Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009 - May it be a year of inspiration

Though according to most working poets, it's about as likely to have daily poetic inspiration as it is to have lightning strikes each morning in your living room.

Or so says former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser in an interview that made me feel reassured about my lack of ideas. He says he sits in his living room every morning to write and "nine days out of ten nothing good comes of it." Yet he does it, day after day, disciplined as any craftsman. He says if, after writing every day, at the end of a year he has 12 poems he cares about, he feels fortunate.

William Stafford reported similarly low levels of inspiration as adequate to compensate high levels of dedication. In his books Crossing Unmarked Snow and Writing the Australian Crawl, the poet reports with good humor that the way to make it to high art is through dismal failures. It's not quite the monkey-at-the-typewriter odds of writing Shakespeare, but you get the idea.

These comments by great poets indicate a little-discussed and never-taught quality needed for great creativity: patience. We read the life stories of poets like Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and can hardly imagine how they found the inner resources to persevere with so little encouragement. In patience is great creative power.

So says Flaubert: "Talent is long patience, and originality an effort of will and of intense observation." Mary Oliver cites this quote in A Poetry Handbook, and she comments on the hopefulness of this idea: "For who needs to be shy of any of these? No one! How patient are you, and what is the steel of your will, and how well do you look and see the things of this world? If your honest answers are shabby, you can change them."

Which bring us to New Year's and resolutions. Mine for this January 1 is to continue to note daily observations of some object along my daily path that strikes me as potent with meaning. Not to note the meaning, but to embed the meaning in the description. I have a little notebook, pocket-sized and ready with a little pen, and I'm going to give that little book over to this practice.

Practice, practice, practice. On that subject, I wrote a villanelle whose subject was the unending daily practices of ballet dancers. I think it applies to poetry as well. It's dedicated to my ballet teacher, who basically taught me how to be a poet.

Ballet Teacher’s Catechism
– for Rosalie

You’ll practice every day until you die.
When years of sweat have dried, call it Art.
Eight en croix, thirty-two on each side.
You kids only like the easy part.

When years of sweat have dried, call it Art,
glittering threads whose weft you never see.
You kids only like the easy part.
You don’t understand the work of simplicity.

Glittering threads, the weft you never see—
beauty is woven on a loom of pain.
You don’t understand the work. Behind simplicity
is a dancer with a one-pointed brain.

Beauty is woven on a loom of pain.
Only repetition can make a movement pleasing.
The dancer with a one-pointed brain
trains sinew and bone past habit and reason.

Only repetition can make a movement pleasing.
Eight en croix, thirty-two on each side.
To train sinew and bone past habit and reason
you’ll practice every day until you die.

(from Femme au chapeau, David Robert Books)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Self Interviews

Martha Silano has an interview she did with herself up at Blue Positive. To me the most interesting question was what impact the economic crisis has had on her writing. Are you writing more or less?

I'm going to try the self-interview later this week. My favorite question of the ones Martha answered, after the economic crisis one: at what age did you decide to be a writer? Martha decided at age 9. So did I. I wrote a 100-page novel entirely based on Nancy Drew. I wonder how many of us were marked out early for this odd vocation. How many came to writing as to a religious conversion? With exaltation and the most peculiar certainty of having something worth saying.

Hope your holidays include some writing!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Poets & Interviews

For those who like to read -- and do -- interviews with poets, take a look at Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides. Currently up is an interview with Tom Hunley, poet and publisher of Steel Toe Books. Robert has an eclectic mix of interviews on a variety of topics. Good reading.

As I already mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed a mostly email, but also phone exchange with poet Barbara Crooker for an interview now up at Umbrella. There are differences among interview subjects, I'm finding. Sometimes you have to ask very little to gain a wealth of response. Other people you need to steer a little more. I'd like to do more poet interviews, but sometimes I feel like I lack the right questions.

What are your favorite interview questions? To ask or to answer or to read the answers to.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Bloghopping is becoming the new television, at least for me. Changing channels in the blogosphere is so much more rewarding than channel surfing the idiot box, despite the proliferation of PBS channels on my cable provider.

Take for example the new zine I found, Ourobouros. Its mission and first issue are arresting, especially the reason editors Jo Hemmant and Christine Swint give for the choice of name:

"The snake swallowing its tail symbolises infinity; to the alchemist, this represented the circular nature of his work, the union of opposites, the conscious and unconscious mind. And like the ouroboros, language is infinite, meaning endlessly deferred. We’ve adopted the symbol to acknowledge this. We also want to acknowledge that poets and artists are like the alchemist, striving to spin ideas and images into gold."

But what really knocked me out was the visual presentation. Not only is this a zine aiming at art-lit collaboration, but they are onto cutting-edge ways of presenting a magazine online. When you select Issue 1 and go to the open publication link, you are taken to a window with a virtual magazine with turnable pages, enlargement capabilities (select full screen for a real page-turning read and best resolution of the artwork). You can view in Magazine View, Presentation View or Paper View.

For a total hoot, read featured poet Ingrid Steblea's "The Poets Online." Imagine Byron on Facebook. Clever. (By the way, Steblea is on Facebook.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is the book finished?

Hello -- is there an echo in here? Haven't we been having this conversation for, oh, say the last 10 years or so? The New York Times has apparently never heard about this until now. I'm sure they said the printed book was finished when someone invented paper, and that wall-scratching thing was ... just so-over.

Of course the book isn't finished! It's morphing, a verb that didn't even exist 10 years ago when this debate first started. It's morphing to products on YouTube like Shape of a Box. It's becoming a CD like A God You Can Dance (plug, plug -- and email me directly if you don't Amazon). It's turning into downloadable pdf chapbooks as at the redoubtable 2River, which I think practically invented the downloadable chapbook.

And most of all, it's online in a gazillion new ezines, one starting up just about every hour on the hour, fresh new faces like zafusy, poemeleon, Umbrella (okay, so this blog is full of plugs). So what if Google is putting every book ever written online someday? We'll figure out how to do those pay-per-downloads, the way you can do it on iTunes.

How about 99 cents a spoken word poem? Why not? Anyone want to start a new zine? All we need now is a title and a Paypal account.

Nothing - but nothing, not even the Kindle - will ever replace the tidy little bent-cover, worn-edged paperback you can cram into a purse or a really big pocket or an overnight case for the plane or the weekend or just coffee somewhere halfway quiet. Books will never die.

But as they say lately in book publishing, "Flat is the new up." Meaning sales - so get out there and give everyone a book for Christmas or Hanukkah.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Got lucky!

No, not that way. I just won a book at the Wompherence! On the last day, the daily drawing came up with my name and I won a book by Susan Rich. It's her first collection, The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World; White Pine Press. 2000. Susan writes that it includes several poems written while she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and an election official in Bosnia. Also has many poems about the death of her mother and father -- all in all, an intense time. Sounds perfect!

Speaking of books, I'm becoming hooked on Goodreads. So many books, and me without a Kindle! I learned from Suzanne Frischkorn that I want to read THE ENGLISH MAJOR by Jim Harrison. From Celila Lisset Alvarez, I heard about TRAVELS WITH LIZBETH, and from Mary Biddinger that I have to try THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. Plus a phantasmagoria of poetry titles that my Goodreads friends recommend. It will be a long, cozy winter season chez Dacus.

Please join Goodreads and tell me what you're reading that's good. Or just tell me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wompo Authors Theatre

Watch a slideshow of gorgeous books by members of the Women in Poetry Listserv at the Wompherence. It's fascinating -- just reading all those titles and seeing the images poets select for book covers -- inspiring and makes me want to spend a lot of money. That can't be bad at the holidays!

Other areas of note at the First Annual Festival of Women's Poetry (aka Wompherence): Interviews and an amazingly large International Section.

Hurry! November's almost over.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poets interviewed

I discovered on Sherry Chandler's blog that The Guardian has an article today about poets Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney developing a new opera. The article interests me for the candor of the poets, rather than an interest in opera. Though it is fun to see a writer take on that overblown form. Here in San Francisco, we've had the splashy premiere of Amy Tan's "The Bonesetter's Daughter," to deliriously enthusiastic review.

I've been reading Heaney lately and marveling at his mellifluous language, his fine sense of rhythm and depth of feeling. He makes form transparent, effortless and contemporary. His poems read like an intimate conversation, yet they pay high attention to formal elements.

Speaking of poet interviews, I just love to read them and to do interview. I know poetry should stand on its own -- and certainly with Heaney it does -- but I often find a poet interview informs my reading of their poetry in a way nothing else does. There's something about getting to know the person behind the poem that adds richness and depth to the work. I often wish for this in readings, but few poets can deliver the kind of personable intimacy of an interview in a public reading setting. Robert Hass can do it, and so can a few other poet performers with long experience in the art of public reading.

I just finished interviewing the lovely poet Barbara Crooker for the December issue of Umbrella. Doing interviews is a great pleasure, whether in person, by phone or by email. I've never had the fun of being on the other end of interviewing, but I do interviews all the time for my day job writing. It satisfies my constant curiosity about what makes an artist tick, what drives the creation of art. Especially in poetry, where rewards are few and odds of being published are steep.

Have you been an interview subject? What are your favorite questions to be asked, or to read responses to in a poet interview? My favorite question to ask is "How did you get into writing poetry?"

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bloghopping + Wompherence

The First Annual Women's Poetry Festival has launched its fabulous Website, and will open its online conference November 1. Take a stroll around -- the venues are already up and filling with exhibits, conversations and news of upcoming events. Hosted by members of the Women's Poetry Listserv, an 800+ member-strong online poetry discussion group, the Wompherence is shaping up to be full of activities and discussions.

They offer a bookstore, a general discussion board, publishers booths, a daily poem (Oasis), conference papers and panels, interviews and readings, among the many areas. Check out The Cauldron to get oriented on weekly or daily happenings. There are presentations on international poetry and poetry foremothers, and a workshop area. Registration is free!

In other poetry news, the BBC has digitized rare recordings of writers' voices, some of which are available online, including the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf.

Speaking of audio poetry, the Wompherence's Daily Poems (Oasis) has audio links. That's how I found this gorgeous recording of poet Deema Shehabi at Drunken Boat reading her poem Portrait of Summer in Bossey: 15 Years Since Her Death. Enjoy listening.

Friday, October 17, 2008

So ready now

For two and half months, I've been wearing the Clamshell Brace to protect my spinal fusion following surgery. I feel much better now, but this 4-1/2 pound hunk of plastic and metal and velcro feels rather heavy by evening. I am so ready to be free! Only, apparently, according to my doctor, Not.

Have you ever had to wear a cast? When I broke my foot, they just put me in a surgical boot. Bad enough, and crutches are the worst. And I hear that the one I wear isn't the worst Clamshell Brace you can be put into. There's one with a leg cuff!!!

Still. Friday night and I have nowhere to go but bed. I can't even sit in a movie theater in this thing. Not that I'm feeling sorry for myself, but really. As Amy Poehler would say, "Reeeaaalllly?!!!"

P.S. Mine doesn't look exactly like this -- it has some fashionable over-the-shoulder straps and a giant T-brace at my neck to anchor them. So Xena Warrior Princess, without the superpowers. So completely doesn't go with anything in my wardrobe but sweats.

P.P.S. No, there will be no poems ensuing from this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Call for light verse

Few zines publish it -- and I'm happy to say Umbrella is one of them -- so I thought I should post this call for submissions from Chimaera that I spotted at the Gazebo:

For The Chimaera Issue 5, due out in the second half of January 2009, our Feature Theme will be light verse. John Whitworth (Spotlight Poet in this issue) has agreed to guest-edit the feature. The definition of light verse will be broad rather than narrow. We’ll be looking for well-made poems in a lighter style (see the part of the the Spotlight interview touching on light verse). John will select for the feature from submissions received, which should be sent via our online form. (preferred) or by email to the usual editorial address ( — not, please, directly to John. And please read our submission guidelines first.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Late-night vs. early-morning writing

I have a night owl writer friend, and I have a 4-early-hours-every-day writer friend. Both claim their time zone as the most creatively stimulating. Ideas, especially poems, come to me at odd, odd times, mostly when I'm nowhere near a keyboard or pen. But 5 a.m. seems to contain a particularly vibrant quiet. Sometimes even 3 a.m. Now, the night owl and the early bird both claim 3 a.m., but if I stay up that late the clearest thought I will have is "Help!" And if I get up that early, I won't have any thoughts at all. Or at least not in words.

Do you have a regular late-night or early-morning time you specially prize for writing?
If a night owl, how late do you actually write?
If a morning writer, how long between getting up and actually beginning to work?

Just curious. And at the moment (8 p.m. my time), I'm just beginning work on a project. Neither late nor early nor really any time at all.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Zafusy + other bloghopping

A new site for the always intriguing zine Zafusy.

Goodreads is really a good place to network with other readers and writers. You can create a page for listing your own works, find out what friends and authors you admire are reading, list brief book reviews and make virtual shelves of books you recommend. It's Facebook for the literary, but intimate and friendly, because the numbers aren't so vast. And no gadgets, things to throw, etc.!

A marvelous virtual poetry conference will be hosted soon by members of the Women in Poetry Listserv. The first annual Wompherence (Wompo+conference), a marvelous site filled with resources, activities and a bookstore, is up now. Registration is free. The official conference starts in November, but there's already plenty to see. More soon on the Wompherence.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Continuing -- Alpaugh on Contests

Tim Green (Rattle editor) blogged today about David Alpaugh's excellent article on poetry book contests. He highlights David's contribution to analyzing the state of American poetry and what's wrong in it:

"... he [Alpaugh] might be best known for his influential essay “The Professionalization of Poetry,” first printed as a two part series in Poets & Writers in 2003. That essay detailed the sacrifices poetry has made to become a viable profession within academia–the diluting of talent, the rise of esotericism, the praise of the banal. In Rattle e.5, Alpaugh turns his attention from the university to the free market, exploring the opportunity cost of so much good intention–the founding of (yet another) poetry book contest."

Tim Green goes on to debate a few of Alpaugh's points, which makes for interesting reading, but he really got my attention on the subject of how little contest presses do for winners in promoting their winning books. He contrasts his own positive experience with Red Hen Press with reports from contest winners about essentially receiving, by way of publicity, "a box of books and a letter wishing them luck."

Which makes me want to ask again -- doesn't the self-publishing option seem more attractive, if you're more or less on your own anyway. An ad in P&W isn't all that costly, and Poetry Flash (with a print run of 22,000) is a downright bargain.

Autumn Cleaning in Progress

I've decided to prune my Blogroll, list only the blogs I read regularly. Blogs that surprise, amuse, inform, uplift or involve me -- or simply strike me with awe, which is what good poetry and art should do.

Speak up if your blog has been deleted and you're reading this -- if you want your link back on my Blogroll! My hope is to make it easier to find good reading. I don't mean to exclude anyone. If you don't blog regularly, if your blog is mostly political and not about art or literature, or if you just post announcements of your own news, the link has been deleted.

We're a network, though, and I'm open-minded. Just let me know.

Happy Autumn! A few more leaves may fall in the next few days. Write and let me know if you want yours pasted back on the tree.

David Alpaugh on What's REALLY Wrong With Contests

Before you lick the stamps for that envelope, and slip your newest poetry manuscript into it to head off to a book contest, read David Alpaugh's canny investigation of the whole book contest biz. It's part of the new issue of Rattle, as a free download. (Scroll down to see the link to a pdf.)

Among Alpaugh's many trenchant observations, this really made me think about why the readership for poetry is shrinking:

It is routine practice for contests to throw in the winning book as a consolation
prize for non-winners. In most cases losing poets constitute the main readership
for award-winning books! May I suggest that they are perhaps the least likely
critics to receive the book favorably?—that many of them begin reading with a
question that would not be asked by readers of a traditionally published book?
(How could Judge X possibly choose these poems over mine?).

Combined with the almost suffocatingly academic pall that has been cast over the art form by the machinery of MFA Programs, ever hungry for new paying students, and you have a pretty good explanation of why no one in America takes poetry serious except the poets. It is engineered to leave the rest of society out. Those who dare to write outside the Academy's criteria for good work don't win contests, sell few books or don't get books published at all. You have only to receive a few of these consolation prize books to realize how what a monotone the whole of American poetry has fallen into.

Alpaugh speaks to the causes of this monotone:

"Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, book contests subtly corrupt the art by
substituting the petty goal of winning for the grander one of writing original poetry.
Contests have their unwritten conventions which, if followed, will increase
likelihood of success. Study as many prize-winning volumes as you can; adjust
your style and content accordingly; and you may find yourself in next year’s winners’
circle. Poetry book contests privilege serious poems over humorous ones; pathos over
wit; “sincerity” over virtuosity; they eschew satire and persona; and devalue
variety in favor of consistency of theme, form, tone, and “voice.” A swerve into
the ineffable in the last few lines of each poem will keep your work “open” and
“risky” in conformance with current MFA workshop practice. Prefacing poems
with epigraphs from fashionable poets (usually in translation) will let the judge
know that you are or aspire to be professionally hip."

The rest of the article is even more thought-provoking, and often wildly entertaining. Alpaugh's wit serves his argument well, as the whole business richly deserves parody.

(Thanks, David, for permission to quote the above!)

But yeah, I'm still going to enter a few contests. Pleiades and Nightboat are among my fall deadline picks, because of final judges and staff whose work I like. I'm going to be choosy, though, and send only where I suspect I'm welcome. Why submit a book to a place that has only sent me form rejections? The average $20 fee + $4 postage is too steep to mess around with.

I think they should lower the contest fees, or maybe more of us will get more selective -- or, as some of my colleagues are doing, opt out. Self-publishing is becoming more and more interesting an idea, thanks to the new services. You have to promote your own books anyway!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Publicity for poetry

Kate at Kicking Wind did an interview with poet and publicist Lytton Smith last year. He's a poet who arranges publicity for poets. While still trying to imagine the net income for that kind of profession, I found several good ideas for promoting a poetry book, ideas you probably know already, but worth repeating:

* Write a press release and pitch letter for the book

* Make a list of reviewers and send it

* Contact your local or regional reading series with an offer to read from the book

* Organize a reading tour, especially wherever you have friends to can help, and possibly host you

* Plan a launch event

* Send postcards (Vista Print has good prices) to your mailing list

* Have a mailing list!!! (Start now)

I would add a few more possible activities:

* Write book reviews and as a book reviewer, offer to swap books for review

* Blog interestingly about something besides your book -- develop readership by earning attention

* Write articles, essays, fiction, to broaden your readership

* Cultivate booksellers

Your ideas?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Updated Non-Contest List

Thanks to feedback from poets who keep their own non-contest poetry publishers lists, or who are simply interested in this topic and wrote to me, I have updated my web page on Non-Contest Poetry Book Publishers. Some new presses added, some presses removed. I decided not to list any press with a catalog of less than ten books, not to list any obvious self-publishing presses (with, say, two or more titles by the publisher) and not to list any presses that don't have open reading periods within the next 12 months.

Sarabande Books squeaked in under the wire, as they say their September reading period is closed this year, but as it's almost October and I don't want to update the list in October, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they'll do open reading September 2009.

Thanks for all the tips, advice, ideas and comments! And thanks, Steve Schroeder, for keeping your own list. While our lists don't entirely coincide, yours gave me interesting additions. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Punctuation Day

My good friend Regi has brought to my attention that this is National Punctuation Day.

Huzzah to the semi-colon (did I punctuate that right?) and the ellipsis (pretty sure I spelled it correctly).

And when is National Spelling Day? In a texting world, punctuation and spelling are what we need more of. Not to mention National Grammar Day.

Celebrate with the comma of your choice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Poetry book publishers - outside of contests

It's that time of year: when I update my webpage that lists Non-Contest Poetry Book Publishers. Every year the list shrinks, sorry to say. New publishers replace the old, but always a few less replacements than the publishers who cave in to the contest mania. Small presses are doing the math and realizing that few buy poetry books. Contests are increasingly the only way to fund operations.

Where does the contest frenzy leave those of us who publish our poetry in book-form? With a diminishing audience. Of course, it's quality, not quantity, that counts, right? I can't solve that equation here, it's beyond quadratics and the human mind. And I have no crystal ball. But I doubt poetry is disappearing. Maybe morphing into an online venture.

Please take a look at my list and let me know if:

(a) you find it useful
(b) you know of book publishers to add
(c) you are interested in helping to research the list and keep it growing

Who knows, perhaps we'll have an impact on poetry publishing!

I've been unable to find another list like this. Do you know of anything? New Pages lumps all university and small presses into one ginormous listing, regardless of what they publish. Not much help unless you have 24-48 hours to kill scrolling through alphabetically and checking each and every link that lists "Poetry."

P.S. Why the image? It's fall, that's all. I'd like to be in Carmel. But not with a back brace.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Poetry sites new to me or renewed to me:

Of course I have to like Colorado Poets Association website, as they listed Rocket Kids among their favorite poets blogs. They have a nice page with print magazine publishing information too.

Never a dull read: The Chimaera, edited by Paul Stevens, with artwork by Pat Jones. Subtitled "Literary Miscellany, the site has a daily poem selected from the current issue. It's a triquarterly, and archives show the quality of work selected. Some poems have sound files, a great feature.

Unsplendid is a new zine that has entered the fairly small field of New Formalism, as a triquarterly for poems in received forms, including but not limited to: sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, ghazal, sestina and blank verse. As someone who enjoys the challenge of working in form, I'll enjoy reading and perhaps submitting to this one. One thing I like about their definition of received form is that it includes nonce (invented) forms and translations.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Animated Poetry and the Future of Online-Lit

I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to interview a true Internet pioneer. No, not Al Gore. One of those pioneers whose names you don't find out until curious people get out there and start trying to figure out how all this happened -- all this literature online, print publishing melting into the blogosphere and poetry reaching millions of readers. Yes, you heard me right. Millions. Just ask JJ Webb, whose name fortuitously omened his career helping to develop the Web. JJ is better known as "Beau Blue" of Blue's Cruzio Cafe, one of the Internet's most innovative poetry zines because of its animated poems.

My interview of him is now up at Umbrella, that fine and eminently re-readable literary zine piloted by the amazing Kate Bernadette Benedict (who knows her way around print and virtual publishing). What JJ Webb had to say about the future of online poetry is fascinating. And I was equally interested to hear him cite numbers of readers of same.

To me, the most stunning statement he made was this:

"It [poetry publishing online] is beginning to eliminate the old-line gatekeepers. Well, not eliminate them, but make them more and more irrelevant. It’ll be interesting to see what the new gatekeepers look like. And with that the Web will begin to reshape the poem itself."

I think zines are beginning to reshape the poem. For one thing, it's made the short lyric even more emphasized. Anything that scrolls down below the first page is harder to read. And the first page of a web site is very much shorter than a print book page. Print space drives form, and we may be looking at new forms because of the Web.

Take a look at the article. Let me know what you think about the future of lit-publishing-online. Meanwhile, I'm shopping for discounts on a Kindle.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Synchronicity & the contest cautionary tale

As I was blogging yesterday about book contests and assembling a list of those I might target with my new manuscript, it seems the blogosphere was alive with reports and responses to Stacey Lynn Brown's "Cautionary Tale" about winning a first book contest which ultimately left her with no published book (until another publisher came to her rescue).

Take a look at "Cautionary Tale" on Brown's blog and comments about it. Also see Marie Gauthier's comments. There's also an interesting discussion on her blog about what you can do with $250 - $500 if you elect not to enter contests, but self-publish.

I am considering self-publishing and spending the money on advertising, which few book publishers do for poetry collections. If you can sell 200-300 copies in advance sales, you can practically finance a limited first run without much outlay for the actual printing costs. You can then spend your funds to advertise and send mailings. Of course, selling advance copies requires an audience for your work. But if you have already published and have a modest following, plus friends, family and neighbors who like your poetry, it might be possible. It's an interesting thought, anyway. Probably I don't have time to ride herd on book printing and design, but there's always Lulu and the like.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Poetry Book Contests - makes you think

It's that time of year again - when multiple book contest deadlines seem to, well, multiply. Along with the average cost of subbing a manuscript to contests. I've heard poets say they've spent more than $500 to enter contests (I forget whether the person who quoted that sum had actually won a contest).

New Pages has a handy guide to upcoming deadlines.

Here's another handy guide, courtesy of poet David Alpaugh, author of the thought-provoking article published in Poets & Writers, "The Professionalization of Poetry." David is as handy with statistics as he is with words, as this excerpt from a new article shows:

1) A cursory investigation on the Internet turns up 158 full collection poetry book contests and 172 poetry chapbook contests. That's 330 contests a year--and though just an approximate figure, it's a conservative one.

2) If the figure holds at the current level there will be 3,300 poetry book contest prize awards each decade--33,000 by the end of this century.

3) Everything leads me to believe that the figure will not hold--that the current trend and history of exponential growth will continue and that the figure will double, triple, quadruple, perhaps even ten-tuple as technology proceeds.

4) We could easily be looking at over 100,000 poetry book awards by the end of the century! Each book chosen from hundreds, in some cases thousands, of entries by "distinguished" poet/judges--and published by supposedly selective, credible presses, trying earnestly to bring the best poetry available to the reading public.

5) How could a 22nd century English professor be confident that he had a handle on the best 21st century without carefully reading these 33, 000 to 100,000 "prize-winning" books? And how about the tens of thousands of books that didn't win prizes? How about the tens of thousands of self-published ones?

Certainly makes you think before shelling out the contest fees. Instead, you could spend that $500 to get your collection well printed. Since we all know we are our own distributors, and even Shakespeare and Whitman self-published, why not skip the middle man? Of course, those prizes look alluring. Every year the top prize amounts go up. As do the average fees. Of course, readers should be counted by their quality, not necessarily their quantity.

It all makes me thoughtful. And then my brain seizes up and I just want to read and write poetry and flee logic, at least for awhile go lyric.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bloghopping while the bones knit, the Olympics wind down and politics ratchet up

Here are some notable stops in the literary blogosphere:

Linebreak - a single poem a week, giving us a chance to read and re-read -- careful selections mostly tending toward short poems with short lines, and although several poets seem to be featured without explanation, the picks are good and often memorable. You can also get them as weekly emails.

Blue's Cruzio Cafe -- I've blogged before about these animated poetry videos, but as I've just completed an interview with the creator of this marvelous site (forthcoming in the fall issue of Umbrella), I want to mention it again as one of the most innovative ideas for bringing poetry into the 21st century I've seen. Check out Robert Bly's "Stealing Sugar from the Castle" (The Stage Upstairs) and Robert Sward's "Shelby the Dog" (The Green Room). Navigating the site is a little tricky: click on the words "Stage Directory" in the upper left of the home page. I'm happy to say that my poem, "One Night, Light" is in the same stage as Bly's. It left me breathless to appear on the same stage as this poet I've read and admired now for decades.

And if, like you, you are beginning to suffer Olympics withdrawal already, with the specter of wall-to-wall negative politics looming over the stupid-toob airwaves, check out NBC's Olympics site. More videos and athletic trivia than you can dream of.

I don't know why it has so cheered me to lie on my back and listen to my bones knit while watching Olympians hurl their bodies at the kind of back trouble ballet brought me, but I assure you it is with not even a shred of cynicism that I have thrilled to their achievements and even their noble failures. Olympics is to me a paradigm of how to live, how to approach art: all-for-a-golden-chance efforts, bolstered by years of sweat drying to the rhythm of insane repetition and ardent striving. Is there another way to live? Tell me about it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm a Back-a-Laureate

Or so quipped one of my friends when I came home from the hospital after back surgery. I had, as I like to call it, a back-lift. Much swankier than a face-lift, more long-lasting and more conducive to a youthful middle age.

One of the benefits of undergoing back surgery is that you have a long recuperation period. Months, actually. That's a golden ticket to a lot of time. I am actually encouraged to spend my surplus energy (whatever's not needed by that internal knitting bee that's incessantly creating a newly fused vertebra where two used to be) in reading, writing and a little gentle blogging. Really, anything recreational.

So today I surfed and made a discovery: Didi Menendez's marvelous American Poet Portraits. Ever wondered what your favorite poet really looks like, that is, when not posing in that oh-so-studious head shot for the back cover? Didi's portraits have the spontaneity of people about to say something interesting. They don't look like they're taken from the posed studio shots. I wonder where Didi finds the photos to work from -- or does she work from actual life? In which case she has met more poets than I could dream of. A multi-talent.

And not only are there fascinating pictures, but a great soundtrack. Check it out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

More discoveries

The Page!!!

Links to all things poetry -- articles, zines, reviews, new work by major poets, essays and interviews. All neatly organized and click-through-able. Links to articles on poets and poetry begin with a quote and the author and magazine in bold, so you get a quick sampling of what's available and can click through to the full text. Left and right sidebars link to publications and new work. Of course, it's mostly the usual suspects, Poetry, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Yorker, etc., but they go so far into the small press world as to link to Silliman's blog and Every Other Day. It's a useful site, if heavily skewed to the establishment.

Today I received in the mail Paul Hostovsky's excellent chapbook Dusk Outside the Braille Press. I'm not going to review it here, but I will say I had high expectations and it does not disappoint. You would not be sorry to order it.

I've also been re-reading Barbara Crooker's poignant and joyful new book, Line Dance. And having delicious advance peeks at the manuscripts of two friends. I really recommend manuscript swapping. It's an intense and educational process, considering a work that's still in progress and asking yourself what you might comment on that could be useful. I'm still working on my comments (you know who you are -- if you're reading this blog, you'll be hearing from me soon) because I want to offer ideas that will honor these beautiful books-in-the-making.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Slow responses

No, not my reflexes. The dearth of answers I've received to date for a fleet of poetry submittals I sent in spring. Buoyed by ever-expansive spring thoughts of cracking new markets and bouncing off my flock of poems generated by the poem-a-day writing exercise of April (National Poetry Month), I sent out sheafs of paper. That was more or less four months ago.

Even my April and May email subs have yet to garner responses! Is there something about my work that just makes editors thoughtful? Or makes them fold up the pages and sail paper planes out the window?

Or is it the state of spring submissions -- the glut that heavies editorial desks from coast to coast, clogs in-boxes and generally slows down the gears?

I even have some things sent in February outstanding. I'm guessing it's not just me, but the state of poetry publishing.

And yet I find it a hopeful sign that so many people are writing poems. Who wouldn't want to live in a world where every other person you meet has a notebook or two full of poems?

In other news, I've just discovered a poet new to me whose work I find stunning: Paul Hostovsky. Check out this sampling of poems from our very own Umbrella, in the spring 2007 issue. I've ordered a book. Watch this poet -- big things ahead, in my opinion.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Over at Diane Lockward's Blogalicious, a three-part article on print magazines that read in the summer. But if you can summon the energy to submit in July, you're a more ambitious writer than I.

Karen Weyant at Scrapper Poet in her "After the Fourth" entry laments summer's general lack of literary industriousness.

And here I am blogging, when I should be licking stamps. Or editing. Or typing up all those poems on scraps of notepaper at the bottom of my purse. Or at least doing some work for my clients.

But bloghopping this morning I discovered Marie Ponsot and Paul Muldoon, two poets with high attention to sonics and the degree of compression combined with clarity I really like in poetry. And best of all, thanks to Jilly Dybka's Poetry Hut blog, I discovered Marilyn Chin, who has all that plus humor and who is a finalist for California Poet Laureate. I hope she wins.

Poetry ringtones and the Semi-Colon

Over at the FS&G blog, Best Words Best Order, I listened to poetry ringtones, including one recorded by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. I would be embarrassed to have his growled ringtone going off in my purse in the dressing room at Nordstrom, though I admit I would feel fine in the same situation at the hearing Paul Muldoon's alluring Irish brogue. But where is Louise Gluck's poetry ringtone? Naomi Shihab Nye's? Is this just a guy thing? Would the women poets be too wordy?

I would stop my hectic day to listen to a long, complicated ringtone from Billy Collins.


Modern life has killed the semi-colon, Slate opines. The April Fool's hoax that started the discussion was to me less entertaining than the question of what the semi-colon can do that the dash cannot. But if the disappearing semi-colon perturbs you, check this out:



well g/g c ya

If you can't read the above, you are in much bigger trouble than any semi-colon can fix. I can find a place where you download a ringtone of online-speak so you can practice. Or maybe you'd just like a text-message ringtone?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dickinson - I'm ceded

I heard a reading of this poem the other night and was struck with the way Emily Dickinson uses concrete images to evoke evanescent experiences, and her unexpected turns of image and thought:


I'm ceded—I've stopped being Theirs—
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I've finished threading—too—

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace—
Unto supremest name—
Called to my Full—The Crescent dropped—
Existence's whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank—too small the first—
Crowned—Crowing—on my Father's breast—
A half unconscious Queen—
But this time—Adequate—Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown—
There is that intriguing dash at the end, as though another unexpected turn is coming, but the author put down her pen and surrendered fully to it instead of narrating the experience.

On Modern American Poetry, the explications and interpretations of this poem veer toward the modern -- a self-affirmation, a woman's struggle to throw off patriarchal constraints, etc. Critics are so often eager to adopt a poet from the past into their own century's relevances, as though they were visionaries of the politics of the future.

I like this critic's interpretation best:

the speaker in the poem, though clearly female, most resembles Christ in her relinquishment of past earthly ties and in the magnitude and enormity of her choice. Once a "half unconscious Queen -- ," she is now fully Queen, "Adequate -- Erect, / With Will to choose, or to reject." The speaker's passive posture as recipient of the baptismal rite in the first stanza gives way
to her new resplendent self, radiant in transfiguration.

It's hard to see this poem as anything but mystical. It reminds me of sections of St. Teresa's Interior Castle more than anything else in Dickinson, a record of an intense mystical experience similar to that of Teresa's account of the angel whose golden spear pierced her heart.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Facing the inevitable

Life online and life as a poet are often at odds. Time spent here is time away from there, to a larger degree than we might care to admit. That's why I blog only every other week (or month in some cases.)

I don't find poems hiding in my keyboard or computer screen. I do find them hiding in the soles of my shoes (thank you for that prompt to walk into poetry, Naomi!). I do find them en plein air, as the painters say. Is nature my poetic touchstone? Some find them in city skylines, in storm drains, on the edges of their desks. I'm not built that way. So the gaps you perceive in this blog are poem-pauses, the slow time that stokes my creative fires.

If you like to use poetry prompts to stimulate your creativity, check out Totally Optional Prompts, a blog that provides nonstop, interactive writing fuel.

For those of us who are stimulated by paintings and other art forms, try Simply Snickers, a great and eclectic source of painting-prompts for poets.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bloghopping - some good stops on the poetry trail

The new issue of Umbrella is out. Check out "The Torrid Zone." (Disclaimer: I'm a contributing editor of this magazine.)

New issue of Wicked Alice has a poem by a Rocket Kid.

Hobble Creek Review has one of mine in the archives and an interesting short poem by Corey Mesler in the current issue.

Smartish Pace has started a new Erskine J Poetry Prize competition. You can enter online using Paypal. Of course, I placed as a finalist in the 2007 contest, so yes, I think it's worth entering. The poem is listed on the Web site but not linked, so you'd have to email me to read it.

You will notice a certain bias toward magazines that publish my work. Well, what else would I be reading but poetry selected by friendly editors? Like attracts like. I find the best poetry by reading what my own editors select. Goes for books of poetry too. When I heard Robert Hass speak recently, he gave sensible advice to a young poet to seek out work she likes and then observe who published it, go after those presses to publish her work. Like attracting like.

Really, this whole blog entry was just a sneaky way to announce some of my recent publications.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sprained muse

What do you take for that? For sprained ankles I always used to alternate hot and cold packs after rubbing in a good liniment. But sprained imagination ... I really have no idea. All I know is I've been using too many nouns lately and paragraphs as well. I'm completely off my sense of linebreak.

Help! Ideas for rapid recovery?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Good Reads + Facebook

I discovered the ultimate social networking site for the literarily inclined: GoodReads. Forget poking, grouping, and writing on walls -- now you can send your friends all your favorite books with your reviews and get their comments and favorite books with reviews. A lifetime is too short to read all the stuff you can find this way! It's the ultimate virtual book club, except for the tea and cookies part.

The only thing missing on Good Reads is a women poets group, or a group for recommending poetry books (by women or not). The whole group thing on Good Reads seems fairly disorganized.

So I'll toss out an invitation: anyone reading here interested in forming a Good Reads group related to recommending good contemporary poetry books? A group on Good Reads, as on Facebook, includes a discussion board, so a lot of interactivity is possible but not necessary.

To that end, I've set up Good Reads' first poetry group: Poetry Current Best Reads. It may be clunky grammatically, but it gets the mission over in four words -- join and recommend poetry books you can't put down and think we should all read.

Facebook, by comparison, is far more advanced in forming groups, but it has a social networking dimension I simply don't have time for. In today's virtual globe, one must make choice and set priorities, as in the material world. One simply can't do or have it all, unless one wants to have to learn the lesson of King Midas -- how getting everything you want can be simply hell. And Facebook has become YouTube-vast. I have the feeling of being lost in a huge airport, with people rushing around grouping up, writing on walls, poking and playing games at a frenzied pace. Good Reads has a nice, narrow focus. Books. Just books.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Exercises

A month after completing the exhausting-exhilarating Poem-A-Day exercise for National Poetry Month, I find my muse fast asleep. I must have written a sum total of one poem in May. So I am turning back to poetry exercises to stimulate the juices, as well as reading.

My favorite jumpstart is to open a favorite poetry book at random and read a few pages. My current no-fail book is Dart by the mellifluent poet Alice Oswald. Mellifluent -- I just made that up. I think either my muse stirred and rolled over on the couch, or I'm developing disturbing mental symptom (making up your own vocabulary is a clinical symptom).

Poet and blogger Amy King is compiling a list of poetry writing exercises for a class she's teaching this summer. She promises "prizes" if she uses your exercise. Check it out!

My current favorite exercise doesn't appear on her list so far. Here it is - simple to articulate but hard to pull off:

Rewrite your favorite famous poem without using any of the original words in a poem of no more than 14 lines.

The short length makes it hard, and the aim makes it even harder. I like difficult exercises, as they make failure interesting. Most poetry writing exercises tend to revolve around things or ordinary actions, and so I find them trivializing. Good poetry doesn't trivialize life, in my view. But that's a different blog.


Went to Los Angeles last weekend to visit my father, who has Alzheimer's. Also to visit the ocean, inescapable, as my father's house overlooks it. Hard to say which has more impact on me. I grew up beside this Pacific, and with this now-diminished man. One by one I shed memories along with him, not in terms of forgetting, but in terms of finding them distant, like those freighters on the horizon you know are stacked six deep with containers full of cars but small as a feather against the sea and sky.

Losing someone by inches is an interesting experience. It inclines you to appreciation, then sadness, then an odd cheer. The person in the room can barely speak, can hardly share your memories anymore, but still is there. You look up; he looks up. You smile. What does all that history mean anymore, tucked into its containers and floating away, light as a feather.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoughts on journal writing + bloghopping

Questia has a link to an interesting article on the practice of journal-writing and its importance to writers. There's a link to Arthur Ponsonby's 1923 book on journals by writers through the centuries.

The point that interested me is that journal-writing is different from any other kind of writing -- and that applies to blog-writing as well. The development of new literary forms follows the need for capturing different kinds of awareness. Nothing is as intimate as a journal entry, unless it is a successful poem. But no form of writing is as spontaneous as journaling. One doesn't revise journal entries, generally. Creative nonfiction pieces can emulate journal entries, but aren't. Blog pieces seem like journaling -- and for some writers, are -- but they are public and no matter how exhibitionistic the writer, there is always the consciousness of a reader. Journaling is the most private form of writing, possibly. The equivalent of a dancer's warm-up exercises combined with a psychotherapy session and an intense talk with your best friend.

But they can be high art, as letters can. So the shadow of a polished literary piece always hovers behind the merest journal entry by a skilled writer. Indeed, it's a challenge for a writer used to revision to make a spontaneous journal entry and leave it as such. The thought nags: could this be turned into an article, poem, story or even book? And that pulls away from the original intent of making a Note to Self, only for one's own future edification, inspiration or entertainment.

Elsewhere, in the blogosphere:

At Book of Kells, Kelli Russell Agodon has links to micro-loan programs. If you don't know about this, and haven't yet participated, check out the way helping hands will be extended globally in the new virtual world. One small loan at a time.

At Jeannine Blogs, I learned that my friend Jeannine Hall Gailey is friends with one of my favorite poets ever, Pattiann Rogers. Maybe I'll be able to get a connection to thank Rogers in person for all she writes. Jeannine has just been to the Skagit River Poetry Festival where she heard Rogers read. Skagit River -- doesn't that just sound like a wonderful, exotic place? I would love to see the Pacific Northwest again sometime.

Justin Evans' Hobble Creek Review has a new issue out.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A nominaton for Laureate

David Alpaugh has been nominated by the Ina Coolbrith Circle as Poet Laureate. What does a Poet Laureate in California do? Ask the California Arts Council. Why would David make a good P.L.? For one thing, California desperately needs a Poet Laureate with a deep sense of ironic humor, especially one who's willing to undertake this monumental job with virtually no budget at a time when the State is cutting back on funding even for the disabled. Poets in Schools? Please! We don't even have music classes in schools right now. So it would also take a magician to prestidigitate a program that could enhance the visibility of poetry at the moment.

If anyone can be a poetry wizard, it's David Alpaugh, who has tirelessly produced poetry books and performed and hosted poetry readings for decades. He has also pointed out the Poetry's Emperor's lack of attire, skewering the poetry book contest mill, the poetry publishing establishment, and the generally dismal economics of poetry book publishing, in essays published in Poets and Writers, letters to the editors of Poetry, and elsewhere.

This gadfly with a mordant sense of irony and slapstick is just the ticket. I'm voting (if they'd give me a vote) for David. And if you want to support this nomination, please email the CA Arts Council by May 15:

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

National Poetry Month ... almost gone!

It was a wild month of poetry intensives for me -- readings, daily poems posted to a workshop group, critiquing other people's daily poems, submitting my new manuscript ... am I out of -ings yet?

Poetry in the news, award ceremonies, people actually having recently read a poem, read something about poetry, heard of a poet. The world as if poetry had a real place. A good world!

Don't wait until next April. Find a new poem today. Make one. Hear some poet read, online or in person. Buy a book or literary magazine. Make your own poetry month in May.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Small magazine living the big questions

Came across Pilgrimage magazine recently. I like what I see, intially intrigued by the ee cumming quote on their front page:

”...For Everything Which Is Natural
Which Is Infinite Which Is Yes...”

But I couldn't find samples of their poetry. I wish they'd post more excerpts online. How else can you figure out if you want to buy or even subscribe to a print magazine?

I was having a discussion about this recently. People were complaining that you can't tell which publishers might like your work, or publish books you would want to buy, if they don't post many samples on their Websites. Some poetry book publishers put no samples up, just blurbs.

We all know about blurbs!

I make it a rule to subscribe to at least three litmags every year. Support the field, and find some new poets. But so few litmags are on the newsstands. It's hard to find all but the biggies to browse.

Editors: more samples online, please! It costs you nothing and will boost sales -- which is supposedly the Number One issue among poetry publishers. It's the best means of advertising -- and it's free to you. Why be stingy with your site?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The future of the Internet

I don't usually post links to YouTube, but I think this is a piece of video poetry theater:

Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett

In other future poetry news, Al Young's poem "April in Paris" is animated and viewable at Blue's Cruzio Cafe. I liked "Weeds" too, another animated video. This is the future of poetry online, blending visual art and poetry in motion with audio. Little poetry movies. I'd Paypal a dime apiece to view them -- maybe even a quarter. Just a thought. About the future of Internet poetry.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Writing of place

Thinking about magazines that focus on this, also books and anthologies. I have several anthologies, most of which are poor. Anyone know of other journals or zines that have an earth- or place-centered focus? I'd like to compile a list.

In other news ... Red Hen Press, publisher of Letters to the World, the fabulous (okay, I'm in it) anthology of the women poets listserv, just put up some new rave reviews of the book. Dorianne Laux and Gary Short weighed in with some superlatives. Stay tuned. More may be on the way. And have you picked up your copy of this anthology yet?

NaPoWriMo Day 22, and I haven't yet written my daily poem at 9 pm. Staggering slightly as I head into the home stretch. Today's may be a haiku.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Re-imagining places

Ecotone is an interesting journal I just came across, with an interesting mission: re-imagining place. They would like to see "creative work about the environment and the natural world while avoiding the hushed tones and clich├ęs of much of so-called nature writing." I don't know about avoiding hushed tones. I rather like them. Their contest now running is for poems celebrating Charles Darwin. That's as narrow-focus and fascinating as almost any poetry contest I've heard of. August 1 is the contest deadline.

I love writing about landscape, especially Western landscape -- Stegner, Abbey, etc. -- but I'll take any Dillard I can get my hands on, and pretty much any good writing on place. You don't even have to give me a plot, just good landscape. I don't find as much of this kind of writing being published as I'd like. Have any recommendations?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

first earth poetry, now sky poetry

This one's for the birds. Literally. A new lit-mag devoted to bird literature -- poetry, fiction nonfiction, something called narrative scholarship (love the sound of that), all about birds.

The LBJ is named for the birders acronym which = little brown job, i.e. small brown hard-to-identify birds. As someone who does a little birdwatching, I'll be watching for their July debut issue.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hass and Earth Poetry

Still thinking about last night's appearance by Robert Hass at Walnut Creek's Lindsay Wildlife Museum, I found this article by Sue Gilmore in the Contra Costa Times announcing the upcoming event. It's a good profile of Hass and captures some of the inspiring and hopeful quality of his talk and reading. He made a statement that impressed me: that he had learned about the importance of community from becoming Poet Laureate. It speaks to a deep humility that informs his writing and his work on behalf of the planet and literacy, two causes he sees as combined.

Earth poetry tends to bifurcate into ode or rant. Back when I had first published my book Earth Lessons, I acquired some anthologies of earth poetry. They deeply disappointed, as they fell neatly into those categories in such predictable ways I felt nothing would be saved from this meager way of viewing our situation on our planet. Hass' new poems seem to be insightful about the problems yet hopeful about our ability to tend the garden of earth which we clearly dominate. One other thing he said that I found true: Nature is over. That wild place untouched by man -- there isn't any left on earth. Now, it's up to us to tend the garden we have taken over.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Robert Hass and the River of Words

Never let it be said there is no cultural life east of the Caldecott Tunnel. (That's a local Bay Area joke.) Robert Hass, former U.S. Poet Laureate and winner -- a few days ago -- of the Pulitzer Prize, spoke tonight and read poetry in Walnut Creek. He appeared at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, a unique wildlife hospital and museum and a perfect venue for this highly earth-conscious poet.

I just got back from the reading -- free, courtesy of the Lindsay and the Contra Costa County Library Association -- and I am impressed. Not so much by his beautiful writing, though that too was moving. But what impressed me was the distance of his journey from the kind of poet he was perhaps ten years ago, to the kind of poet he is today. River of Words is the project to inspire children to write poetry about their natural environment, a project he founded as his main contribution as Poet Laureate.

River of Words was clearly the apple of his eye tonight. He talked about its impact and read more from their anthology of children's poetry than from his own work. I'm glad he did. I didn't know much about the program and I was inspired by its connection of the power of poetry to the power of awareness of the planet we inhabit.

The children's poems had the rich earth-awareness from which all good poetry springs. Hass is a perfect leader for this movement, and clearly this was more than a school enrichment program. It's a spiritual movement, and a hopeful and growing one.

I noticed that Hass used the word hope a number of times. I had heard him read many years ago for the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference Benefit. He was a charming poet and reader then, but his work didn't go deep, at least for me, that day. Tonight I heard a very different person, a person changed by the charge he felt inspired to take up when he assumed the office of Poet Laureate -- it seemed to me not as an honor but as a spiritual obligation. He seems to have fulfilled it in the way those kinds of obligations are meant to be fulfilled.

Buy River of Words anthology! Encourage your local schools to look into the program. Support the Lindsay Wildlife Museum too.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Poetry book publishing takes a hit

Check out Jilly Dybka's article on Poetry Hug about Amazon's move to restrict POD publishers from listing their books with Amazon unless they use Amazon's own Booksurge printing service. Another monopoly grows bigger. Scroll down in the article to the link "Why This Sucks So Much For Small Publishers."

I'm concerned. The publisher of my book Femme au chapeau is David Robert Books (a WordTech imprint), uses Lightning Source. They say that quality is an issue with BookSurge. All I know -- as I can't identify books printed with BookSurge to compare -- is that the quality of my book is extremely good. The publishers worked long and hard with me on the cover image and the look of the book from stem to stern. I am very happy with the result.

But now, thanks to Amazon, that little "Order" button at the bottom of my page may no longer point to Amazon. Barnes and Noble carries my book too. At a discount for members. And also used copies.

The real issue, though, is the promotion of poetry books. Anyone looking for a specific book can find an online way to purchase it -- in many cases direct from the small press. How does anyone interested in poetry find out about new titles? Not such an easy thing.

And that's why no one reads poetry anymore. If there were a NY Times Bestselling Poetry List, the whole country would be reading poetry. If only to have things on hand for those wedding and funerals and big anniversaries people are always seeking poems to celebrate. And of course they'd have to include rap and slam CDs.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Happy Poetry Month! For those of you in the U.S. And for those of you who think the header on this blog is gibberish, it stands for National Poetry Month Write More (or something like that). It's an exercise started a few years back in which a group of poets commit to writing a poem a day for the month and either workshopping them or comparing notes in some way -- or not.

I am participating for the third time, and this year actually posting each day's effort in an online workshop. Not here -- this is too public, and then they'd be published.

At the same time, I seem to be watching dance videos and thinking about the days when I could dance. Today's search on Revelations -- to my taste more exciting than any Swan Lake -- yielded a YouTube video of the famous Alvin Ailey Company performance. The video's blurry, but even so, it's thrilling. Wade in the Water is my favorite section of the dance. If I could dance like that, I wouldn't need to write.

It did yield a poem. But no, I'm not going to show it yet.

Videos seem like a good poetry prompt. Anyone else doing NaPoWriMo? Anyone have any tricks to jump-start the muse?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Earth Hour Report

Living by candlelight is charming. For about an hour, and then I wanted to be able to read. Thank you, Thomas Alva Edison! And Phylo T. Farnsworth. The invention of the television is pretty good too. I mean, I can only read so fast. Now that I have the History Channel and PBS 24/7, I'm much better informed than I used to be. Tell that to the next person who whines about what a vast wasteland tv is. On some days, that whiner would be me. But with the advent of the mini-series John Adams, I've remembered how grateful I am for television. And electric lights to read by. Imagine -- John Adams read and wrote all that stuff just by candlelight!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

Turn off your lights for an hour tonight - 8-9 pm. Surely you can think of something to do by candlelight or in the dark. It's a worldwide demonstration of the power that can be saved by thoughtfulness about energy use. You can sign up on the U.S. Earth Hour website -- or if the website is overwhelmed, which it was when I tried to visit -- just do it. An hour. A power beyond that which comes from fossil fuel. Our power to make a change in the earth's favor.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Whitman's later poems

They became so pithy and rounded of corners. Old age seemed to sit gracefully but briefly in his work. Lines became shorter, rhythms more compressed. I read this today and wondered if my old age would reach such a light-filled vision:

Old Age's Lambent Peaks

The touch of flame--the illuminating fire--the loftiest look at last,
O'er city, passion, sea--o'er prairie, mountain, wood--the earth itself,
The airy, different, changing hues of all, in failing twilight,
Objects and groups, bearings, faces, reminiscences;
The calmer sight--the golden setting, clear and broad:
So much i' the atmosphere, the points of view, the situations whence
we scan,
Bro't out by them alone--so much (perhaps the best) unreck'd before;
The lights indeed from them--old age's lambent peaks.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

New book review + fresh bloghops

I just reviewed Marilyn Jurich's collection Defying the Eye Chart for Her Circle Ezine and was delighted to discover these poems on music, aging, disability, art and prayer. Jurich's poetry is musical and layered in meaning. They interweave mythology with the everyday in ways that bring the better and worse gods and goddesses of our natures into sharp and often humorous focus. She's a poet of wisdom with a gift for musical language and I'm glad that my new assignment of reviewing books at Her Circle brought Jurich's work to me. One of the delights of reviewing is discovery of new territory. Stay tuned. I'll report here if I find more good stuff.

I'm so used to words on blogs that it was stunning to discovery a blog that's a poetry of sheer imagery -- and I don't mean the verbal kind. Patricia Jones' Image II is one intense poem of line and color after another. It's addictive. Have a look. Don't forget to blogroll it. You'll soon be addicted. Check out the archives for January 2006. I feel about this work the way I felt when I discovered Andy Goldsworthy, that I am looking through the eyes of a pure and thus very freeing and playful art.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Under the Umbrella

It's been a really good couple of weeks for seeing my poems published. First, my animated poem appeared at Blue's Cruzio Cafe. Today I find the new issue of Umbrella up and with it my poem "Thunder-Edged" with a companion essay. It's in a section called Milestones, the inspiration of editor Kate Bernadette Benedict -- poems that changed the way you write, with mini-essays about how that process of change occurred in the writing. Kate has a wealth of creative ideas, which is one reason Umbrella is a fascinating read. She's bringing back the Bumbershoots section of light verse -- yay! I loved the idea of Milestones. It was easy to identify milestone poems in my work, but hard to pick just one.

A number of friends have work in the same Milestones section: Barbara Crooker (whose ekphrastic poems I adore), Annie Finch (one of the most interesting neo-Formalists writing today), Chris Mooney Singh, Joyce Nower, Christina Pacosz and Susan Settlemyre Williams. Some of these poets are people I know from Wom-Po, the short term for the Women in Poetry Listserv founded by Annie Finch and now 700+ strong in membership.

And other publications right now containing my milestone poems include Letters to the World, a new anthology of some Wom-Po poets recently published by Red Hen Press.

I also have two poems in the current issue of Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion. Image is a fascinating read. Editor Gregory Wolfe does an outstanding job of locating innovative art and writing that has spiritual dimensions or preoccupations. Browse the site, order an issue or even a subscription. It's non-denominational (though mainly Judeo-Christian, though they publish the indefinable people too, people like me). The art is fascinating and unique. One issue featured the work of Andy Goldsworthy, the amazing earth-installation artist whose evanescent creations reveal the flow of elements and time. His work, which typically is done far from art galleries and cities, was documented in the film Rivers and Tides. It's a good read. They also have seminars and a center in Seattle, hosting workshops and conferences that bring together people interested in the fusion of art and faith.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Animated Poetry at Blue's Cruzio Cafe

I'm thrilled to have a poetry recording of mine -- "One Night, Light" from my CD "A God You Can Dance" -- appear on Blue's Cruzio Cafe this month.

Appear isn't the right word - how about leap to life? Thanks to JJ Webb's animation talents and the amazing art of Patricia Wallace Jones, I appear as a sort of a Moon Goddess reciting a poem. The occasion of the poem was a Christmas caroling event and the poem triggered some good memories for friends who participated, especially coming out as it did on the birthday of Meher Baba, a spiritual figure I have followed for some time.

Also check out in this issue of Blue's Cafe Ted Kooser's "Selecting a Reader" and Marcus Morton's amazing "Tooth Fairy" poem. In other issues, Robert Bly has a beautiful reading charmingly animated: "Stealing Sugar From the Castle."

Blue's Cafe is a little mysterious to navigate, so I'll give directions to find Bly's poem. To find past issues, click on the upper left hand corner, where it says "Stage Directory -- More Videos." When you arrive at the next page, click on "Stage Upstairs" for archives. You'll see Bly's video on the left side.

On another page, be sure to catch David Alpaugh's "What My Father Loved About Melmac," a hilarious poem about growing up in the 1950s.

Poetry movies -- that's my idea of high culture. Hats off to JJ Webb, the Beau Blue of Blue's Cruzio Cafe. He's a fascinating poet, having edited Zero City, and he's also a Web pioneer - but that's another story. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

NEA application woes

It appears I'm not the only one who finds the new online NEA application process for Literature Fellowships kludgy and confusing. I goofed my first because the instructions are so long and detailed that my eyes glazed over at just the wrong moment and I rashly didn't double-check my attachments. Other people I know have had conniptions trying to download, install and run software to create pdf files (now required). Still others have experiences glitches in the site that kept them hung up on a "Save & Submit" button, with the message that their application is being processed -- for 45 minutes or more.

Sheesh! Software as written by gremlins. Or, as someone said, a new way to weed out applicants. My favorite witticism was Jeffrey Levine's. In response to someone who lamented that she might have attached blank files to her application, he said, "Submitting blank verse will likely earn you points."

Or something along those lines.

Should applying for a grant really be this hard on poets? I suppose they think that if we can find the turn or the iambs in a sonnet, we should be able to create pdf files on our own computers.

As the robot says, "Does not compute."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Light pollution & bloghopping

I came across a poem with this phrase recently, and found myself ruminating not on the poem but on the ambiguity. Can't people coining new green terms come up with better phrases? I can't stop thinking about a light acid rain, or polluted rain showers, when I hear the term light pollution.

For an eloquent explanation of light pollution, read Simmons Buntin's essay. Simmons edits the delightful zine Terrain, which I have to love for combining green consciousness with poetry and essays. Though I can't love its subhead: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments. So unpoetic. I'm married to an architect, so I've heard the term "built environment" plenty. It never improves upon acquaintance.

But Terrain is a great read. If you've gone green and are writing poetry, consider taking a look and sending something.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Letters & Contests In General

I got a postcard from New Letters advertising a very appealing looking contest. Minimal entry fee ($15) that gets you a year's subscription, up to six poems entered, with $10 for additional entries. I think what appealed is that it's a postcard with all the information in one place, and also that you can submit online. Nice combination, marketing via snailmail but allowing online entries.

My friend David Alpaugh has just written an eloquent jeremiad about poetry contests, however. His reasoning, that contests have contributed to the giant glut of mediocre poetry in the world, leaves me feeling like a chump for even wanting to enter a contest. Perhaps even for wanting to write a poem today!

I won't be surprised if you can soon read his article in Poets & Writers (Jan/Feb. 2003), as they published his other piece, "The Professionalization of Poetry." A born gadfly, he's sure to stir things up in the contest world. And make you think before you send out that next manuscript.

Monday, February 11, 2008

NEA anyone?

I'm applying for an NEA Fellowship in Poetry. I figure I've put in enough hours now trying to make this culture more vibrant and sensitive that I think the government should begin paying me. I'm not asking for an hourly rate -- more like a large honorarium, as the grant wouldn't begin to compensate me for all the business I've probably missed by spending my mornings on poetry.

In case you are thinking of applying, they're now making it all but impossible not to apply online. Here's the page to get started. Good luck!

Among the recent winners in poetry, the only big names I recognized are Jane Hirshfield, B.H. Fairchild and Alice Fulton. Out of 45 grants, that leaves lots of opportunities. NEA offers Literature Fellowships in Poetry once every three years.

This article about an emerging poet winning an NEA Lit-Fellowship is heartening. Scroll down past the article on dots, though that's interesting too.

Are you emerging? I'm emerging too! Let's have tea and compare our NEA apps.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Great Divide

I'm not a political blogger, but tomorrow being Super Tuesday and yesterday being the Superbowl, I find myself thinking about the Great Divide -- the contests we Americans seem to thrive on, often the nastier-spirited the better. Tomorrow those of us in either political party face a Great Divide that has inevitably veered into discussion of personalities, qualifications and character, instead of issues. Yet what do Americans want to hear about most, according to many polls? Issues! We do and we don't. We want all the nominees to be honored, but we only like Winners. It's an adolescent streak our country seems reluctant to shake off, yet it causes us huge amounts of trouble, from a surge in obesity and decreasing health, to a cultural shallowness that has greatly decreased arts education from our schools.

The Great Divide is a divide in thinking. It's the antidote to poetry and art, which seeks unity and harmonies in unexpected places. It's something we're outgrowing, but like all adolescents, the growing pains may be considerable, and last long past Super Tuesday or any other Super event.

I can't wait for Poetry April, myself. And a nice quiet news cycle.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Bloghopping in the new year

Interesting idea: an arts Wikipedia. Artist Muses has started up such a site. They have a Poets category. Take a look, get listed, let's watch the network grow.

Billed as "the online community for intelligent optimists," Ode Magazine is a resource for all of us who are tired of getting only the negative news -- and the endless campaigning. You can find uplifting human interest stories about people like the successful cardiologist who started a medical clinic in Jamaica. There's an article about how to tinker your Prius to make its battery more rechargeable and thus more of a green car. And an editorial on Gandhi's legacy for the 21st century.

For fascinating and close readings of poems and poets, take a look at Edward Byrnes' (Valaparaiso Review editor) blog, One Poet's Notes. He has current essays on two of my favorites, Galway Kinnell and William Stafford.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Like my new look?

New year, new template. As long as it's free. I thought a harbor motif would suit my upbringing in a seaport on the California coast.

In other news: I recently got word that a poem from my book Femme au chapeau will be included in the anthology Women. Period. The book will be published by Spinsters Ink in August 2008. The poem is "Blood-Cycle Brooding."

Barbara Crooker's Line Dance once again delighted me today with this poem (Barbara said I could quote from the book):

At the Thistle Feeder, Finches, Little Chips of Sun

hang upside down, then flit from branch
to branch in the cherry tree,
which has been whipped
to a froth, blossoms
on even the smallest twif,
a whole rococo palace
of a tree. Lazy drowse of bees.
The air so sugary,
it makes your teeth ache.
A downy woodpecker goes up and down
the trunk, tick-tick, tick-tick. Light hangs
in the balance, like a truce in the east,
fragile, temporary. The sky wavers
over our heads, a flag of blue silk;
grass unrolls its green rug at our feet.
Peace, elusive as bird song,
flutters away.

The delicacy of this poem's aspirations captivates me. I especially like the truce in the east and the tree's rococo palace. She has a way of layering images like a painter layers translucent layers of color, emotions too subtle to name sliding one over another to create something new, unnameable and indelible. Elusive and peaceful.

More books soon!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bloghopping + new books

For a total trip in a poetry-land you've never imagined could exist -- a sort of Rabbithole Poetry Land, with animation and great readings -- check out Blue's Cruzio Cafe. This is what the Internet can do to change the way you think of poetry forever. A fusion of spoken word, anime, evolving anthology and zine, Blue's Cafe is an experience it's hard to write about. My very favorite is the new animation of Robert Bly's reading, "Stealing Sugar from the Castle."

And yes, I am going to have the honor of joining the Cafe. The next issue will include one of my poem-readings from my CD, A God You Can Dance.

A new book is on my coffee table, and giving me great pleasure. Between work assignments, here and there through the day, I treat myself to a new poem from Barbara Crooker's lovely Line Dance, just released by WordTech. Congrats, Barbara! Go get your own copy, I'm not lending mine!

Another favorite new book -- not new to the world, but new to me -- is Peter Pereira's Saying the World. If translucent is a term we can apply to poetry, that's the one that comes to me when I read these poems. Like water running over stones translucent. The shimmer is in there, though the water looks clear.