Saturday, March 14, 2009

Drying Trend

For the last month, while Northern California has been slammed with wonderful storms that battle back talk of drought -- almost enough snow in the Sierras to approach "normal" -- I've been having a writing dry spell. I take that back - not a dry spell in terms of writing, because I've cranked out enough direct mail pieces and grant proposals and play scripts that if the paper on which they were printed miraculously turned back into trees I could name a small grove after myself - but a poetic dry spell. I suppose you can only write "Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution today that will benefit thousands of people" so many times before the Muse becomes disgusted with you.

Winter isn't my most creative writing season to begin with. One poem about rain looks much like another, and the natural world is frequently my inspirational touchstone. But layer on the dank weather a lack of time, a husband who's now working from home and a work-jam, and I suppose I have enough excuses.

But I don't want excuses. I want poem time, the kind of quiet that isn't filled with anxiety about your To-Do list growing rather than shrinking despite working weekends and evenings. I want to just look at something and forget myself long enough to really see it. Time for a walk, I think, and to study some clouds.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poems & Letters

Interesting article on the tradition of epistolary poetry in The Guardian's Books Blog. Even though it's an English publication, I appreciate that American poets Cid Corman, Anne Sexton and Jack Spicer -- but how can one think of poems sent in letters without thinking of Emily Dickinson? The poems she sent to Higginson and other friends and family are about the only version of publishing she allowed herself. The Atlantic has an article on Dickinson's poems in her letters. I came across them while reading Dickinson's letters, which is as rich as reading the poetry itself, and in some ways more so, because her letters so often include poems, providing a rich context for reading the poem.

Speaking of context for reading poetry -- where is it better these days than reading poems embedded in blogs? I like it so much I'm going to start including some in this one. For a start, here's a poem about a letter:

A Road Trip
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. – Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1802.

Divinity is on the road
because He needs elbow room
and a stretch of open where He can go, vroom-vroom!
He's doing wheelies for the Danbury fathers
and Pennsylvania Quakers who shun
paying their taxes to support Congregationalists.
He's careening into cirrus-streaks,
bolting lightning to ground, scattering
ideals like wildflowers.

The skies were too big and Monticello's dome
very small, but in Jefferson’s capacious geography
of state and religion, grace connects to liberty,
bisected by community. He threw up a wall
between soul and country's imperatives,
then paradox that he was, prayed in the Senate Church.
Hemmed by custom, he penned a secret tract:
Let them shake, let law be rock, and let God roll.

But Jefferson could not envision
the heavenly Highway-hound's momentum,
the lifts He would give to every Papist, Roller
and doler, myriad beliefs popping like prairie stars.
The Harley slips and weaves, easy as air
that flows over a snake tattoo that reads: Tread Lightly
on My Amen. The white hog passes everything,
so fast it's invisible – or mythical, a white horse
for a White House, steed that may only exist
as a people who won't let their faith be taxed,
who won’t be bound by too many laws
but spring up weed-wild – a people to build
their creeds on heart, wind and speed.

(first published in The Adirondack Review)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Poetry Book Contests Revisited

Having blogged probably more than you wanted about the dangers of book contests, and pointed readers to David Alpaugh's canny -- and now infamous -- essay on the paradigm of poetry book publishing contests and why they're like the pre-2008 economy (a bubble bound to eventually burst under their own weight), I have to admit that I have entered a few book contests this spring.

DISCLAIMER: I have only entered contests where I have some reason to think the final judge will appreciate my work. This, of course, sounds suspiciously like some sort of in-grouping, but no. I'm thinking of editors who have selected my work in the past, or at least commented on it, but with whom I have no personal or academic connection, thereby flouting no contest guidelines and courting no charges (in the unlikely event that I win) of favoritism.

Though I have already been tarred with that brush and accused of favoritism by complaining about Foetry, I remain pure as the driven snow. Not the driven slush, like Tallulah Bankhead. We're talking great drifts of unaffiliated purity, since I've never taken a single course, let alone an MFA, from anyone who could possibly be judging a book contest I've entered.

So which contests did I enter? Contests sponsored by Prairie Schooner; Pleiades; Cleveland State University; Nightboat Books; and Steel Toe Books. I did have a personal connection with one of those publishers -- and that was the editor who turned me down!

So, still pure. And relatively unconcerned to send many more checks to support poetry book contests, whose winning books, Alpaugh points out, will largely go unread. I can go unread all by myself. And may pursue other publishing options.

But it is fun once in awhile to spin the roulette wheel.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Babel Fruit

I have a poetry feature up at the current issue of Babel Fruit. I am very pleased that editors Ren Powell and Cati Porter selected "Open In Case of Spring," "Lifelines" and "Egret Overhead" for the current issue. They're from my chapbook Another Circle of Delight (Small Poetry Press).

And speaking of Small Poetry Press, one of the Select Poets Series poets, Lynne Knight, has a new book out. Again is published by the Bay Area's own Sixteen Rivers Press. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. Lynne's work is simply superb. I highly recommend all her books, and especially Snow Effects (Small Poetry Press), the most beautiful ekphrastic collection I've ever read.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Smartish Pace & Other Listenable Poetry Sites

Smartish Pace, one of my favorite lit-journals, has a new dimension on their website: media. You can watch videos and listen to audios of group and individual poetry readings and also an interview with founder Stephen Reichert. The site also has other interviews, but not with audio.

And as I may have mentioned before, you can hear me read two new poems, "O Beautiful" and "Designer" on Terrain.

If you want to see an amazing compendium of audio poetry on the web, check out's audio list.

If you have an audio file or two on the web, let me know. Here's listening to you, kid.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Interviews, Deadlines + A Poll

I love interviews with poets that touch on their process and development and get beyond the po-biz aspect. 32 Poems has a great blog that includes a regular series of interviews. I especially enjoyed the one with Mary Biddinger of Barn Owl Review.

A poetry blog I Shall Call You The Moon has interviews and even invites readers to nominate themselves to be interviewed.

Prairie Schooner's book contest deadline of March 16 is coming up. Editor Hilda Raz judges.

Saturnalia Books book contest has a deadline of March 31, with Carl Phillips judging.

Now for the poll:
(1) How do you think the economic downturn will affect poetry and poetry publication?
(2) Do you anticipate poetry book publication to decrease or remain the same?
(3) Do you expect poetry book sales to be affected by it?
(4) Has your writing been affected by it?

I'll start by answering my own poll:
(1) The number of university creative writing poems may decline if enrollment declines, which it might as a result of decreased individual surplus; this could decrease the number of creative writing faculty and publishing programs.
(2) I expect poetry book publication to remain the same or even increase. Book contests are self-sustaining, perhaps even modestly profitable.
(3) I expect book sales to go down as people are less inclined to spend.
(4) The downturn has increased my workload and drastically reduced my poetry writing time, plus it's a topic that's hard to get in your sights as a poet. It's not inspiring, that's for sure!

Hope your Sunday is full of poems.