angst and much vitriol leveled at things that seemed unfair or unjust or just wonky in the publishing world. It played out in real-life conversations with writers in bars or over dinner, on social media, on this very spot you sit. And even the actual writing is perhaps dangerous to take too seriously. It cuts you off from a sense of WTF and WHY NOT?  Some of the best writing I've done were projects, like the James Franco pieces more than a decade ago, where I gave my self permission to not care. To not look so heavily with an eye toward making "ART" and yet, they were perhaps some of the truest, most artful writing I've done. 

My journey the last few years, as we weathered covid and my own supreme job dissatisfaction. As people's attention wandered to new things, new platforms, new obsessions, at times poetry in particular (far moreso than art) felt like a losing game. I even found myself unable to read anything BESIDES poetry, which I had to with a box full of submissions. Anything longer or more in-depth made me feel like I couldn't breathe sometimes. This is in some ways still true, though I am enjoying audio books, mostly non-fiction in a memoirish-vein. So I get it, but it also sucks that when you feel like your particular genre is the bottom rung in popularity and are trying to pull even those few dedicated readers your way.

With art, maybe it's a little better in terms of engagement, but art thrives in play. This week, I've been fiddling a bit more with the robots to help create collages and I am liking the results overall. I'll be sharing these over on Instagram in the coming days and the best part about them is the sense of play and experimentation. There is some serious work in manipulating images and thinking about design, but sometimes you get the weirdest shit from AI generators (see above) that is gloriously lovely and terrifying all at once. Which is maybe all we can expect from art or poetry. As for the rules, we can take them or leave them. Perhaps seriousness comes in just keeping at it.