“Monumental”

“Monumental” is the name of the Exquisite Corpse poem that Karen Head put together on the 4th Plinth today from lines by Christine Swint, Ivy Alvarez, Collin Kelley,  David Matthew Barnes, Rupert Fike, and me, and she read poems by several of us as well as Bob Wood, Jo Hemmant, and Julie Bloemeke.

It was amazing.  At first, it didn’t look like Karen was doing much–just sitting in a chair with her Mac on her lap, but then the Twittering started, and it was fast and furious.  Sometimes she’d call out to the audience to ask for a line, and I couldn’t help wondering what those people in Trafalgar Square were thinking.  

It was hard to keep up with the feed, because you couldn’t see everyone’s posts, and people would be trying to come up with the next line, but couldn’t see what the line before was.  So it was crazy!  I know I tweeted 30 times in one hour–which I’ve never done before.  It was like almost being likes a sportscaster making blow-by-blow comments on the situation–except there were all these other people doing it at the same time.

I loved it.  And the poem she came up with is fantastic.  I can’t wait to read it on the page.  

If you missed her performance, or you’d like to see it, go here.

Karen Head on the 4th Plinth Tomorrow

One of my best friends (and a terrific poet) is Karen Head, who has been teaching over in GT’s Oxford Program this summer.  I don’t know how she was selected, but she was one of 2400 hundred people chosen to participate in the Fourth Plinth program by One and Other in Trafalgar Square, where, for 100 days and 24 hours a day, a person can stand on top of it and do whatever she wishes for her hour.  Karen will be on the Plinth from noon to one, Eastern Time tomorrow, and she will be broadcasting a Twitter-based poetry project.

She sent us the details this evening in an e-mail.  Apparently, she will basically create an Exquisite Corpse poem, where she will alert one of her specific Twitter followers to contribute the next line of the poem.  She will be transcribing everything on her computer and reading it aloud.  She will also periodically call on people in the audience around the Plinth to contribute lines, so it should be quite an amazing poem, I think, when it’s done.  I hope the lines I contribute won’t suck!

Even more amazing, Time Magazine will be covering her hour!

Read more about Karen’s project in the AJC.

See a live webcam of the Plinth.

Chapbooking

I already have three different chapbooks “in circulation,” which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve submitted them to several publishers/ contests and am waiting to hear good news.  Ok, let’s be real:  ANY news.  Two have not won the contests they were submitted for, but I continue to send them out.  Still, this is getting expensive.  I think I’ve already spent over $200 sending these chapbooks out.

When I hear about other people on the contest bandwagon, I know they’ve often spent way more than I have, but they persist because publishers have pretty much moved to the contest model of publication.  To some extent, I can understand this.  Poetry, after all, is not a money-maker, and publishers know they won’t recoup their investment, so they shift some of the financial burden on the poets who are desperate to get published.  Hence the proliferation of first book contests, as well as the myriad chapbook contests whose announcements fill up writing listservs.  

There are some presses, such as the sublime Tupelo Press, whose publications are beautiful and glorious collections I love to read. Tupelo Press has open poetry reading period during July, and, because of the economy, has reduced the reading fee from $35 to $25, which, considering that small presses desperately need money, is quite an act of generosity. 

As an aside, let me mention, if you’re looking for a fantastic book of poetry from Tupelo Press to read, for the love of Goddess, buy Kristin Bock’s Cloisters, which is so good you’ll cry.  I’ve already read it twice, and I got it like 2 weeks ago.  It will be the best $16.95 you’ve ever spent.

Anyway, I haven’t submitted a book to Tupelo Press, but that’s because I don’t have a book-length collection.  Oh, I have plenty of poems, enough to fill 60-80 pages worth, but my problem is, they don’t fit together.  They’re all disjointed.  So that’s why I’ve been working on chapbooks.

And all of this is by way of saying I’ve decided to put another chapbook together to send out, and am currently choosing among the rest of my poems to find ones that might (emphasis on might) resonate with each other.  It’s hard because the poems that are left over from the first three chapbooks I’ve put together have been excluded because they just don’t fit.

So I was thinking if I put 20-24 pages of poems together that don’t fit individually in the other chapbooks, maybe they will fit together by the very nature of them not fitting.  (Got that?)  In other words, maybe because they are disparate, I can create a collection that works because it doesn’t have an obvious theme.  I don’t know about that.  

Maybe, too, I can write a few poems to help them gel a bit more as a collection–so if the theme is “difference,” maybe writing a few poems where that theme is expressed can help bridge the differentness of the other poems.  There’s a chance this idea might fall flat.  But I have some time, because the contest I plan to submit the manuscript to has an October deadline.

You might say, why not put all of these chapbooks together and slap a numbered section on each one, and voila, a book-length collection?  Don’t think I haven’t had that thought already.  But that won’t work either.  There’s no common thread among the three different collections other than that I wrote them.  And I’ve read enough poetry books that I can feel when the poems are organically organized, and when they’re clearly not.  Putting my chapbooks together would feel like… someone slapped three chapbooks together.

Anyway, beginning to organize this fourth chapbook is my goal for this weekend.  As is thoroughly cleaning the kitchen.  Hurrah.

August Poetry Postcard Fest

So I’m really excited about the APPF, because the prospect of receiving 31 postcards in the mail (32, if you count the starter postcard)  with a new poem on each one will bring happiness into The Month I Always Dread.

But I’m nervous too, because I know how I am an overly self-critical perfectionist prone to losing heart when I can’t get words to go right.  (This probably describes every poet, doesn’t it?)  And holy, moly, I have to write 32 poems?

Even though the participants have been told not to agonize, I know I will.  I’m already agonizing a little bit.  But I’ve been trying to get a few poems written down this week to spell me on those days that I’m feeling especially uninspired and incapable of writing (or am so busy I can’t breathe, like during fall registration).

Of course, I also realize that the poems I receive will give me strength as well as inspiration, and that will be awesome.   Nothing like being compelled to write every day because someone is counting on you for mail!  But what a sad comment that I have to be compelled to write.  Sometimes, I’m such a dilletante.

If you want some information about the APPF, read the APPF blog, maintained by Lana Hechtman Ayers and Paul Nelson.

A Day of Poetry

Today was the 122nd Quarterly meeting of the Georgia Poetry Society, of which I am a Executive Board Member.  I always like these meetings because there are two sessions of member poems, usually about 15-20 poets reading in each.  Everyone gets to read one poem, and while some are better than others, it makes my heart glad to see so many people writing and reading and loving poetry.  

One thing I especially love about these meetings is they never feel cutthroat–and sometimes I feel that academic poets thrive on that.   Oh, some academic poets may claim that they are supportive and will help you in their way, but at they same time, you know one is saying, Oh, I can’t believe she got published in Such-and-Such Review.   And someone else is saying, Well, you know, she and the editor had a thing at Breadloaf.  Academic poets can be so full of bullshit.

Now, I realize I am being somewhat disingenuous here.  I am, after all, an academic poet.  I have a Ph.D. in poetry with a focus in creative writing.  My aesthetic taste is informed by academia, and I generally tend to read poems by academics.  Granted, the reason for that might be because it seems that most journals are constipated with poetry by M.F.A. and Ph.D.-types.   Plenty of this work is solid, fine poetry, and I like it.  But plenty of it is just as drivelly as the moon-june writers–they’re just more accomplished technically and they have an alphabet after their last names.

The writers of GPS do much different kinds of writing.  Some of it seriously not great.  But then there are writers who use rhyme and meter and form quite effectively, even if they end up with poems that seem, to my academic mind, quite old fashioned.  There is a gentleman there, probably in his late 60’s, who almost always either reads a ballad or a narrative in rhymed couplets, and they are invariably charming and hilarious.  My academic friends would probably scorn such writing.  I find it refreshing in a retro kind of way.

This is not to say there aren’t academics there.  I know at least four other people who regularly attend who have Ph.D.s in the humanities.  Their poems tend to be more technically proficient, more deliberate in the language and poetic devices they use, than the non-academics’ writing is.  But their work isn’t joyless and mechanical as some of the poems I’ve seen in several journals lately are.  There is definitely something to be said for not overly associating with academic poets, who are often greedy about padding their C.V.s and getting their next book together so they can parade it in front of the tenure committee.

In some ways, I’m no different.  I prize getting acceptances, and would love to have a book of poems to sell at readings.  A book would somehow “legitimize” my poetic efforts, would give me a little more credibility with the academic poets I associate with.  But therein you see the hypocrisy.  Because I do, after all, want to impress my academic friends.

At GPS, I never feel that I must impress them.  If I do, when I read my poetry to them, that’s wonderful, and I’m glad they’ve enjoyed it.  But I don’t feel less than–because GPS isn’t competitive.  And maybe that’s what it boils down to:  academic poets are competitive, and that kind of competition leaves me cold.

In other news, tonight I read at the Essential Theater.  They had a poetry reading before the play Ice Glen, and I was a featured reader, along with Ginger Murchison, whose chapbook, Out Here is quite excellent.  It was not well attended, but that’s ok. 

Maybe when I publish my book, I’ll have bigger crowds to see me.  I can dream.

Faux Pas?

I’m a firm believer that when I submit poems to journals, that I am entering a kind of conversation with the editors.  I’m not just sending my work and hoping for a publication–I’m really looking for my work to resonate with another human being.  If it results in a publication, that’s wonderful, and I’m pleased.

But more important, I think, is that moment of connection–or disconnection–when the editor decides Yes, this is good poem, or Eep! No chance in hell.  What is that moment like?  What is it about one poem that speaks to an editor, where another completely fails?

And what would it be like if an editor, recognizing this conversational moment, responded to the poet with some thoughts about the work the poet sent, either with publication acceptance contingent on suggested revision or just some candid and constructive (but generally kind) thoughts about the work?

Of course, most editors are too burdened down with work to bother to send more than a form rejection or acceptance.  But today, we read a poem that the first half was brilliant and absurd and very intriguing–spoke to us on a level that none of the other work submitted in the batch did.  But it was ruined by the second half that contributed nothing to the inner (absurd) logic, and moreover was offensive and clearly lacking that which made the first half so impressive.  In other words, the second half completely obliterated the first half, and we were terribly disappointed.

So we wrote the poet a note and (in kinder terms than what I  have expressed here) asked what he thought about ditching the second half.  I know, it was a terribly presumptive thing to do–and we did mention that our journal’s aesthetics were by no means the “right” aesthetics, blah blah.

Needless to say the comments  went over like the proverbial lead balloon.  I wonder why I’m even surprised.  Poets can be sooo touchy and territorial about their words.

But I think about the few times editors have asked to make changes on my work and offered a rationale for the changes.  In all but one case, the editor’s change improved the poem.  Now, to be fair, no editor has ever asked me to cut a poem in half, and again, I admit that was a pretty ballsy change to suggest, but it seems to me, if the submission of a poem is a conversation initiated, wouldn’t it be more useful to really talk about aesthetics and what we think makes a good poem?

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just naive.  Maybe it’s simply not done to share your thoughts about a piece of writing, like editorial trespass,  though I’d still argue they invited it by submitting work in the first place.  Maybe it’s better to send form letters either way.

All I know is I got into editing because I like to read poems and I like to see what people do with language and I want to share the poems I like with others.   However, from now on I think  I’ll just confine my conversations and insights to myself.  At least I’ll spare myself the wrath of an indignant poet .

Lost Poem

Last night, between my husband’s buzzsaw snoring and my cats’ demonic games of tag, I couldn’t sleep.  As I was lying there, a poem was coming to me that I thought I could use for the August Poetry Postcard Fest, and, while it wasn’t terrific, it certainly had potential.

I said to myself, Self, you need to get up, find a piece of paper, and write that draft down.  But the sleepy, cranky side of me said, No, no, I’ll remember it.  Honestly, sometimes I’m an idiot.  That never works.

And the even more aggravating this is, that clearly I was awake enough at 2 a.m. to compose the poem in my head, and could have turned on the light and written it down.  How hard would that have been?

And now, I have no memory of the poem at all, and have nothing to show for my insomnia last night, except a rather dreary attitude and dark black circles under my eyes.  Oy.