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

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!

Catfish Moon (poem reading)

from the NY Public Library Digital Collections

from the NY Public Library Digital Collections

Since all poetry readings are canceled for the foreseeable future, I thought I would take the opportunity to read a few poems over the next several days from my new book What Magick May Not Alter.

This poem called “Catfish Moon,” named after the full moon in August (which is technically the Sturgeon Moon, but this is poetry, and we take liberties).

(Also, the picture looked backwards when I was filming it, but it’s correct when you watch the video, so forget my little “backwards” comment.)

If you like the video, or this blog, please feel free to share it near and far!

 

 

Re-centering

Right now, with the Corona Virus going on, it’s hard to think about anything besides that people are dying and the only thing we can really do is socially isolate ourselves and wash our hands to the Alphabet Song (or Happy Birthday, twice).  But while that is true, it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of what makes us us—whatever it is that makes us feel humanity, we should try to continue to do it, even as we make health and safety of ourselves and others a priority.

For me, that’s writing. The last few months at work, I was putting sometimes 50-60 hours a week trying to get everything done, and unfortunately, what had to give was my writing.  I was just too tired to work on poems, after I had been in the salt mines, and I realize now that more than just what I thought I lost (some sanity and true connection to my inner world), I temporarily lost some of my humanity.  Not surprising, when you become an automaton for work.  But not writing—not connecting—contributed to my anxiety and worsened my already pretty heavy depression, and frankly, no job is worth that.

I am sorry that it’s come down to a pandemic to allow me to write again—but I also feel better for the first time in several months.  I’ve been writing, revising, and sending out poems to journals, and it feels like me again, a re-centering.  Usually, the nudge that AWP provides in the Spring also helps my productivity, but this year the Ed. decided (rightly) that we should probably forego AWP since both of us tend to be immunocompromised. (Everyone knows all you have to do is sneeze my way and I pick up a respiratory infection.)  But it was hard, not getting to chat with writers I know as well as visiting with the people tabling in the Book Fair. The energy from that is so motivating.  So, I’ve just been reading the journals that have stacked up around my house, and I’ve been combing Submittable’s Discover tab, looking for new journals to explore and possibly to submit to.  And, I’m finally connecting to the project I’ve been batting around in my head for months, and that feels good too.

In related news, I’m looking forward to my official release date for What Magick May Not Alter, which is April 17th.  So, that makes my book an Aries (and you know how Aries and Taurus don’t mix too well 😊).  But I’m excited for my book to be out in the world.  I’ve sent ARCs out to several people, with the hope that they would kindly write a review, no matter their opinion.  I know for a fact that one person has written one—she’s just waiting to share it a little closer to its birthday.  And another person is in the process of making a YouTube review and told me that he “damn near couldn’t put it down,” so that is great news. I’m still looking for some readers/ reviewers, so if anyone is interested, please let me know and let’s figure out how we can get a copy of What Magick May Not Alter in your hands!

I know this was a short post—I’ll try to do better than write one post a year!  Maybe I’ll even get back to my Wednesday posts, who knows?  Until then, be safe, sequester yourself, and wash your hands. And if you believe, pray.

Report from the Field: AWP & Portland

AR booth 2019

Our lonely booth, with Collin Kelley and Karen Head

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Atlanta Review, and so we were thrilled to be in Portland to help celebrate this milestone with everyone and debut our 25th Anniversary Anthology.  Not only was Atlanta Review one of AWP’s sponsors this year, but Karen Head, our fearless Ed., had gotten us a primo spot at the entrance of the Book Fair, and we expected to blow through our swag.  Additionally we had a great 25th anniversary reading lined up with Ilya Kaminsky, Sholeh Wolpe, Marty Lammon, and former editor, Dan Veach, which we knew would be packed to the gills. We were expecting to take Portland by storm.  Reality was a little less impressive.

If you want to skip the details, suffice it to say that I’m glad I went, and that I love spending five days surrounded by writers and books in a city I’ve never been to.  If you want the low-down, read on…

Continue reading

My Book Is Finally Getting Published!

madville publishing picOMGWTFBBQ!  Wonderful news, everyone!  After 45 rejections, give or take, my full-length collection of narrative poetry, What Magick May Not Alter, has found a home at Madville Publishing and will be released in 2020!

Being as you are one of my Five Loyal Readers, you might remember I wrote about the collection in a 2015 blog post, after my Mom had read it and was horrified.  I had no idea that it would be a full three-and-a-half years later before it would get accepted at a reputable press.  (Which is to admit, it got accepted at a couple of other presses, but I didn’t have a good feeling about them, not for this book, anyway, so I passed.)  Considering that I wrote the earliest poems in 2012—the book will be 8 years old when it comes out next year.  I’m so in a different head space now.  (But I can slip back into that world, don’t worry.)

It has been an excruciating process, over all, submitting and submitting and submitting some more, only to have the rejections pile up (not to mention all the money I spent on contest and submission fees).  Anyone who’s a writer is familiar with this repeated anguish of submission and rejection—I know this isn’t unique to me. A bright spot was the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize, for which it was a finalist, but even that was a long time ago.

I really had gotten to the point of abandoning it—how many times did I hear, “It’s too long” or “No one wants to read a verse novel” or some version of  “It’s unwieldy—weird—just a tough sell.” (Like anyone “sells” poetry anyway.)

Even after the divinely generous, brilliant poet Ilya Kaminsky (basically a living patron saint of poetry) read through it and offered suggestions, I was ready to hang it up.  I just thought that nobody really understood what I was trying to do, and maybe I should try to publish a more conventional collection of poems first.  Heaven knows I have poems enough to spare to create a couple of (oddball) collections.  And, I thought, maybe in a few years, WMMNA would be of interest to someone.  After I had “proved” myself with a traditional book of poems.

But fortunately Madville came along—it’s absolutely been worth the wait.  I’m so excited to be working with Kim Davis, the publisher.  She’s been so positive and supportive and I have such a good feeling about this book coming out under her aegis.  I’m just so happy.

And I can’t wait for you to read it in April next year…in the cruelest month that will no longer ever be the cruelest month for me!

 

P.S.  I’m available for bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, and you know, just hanging-out-spontaneous-type readings… Just invite me!

P.S. #2  I still have to do a clean edit, and maybe rethink some organization, so it still needs some work, but OMG!  So Awesome!  Yay!

Where will it take me/ what shall I do?*

long island surf

Image from the NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

During these falling and ebbing tides, a riptide can carry a person far offshore. For example, the ebbing tide at Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton, New York, extends more than 300 metres (980 ft) offshore.

–from Wikipedia

Now they tell me.

After I was swept out to sea on a rip current in Southampton, NY (yes, it was as scary as it sounds), the first thing anyone said to me at the writer’s conference (after “Oh My God!”) was “Write about it.”

I’m now two weeks past my fight with the ocean (where the ocean almost won), and I still don’t know what to say about the experience. Not really. I keep thinking I need to process it, but writers generally process things by writing about them.  Perhaps language is stronger than a nine-foot wave?

But that nine-foot wave that began my ordeal is all I can focus on.  I keep seeing it and remembering how instead of trying to swim through it, I turned around and tried to run from it, taking the full force of its power that knocked me over and began to drag me away from shore, filling my mouth and eyes with sand and salt and something viney, maybe kelp.

It’s that gray-green wave I keep seeing when I close my eyes, that creeps into my dreams and pulls me away from everything I know, making figures indistinct, small, if I can recognize them at all.  I am looking for new language to describe this feeling, but it’s as if the gray-green wave is pulling me towards every cliché you’ve ever heard about drowning—drowning in self-pity, drowning one’s sorrows, this drowning woman grasping at straws, etc.  Nothing seems real to me, but that gray-green wave.

And yet, the weird thing is, the fear and doom I feel now is all after-the-fact.  When I was in the moment, gasping for air and feeling helpless but trying to fight my way out of that current, fear and doom were not what I was thinking about.  I never thought, You’re going to die. Instead, I was angry.

Maybe that was adrenalin at work, my way of not losing my head—by focusing on my anger. Anger because misgivings about the waves had troubled me before I went in—I even wrote about them in my notebook while I watched the water.  Anger that I didn’t listen to my gut which said, Don’t do this, don’t go in, even between the safety flags. Anger for knowing how to swim well, and yet not being able to right myself and break free from the tumbling surf.  There is a kind clarity in anger, I suppose, and I was level-headed enough to quit struggling and to take the blessed hands that wound up hauling me to shore.

But now that wave haunts me, even four hours inland.  I didn’t go back to the beach after that day—I couldn’t.  I didn’t even want to see the water again—which is irrational and yet somehow petulant, as if the ocean betrayed me—who loves the ocean beyond most things (except cats, my mother, and Jesus)—when I’m the one who betrayed my own good sense to stay safe.

*****

I am looking at Google Maps of Coopers Beach, and from overhead the beach looks like nothing special, and the crests on the waves hardly as imposing as an eyelash.  Perhaps someday I will be able to view the experience through the transformative lens of art, and write the poems that I am meant to write about it.  For now, I think I will just end this post here—without details, without a timeline, without anything beyond the memory of that nine-foot gray-green wave.

 

*Lyric from Robert Palmer’s song “Riptide”

Solstice

Long beach postcard 1910

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Sunset tonight is technically 8:51 p.m., but of course it will still be light out closer to 10 (for a total of 14 hours and 24 minutes of sunshine).  It’s the kind of day I could imagine myself being out by the ocean for as long as possible—you know, if Atlanta was on the coast.  Which alas, it is not.

I simultaneously love and hate this day—I love it because it’s high summer and there’s something interesting about the sun being out as I’m (supposed to be) readying myself for sleep.  But I also hate it because it means the days will now get progressively shorter, creeping as they do towards the fall and a new school term.  (I’ve had this love-hate thing with the day since I was little.)

Anyway, here is a poem I wrote several years ago commemorating the summer solstice.  Initially I planned to write something New Agey and mystical—but then I defaulted to funny.  This poem has always been one of my favorites, and it always makes me laugh.

Solstice

Tonight is the shortest of the year,
not enough time to break into Mr. Next Door’s
shed and rearrange his tools,
hide the scotch he keeps on a ledge
beside the coiled snake of orange power cord,
let the air out of the tires of his ’87 Impala,
fray his collection of ropes,
steal the front wheel of his Schwinn
and replace it with a stale doughnut,
spill turpentine into his jug of marbles,
stuff his sleeping bag with twigs and old leaves,
or tangle his fishing wire into knots
not even the navy knows about.
Tomorrow, the night is two minutes longer.

 

If you like this poem, you might like the others in my collection, La Petite Mort.

Some New Things Out

fat ladies coney island

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s June, which means I’m hip deep in my annual summer doldrums, and not feeling particularly writerly—an unfortunate circumstance, because with things a little on the quieter side (not teaching summer classes, for instance), you’d think I’d be writing up a storm.

Alas, I’m too undone, wishing I was anywhere but in Atlanta (like these great ladies in this stereograph of Coney Island), and I’m so anguished about our current immigrant crisis (and general Washington, D.C. chaos) I can’t even really focus enough to write anyway.  I keep telling myself just hang on until the middle of July—which is when I’ll go away for a couple of weeks to the coast and hopefully rejuvenate my flagging spirit, but that’s still so far away.  Meanwhile, I’m melting into the pavement—and worrying about what new horror will assail us in the next hour of the news cycle.

Anyway, existential poor-me’s aside, I have a couple of poems/ nonfictions (depending on what you call them…I like to think of them as “poemeditations”) in the most recent issue (2017/2018) of Grubb Street.  (Scroll through the online journal to p. 3 and 4.)  These are more from my Venice collection, which will someday find a home, I hope.

And I’ve got five poems in the July issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Actually, it turns out these poems were supposed to come out in last November’s issue, but somehow there was a snafu and the submission disappeared (on their end) in Submittable.  It was lucky I followed up with Dead Mule, because the editor was mystified at how the poems had gone astray, but she was great and fixed it and now the poems are there for you to read.

If you like my work, feel free to leave a comment.  If you don’t, leave a comment anyway, and give me something else to brood about.

 

 

New Poem Up at Picaroon Poetry

picaroon-poetry-issue-9“Canali” is another one of my Venice poems, and I was so happy when Picaroon Poetry took it.  (You have to scroll through to page 35 to read it.) This brings my published Venice poem total up to 13 out of 22, or a 59% published rating.

You may wonder why I offer that metric—who cares?  But I share it because collections these days seem to list so many previously published poems on their respective acknowledgments pages—and manuscripts with multiply “vetted” poems seem to have a better chance of becoming books.  I know for a fact that some book publishers say that writers shouldn’t even submit a book to them for consideration unless 25% of the poems in the collection have been published already.  So my hope is, that with a 59% (or more) published rating, my chapbook will someday find a home. (I still have the rest of the poems from the chapbook out circulating, and hope that a few more will “land.”)

Of course, my full collection is 23% published, and it’s still homeless.  Which just goes to prove publishing will always be a crapshoot. *sob*