Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Funds for all

If anyone's interested in ideas for raising funds for a nonprofit organization -- and many presses and journals are -- you might want to browse my new blog, Funds for All and All for Funds. Stop by and say hello, leave a good idea for supporting good causes!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Novels and Poems

You haven't heard much from me in the last week or so because I fell into a novel. Not one I'm reading, one I'm writing -- much deeper waters. I started this thing about five years ago as a novel. It had morphed from a travel memoir to grow characters and a plot, and then I started to like some of the characters. Not all. But some. But it was insane to be writing a novel and trying to finish two poetry manuscripts, several plays, earn a living, contributing-edit a zine, help moderate an online poetry workshop, and do one or two other things like take out the trash and make an occasional sandwich. So I put it aside, promised my agent I'd send the first promising 60 pages I finished and --- voila! Five years went by.

Suddenly I hit the holidays, my father's death, a slowdown in work, a few other personal roadblocks of major proportions, and the only thing that could interest me were these crazy people stuck in Italy on an art history tour gone horribly wrong.

(Write that down -- I can use it in the query letter!)

The image you see is where I am currently stuck. In the Pantheon in Rome, having an epiphany about how wrong my life has gone and how if I find an eye big enough -- say as big as the oculus in the Pantheon -- I might be able to see a way out of it. My character is an accountant. I have been an accountant. He yearns for beauty. I will reveal no more, but the Pantheon is surely a great place to contemplate the need for beauty in one's life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Non-Contest Book Publishers

The list is growing. Maybe a new trend is starting? Non-contest reading, perhaps with a small reading fee. Sounds like a reasonable way to conduct a small press.

Adam Deutsch, of the new Cooper Dillon Books, wrote to let me know that they read poetry book manuscripts - both chapbooks and full-length - outside of contests. He writes:

"We're a fairly new press, releasing our first titles right now. We've
just put out a chapbook by Gary McDowell's /They Speak of Fruit/, and
have a chap coming from Jill Alexander Essbaum and a full-length by Nate
Pritts coming in the next month or so.

".. we don't run a contest, and do not plan to. Our reading
period is closed right this minute, but it'll reopen April 1st and run
until August 15th (or so). There will be a reading fee of $10/or
buy-a-book, but a portion of fees will go to a local San Diego charity.
Details will be found at
closer to the opening of the reading period."

My Non-Contest Poetry Book Publishers page has been updated to include Cooper Dillon Books.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Poet interviews

I'm gearing up to do some interviews, and reading poet interviews on other journals is a great way to get ideas. There's a wealth of wisdom out there -- much of it contradictory advice about how to write and publish poetry, which makes it all the more fun.

One site that has an archive worth listening to is Artful Dodge.

Fringe Magazine has short interviews on the blog, longer ones in each issue. , which is now going to appear twice a year, will have interviews.

The Poets Q&A at From the Fishouse is especially interesting, because the poets answer in audio.

Anyone have additions? I just love reading and better yet hearing poets talk about their craft and practice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Emily Dickinson Birthday Radio Show now available

I've posted the recording of the show on my website. It's two hours, the first hour comprised of poets reading their Dickinson-inspired poems. Mine is about 45 minutes in and is called "Carlo and Me," inspired by Emily's fabulous big black dog Carlo, with whom she roamed through the fields. Hope you enjoy it! It's a total Emily-fest, hosted by Merry Gangemi. The recording starts in the middle of the first hour (don't know why), so don't be thrown by that. The readings actually start with Charlotte Mandel (sorry, Barbara & Carol!).

Poets include:
Barbara Crocker
Carol Dorf
Charlotte Mandel
Claire Keys
Elizabeth Oakes
Jane Satterfield
Janet McCann
Julie Moore
Lesley Wheeler
Rachel Dacus
Susan Rich
Tamiko Beyer
Rachel DuPlessis

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Emily Dickinson Birthday on the Radio Thursday 12/10

I'll be reading my poem "Carlo and Me" as part of the Emily D. festivities heard on Radio Station WGDR, Community Radio from Goddard College in Vermont.

The two-hour show, "Woman-Stirred Radio," is hosted by Merry Gangemi, writer, activist, editor and producer. It airs from 4-6 pm Eastern time. This Thursday's show, Dec. 10, Emily D.'s birthday, is devoted to the poet of Amherst, with the first hour of readings of poems inspired by Dickinson, and the second hour a discussion of Dickinson's life and work.

Please listen in! I'll be reading at about 4:55 pm Eastern time (1:55 pm Pacific, 2:55 Mountain, etc.) For those who can't listen on Thursday, I'll post a link to the archived show later.

Happy Emily D's birthday!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Reading Messenger and appreciating the elegance of her lyric, her elegy, and her imagination. I have a poet friend who also grew up on a farm. I think it gives a deep, almost mystical connection to the earth and the truth of the flesh. I think I will get her book on craft, The Flexible Lyric. Interesting interview with her in The Atlantic Unbound.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Google yourself

... and be surprised. Once I discovered that my spoken word album, A God You Can Dance, was a favorite on river cruises. This time I discovered you can download ringtones from my album now, from this charming website, The Inventures.

Writing on a schedule

I had several conversations today about how to fit a creative live (non-paying, of course) into the necessary life (maintaining the material aspects - body, dwelling, dependents, etc.). One of the most interesting questions I was asked was "What is important to you about reading books?" I surprised myself by answering without hesitation, "Learning about myself." Of course we want to learn about each other and about the world around and beyond us, but what feeds this curiosity is the impact the knowledge has on self-knowledge. I don't often read a book just to put myself to sleep or forget an hour, though I know plenty of people who do. I read a novel -- I should say I finish a novel, because I start plenty of them and don't finish -- because it has taken me on a journey of self-discovery.

That led to the discussion of how writing books seldom pays the rent, except for maybe six or seven best-selling writers. What they used to call "mid-list" books (now probably referred to as "instant remainders") seldom make money much for anyone, not the author, nor the publisher. They were published as statistical experiments, to see if among them might be the nugget of a surprise bestseller. Usually those are the books I buy, the ones on the remainder table, discounted and worn without having been adopted. For some reason, my favorite reading often comes from these piles. That gives me hope as a writer. Someone spent all that time and got very little money in order to reach and affect someone like me. There's something amazing in that.

All of which brings me to confess that ridiculous: I'm working on a novel I started four years ago, and have no time to engage in such an unremunerative activity. I have plenty on my literary plate already, but talking to another writer and editor convinced me that I should undertake this quixotic journey hopefully, by setting myself a schedule. Say, one page per day. Or four pages a week. Or an hour a day. Find some piece of time and give it to tht activity with discipline.

After studying ballet for most of my life, I can appreciate the importance of discipline in art. Here's my villanelle on the subject. Some find it dismal, I find it hopeful, because if you love practicing your art, you wouldn't want to stop until the end.

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Of Paper and Paypal

Over at Mindbook, T.R. Hummer is being witty about Ascent magazine going digital -- "killing paper." WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH PAPER? Did they blog on vellum -- a laborious process, but you know there had to be some bored monks who availed themselves of the odd piece of sheepskin to vent -- about how terrible was this new thing, the printing press? How it spelled the END OF CIVILIZATION? (Sorry for all the shouting.)

I mean, really, we all have printers. Have you never printed out an online poem you like to carry around and reread? Paper will never die, but if perfectbound magazines sitting dusty on a few library and bookstore shelves give way to lots of people clicking a paypal to pay a dime for a downloadable chapbook or zine, would that be such a kick in the pants to poetry? I think we're seeing a proliferation of poetry, thanks to the Internet. Look how iTunes is ruining the music business. Hello? Is anyone taking notes? More people are listening to music than ever. Let the payment mechanisms sort themselves out.

Oh, and blogging is ruining journalism. The Kindle will ruin books. Please just embed my digital media under my fingernails now and give me the virtual visor. I'm ready for the new-new technology and would carry my entire library on a flash drive if I possibly could.

On Peony Moon, Michelle McGrane is running a terrific series on books published in 2009, asking poets to list their three favorites. A great composite reading list, available for browsing, just in time for gift-giving season. Nice. Very nice.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vintage Fringed

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving weekend. I ended mine with the news that six of my poems that had previously been featured in Fringe Magazine would be featured this week in a Vintage Fringe issue, one of a series of features from past issues. The issue is now up, and I'm very happy to have this feature re-emerge, thanks to the interest of the editors at Fringe. (By the way, if you're on Facebook, have you become a fan of Fringe?)

Along with the Vintage feature is an interview with me about the poems on the Fringe blog (accessible from the magazine's first page). The interview was conducted by Poetry Editor Anna Lena Phillips.

Fringe is a fascinating read. Here's one reason why, from their Manifesto:

"We worry about the state of modern literature. We worry that it’s too realist, monolithic, corporate, print-bound and locked in its own bubble.

"That’s why we founded Fringe. Fringe is the noun that verbs your world. We publish work that is political or experimental in form or content and define both “political” and “experimental” broadly. “Political” can mean work that incorporates or comments on current events or it can mean literature and art that further personal dignity and advocate human rights. We regard “experimental” work as work that breaks with the canon, takes formal risks, or explores a strange or impossible point of view."

While some journals claim the experimental as territory, it too often seems to equate with the unintelligible. Not the work in this zine, which is consistently thought-provoking -- though the thoughts may not always be pleasant -- and surprising in ways that make you want to write something in response. At least that's how it works for me.

Pick something of your own that surprises you, and send it to them.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


This just in from Poetry Hut Blog: Psychological Therapy 32 Times More Cost Effective at Increasing Happiness Than Money. Apparently, money can buy you love, but you have to know where to spend it. At the therapist's.

And that is just one sample of why you should read Jilly Dybka's Poetry Hut Blog.

Kelli Russell Agodon has a wonderfully honest and inspiring blog, History of a Manuscript, about how long it took her to win the wonderful White Pine Press Poetry Award with her new book. Read it and keep licking those stamps (and writing the checks). But first read my blog, above, about getting something more for your entry fee than just a chance to win.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Perks in book contests

I'm assessing which contests to enter my manuscript in, and one of the surprising elements are the perks you get just for entering. I find it makes a difference to me to get a copy of the winning book, even if the entry fee is $5 more. It also makes a difference if they name the judge in advance. I mean, there are just some poets who aren't going to like my work. I know who some of them are! (I think.) So I rule out the contests that leave out a giant perk of knowing who might make the winning pick, should I get so very lucky as to get into the final round.

Then there are the miscellaneous perks: a cash prize for a runner-up. Possible publication of a second manuscript if one is found worthy. One of the oddest perks I saw was Gival Press, which recruits the previous year's winner to be the judge of the next contest, presumably for a fee.

Whatever the perks offered, when you crunch the numbers of running a book contest, it becomes clear that not offering some kind of perk is a bit stingy. Though some contests are presumably run to support a magazine and publishing a full slate of non-contest-selected titles, some aren't. One wonders what they do with the money, when printing costs are quite low these days, even in small quantities. One hopes they lavish it on advertising and book tours for the winners.

Interesting to pick and choose based on the perks factor.

Then there's also the lesser-competition factor. I'll save that for my next post.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Alchemist's Kitchen + The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go.

Susan Rich's blog, The Alchemist's Kitchen, has just the right recipe to make a delicious read: a little memoir, some travel, tips on such lit-biz topics as how to successfully apply for a residency and the fact that women poets might have an edge now in submitting to the Southern Review, as well as notable literary events, like the celebration of Madeleine DeFrees' 90th birthday at Elliot Bay Books. Susan, I've added yours to my blogroll! Thanks for the riches.

I've been reading Eliot Khalil Wilson's The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go, a beautiful and brilliant debut book. The poems are well-crafted, full of feeling, often tender, and filled with stunning metaphorical aptness. I sometimes feel the strain behind a poem's reaching for the surprising metaphor; never in these poems did the metaphor or simile strike me as gratuitous. This is poetry that has earned its imagination, lived itself out before coming to the page. Here's the title poem, published at Slate. And a poem that just knocks me out, White Slip on the Paris Metro at From the Fishouse (you can hear him read the poem).

Eliot Khalil Wilson, an Arab-American, brings an interesting cultural mix into his writing with a subtlety that makes the shifting cultural landscapes fascinating. I'm really glad I got the book and just hope Wilson's writing more books!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Have you encountered the new-new thing? It's Facebook for poets, a new site called ReadWritePoem. Now, I know what you're thinking --- one MORE social networking site to keep up with? Of course, if you have FriendFeed, keeping up with all your social nets is easy, but even if you don't, just imagine it: Facebook only for poets! Founder Dana Guthrie Martin's idea is in its infancy, but think Google when it was just a little upstart down in the flats of Silicon Valley. Think of Facebook before it got all those ridiculous games and made us addicts to our own game-breaks (my personal favorite seems to be "icing" my opponents in Mafia Wars ... so now you know). Think of small, friendly Internet ponds that became real communities before becoming teeming metropolises.

ReadWritePoem has the potential to be a really addictive hangout for poets, a virtual Poets House that anyone in any town can go and find something cool to do in: do a writing exercise, read something, play, discuss, even make a New Year's resolution (I just made a big one).

I mean, where else can you find out about The Lumberyard's Roark Prize in Poetry, the prize for which is an entire issue dedicated to your poems? Not CRWROPPS, not Poets & Writers, and surely not on Facebook.

They have virtual book tours, Makeover Mondays and revision strategies, micropoetry (tweet a poem, anyone?).

I get the idea that if you can come up with it, they can find a corner for it. So take a look: right now it's a giant poetic thinktank. Later come the Modernist Wars, Poville, Zinger Poker and other Facebook-style frivolities.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New-new way to submit, read, and publish poetry

Those of us who cherish the book, a thing to hold in the hand, sometimes a literary object that also has visual beauty, find the new world of poetry publishing morphing into something electronic so fast you can almost hear the quarks fizz past.

Tonight I encountered the inevitable consequence of the increasingly new way to submit poems, using online "submission managers." Concomitant with online submitting is getting rejections via email, which means even on your cell phone. Tonight I was having drinks with friends and during a quiet moment in the conversation, checked my email and found a batch of poems had been rejected by a zine. Now, the note was cordial, signed by an editor and all, but I really missed that envelope bringing a piece of paper that had a signature scrawled on it. Maybe if I had to send out all those rejection letters, I'd do it by email too. I'm just thinking, if it can be made a little easier via email, perhaps a little something more personal can be said. Using a little of the time saved.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Still a Rocket Kid

My father is dying. When I got the news, and before I can get there to see him, I found myself wanting to reread -- and possibly rewrite -- my memoir of growing up with the crazy rocket engineer. Rocket Lessons has not (yet) sold, but I can post a few excerpts here to give you an idea. It's really why I started this blog, to surface the book. I think I really will have to go back and see what I can do with this record of the 50s-60s Cold War era in America, seen from the zany perspective of one the soldiers in the aerospace trenches -- days when real men wore pocket protectors, slide rules, and buzz cuts.


I also googled my father and discovered something he never mentioned to any of us (maybe my mother knew but has forgotten). He patented a device to launch liquid fuel rockets. You can see his drawing and abstract still on file at the Patent Office.


In other news, I never did blog about a lovely review my book Femme au chapeau received from Cheryl Snell at Library Thing in February. Thanks, Cheryl!

And if I did mention it, well, it's worth two mentions!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Novels - Serialization and National Novel Writing Month

I did it. I joined National Novel Writing Month, better known by the unpronounceable acronym as NaNoWriMo. The compact is to write novel in a month. A novel, for those who haven't yet googled word count for it, is 40,000 words. I started with 11,000 of a novel I began four years ago and keep meaning to get back to. So now I must do something along the lines of 1,200 words a day. Nobody mentioned anything about GOOD words.

At Flatmancrooked, there's an interesting interview with Shya Scanlon about serialized novels on the Web. Mr. Scanlon is the author of a serialized novel that has been mentioned in the same sentence with Dickens. But a good question is raised: why the Web? Reading long amounts of text online is, as we know, often painful. People stop reading. Print lulls you into focus. Why is that? Is it the relatively different postures, the light emerging from the screen, the action of turning pages that keeps a reader going?

Serialization is an interesting idea, but how do you sell installments online? Or do you just give away your work, as we bloggers do, hoping something will be returned per the laws of the universe?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Just discovered Miriam Levine's wonderful blog, thanks to the Women in Poetry Listserv Blog Digest. A combination of literary and personal topics and nice visuals makes this delicious reading.

And thanks to Miriam's blogroll, I found a blog about fashion that's actually readable and interesting. The Thoughtful Dresser (Linda Grant) also writes about books and has this delightful subtitle on her blog: Because you can't have depths without surfaces. Too right.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Web hosting services - any suggestions?

I'm very sad that my supposedly commercial-grade web hosting service,, has been inaccessible and unreachable by phone for more than six hours. I thought that paying a premium price would guarantee good support, information by phone in case of outages, enough backup redundancy to prevent long outages -- say, like six hours! -- to justify paying double what many web hosting services charge.

Recently, they put us through a laborious server upgrade, which cost me about seven hours in tech support calls, for some of which I had to wait more than thirty minutes in line. Now they have an unexplained, long outage and don't even bother to put a message on their telephone line explaining the situation and calming jittery customers., are you listening? I'm taking suggestions for a new multiple-domain hosting service with good tech support that costs less than $14 a month. And works with the Mac OS X.5.7 operating system.

Anyone have ideas? You have my attention!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chapbooks from Carpe Diem! Press + Bloghopping

The popularity of chapbooks is rising, thanks to the need to have something to sell at readings and the atmosphere of insane competition in full-length book contests. Yet few chapbook publishers and printers exists to satisfy the growing need for producing chapbooks. A new chapbook service just debuted, Carpe Diem! Press. I found out about it because it's run by my poetry editor.

Carpe Diem Press combines great graphic design talent with economical prices and in-house proofreading -- and even copy-editing, if you want to pay for that service. They're in the process of building their site. The best way to find out more is to get in touch and ask for a quote and samples. I love their logo, a little guy jumping up and down. He looks to me like he's uttering a barbaric yawp!

My poem "Apple Pie Order" appeared on Your Daily Poem, a lovely site dedicated to the idea that "poetry need not be boring." Aimed at general readership, the editors of YDP look for poetry that combines accessibility and high standards of craft. Check it out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

New review of Letters to the World in poemeleon

Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of Becoming the Villainess, has written a review of the anthology Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv. It's up at poemeleon. Gailey had exactly the same first thought I had: "I have to admit when I first heard about this anthology project I felt…dubious." She ends the review with a great summary of the reading experience: "... I like this anthology mostly for representing so many voices, so many points-of-view, so many stylistic choices, instead of the narrow range that most anthologies embrace. I’d compare it the experience to shopping at the produce department of the local A&P for many years, then suddenly finding yourself in the midst of Seattle’s Pike Place market, surrounded by stacks of marvelous fruits, vegetables and flowers from hundreds of countries, from every season, of every color and shape."

There are other goodies in the new issue of poemeleon, this issue's theme being Gender. Take a look.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Carefully considered my submission?

Here's an interesting response from a well-respected journal to which I submitted poems three days ago:

Thank you for submitting your work to Meridian. While your work was carefully considered, we are unfortunately unable to accept it for publication at this time.

The Editors

CAREFULLY considered? Ridiculous. How carefully could it have been given due consideration in three days?! I sent the batch of poems on October 17. I received the note on October 20. Now, of course, they might have a grudge against me. Or they might have been overwhelmed with work and this is supposed to be a form rejection.

But "carefully considered"? I picture the editor in his/her slippers and robe, sitting before the fire carefully looking over my poems and thoughtfully scratching his/her chin. To take or not? One? Several? None? Just how carefully were these poems considered, one wonders.

You have to remember, in most cases at literary journals, it's undergrads who are reading the incoming submissions. So, okay, the undergrad who happened across my submission actually read all four poems all the way through. Perhaps they even kept them around for a day and a half before deciding not to take any.

But can that really be described as "carefully considered by the editors"? For one thing, editors is plural. Could the poems have been passed around in the three days (and I'm stretching it -- it was more like two and a half days) they had possession of them.

These are not my worst poems, at least I didn't think so in sending them. I was aware of Meridian's reputation and tried to send some of my very best work. I don't think this "careful consideration" will incline me to try again, not that they encouraged that.

Just saying. Sometimes you don't really know to whom you're sending. You'd think University of Virginia would take a little more care.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I was delighted to have an acceptance of two poems this week. The poems "Squabble" and "Airplane Poem with Mystical Guidance from Starboard Wing Signs." They will appear in Georgetown Review, published by Georgetown College in Kentucky. The poems are from my manuscript collection, Gods of Water and Air.

For those of us in the San Francisco area, it's Litquake time again. There aren't that many multi-day, multi-event poetry festivals around the country, and this is one of the biggest, in terms of the number of events. I'm sorry I had to miss the Litquake Ball, which I'm sure was a very cool bash.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Non-Contest Poetry Publishers - Another Addition

Dream Horse Press has been added to my website page of Non-Contest Poetry Publishers. The press accepts unsolicited queries throughout the year. I hope this is the start of a trend, as the list had become pretty thin last year.

I understand the economics of contests -- understand it all too well -- and the dismal sales of poetry books. But there has to be a better way to sustain small presses than essentially running contests as the only way of generating revenue. For one thing, it comes too close to a gambler's version of vanity publishing. For another, it sustains the closed system of poetry-for-poets and pretty much nobody else paying any attention to it.

Let's see some thinking outside the box. Someone's bound to invent a new way to get poetry out there and published and read! Most of all, read.

Rant over.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Blog to Print + Copper Canyon

It's finally happened -- a new technology to aid you in printing your blog in book-form. Blog2Print from New York custom book-maker SharedBook makes it possible to turn your columns into a print volume. Of course, the average blog book costs $50, so you really have to want to save them, I guess.

In other bloghopping news, I got an email from Copper Canyon Press to let me know that they should be on my resource page, Non-Contest Poetry Publishers. Silly me, how could I have missed one of the big poetry publishers? Thanks, CCP, for letting me know. Consider it done.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bloghopping & The Cultural Impact of Zines

Just read the new issue of Switched-On Gutenberg - still going strong after fifteen years. That kind of long life as a litmag demonstrates that online literary magazines may have more staying power than much that's in print.

For example, my poem, A Pot of Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, appeared in the journal's fourth year, the Hunger issue. It's still in the archives, as you can see from the link. I wonder if anyone reads the archives, but the poem certainly stands a chance of having a longer life than many in the dusty print journals I keep in boxes in my garage. Bravo, Jana Harris, Linda Malnack, and Roberta Feins, for SOG's longevity and consistently good quality of work!

Grantmakers who fund literary arts should pay more attention to what's happening online. The paradigm shift is giving zines a better shot at having a greater impact on our literary culture, and thus the larger culture, than print. There. I said it. Now don't throw dingbats!

Funding for poets, poetry, and the arts

I am both a poet and a fundraiser and grants consultant. I have often found the two worlds as far apart as different planets, though both involve writing. But recently I began to research grants for arts organizations and artists, both for myself and my own ventures in poetry, and for poetry organizations with which I'm connected.

Digging into the possibility of finding funding for the arts during the most severe economic downturn I've ever experienced during my career as a fundraiser has been an -- are you ready? -- encouraging experience. From the National Endowment for the Arts down to local governments, there is a resurgence of the idea that arts are central in our lives and our communities, and must not be casualties of the general diminishment of funding for a healthy and equitable society.

I will be preparing a resource page on my website for poets and writers to seek individual grants. But I think now I will also include sources of funding for literary organizations and ventures. We have to think like entrepreneurs. Perhaps by finding ways to give poetry, literature, and art to our communities, we can support our individual work as well. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hiring a poetry editor/coach

I've always felt that to hire an editor to work with me on a poetry manuscript would be something like admitting defeat. So the experience of working with an editor was illuminating. It wasn't humbling in the way I thought, rather it made me want to expand my horizons, take more workshops, read more widely, work harder, and take more time with the publishing process. It also gave me better ideas about the marketing of poetry manuscripts, the competitive environment and how to navigate it, and the processes of contests and submissions in general.

As a contributing editor at Umbrella, I have had a look behind the scenes in editing a journal. But I would say that Umbrella, as an independent magazine, is an elegant and economical operation under Kate Bernadette Benedict's guidance. To steer through a university-affiliated magazine, you must often get past an army of first readers, many of whom might be just starting out in poetry. You must make it through a sometimes not impartial process -- though this is controversial, and many journals are moving to ensure that their blind judging of contests is squeaky clean -- and you must be simply lucky, given the numbers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gumball Poetry at Poetry & Popular Culture

Mike Chasar's excellent Poetry & Popular Culture blog has a guest entry up on Gumball Poetry, my little contribution. Writing it made me nostalgic for the audacious idea of combining poems and gumballs, one of the most original approaches to popularizing the art I've ever heard of. Alas, Gumball Poetry, and its cool poem-in-a-gumball machines, are defunct. We can only hope that someone will revive this idea. In the meantime, I still have three poem-gumballs sitting on my shelf.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Editing my poetry manuscript - on the Radio

Editor Bryan Roth used my poetry manuscript, Gods of Water and Air, as the text for a half-hour discussion of editing an entire poetry collection. Structural unity, titles, principles of organization, the need for professional editing, are all discussed. And four of my poems were read on air to illustrate these topics.

Here's a link to the page of my website where you can listen to the radio show. The sound files are posted in seven tracks to accommodate the high quality sound files, so you have to click on each link to hear the sections in sequence:

Bryan Roth on Dona Stein's Poetry Show

Thank you, Bryan, for selecting my manuscript for this discussion! And for an edifying and exciting experience of working with an editor on a manuscript -- not to mention for pointing out to me the title I've selected for the manuscript, found within one of my poems.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Editing a poetry manuscript & contests

Why would a poet, whose business is language, seek outside help with putting together a poetry manuscript? For me, the answer is complicated, but I can readily think of a one-word answer: contests. David Alpaugh, in his essay "What's Really Wrong with Poetry Contests?" cited discouraging statistics. Your manuscript, in each contest, may go up against 500 others, each more carefully groomed than the next. A misspelling, inexact punctuation, or grammatical error in the first few pages could be enough for the initial screener to toss it aside. That reader may have 50 manuscripts to review and be itching for an excuse. Never mind subtler issues, such as poor poem titles, a poem's draggy opening, too much telling, a poor close. In terms of contests, there are no guarantees. But at least I know I've eliminated about 100 reasons for a screener to toss my pages aside.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Good title!"

“Good title!” says the young William Shakespeare everywhere he goes, whenever he hears a bon mot, in Tom Stoppard’s witty movie, Shakespeare in Love. Out of ideas, short of cash, Shakespeare is adept at pilfering – mostly stealing ideas from surrounding life. His own titles are abysmal, for example, “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.” We all know how that one turned out. According to Stoppard, it wasn’t Will who came up with the right title.

I felt a little like Stoppard’s young Shakespeare (but not in a good way) when I worked on my new manuscript, Gods of Water and Air. My manuscript’s current title was one of my devising, but not as a title. It was buried in the midst of a poem. I didn’t notice it until someone pointed it out as a good phrase, after convincing me that Artist House, the title I had been using, didn’t get there. It took some work to get me over that hurdle. I had been clinging to it harder than young Shakespeare to his Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. The title was given to me, in a similar way as the imagined Shakespeare derived his titles, by a friend who commented on my manuscript. I will be forever grateful for that title, as it formed a bridge to the new one and a way of thinking about the themes in the collection.

I once wrote an essay for Avatar Review on the art of selecting a good title. To research the subject, I thumbed through the many books on craft in my library, and found just one that had a chapter on titles, Michael Bugeja’s The Art and Craft of Poetry. Michael had this to say about label titles: “A descriptive title depicts content, a suspense one sparks interest, and the label variety is just that -- a word or two as on a can of vegetables: ‘Beans’ or ‘Creamed Corn.’”

Perhaps I should go back and reread my own essay. I need to work harder to find good titles. I will also listen more carefully to my editor when I get that question, “Best title?” When he says, “Good title!” I’ll know we’re there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bloghopping & Remembering

Saw a poem by Dorianne Laux that speaks to today's remembrance of 9/11. It's on a new poetry blog I just found, Joshua Robbins' Little Epic Against Oblivion. Joshua teaches at the University of Tennessee and is the poetry editor for their print annual Grist.

Fringe has a new fall issue up. "The noun that verbs your world" continues to publish work that sizzles. I love the prose poem in this issue, "Things I Thought I'd Never Say," by Kat Gonso, just hilarious.

Caketrain's chapbook contest is still open, accepting submissions for 2010 publication until October 1.

Oh, yes, I'm all about the contests now. And the contradictions.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Events & Poetry in the Popular Culture

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might want to cross a bridge or two for your next poetry fix. The venerable Second Sunday Poetry Reading Series at Valona Deli in Crockett, which I believe has been going strong for more than twenty years, has a great fall lineup of featured readers:

September 13, 2009

Kim Addonizio

October 11, 2009

John Amen

November 8, 2009

Peter Tamases

December 13, 2009

Kit Kennedy and Joan Gelfand

Yes, Kim Addonizio is featured this Sunday! And my friend John Amen, publisher of The Pedestal Magazine, will be featured in October. He's a great reader and also a musician. Connie Post, past Poet Laureate of Livermore, has taken over coordinating this series from David Alpaugh. She will obviously uphold the terrific tradition.

Connie herself will be reading September 16 at Newpoint Coffee House in Sausalito with Becky Foust and Janell Moon.

Poetry on Craigslist? You heard it from Wired, and I heard it from Mike Chasar's blog, Poetry & Popular Culture. Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, has adopted a haiku approach to fighting spammers and con artists who attempt to hijack Craigslist. Buckmaster drops in a haiku or two to alert the would-be spammer that their too-numerous posts have been detected and deleted. In their place might appear one of Buckmaster's brief poems:

a wafer thin mint
that's been sent before it seems
one is enough, thanks

I really like that one. Subtle, imagistic, and discouraging in just the right way. And Buckmaster has avoided altogether the major dilemma of the modern poet: publication. He has his own public square from which to quietly declaim haiku, if one can ever declaim a haiku. Well-placed, unmistakable, able to gather a crowd. Better than a microphone at Union Square, I'd say.

Poetry in unlikely places, my favorite. On my bookshelf sits a row of one of my favorite po-publishing experiments, the poetry gumball. Instead of a Bazooka bubble gum comic, you get gum and a short poem. Three of mine are in those little packages. Ah, to reach the masses. At least the gum-chewing ones.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

So many things I should be doing

Poetry being high on my list, but instead I'm cruising the Net and reading fascinating and quirky articles such as this one on how Mad Men's Don Draper could teach President Obama how to sell healthcare reform. What? You don't know who Don Draper is? He's in Wikipedia, which is pretty good for a fictional character. Mad Men is not to be missed, even if you can't remember the 1950s. Or don't want to.

This, also just in from tv-land: a new episode of Law and Order features poetry. Really bad poetry. Which is what you'd expect. I am so not giving you a link to that show.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New books

Just got two new poetry books: The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go by Eliot Khalil Wilson and Ka-Ching by Denise Duhamel. Also ordered Lynn Emanuel's The Dig and Hotel Fiesta.

Wilson's, a first book, is subtle and wide-ranging in topics and images. He has traveled, benefits from a layered heritage as a Lebanese American, and writes with generous humanity about a wide range of people and generations. It's a quietly rich book, one that takes you to ordinary places and then sweeps aside the curtain to reveal their luminous outlines. Bruce Smith's blurb on the back is apt: "He sounds the nation, our history, our work, our desires and weeps for those hwo have yet to be wept for."

I knew Duhamel's book would be a treat after I read her Mille et un Sentiments and had to stop doing so sitting alone at cafe tables, because I was laughing my head off and people were looking at me as if I were a crazy lady. She's a crazy lady and unafraid to show it in verse. Few poets can be hilarious, but right here and now I nominate Denise Duhamel for Poet Laureate. We need to know poetry can be both deep and funny.

Can't wait to get Emanuel's book, two books combined in one volume. From the little I've read I can see she's compelling and original, often hair-raising, in the way that Emily Dickinson defined as the recognition of a poem: the top of your head feels like it's coming off.

What are you reading?

Friday, August 28, 2009

video poetry

Thinking about this new form, in which video art and poetry combine to create a mini-theatrical or film experience. Two sites have interested me in this light. Blue's Cruzio Cafe, the brainchild of JJ Webb, uses animations of cartoons and artwork to combine with audio readings for a kind of graphic novel effect. Entertaining and light-hearted.

Another take, a more filmic one, on this evolving form is Dave Bonta's Moving Poems. The site has a stunning video poem by expatriate Burmese poet Kyi May Kaung, with striking scenes of puppets and dancers miming puppets, scenes that heighten the intensity of the poem.

Both are now in my blogroll. I'll be checking them often to see what's happening with this new form. And (slight plug) I may be doing another recording for Blue's Cruzio Cafe. The link above takes you to the page where my reading of my poem "One Night Light" is animated by JJ using Patricia Wallace Jones' wonderful artwork.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Habitual Poet & Interviews

At Poemeleon's blog, publisher Cati Porter has started a cool new feature called The Habitual Poet. Past contributors answer an entertaining sequence of poetry related questions, ending with adding lines to what sounds like it will become a collaborative ghazal posted at Poemeleon at some point. Great fun to read, great fun to do!

Adding Susan Schultz's blog (Tinfish Editor's blog) to the blogroll today. Good reading. I liked today's entry: Chant 15 (way after Whitman).

Monday, August 24, 2009


A curious word, yet perhaps apt for poetry. Recently I've heard a lot of talk about submitting to magazines, and I've been doing a lot of submitting while thinking that the act of sending poems out into the ether (better known as the USPS) is metaphorical. We try to become still enough to receive ideas through internal channels we little understand. Sending them back out the same way is appropriate, it seems to me. Conception and like giving birth are all about surrender. Meditation and writing are the same.

Bloghopping: added to my blogroll recently Shannon Cain's The Literary Activist and Vince Gotera's The Man With the Blue Guitar.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Closed submissions

I've heard a vigorous discussion of the idea of creating an invitation-only literary journal, and thus doing away with a major part of the editorial chores -- reading through the slush pile. This discussion seemed to involve mostly teachers at the college level, so my assumption is that they were talking about launching a university-based litmag.

This idea strikes me as curious in two ways. First, it's closing an already pretty tightly closed system, that of literary magazines based on college campuses. That kind of journal already has an inbuilt self-referential momentum. Students who read through slush piles are working to please professors who direct programs and publications that will shape their future careers. That would surely influence my thinking and choices, were I in their position. And it would incline me to select friends of my teachers for publication.

Of course, networks exist around all magazines. It's human nature. But the college publications have this potential to narrow their esthetic focus because of the way the system works. If you eliminate all the readers and slush piles, then you will have a laser-beam focus on the choices of two or three editors who pre-select poets for inclusion. That's interesting, more like an independent litmag. But also like a club. Curious.

The second curious thing -- this idea would possibly narrow the audience. Most readers of litmags are those who have received contributor's copies or who aspire to be in the litmag. Eliminate the latter and you might reduce sales. It's curious to me, the idea of narrowing the universe of potential readers. Poets complain that no one in our culture reads poetry. Narrowing the potential readership could help pull poetry further in the direction of obscurity. Or maybe that's already the dynamic. It's been argued that by maintaining American poetry an academic art form, based in colleges and universities, subject to the choices of editors whose livelihood and magazines do not depend on sales but on subsidy, we have created an art form that all but eliminates the general audience.

Friday, August 21, 2009

D.H. Lawrence & Love Poetry

Thinking about how you can be an overlooked, underrated poet of the past and yet have written some of the most stunning poems ever written. Lawrence isn't underrated as a novelist, but as a poet, he's not talked about much. The poetry of his that I looked into didn't impress me, so I moved on in my restless self-directed study. Recently, this poem was brought to my attention, which I think is one of the most beautiful love poems I've ever read (of course, as a rose fancier, I would be captivated by a poem that combines love and roses):

Gloire de Dijon

    WHEN she rises in the morning
    I linger to watch her;
    She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
    And the sunbeams catch her
    Glistening white on the shoulders,
    While down her sides the mellow
    Golden shadow glows as
    She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
    Sway like full-blown
    Gloire de Dijon roses.

    She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
    Glisten as silver; they crumble up
    Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
    For the sluicing of their rain-dishevelled petals.
    In the window full of sunlight
    Concentrates her golden shadow
    Fold on fold, until it glows as
    Mellow as the glory roses.

    D. H. Lawrence

Love poetry is so hard to write. If Lawrence weren't a first-rate poet, how could he have written such a beautiful love poem? I will be re-thinking his work and getting reacquainted with it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editor Hat

I'm wearing my editor hat this week for Umbrella, working on a feature and interview for an upcoming issue. At the same time, a discussion of submission protocols has popped up on a listserv of poets. Wearing both poet and editor hats -- as I am also submitting work and preparing a manuscript to submit -- has made me think about the state of litmags and the way they conduct business.

The listserv comment that sparked a discussion was on the abrupt and callous tone of a major litmag's posted guidelines. I took a look and found the predictable long, demanding rant about what this journal insists on from poets submitting, what they will not tolerate, yada-yada. Very little mention of what, if anything, the poet can expect out of this transaction.

At the same time, I received an email rejecting my poetry manuscript, one I had submitted with an entry fee, and it was addressed to a file number.

About ten minutes later, I received a personally addressed email apologizing sincerely for the glitch in sending out a notice that addressed me by number instead of name.

Now, how hard was that? My reaction to reading the guidelines was, "Submit again to you? Hell no!" My reaction to the press that rejected my ms. but took the trouble to amend a careless email with a short, personal note (no doubt generated by program, rather than hand typed), was "Sure, I'll try again, and maybe even buy one of your books!"

I will let the editors and publishers decide which is the best approach. I guess if you're selling enough books and issues, you can afford to be callous toward those who submit -- who also happen to be your buyers.


Welcome to my blogroll, Shannon Cain, The Literary Activist! Who got me started on this rant.


I repeat, in case an editor out there isn't paying attention: YOUR SUBMITTERS ARE YOUR CONSUMERS. They buy your stuff -- or don't. Offend them if you want.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Going offline to write

I took an afternoon off from the computer yesterday to revise poems the old-fashioned way: with pen and paper, sitting outdoors in a café. It amazed me to see how much more productive I was than with fingers poised above a keyboard. While I am a big fan of computing and the Internet, writing is a slow affair, at least for me. The speed of word processing is anathema to my poetic process. It cannot be attributed to a pencil-and-paper childhood, as I learned to touch-type at age ten and was fast by eleven, typing out my first novel of 100 pages on a Smith-Corona portable (that I still miss).

But poetry is a very different animal than prose. I noticed yesterday that I would put down the pen, let the pages riffle in the wind, sip my iced tea and people-watch while wrestling with my subconscious for le mot juste. Again and again. I became aware that it might take five minutes or more for a few possible words to stream through my mind, and then another five to decide which one I wanted to use. I don't usually allow myself that kind of time -- and it's esthetically unappealing to dream while staring at a screen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Made it!

Yes, this very blog finally made it to the top of Google's search on Rocket Kids. You'd be amazed how many rocket related sites used to get in above this site, so that it fell far below the first search page. So annoying. I mean, shouldn't everyone guess that Rocket Kids isn't a new toy, book, chemistry set, or kidvid? Shouldn't they have known it was a literary blog (if that isn't an oxymoron)?

In other bloghopping news, the Aroostook Review has a nice interview with Dorianne Laux, plus four of her poems -- plus three poems from my colleague and Editor-In-Chief at Umbrella, Kate Bernadette Benedict. Treats in store when you click on the links.

And yes, I have not tweeted in more than 48 hours, but now that I've discovered FriendFeed, a way to manage all you online addictions, that may soon change.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bloghopping and twitterflitting

In the new issue of Calyx is a review by Holly Karapetkova of the anthology Letters to the World: Poems from the WOM-PO Listserv. Naturally, I'm pleased to have my poem, Femme au chapeau, mentioned.

The review remarked on several serendipitous conjunctions that occurred in an anthology compiled democratically, each poet selected her own poems to include, with the poems in alphabetical order by the poet's last name. So it was happenstance that my ekphrastic poem ended up on a page facing Barbara Crooker's ekphrastic poem "All That Is Glorious Around Us." Barbara and I agree that this is a nice coincidence, giving the two poems a stage from which to speak to each other and to their respective paintings in, as the reviewer says, very different ways. Sometimes life likes to make its own poetry.

Blogging in Afghanistan? Yup. I found out on Twitter, naturally, that Nasim Fekrat has helped created an Afghani blogosphere, despite the country's problems. According to the article on Foreign Policy: "On his groundbreaking blog, Afghan Lord, Fekrat hopes to tell that to the world. Writing in Farsi as well as self-taught English, he has taken it upon himself to show Afghanistan's softer, more genuine face. Until recently, he feels, this face was nearly impossible to find."

The world is losing its borders, thanks to the Internet. When I visited with a friend who had spent several years teaching in China, he reported the same thing. The Internet is changing the world. It increasingly works no longer from top-down governments. It's becoming more and more a from-the-bottom-up, democratic surge of younger people making a new global culture.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Quick turnaround

Anyone have a short list of journals that turn submissions around quickly? I'm thinking of compiling such a list to add to my website's resources page. In going through the list of places I've submitted to in the last year, I was struck by the increasing number of periodicals that take more than six months to reply, or never reply at all, despite the inclusion of an SASE. I suppose their keeping my stamp sans reply constitutes minor theft, actually.

This practice of non- or slow response is unprofessional and disrespectful to poets. Another example of the degradation of the art form, in my opinion -- and what's worse, by its very practitioners. Rather than ding the journals that have sloppy practices, I'd rather praise the editors who uphold reasonable professional standards.

So I'm hoping you can help me compile this list of good places to send work!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Women in Literary Arts

Women in Literature is the theme of a new literary conference and organization that is being formed by a group of writers who have concerns about the organization of this year's AWP conference and its panel discussions.

I, too, notice a nagging disparity in the prominence of men and women in literary arts. It seems to me to reflect the persistence of male chauvinism in American society, though I do believe this old-generation attitude is waning. It just isn't waning fast enough, I think. So the emergence of organizations of women writers is a natural occurrence to redress the disbalance. It will be interesting to see how this organization develops and how much energy is behind it.

Equality and freedom seem to be key issues around the globe right now, bubbling up in countries like Iran, which is undergoing a transformation of its culture from the bottom up -- and that is involving women taking leadership roles. Women tend to lead differently than men. They often lead by example and by collaborative efforts. It will be interesting to see how a woman President operates, when the day comes that America is ready to give that kind of respect to a woman, to allow her to lead the country.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Sea of Green

I've decided to wear a green bracelet until Iran is free, a day I know is coming. I've also been looking through various translations of Iran's favorite poet, Hafiz of Shiraz, and came across this, which is inscribed on his tomb:

Though I be old, clasp me one night to thy breast,
And I, when the dawn shall come to awaken me,
With the flush of youth on my cheek from thy bosom will rise.

Translated by Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926)

The translation is a little creaky, but I like the idea. I think Iran will soon awaken because of having clasped for even a night (or a month or more) the idea of liberty. Dawn shall come.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Iranians are not backing down, though much, much less news is getting out about their protests. A comprehensive article with many videos of the week's protests was published in the New York Times blog. An Iranian blogger reported that one of the videos shows “mayhem and fire on every corner of Tehran,” on Thursday night. It doesn't appear, the article states, that Iranian protests are tapering off.

Not at all. It rather seems that this is the beginning of a new Iranian revolution. And those are never the work of a week, a month, or even a year. Recall our own American Revolution. Seven years' effort was required to give birth to a new nation. For a wonderful documentary series on our Revolution, rent Liberty! from PBS.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Kelli Russell Agodon was talking about signs, as in portents and messages from the universe, namely a shooting star. It made me think about the way I sat and watched a dazzle of earthbound shooting stars while I was on the East Coast, as a hover of fireflies over a lawn became very personal somehow.

In other signs, more the standard kind, Publishers Weekly is for sale. This publishing industry giant is on the auction block, and it seems to me another omen of the transformation of print publishing into online content. My Sunday San Francisco Chronicle has taken another tack: it's shrinking. I mean literally. The paper that used to doorstop my breakfast table to the point that I wondered if it might tip the table is now a dainty, tabloid size thing. It's hardly larger than the annoying ad wrappers I get in my mailbox. Meanwhile, the Chron's online presence is swelling. They've added a new virtual daily paper you can subscribe to as a subscriber to the print version. If any newspaper is going to figure out how to survive, my guess is it will be the Chron, which is perched at the edge of Silicon Valley.

Will someone please figure out how we should read magazines and journals if we don't want to sit at a computer all day? I know, I know: Kindle. But it's still a screen. Paper has to have an afterlife, post-Internet. We like paper, it's tactile, it pages, we can read it longer without eyestrain. It can support cool fonts. Need I elaborate?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Connections - Poetry and Work

Grant writing and fundraising is the day job that sustains my writing -- you could say I write to be able to write. I've been thinking about how we connect (or don't connect) our day jobs to our writing lives. For those who teach in writing programs, the connection seems obvious, though I've heard teachers say their teaching sometimes makes it harder to write. For the rest of us, engaged in the commerce and service worlds, the idea of a connection may seem more like a chasm. But some of my favorite poetry arises from poets who are or have been fully engaged in non-literary occupations.

I think of poets like B.H. Fairchild, who worked as a machinist and writes compellingly of the world of work and workers in Art of the Lathe and Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest. I think of Paul Hostovsky, who works in the nonprofit world interpreting for deaf people. His poetry is often centered on that work, opening up marvelous windows into places many of us wouldn't otherwise encounter. (Though I do as a fundraiser, working with a school for young deaf children.) And of course I think of Walt Whitman and his drive to be among common people, any people, working people. I wonder what connection to the insurance business Wallace Stevens' unconscious made to his dazzling language.

By the way, if you work in a nonprofit organization that needs funds (there's a redundancy!), you can go to my professional fundraiser website, Rachel Dacus Resource Development. Free estimates on grant projects.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Letters to the World - reviewed

A review by Silke Heiss is available to read at Red Room of Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv (Red Hen Press; 2008). Heiss says, "The book emerged out of the collaborative efforts of members of the Wom-po LISTSERV, an electronic discussion group of mainly women poets, which has been going since 1997." I'm happy to have my poem "Femme au chapeau" in this remarkable anthology.

Not a lot else on my brain today, having just returned from a week of vacation no superlatives can describe, except to say our luck on this trip was characterized by low humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s in Washington, D.C. in July -- an event everyone assured us was a fluke.

Happy summer vacation, wherever you are!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bloghopping & twitterflitting

Just blogrolled Michelle McGrane's appealing and eclectic blog, Peony Moon. Featured today is an exhibition of poems about sharks. Yes, "sharks, poets and other endangered species."

#Iranelection has been moving fast again since Rafsanjani spoke against the government at Friday prayers. This morning if I looked away for long, 32 or more tweets had scrolled on this topic. This one especially interested me:

@WomenOfIran: Challenging old traditions: #women stood in front of men in prayer lines on Fri #iranelection #iran. The link takes you to a photo. Changing of the old order!

And there have probably been 50 or more tweets since I began typing this.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Writing prompts

Summer's such a good time to change it up in your writing, experiment, push yourself. Because it's going against the grain already, just to be writing in summer, let alone challenging your muse to give it up. Karen Weyant has an interesting exercise at Scrapper Poet from her "jailbreaks" workshop. ReadWritePoem is always good for a jumpstart - this week's is Fun With the Dictionary.

Word lists seems to be popular prompts, so of course I've written a poem about word lists. I was always a bad student. I would take an exercise, stand it on its head, turn it into a poem or play and present the result to the teacher. If it were a multiple choice test I would make a prose poem out of it. I should write The Rebel's Guide to Better Grades. They always gave me A's because they had no idea how to comment on what I had done. But if I wrote that book, all you parents would have to hate me. All of this bad student history is in my memoir, Rocket Lessons. If anyone knows of a publisher interested in a bad attitude rocket kid, let me know.

And of course, childhood, as Rilke said, is a great touchstone for poetry. Here's my prompt: write down five confusing things that happened to you before you were nine. Pick two and combine them in a poem. You can do the same with five awful things, five surprising things, etc.

Speeding you the Muse!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New resource - Poetry readings around the U.S. & world

Amy King's blog has a fabulous new resource, a calendar of poetry readings around the U.S. and other countries. For poets who like to combine their travels with readings in other places, this is an invaluable guide to who, what, where, when and how to set up a guest spot. Visit, make your plans, send her updates on reading calendars for your town.

Plus, Amy has just guest edited Issue #2 of Ekleksographia (and I am just so impressed with myself that I could spell it).

Twitterflitting + bloghopping

I'm putting them in reverse order because lately I've spent a lot of time on Twitter, following #iranelection and related topics. If you want to find out what's going on in Iran, you pretty much have to go on Twitter or wait several days to a week for CNN and others to summarize what they've been reading on Twitter. The newest news is that there may be a big demonstration when Rafsanjani leads Friday prayers. That's only hours away now.

They keep arresting journalists in Iran, which I find mordantly funny. As if the news weren't getting out by every citizen with a camera cell phone and a clue about secure networks. Journalists are all well and good, but when the government shuts down mainstream communications networks and arrests journalists, where is the news? And that's where we are with news from Iran. Vive la revolution en journalisme! (Sorry, it's just been Bastille Day.)

Since we're political today, check out truthout. Another different kind of journalism. Interesting opinion piece today on the idea of taxing the wealthy to keep everyone healthy.

See that tab thingie to the left of the screen? Click on it to check my recent tweets.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bloghopping + Twitterflitting

A new editor interview is up at Very Like A Whale - this one with Kate Bernadette Benedict, editor and publisher of the supremely rereadable electronic journal Umbrella. Yes, I do have a vested interest in mentioning this, being a contributing editor for Umbrella. Also, I am (thanks, Kate!) mentioned in the interview, along with fellow contributing editors C.E. Chaffin and Robert Schechter.

If you live near San Francisco and you care about fashion, you must check out SF Style, the guide to glorious street fashion. If it's happening here, you'll be wearing it in two years. Right now, over-sized hair accessories. I'm just reporting the facts, folks. Grab a great big bow or feather and slap it up there. They say: This trend has been building steam for a while now, and we predict it is soon to hit critical mass and implode.

Wouldn't that be explode? Maybe not, in SF.

Of course I found it on Twitter - where I find everything lately - along with Happen_in_SF_Bay which keeps me apprised of every event in my vicinity, right down to the nearest coffeehouse music event. Assuming I wait until the last minute to plan my Saturday nights. I feel so young again! As long as the party doesn't go past 11.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Prose Poem: Going viral on FB

Yesterday, some of my literary friends on Facebook started doing an exercise that went viral. It seemed to appeal to everyone. All that was needed was a handy book. Having just returned from a poetry reading, I was in a mood for creative ideas. I did mine and watched in fascination as the accumulated entries started to take shape as a whole. Below is the prose poem I saw forming.


A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done. boiter: limp; fig: de raisonnement, be shaky, not stand up very well; boiteux, -euse (chaise, table, etc.), wobbly; fig: raisonnement, shaky; être boiter d'une personne, to have a limp. That's so funny, something missing from paradise. So many lovely pigmentations!

Pasternak experienced this sense of the objectivity of a work of art -- the feeling that the force that produced the work is above and beyond the artist who is responsible for the work - when he wrote MY SISTER. Prepared by such a life and following so safe a course, he was not disturbed at the approach of death. But if there is some crisis at hand, shouldn't your divine counselor be with you? Baba took him on his lap, loved and kissed him for a few minutes.

Designed as an arrow in the heart of forever.

~ Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharoah, saying, "I would make mention today of my own offenses."

Ranajit Guha has written insightfully about the manner in which "the Muslim" has becomes the preferred villain in early-nationalist writing, an intellectual device for focussing proto-nationalist resentment with the present condition while simultaneously not transgressing the ground rules of colonial discourse.

~ They thought they would find the "goodness of Jah" in one so deceptively named, the copycat of the true substance. ~ He had chosen to reject and not draw near what might have been his true base of authority, the Living Word, the Word which Samuel represented.

But it isn't always possible to start from the small and work into the bigger picture. I need you to help me remember. I have seen the general dare the combers come closer. Designed as an arrow in the heart forever.


This is the exercise:
Grab the book nearest you. Right now. * Turn to page 56. * Find the fifth sentence. * Post that sentence AS YOUR STATUS. AND POST these instructions in a comment to this status. * Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST book.


Thanks to Deborah Joy Shore, Michael Creighton, Marjorie Altman Tesser, Max Reif, Melanie Huber, K.R. Copeland, Patricia Wallace Jones, Craig Bryars, Cati Porter, David Dacus, and Tony Paterniti, for allowing me to take your sentences and play around with them. Not everyone gave attributions, but some of the sentences were from: a short story collection by Steven Saylor; Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God; the Langenscheidt Pocket French Dictionary; Letters: 1926 by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva and Rainer Maria Rilke; Growing Up With God by Sheila Kalchuri; the Bible.


Here's the next exercise, for those who want to play some more. Take this prose poem and rearrange the sentences. Let's see what the alternatives might be!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bloghopping + rocket kids

Some new sites found through Twitter (check the Tweetboard now on this blog):

Red Fez a whimsical eclection of fiction, poetry, books, comics, and something called the Poem Dervish (random selections), with each section organized by theme.

We're so in need of more literary criticism! Especially for poetry. It seems to be dying with print and attention span. So finding Daniel Casey's Gently Read Literature is such a pleasure -- thoughtful essays on contemporary poetry and litfiction. Currently up is James Reiss' review of B.H. Fairchild's newest, “Usher.” I became a Fairchild fan when someone gave me a review copy of “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest.”

I'm always late to find out about trends in software, so forgive me if you already know about Scrivener, but it's worth mentioning in case. Best feature: the virtual corkboard. You can throw away those index cards!

And did I say I woke up this morning BFF with Emily D.?

Someone asked me, why Rocket Kids? Because I believe a good poem should have a good fuel mix. If it doesn't have enough thrust, it won't get over.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

e-Publishing Makes Us Itchy

I seem to have raised an uncomfortable topic with many people: the future of publishing. Well, of course. I feel itchy thinking about it too, wondering if books will still exist in, oh, five years. But as I debated on a poetry listserv with people who mostly find e-Books offputting and a less than satisfactory reading experience, it came to me that it's not an either-or proposition. Why should e-publishing displace print for poetry?

A key issue for me is mobility: carrying my entire library in my purse. I would give away the feel of paper for that in a hot minute. But fortunately, I don't have to. I prize the esthetic appeal of holding and reading a bound paper book. I love fonts! And their history. Have you rented the movie "Helvetica"? If you write, you should know about type.

But mobility and maneuverability have become far more important to my writing process lately than esthetics of print. For example, yesterday I delved into a long and fascinating essay on Emily Dickinson's fascicles, paired with a detailed medical definition of fascicle as muscle tissue, skipping over to the poems themselves, and made notes about further investigation -- on my iPhone. I also carry a paper notebook in my purse -- still write first drafts by hand -- along with at least one poetry book.

But without the ability to surf the Net on my phone, yesterday's couple of hours in waiting rooms would have been creatively unproductive. Sure, I might have read a book. But I couldn't have pursued all the wily ideas that book (What We Carry by Dorianne Laux) engendered. One of her poems led me to Emily D., and then the idea of the fascicles. I was, after all, stuck in medical offices! So the connection between her bundles of poetry and muscle sinews was resonant.

I don't see why one technology need be jettisoned because another arrives. Here we are discussing books on a listserv! Which is a pretty old technology in Internet history. The future of publishing may just be choices, enriching and broadening the audience for poetry.

Now, can someone please invent an iTunes-like mechanism for downloading a reading of a single poem? Or do I have to do everything?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poetry presses, getting published & the delightful ampersand

I've been in a lively discussion of poetry book contest publishing, the economics of the field, how to best support poetry, new paradigms of eBook publishing and more. It sparked my interest in the topic again, and I've updated my list of resources for poets seeking to publish without going the contest route:

Non-Contest Poetry Book Publishers - updated list

How much we have to spend to support a career in poetry! And why can't publishers of poetry books publish books a wider audience will want to buy? So often there's a lot of whining about low sales -- this is true everywhere in publishing but especially in poetry -- so why not look at what you're offering and make it fit the market better? Just a thought to consider.

Elsewhere, lively discussion of the ampersand (&) over at Dave Bonta's Via Negativa. I just love it when someone mentions the sensuality of a punctuation mark.

May your poetry day include lots of sensual punctuation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New poem up at qarrtsiluni

My poem "Penny" can be read and heard -- at quarrtsiluni, their new ECONOMY issue. No, that doesn't mean short poems, though I guess it can. Editors Dave Bonta and Beth Adams came up with a theme that resonates on many levels, goes in lots of directions.A good theme, I think -- being a person who's thrifty, time-conscious, and even occasionally concise.

PLUS -- a recording! This new thing in zines is what makes Internet publishing superior to print, in my view. A poet reading adds textural dimensions of breath, persona and pacing to what's on the page. I'm with Camille Paglia that it's a tragedy that we have lost the enrichment of context in poetry critcism.

I work on my readings. Could use one of those cool Snowball microphones, however. The built-in mic in MacBook will not do. Ambient noise abounds.

In case you wondered, the word qarrtsiluni is an an Iñupiaq word that means "sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to burst."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

News that stays with you

A couple of things about the revolution in Iran that struck me are today:

Good summary of the current situation and the possibilities for the coming week by blogger Black Hat Journalist. I'll be following this blog.

And a new Wikipedia entry for Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman gunned down Saturday, June 20 in Tehran, allegedly by a Basij gunman. Lighting a candle tonight in her memory.

Women of Iran - "lioness" is a Farsi word that comes to mind when I see the images of protesting women and read about Zahra Rahnavard, Moussavi's wife, taking a leadership role.

Someone on my poetry listserv posed the question of the emotional content in poetry and its equation to "importance" of a poem, citing a craze for emotionalism with linebreaks that's become a trend among teenagers. While I like to think that anything is fair game to interest youth in our lovely art form, that kind of verbal emoting may so far debase any art form that it defeats the purpose. This has been an emotional week for me, watching singular events unfold in a country I haven't till now thought much about. The only poetry I have dared to work on is far, far from these themes.

I thought of Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads, and this statement that connects poetry to our common humanity:

To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to these sympathies in which without any other discipline than that of our daily life we are fitted to take delight, the poet principally directs his attention.

at the same time, I thought of this, also from the Preface:

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

Spontaneous, yes. Overflow, certainly. The wisdom is in recollecting it from tranquillity.

A candle for Neda, Iran

Seldom do you get to watch history unfold so rapidly -- unless you live in times such as ours. What was the Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times. I think curses are meant to be transformed into blessings of insight through hard work, endurance and love. In Iran this weekend, they are doing very hard work, deciding what they want to be as a country, and standing up, one by one, for their own individual answers.

One young girl in Tehran yesterday was standing up for her answer when a Basij sniper peered down at her from a balcony. For some reason, he decided to aim straight at her heart and he was a good shot. She died in her father's arms while an amateur videographer captured the tragic event on film and uploaded that video to the Internet. The film rocketed around the world via a new use of technology whose power we are just discovering as Iranians discover their use of it to get out word of these events.

The girl's name -- I've read that she was only 16 -- is Neda, which means voice or call in Farsi. It has in 24 hours become a rallying cry for the cause of freedom. How remarkable an event this is, helped to unfold by people like us, fingers poised over our keyboards, alone in our offices and rooms, expressing our thoughts and feelings about such events in often brief but moving posts. Here's one I just grabbed from Twitter. It touched me deeply:

Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it. --Mahatma Gandhi #neda#IranElection

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hafiz says

I've been following events in Tehran via Twitter and learning a lot about that networking site in the process. One of the people in Iran getting clear, consistent and insightful tweets out is a woman using the name oxfordgirl. Obviously a born leader, her tweets are a combination of advice to those on the streets and in Iran and reports to those outside. For those of you who don't use Twitter, a post is limited to 140 characters, so the messages are by definition brief.

The picture emerging from her messages and those of others is of massive police force meeting the planned protest at 4 pm, scattering protesters into side streets where fighting has occurred with rock-throwing, and protesters being badly beaten. Police have used water cannons, tear gas and something acidic sprayed from helicopters. Shots have been fired and at least one body was carried away. Moussavi has addressed the crowd saying he is prepared for martyrdom.

An estimated 2,000 people had been arrested before today. It seems this crackdown is sparking a heightened, emboldened resistance. Why am I reminded of being in Berkeley during the anti-Vietnam War protests? Excessive police force is always a poor response to protest. As Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."

Opened the Divan of Hafiz again today - this is a tradition well-known in Iran, seeking advice from Hafiz - and this is what I first read:

Tis the ambush-place: and very swiftly thou goest. Be sensible: do not go swiftly lest from the broad king's highway, should ascend the dust of thee.

Be brave but be safe.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I'm green on Twitter and glued to the screen. Someone just said, "If Iran sleeps tonight, it will sleep forever." But it doesn't appear that is the case, with cries of "God is great" echoing through Tehran. I wonder what is happening in other Iranian cities, and how many months it will be before we know what is the import of all of this. I have a friend who contends the demonstrations are incited by the U.S., but it's hard to view all the videos of hundreds of thousands and imagine that so many people could have been made so passionate by espionage manipulations.

I think of the Persian poet Hafiz and his Divan, so I opened it at random and saw this:

If the Sultan's justic asketh not the state of the oppressed ones of love,
For those corner-sitting, it is necessary to sever the love of ease.
(Wilberforce-Clarke translation)

Hey, don't blame me -- I didn't make this up. Blame Hafiz, who as a friend recently said, nails it again.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Duende & Saudade in American Poetry

Edward Hirsch's excellent Poet's Choice column yesterday has me thinking about these neglected dimensions in discussions of contemporary poetry, what I think of as the question of a poem's emotive undertones. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson's reply to Thomas Higginson as to how she defined poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

Duende is of course Lorca's term for the experience of the reader being seized by "dark" qualities in the work, by which I understand him to mean mysterious, indefinable qualities. Saudade is a Portuguese term that is sometimes (poorly) translated into English as "the blues." And yet a Brazilian bossa nova song can have plenty of saudade, though it makes you want to get up and move.

Interesting, thought-provoking article.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Outrageously wired

We are all so addicted to our devices, and naturally poetry, like every other form of communication, seems to have taken a quantum leap into the virtual. I mean, you can now tweet a poem.

As I perused the thinnest Sunday newspaper I have ever received, then read a report on publishing trends and how magazine sales are triumphantly less down than the rest of the retail sector, I get the feeling that everyone's showing up here. At the same instant.

Is poetry gridlock possible? Has anyone counted the number of new zines that appeared this year to date? No one's clocking the trends on free content. And here's a personal gripe: my CD, A God You Can Dance, somehow went viral and is listed on all these indie music sites. Now that's all well and good, but with downloadable tracks for 99 cents on almost all of them, not a single penny has come to me. It could well be that nobody's listening. Or ... am I slow to get this? Music is less and less sold and more and more ripped. Somehow.

The publishing of poetry has already gone down the path of willing-to-be-ripped. And now that you can read so much for nothing, are all the authors and poets and musicians going to be artists in their spare time? Puzzling. Enlighten me as to where this all goes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poems getting out there

I'm so pleased to have my poem "A Walk After Reading Dante's Paradiso" online this week at Susan Culver's eminently readable Poetry Friends. Susan's a good editor and so I enjoy reading the weekly poems. Plus it has an elegantly simple submission system, which means it's likely to be around for awhile. Good! I know how hard it can be to keep a zine going.

Also was pleased to have word that two of my poems will appear in a print anthology of Yareah Magazine, a bilingual English-Spanish publication edited by Martin Cid and Ysabel Del Rio.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Facebook for Writers

I want to propose something you may find radical: that spending time on Facebook is not only not a waste, but a good influence on your writing. I hear you thinking of the fifty ways it is bad for your writing: the many varieties of distraction, the dumbing-down of social intercourse, invitations to sleaze and prurience, absurd brevity of newsfeed posts (who actually "reads more"), and the five-second-attention-span atmosphere, when your considered comment scrolls into "older post" oblivion.

But consider this: FB offers some of the best writing prompts you will ever read. Especially if you remember to select that "older posts" link and keep reading. Also, if you read selectively and hide friends selectively, the way you unsubscribe when a magazine starts piling up.

I've made poems from comments on FB, read fascinating articles via links posted by my well-read, scholarly friends -- articles that have introduced me to new poets or reintroduced me to favorite ones -- and of course, connected with editors who have published my work, possibly more readily because I am a known (friend) quantity. FB has given me insights into the process of editing and rejections, provided a place to discuss theoretical issues, and even a workshop area in which to write collaborative science fiction satire. (You know who you are!)

Forget about FB's annoyances and distractions. Or enjoy them, But also think about FB as a writer's dream tool. Using it selectively and with discipline can take you in a breathtaking short time on a stimulating journey from wit to snark to edification to meditation to composition to publication. FB reading can be a vital part of your daily writing process. Just be careful, thoughtful and generous in your friending (is that a word now?) and -- as in all human interactions -- give more than you get and you will get what you need.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Get Under the New Umbrella!

Kate Benedict and guest editor Robert Schechter have created a superb new double issue of Umbrella, the eminently readable zine, and Bumbershoot, the annual of light verse published by Umbrella.

The new issue of Bumbershoot is a collection of light verse unequalled, I daresay, anywhere in print or online. I make this claim on the basis of Bob Schechter's able editing and a guest feature of children's verse by -- drumroll, please -- distinguished poet Richard Wilbur. I won't cite his many, many honors such as being Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, but I will say I have several of his booktoday and enjoy!