About JC Reilly

JC Reilly writes across genre and has received Pushcart and Wigleaf nominations for her work. She is the Managing Editor of the Atlanta Review, and has work published or forthcoming in Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, DISARM: a Gun Control Anthology, New Flash Fiction Review, Rabbit: a Journal of Nonfiction Poetry, and others. Read her (sometimes updated) blog jcreilly.com or follower her @aishatonu.

Saintly Visions & a Writing Mania Miracle

Quick Note:  It’s been a while since I’ve written (obvs.)—but in my defense, I was having problems with WordPress’ posting/editing interface, and it took me a while to figure out the sitch. Turns out I’m an airhead.  Anyway, it’s squared for the time being.  Now, onto the post!

So, a few months ago I was lamenting my writing.  Or rather, my lack of writing.

This seems to be a typical thing with me.  I suppose it is for many writers, though—you just go through phases, some of which are productive, some of which suck ass.  And of course, my ever-present and generally intolerable BFF, “Deppie,” has made a real nuisance of herself in my life:  that is to say, the dysthymia and anxiety pretty much kick my ass every day. (Sometimes, I tell myself:  just get through the next hour—and that’s the best I can manage.) But this isn’t a post about effed-up brain chemistry, this is a post about writing.

–from makeameme.org

As I was saying:  in February (technically, two posts prior), writer’s block (you know I hate that term, and try not to use it because it always feels like a crutch) was a thing.  I mean, THE STRUGGLE WAS REAL. 

(–from Lucasfilm/Disney)

Poetry and I repelled each other, although there was always kind of a Rey/Kylo (Reylo?) thing going on between us. And while it upset me (not just the least of which had to do with thinking about my writing in terms of the most recent Star Wars trilogy), other more pressing things on my mind (like staying alive) took precedence.  So, I just added “writer’s block” to the list of THINGS THAT MAKE MY LIFE MEANINGLESS O WOES ME. And carried on.

And then I had a vision of Mary Magdalene.

I know this sounds hokey.  Just go with me on this.

Digging through some old files on my computer, I came across a poem I had written years ago about Mary Magdalene—it had been nominated for an AWP Intro Award (which it didn’t win—big shock there)—and it got me thinking.  What could I do with this poem?  Would it just continue to sit in the file in perpetuity?  Or could it be part of a sequence?

The only way to see if a poem will be part of a sequence is by writing another one.  And then another one.  And so on. To help myself focus, I looked at image after image of Mary Magdalene through the ages, remembering the bond I used to have with her (as well as other women from the Bible).  I read hagiographic blogs and articles. I wrote a dozen poems or so, of varying qualities.

The Penitent Magdalene

Caravaggio, The Penitent Magdalene, ca. 1594-95

Some poems were ekphrastic because I believe in THE DREAM (writing a good art poem one day—and I do love me some Italian Renaissance/Baroque paintings), some were my typical narrative poems-with-a-wry-bent, some were just fragments (the Caravaggio poem is in limbo…for my sins). While I still need to revise and complete the sequence, it feels like I’ve accomplished something, and that takes a bit of the edge off.

And then (!!!)—I started another sequence of poems.  I mean, I wrote (and revised!!! OMFG!!) 25 poems in the span of 6 weeks.

I was like HamiltonI worked nonstop.

Or to put it another way, it was as if I had a visitation from The Madonna and she told me to me to get into the groove.  So I did.  And I’ve even started sending them off into the world.  Two of the poems will be published in Soul-Lit: a Journal of Spiritual Poetry in the near future.  Maybe more acceptances will be forthcoming.  (I can hope.)

If I sound amazed, I truly am.  But I don’t want to sound like I’m all, “look at me, look at me, I’m so fricken awesome.”  This is not me espousing a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach to writing. (Barf. I would never.) This is not me trying to lure you to my Patreon (which I don’t have—but maybe I should?) or to broadcast an infomercial at 3 a.m. promising that “You too can conquer writer’s block! For six equal installments of $29.99, you can download my step-by-step method…” It’s just me being surprised at how inspiration (another word I hate when it’s applied to writing) works sometimes.

I have slowed my roll somewhat since the middle of April, but I haven’t rolled to a stop.  So that’s a win.

My to-be-read pile                       (from NYPL Digital Collections)

A lot of work is coming my way though—I’m plodding (slowly) through a ton of reading to do for Atlanta Review (now that we’re down to basically only me as the reader/typesetter/social media maintainer), and a pile of research I need to for my next major WIP is accumulating on my bedside table. (Every time I look at it, there’s another book on the pile.) And of course, the new Fall teaching schedule dangles before my eyes, even if it’s still a couple of months away. Not sure I can maintain much rolling at all, with all this going on.  But slow and steady wins the race, or something like that?  I just need to keep trying  (Which is difficult with that beyotch Deppie albatross hanging around, but I’ll try.)

The middle one is “Deppie.”
(from NYPL Digital Collections)

***

Anyway…enough blathering. I hope your writing is going well.  And I hope you, my beloved 5 readers, are staying safe and healthy, even as the world opens back up.

Enter a Giveaway for Leah Angstman’s New Novel!

I’m am always happy to help out a fellow writer. So check out the cover reveal for
Leah Angstman’s debut novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, coming January 2022 from Regal House Publishing.



OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA:

A Novel of King William’s War in 17th-Century New England

BY LEAH ANGSTMAN

Publication Date: January 11, 2022

Regal House Publishing

Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook; 334 pages

Genre: Historical / Literary / Epic

**Shortlisted for the Chaucer Book Award**


OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a
time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and
being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence.

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689
New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents
and must flee the brutality of her town. She stows away on the ship of the
only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor — Owen — bound
to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. But when Owen’s
French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the
turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the
cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged
into the fray. Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or
keeping her own neck from the noose.

Steeped in historical events and culminating in a little-known war on
pre-American soil, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a story of early feminism,
misogyny, arbitrary rulings, persecution, and the treatment of outcasts, with
parallels still mirrored and echoed in today’s society. The debut novel will
appeal to readers of Paulette Jiles, Alexander Chee, Hilary Mantel, James
Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, TaraShea Nesbit, Geraldine Brooks, Stephanie Dray,
Patrick O’Brian, and E. L. Doctorow.

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER

REGAL HOUSE PRINT
|
AMAZON KINDLE

AVAILABLE FOR ARC REQUEST

TNBBC PUBLICITY

Praise

“With OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman reveals herself as a brave
new voice in historical fiction. With staggering authenticity, Angstman gives
us a story of America before it was America — an era rife with witch hunts and
colonial intrigue and New World battles all but forgotten in our history books
and popular culture. This is historical fiction that speaks to the present,
recalling the bold spirits and cultural upheavals of a nation yet to be born.”

—Taylor Brown, author of PRIDE OF EDEN, GODS OF HOWL MOUNTAIN, and THE RIVER
OF KINGS

“Steeped in lush prose, authentic period detail, and edge-of-your-seat action,
OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a rollicking good read. Leah Angstman keeps the
story moving at a breathtaking pace, and she knows more 17th-century seafaring
language and items of everyday use than you can shake a stick at. The result
is a compelling work of romance, adventure, and historical illumination that
pulls the reader straight in.”

—Rilla Askew, author of FIRE IN BEULAH, THE MERCY SEAT, and KIND OF KIN

“Lapidary in its research and lively in its voice, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA
by Leah Angstman is a rollicking story, racing along with wind in its sails.
Though her tale unfolds hundreds of years in America’s past, Ruth Miner is the
kind of high-spirited heroine whose high adventures haul you in and hold you
fast.”

—Kathleen Rooney, author of LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK and CHER AMI AND
MAJOR WHITTLESEY

“Leah Angstman has written the historical novel that I didn’t know I needed to
read. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is set in an oft-forgotten time in the
brutal wilds of pre-America that is so vividly and authentically drawn, with
characters that are so alive and relevant, and a narrative so masterfully
paced and plotted, that Angstman has performed the miracle of layering the
tumultuous past over our troubled present to gift us a sparkling new reality.”

—Kevin Catalano, author of WHERE THE SUN SHINES OUT and DELETED SCENES AND
OTHER STORIES

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a fascinating book, the kind of historical
novel that evokes its time and place so vividly that the effect is just shy of
hallucinogenic. I enjoyed it immensely.”

—Scott Phillips, author of THE ICE HARVEST, THE WALKAWAY, COTTONWOOD, and HOP
ALLEY

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a meticulously researched novel that mixes
history, love story, and suspense. Watching Angstman’s willful protagonist,
Ruth Miner, openly challenge the brutal world of 17th-century New England,
with its limiting ideas about gender, race, and science, was a delight.”

—Aline Ohanesian, author of ORHAN’S INHERITANCE

“Leah Angstman is a gifted storyteller with a poet’s sense of both beauty and
darkness, and her stunning historical novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA,
establishes her as one of the most exciting young novelists in the country.
Angstman plunges the reader into a brilliantly realized historical milieu
peopled by characters real enough to touch. And in Ruth Miner, we are
introduced to one of the most compelling protagonists in contemporary
literature, a penetratingly intelligent, headstrong woman who is trying to
survive on her wits alone in a Colonial America that you won’t find in the
history books. A compulsive, vivid read that will change the way you look at
the origins of our country, Leah Angstman’s OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA
announces the arrival of a preternatural talent.”

—Ashley Shelby, author of MURI and SOUTH POLE STATION

“Rich, lyrical, and atmospheric, with a poet’s hand and a historian’s
attention to detail. In OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman creates an
immersive world for readers to get lost in and a fascinating story to propel
them through it. A thoroughly engaging and compelling tale.”

—Steph Post, author of HOLDING SMOKE, MIRACULUM, and WALK IN THE FIRE

“It’s a rare story that makes you thankful for having read and experienced it.
It’s rarer still for a story to evoke so wholly, so powerfully, another place
and time as to make you thankful for the gifts that exist around you, which
you take for granted. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a book rich with misery,
yet its characters are indefatigable; they yearn, despite their troubles, for
victories personal and societal. Leah Angstman’s eye is keen, and her ability
to transport you into America’s beginnings is powerful. With the raw
ingredients of history, she creates a story both dashing and pensive, robust
yet believable. From an unforgiving time, Angstman draws out a tale of all
things inhuman, but one that reminds us of that which is best in all of us.”

—Eric Shonkwiler, author of ABOVE ALL MEN and 8TH STREET POWER AND LIGHT

About the Author

Leah Angstman author photo

Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder.
OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, her debut novel of King William’s War in
17th-century New England, is forthcoming from Regal House in January 2022. Her
writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize,
Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and
has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review,
Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current
and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included
editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a
Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation
committee.

Basketcase

from the NYPL Digital Collections

CW:  Depression, myopia, navel-gazing

The pandemic is almost a year old (in the US, anyway), and it’s been a horrible year for so many people, including the half-a-million folks who’ve died from Covid, and their families.  Then there was the bizarre and unbelievable insurrection on Jan. 6th (Epiphany!), and now the Texas power grid disaster and the below freezing temperatures across the country—with people dying, in their houses, without heat or water.  It seems that we are beset with tragedy everywhere.  I don’t want to sound dismissive, though I fear it might, if I say that the year has been hard on me, because I haven’t been able to write like I’ve wanted to. 

Of course I was saying that five months ago, too.  And in the intervening months, there were Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, which are always bright spots, if momentary. But my depression persists—made worse, of course, by the tragedies that surround this country, the inability to see family and friends (oh my goddess, do I miss my Mom), the loss of a friend to suicide last October, the incessant stay-at-home-ism—the endless, endless darkness (not to be a drama queen or anything) that has just taken the spirit out of me.

I can’t seem to do anything. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to do much more than read books (to take me away from myself) or sleep. I’m irritable, sad, lonely, hating myself, and suffering migraines all the time.  Sure, those are all garden variety symptoms of depression (well, maybe not the migraines), and I’m still relatively high functioning (though I can’t manage household cleaning chores), but I am exhausted all the time. Weary. Unmotivated to the point of laziness.  And so very, very heartbroken about my writing.

Yes, I know there are thousands of people who have it worse.  I know that. I loathe that I’m sounding like a whiny little bitch, when relatively, there is so much decent (if not good) in my life.  But part of the depression sphere is that knowing something objectively doesn’t mean anything if you can’t feel it.

***

Feeling anything has come hard to me as an adult. How many therapists have said to me that I live too much in my head?  Some of that, I’m sure, comes from feeling too much as a child and a teenager, when I was told over and over again that my feelings were invalid/ unreasonable/ ridiculous/ unwanted. So I learned to suppress so much of my humanity—just became a floating intellect. I was pretty good at school, so I did that.  Kept my emotions in check as best I could for as long as I could, till I didn’t seem to have them anymore.  (Like I intellectually love my family and friends—they are great, wonderful people—but I secretly wonder if I really feel that love?  Like, can I ever feel anything, authentically?  Or am I always processing everything on such an intellectual level that I’ve atrophied anything else that was real inside of me?) Everything on autopilot.

Or is this all just depression talking?

It’s not a lie to say that I have developed a true fear of writing (scriptophobia!) this past year.  Fear is a feeling—though I “feel” very intellectual about it. As in, I can compartmentalize it—and do the writing I need to for work without a thought.  But when it comes to my own writing, I’ve been terrified (again, intellectually speaking).  What do I say?  What does it matter? Who cares if I write or not (besides me)?  I’ve wondered if I’ve forgotten how even to write poetry.  Or if I’ve developed a fear of poetry (metrophobia).  This is beyond writer’s block (which I don’t actually believe in)—this is something fundamental, and deeper.  Like poetry is a mountain I can see across the forest, but forget about crossing the forest, I’m floating by in a river, trying not to drown.

And maybe it’ll just be temporary.  Like, maybe this past year is too much to process, and the only way to “cope” (not very effectively, of course) is depression and an “inability” to write.

***

Intellectually, I know I will write poems again, when I’m not so depressed and stuck.  But it’s hard to feel it.  But, even when I do write poems again, to be honest, I know they will be the intellectual exercises they have always been for me.  That’s why I’ll never be a great poet—because my poems don’t have an emotional core, they just don’t—but it will have to be good enough to be good enough as poet. Because if I’m not a person who writes poems, I’m not sure what my point for being is?

Thanks, always, to my five readers for reading this. I wish I had something better to share than just head garbage.

October and Greatness

from NYPL Public Domain Collection

The weather has changed, turning cool and windy, and that has infused a little life into this old carcass of mine.  I love October.  I love the sound of Canada geese flying overhead.  I love the way the sunlight deepens to sunflower yellow, and how the leaves fall in puffs, as if the trees have sneezed them away.  I love too when the year is coming to a close, and every month ends with a holiday. We need a holiday.  This year has been too burdensome, too excruciating for all of us—and for 208,000 of us in America (as of this writing) it has been our last year of life.

I can’t pretend, as much as October makes me happy, that I’m not cognizant of the real trauma people have experienced this year.  Of some friends getting cancer, and others seeing their depression worsen, and others catching Covid.  Of a country divided so intensely by fascist white supremacy and support for Black Lives Matter—and everything else that can divide us, especially this coming election.

I see more Trump signs than Biden around here where I live, and it makes me wonder about those people.  Has this country given them everything they wanted?  Are they content to watch their fellow citizens in less affluent zip codes struggle?  Or don’t the poorer among us even rate?  I think they must not—because if they did, we would all be doing a better job about caring for others—ending racism, ending the prison industrial complex, ending ICE, and uplifting the poor, ensuring equal civil rights for all, making health care free, relieving the shackles of student loan debt. (Not to beat a dead horse.)  There are so many things we could be doing—and expecting our “representatives” in Washington to be doing.  But many of us have become so afflicted with ennui and exhaustion that we feel helpless.

So the rallying cry is VOTE VOTE VOTE.  I see it everywhere on social media and in the news.  My phone is bombarded with texts asking me to send money to support Biden and other Democrats. And yet, I can’t say that voting has done much good so far. We have an Electoral College that exists to keep the oligarchs in power, even when they lose the popular vote.  And the people we’ve voted for bend over backwards to accommodate the Republicans, and move the Democrats to the right. 

I just don’t know what to think about Nancy Pelosi when she compliments the Republicans for doing so much for America or Joe Biden who refuses to consider Medicare for All.  These are the people who are supposed to have the best interests at heart for Americans who can’t obtain the American Dream (as well as those of us who have decent jobs that provide us with the means for housing, health care, and everyday comforts).  Yet these same Democrats who claim they champion the American worker support increases to the military and cut SNAP.  I don’t see how anyone can think they are on any side but their own.

Oh, but JC, you say, I thought you were going to be writing an homage to your favorite month?  Why are you being political?  I think it’s because my privilege weighs heavy on my heart sometimes.  As it should.  To those who have been given much, much is expected.  And maybe it’s just growing closer to the end of the year—especially such a contentious, traumatic year—that makes me feel a little thoughtful. 

I worry about the coming election. I fear it.  We have a month to go before America decides if it wants to be so “great” that it continues to screw over everyone in the 99% for another four years.  But if that’s “greatness,” I have to wonder how we moved so far right that the only people who matter anymore are the billionaires and corporations, when it was the workers and enslaved peoples who built the country the billionaires profit from.  That’s not greatness.  That’s theft, corruption, and exploitation.

I don’t know how to make America great for the majority of Americans. It was never great for a lot of people.  It works pretty well as is, for some of us—especially if you’re rich, white, able-bodied, educated, and male.  But I have some ideas about the changes we could make that would definitely improve life for everyone—here are 10:

  1. Redistributing some of those billions might help.
  2. Increasing the numbers of women, LGBTQ/nonbinary, and POC folks in positions of power would help.
  3. Getting rid of the rich septuagenarians in all levels of government would help.
  4. Dismantling the police and the prisons would help.
  5. Establishing term limits for Congressional, Senate, and SCOTUS seats would help.
  6. Medicare for all would help.
  7. Zeroing out student loan debt and making college free would help. 
  8. Increasing free lunch programs, SNAP benefits, and other unemployment benefits would help.
  9. Offering a universal basic income would help, of if not that, then…
  10. Giving $2,000 a month for the next 12 months to every resident of America to help offset the Covid disaster would help.

I think those ten ideas would help make America great for more people. We have a long way to go to even move the needle one point towards the left.  And no matter the outcome of the election next month, we all have to stay involved in making positive changes for all. This is especially true for Democrats, if Biden wins.  Liberals have a nasty habit of going to sleep about larger social justice issues when blue candidates are elected.  That’s not greatness either.

There’s a lot to do.  But hey, at least it’s October, my favorite month, beautiful and energizing and full of promise. A little gem on top of the turd of 2020.

Great Review in Midwest Book Review for What Magick May Not Alter!

MBR Bookwatch: September 2020
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575
 
 
Helen Dumont’s Bookshelf
 
What Magick May Not Alter: Poems of Tallulah & Vidalia
J. C. Reilly
Madville Publishing
9781948692304, $18.95, PB, 188pp
 
 
Synopsis: “What Magick May Not Alter: Poems of Tallulah & Vidalia” by J. C. Reilly is a layered Southern fantasy told in a series of narrative poems and is a unique literary event that includes such elements of ‘real world’ issues such as the prevalence of the KKK, sexual assault, manslaughter, alcoholism, and complex family dynamics. J. C. Reilly’s poetic narrative style deftly moves the plot into emotionally treacherous and painfully real places.
 
Twin sisters Lulah and Vi anchor this story of a magically gifted family and is set in early nineteen-hundreds Louisiana. The choice to tell this story in verse sets it apart, making it feel like a spell book or a manifesto at times. Emotion sings through it clear and strong.
 
Critique: Inherently fascinating and unique, “What Magick May Not Alter: Poems of Tallulah & Vidalia” is an extraordinary and memorable verse based novel and showcases author J. C. Reilly’s truly impressive poetic and narrative storytelling skills. While especially and unreservedly recommended for both community and college/university library Literary Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “What Magick May Not Alter: Poems of Tallulah & Vidalia” is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).
 
Helen Dumont
Reviewer
 
***Note from JC:  Thanks Helen!  I appreciate it so much!***

Write About It? I Wish.

From the NYPL Public Domain Collection

Six months ago, back when quarantine was new and more frightening than annoying, I was advocating writing through the boredom like that would be easy.  But what I failed to think about—or even take into account at all—was that, far from having so much to write about that I’d be crazy prolific, churning out poems like a bakery turns out baguettes, I might actually find myself frozen, unable to write anything at all.  And yet, that is precisely what happened.  I’ve written maybe 5 poems altogether.  In six months.  Five poems is usually what I do in a single month.

Now, Writer Twitter is where I get a lot of my anecdotal evidence about writers, but it seems that I am not alone in my frozen state.  Many other writers have struggled to get words on a page, and I find myself taking comfort in that somewhat—like, at least I’m not the only one.  But I feel really quite miserable about it because I always believed that IF I had “unlimited” free time, I would have so much more to show for it.  Granted, I have been working, but I save a couple of hours not having to commute every day (or even getting dressed—heh), and that time adds up.  But when you can’t write, all that ends up as is two more interminable hours, making the days seem even longer, endless.

Of course, there are the nauseating writers who obnoxiously crow about how much they are accomplishing with this time—how they are writing more, submitting more, and publishing more.  Well, excuse me for being a jealous hag, but bully for them.  Take your accomplishments and stick them where the sun don’t shine.  Yes, I know, that’s mean.  I should be happy for them that they are feeling successful.  But mostly it just makes me sorrier for myself.  Why couldn’t that be my experience?

If I’m honest, part of my inability to write is lack of outside stimulation.  When you don’t go outside except once a week to the grocery, your life becomes insular and small.  I get pretty tired of my own company.  (Which, if you think about it, would be a GREAT reason to write fiction—you could make up a wonderful, interesting world and live there vicariously.) (But that would require my imagination to work, and sadly, it’s in the shop and looking like it’s D.O.A.)

The other, more compelling reason, is a depression that has just gotten out of control.  I don’t talk about it too much, because after all, what have I got to be depressed about?  I have a job, a wonderful home, and a loving family.  But when I don’t have my writing, I feel like an utter failure. I miss language.  I miss falling into a poem and feeling that transformation that poetry brings me.  My therapist, who is neither a reader nor a writer, doesn’t really understand this situation and tells me, not wrongly, that writers write, so get off my tuffet and write something.  Which is not especially helpful.

The problem with this depression is that in many ways, it’s quite compartmentalized.  Yay for high functioning! I am taking care of financial business, exercising, cleaning the house periodically, doing my job, teaching my class.  But it’s just so damn hard.  It’s exhausting.  Sometimes, the thought of getting out of bed defeats me.  Of course, I get up, because my cats would slay me if I didn’t feed them.  I don’t stop taking care of them just because I feel miserable.  Which is as it should be. But being compartmentalized like that means that there’s just not much left over to be me.  To be JC the Writer.  Like I can only manage so much, and that’s it.  Anything else doesn’t fit in the compartment.  It takes its toll.

Sometimes, though, I wish I could just fall apart.  Throw my hands in the air and just give up.  Stay in bed all day and cry.  Just be one fucked up mess.  Then, no one would expect anything from me.  And then I could feel justified in my not writing.  Well, I mean, how could I possibly write when I’m a total basket case?  Nobody expects anything from people like that.  Oh, so you’ve only written 5 poems in six months?  Well, you poor dear, of course not, not when you feel absolutely on death’s door.

But being responsible has always been a strength as well as a weakness.  And so I struggle valiantly, doing what I can when nearly every day feels like agony.  And maybe only once in a while admitting to my close friends that I’m not doing too well.  But after all, no one really wants to hear about my depression—can you blame them?—so I mostly just suffer in silence.

And instead of being genuine and honest about it, I make things worse by hiding it—proving to myself (at least) that I am responsible and taking care of things and don’t need to rely on others, who, after all, have their own problems and are struggling in unique ways as the pandemic wears on.

All of this is to say that I know I’m in a really bad place when I can’t write.  (And don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me how much of a fraud I feel, telling my students they need to write constantly, and then not following my own directive.)  I want desperately to write something—even this blog post is a big deal, and let’s be honest, it’s really just a navel-gazing poor-me—but every time I sit at the computer (or face a page of paper), it’s just blank, blank, blank.  Nothing comes to me.  At all.  And all the tricks I teach my students to do to fight off writer’s block seem to fail me.  It’s intolerable.

I really don’t know what to do.  If any of my five dedicated readers have any suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them.

Stay safe and Covid-free, y’all.  And keep me in your prayers, if you pray.  I need all the help I can get.

Reading Tonight with Yours Truly & Karen Head

If you’re interested in a little Friday night poetry, please check out one of these streams.  Karen Head (Birthday Girl!) and I are reading tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

Here is the event on Youtube Live- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eP6nZ8-BH4

Poetry in the Time of Pandemic

Last night, Poetry Atlanta and Georgia Center for the Book, in cooperation with the Decatur Public Library, put on a virtual poetry reading featuring Mike James, Julie E. Bloemeke, and yours truly.  It was a really cool experience.  I actually didn’t suffer stage fright for once, so I count that as a win. Because I couldn’t see the audience it was like I was reading to myself.

I read poems from What Magick May Not Alter (gotta plug the book!), and kept my set short and sweet (only 13 minutes) so that I’d be leaving the audience wanting more.  And hopefully they wanted so much more they went to the Madville Publishing website or Amazon and ordered the book. 😉

Set list:

  • “Summer Portrait, 1912”
  • “They Say”
  • “Elegy for Cole”
  • “Bonham Ferry Comes to Call”
  • “Caddo Lake Elixir”
  • “Buck Moon”
  • “Harvest Moon”

If you missed the reading and would like to see it, please click on the link below.  My reading begins at 37:37, but of course you’d miss Mike’s and Julie’s readings, and you wouldn’t want to do that. (Julie is reading from her first full-length collection Slide to Unlock.)

Poetry Atlanta virtual reading

Writing Prompt: Feeling Confined? Write About It!

Confinement has become a way of life for many of us without so-called “mission critical” jobs.  Those of us who can work from home are doing so, and while I initially thought working from home (on more than a one-day-a-week basis) would be great for my writing, I find that I’m spending a lot of time worrying about Coronavirus—for my family, my students, the country—and this worry is a killer on creativity.

I thought some of you might be in the same boat, so I came up a writing prompt that might help you generate some ideas and write something new.

Steps:

  1. List 10-20 objects that are “confined” in some way.  They can be temporarily confined, or confined long-term.  (Some examples I can think of right off the bat:  my cat is confined in my arms like a baby; a fish is confined in its bowl; a turtle in its shell; a letter in its envelope; our internal organs by our skin, etc.)
  2. Choose three to five you like the best and describe how the objects are confined. What is keeping them from escaping their captivity?  You can be literal here or you can lean towards the fantastic.  (In the case of my cat, what’s keeping her in my arms is the hope for many, many neck scritches and angel kisses.  Also keeping her from escaping:    Once she sits down, she’s there for the duration.)
  3. Determine the object’s “liberation quotient”—that is, how likely could it be freed from its confinement? What would it take for it to be liberated?  Is it just someone takes the letter out of the envelope, or is the process more involved?  What is an unexpected way the object could be liberated?  Does it want to be liberated?  How do you know?
  4. Find your connection. Think about your own confinement in terms of the three objects you explored. How is your experience of confinement similar or dissimilar from that of the objects?  What resonances do you find?
  5. Read over the notes you’ve made, jot down any additional thoughts, and write a three-to-five part poem, flash fiction, flash nonfiction piece (one part for each object) that uses these images in a creative way to explore our (or our character’s) relationship to confinement.

I’d love to read what you came up with, so feel free to post your piece in the comments field!

A Stop at Old Wives’ Oak (poem reading)

Today’s poem from What Magick May  Not Alter is about love, longing, and hope.  It centers on the dreams of the eldest Sibley daughter, Maggie, as she participates in the ritual of planting a daffodil at Old Wives’ Oak in the hopes her true love will be made known to her in Spring.  I like this poem because I love how both Maggie and Vidalia believe in romance and the magick of the process of planting a bulb, and Lulah could care less.

I hope you enjoy it!