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!
OMGWTFBBQ! 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!
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.
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.
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.
“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*
Right now as I look at the time, it’s 12:25 on Christmas-in-July.
When I was little, I always planned parties in my head. We had this mostly-empty garage behind our house that seemed rife with possibilities for two little girls with lots of imagination and plenty of time, and we talked about holding parties back there—for Halloween and for Christmas, and any number of other holidays, but never for Christmas-in-July. Oh, not that I didn’t want such a party, but anyone who’s familiar with a humid Louisiana summer, full of “waterbugs” and other creepy insects that lurk in dark spaces, knows that hanging out in a garage with no A.C. isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon.
To this day, I often think about holding a Christmas-in-July party at my apartment. You know, drag out the 4 ft. artificial tree, hang some fairy lights, crank the Christmas carols, experiment with home-made eggnog, and invite the people I work with over for the evening. Around the actual holidays, everyone has so many Christmas and New Year’s parties to attend, that they couldn’t possibly fit one more party in, so I never hold a party then. But Christmas-in-July…well, people are around town, and probably not doing a whole lot other than trying to hide from the heat.
But I never remember I want to have such a party until the actual July 25th is upon me, and by then it’s too late to pull anything together. Maybe next year…
Anyway, a few months ago, I saw a submission call for Christmas stories for a Christmas-in-July themed issue of Edify Fiction, a journal that looks for “uplifting” writing. And it happened that last December I had written a little Christmas story in Kathy Fish’s “Fast Flash” writing workshop, and it wasn’t doing anything but gathering dust. And lo and behold, Edify Fiction liked the story, and took it for their fourth issue.
They made some editorial changes which I personally chafe at, including putting a comma in the title, and changing the tenses, but a pub is a pub. (Or so I tell myself.) And I can “always republish it my way in my flash collection” blah blah, if I ever make one.
Anyhow, to cool you off in this hot Atlanta sun, please enjoy my story, “Love, Tinsel.”
I’ve been mulling over my C.V. and noticing that there are a number of acceptances that are still listed as “forthcoming” because the journals where my work was accepted haven’t yet published them. This doesn’t bother me with recent acceptances, of course, but three pieces (two poems and one flash fiction) received acceptances last year and have yet to be published.
I think this is unconscionable—especially because the journals that accepted them are little. It would be one thing, if I were waiting on a print magazine like The New Yorker, which accepts work with the caveat that there is considerable lead time until publication. But these online journals are neither large nor prestigious, so what’s the hold up?
I am especially annoyed at the situation surrounding the publication of the flash piece because that had been accepted at another journal (in August 2015), and it never came out. I guess the journal folded before it ever even released an issue—although the journal still has a webpage and an active Submittable site. I wrote them an e-mail to withdraw the story, and began sending it out to other places. And after a time, it was accepted again (October 2016). And then nothing.
I’ve looked at the journal and its Duotrope statistics, and it appears that nothing has been updated on the journal, and the most recent response reported on Duotrope was—wait for it—October 2016. Two e-mail inquiries I sent have received no response. So the damn story is just in limbo. I plan to give the journal one more month, and then I’m withdrawing it and starting the whole process again.
The publication sitch with the poems is similar. Both poems were accepted in April 2016—while I was at AWP, no less—and I waited and waited for some news about their publication. First I went to Duotrope to see what was the most recent reported response and saw that Duotrope apparently considered the journal “defunct.” When I went to its listing in Poets & Writers, I clicked on the website, and it brought me to their former website, which had been sold to some rando guy who was now going to post his own stuff on his new blog. The journal was missing. I tracked down the journal’s FB page, and sure enough, it had a new website address, but no information about when any new issues would be appearing.
A few weeks ago, I went back to the site, and there was a notice that the journal was restructuring and would be on hiatus until Fall 2017. I will give them some time before I withdraw the pieces; maybe they are still planning on publishing them—I have to cut them a little slack, since there was obviously some kind of problem. And at least they (belatedly) had the courtesy of posting a note on the website about the hiatus.
All of this gets me to thinking though about how important it is for editors to be ethical about the writing they accept from people. Editors should say, in their acceptances, when publication will happen—or at least give a ballpark figure. (At Atlanta Review, the expectation is that any work accepted will appear in the next issue without question. If there is some reason why the poem will not appear in the next issue—like if we miscalculate the number of pages we need—you better believe I contact the author with an updated ETA when their poem will appear.)
Of course journals—especially little ones—come and go, but it seems to me that when a journal has accepted work, if some catastrophic tragedy happens, and they can’t actually fulfill their contract to publish the piece, they have an obligation to e-mail the writers and explain. It’s wrong to keep work hostage, and it’s wrong not to respond to polite and professional queries for updates.
Writing and publication are a writer’s livelihood—and sure, I’m not getting paid for this work—but publications add to my reputation as a writer, and I count on my work being available for people to read. When work is accepted, and then not published for whatever reason, and editors don’t respond to emails asking about updates on the status, that’s unprofessional behavior. And they shouldn’t be editors.
Not publishing accepted work compounds the already problematic issue of not getting paid for work (yes, yes, I know poets and most fiction writers don’t get paid—and don’t get me started about that) by denying writers exposure—the exposure that being published for free is supposed to bring. Exposure helps you to create name recognition and to build your brand. (Not to be all corporate-business-speaky about it.)
Additionally, when journals charge submission fees (as one of these journals charged me), not publishing my work as promised becomes even more egregiously unacceptable. It is, in some ways, outright theft. To wit:
- I’ve paid for them to read my submission.
- They accepted my story for publication.
- They have not published the story.
- I’m out the $5 bucks and the story.
That’s not ok.
Journals that engage in behavior like that are not ok. And they should be called out for their unethical practices. I haven’t named the journals here only because I’m still giving them a chance to redeem themselves. But if it doesn’t get fixed, I certainly would want to warn other people about the treatment I’ve received at the hands of these journals. I would hate for other writers to have a similar, crappy experience, getting work accepted and then all their hopes dashed when the journals flake out.
I hope none of you, my five loyal readers, have experienced such a thing. But if this has happened, what did you do to set it to rights? (Looking for suggestions.)
Recently, I received a smack-down from a Brand Name Poet (who evaluated a packet of my poems for a fee) because one of the poems I’d given her was a narrative ghazal—that’s right, in other words, I’d employed the ghazal form to tell a story—and I was told “no way, you can’t do it, it’s wrong.” It was, I thought, a harsh rebuke—I mean, calling a poem “wrong”? Just because I had used the spirit of a form to organize the poem? What if I had replaced the word “Poem” instead of “Ghazal” in the title, I wondered? Would that have made the other poet happier?
I know what a traditional ghazal looks like. I’ve written (and published) them before. I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Follow writing rules until you have enough maturity and experience to break them.” Because sometimes playing with a form is a good thing—it shows that form can be flexible. Form is like a corset—it restricts the shape of a poem, but there should always be breathing room.
Result: “Ghazal for My Father,” published a few days ago in Amaryllis. I hope you like it.
In Tuesday’s mail came the May 2017 issue of POEM. POEM is a journal of the Huntsville Literary Association, and has been continuously published since 1967—fifty years. They publish perfect little poems—the journal itself is not quite 5”x7”—and I had submitted a pack of poems to them just to say I tried.
So when I got the acceptance last year, I was thrilled—especially because it was one of the Moon Poems from my narrative manuscript (you know, the one I’ve submitted like 50 places). The Moon Poems, with maybe two exceptions, are “perfect little” 15-line lyrics, that appear throughout the manuscript and (at least in my mind anyway), represent the poetic output of one of the main characters, thought the voice in this particular poem is Vidalia’s, not Tallulah’s.
I’ve been trying to remember what initiated my interest in writing the Moon Poems. While it may be true that I wanted to demonstrate a range of my writing ability (that I can write something other than narrative), it seemed important to incorporate the moon almost as a character in the manuscript, especially as it is about witches and women who harness energy and strength from the moon in order to enact their spells.
The poems each take as their title one of the (many) colloquial/ northern Algonquin names for each month’s full moon—though the February full moon is technically the “Snow Moon”—but of course, there’s no such thing as snow storms in February in Louisiana, but there is rain, so I fudged a little, and made the poem “Storm.” (Actually, this poem could also represent July—which is the month of the “Thunder Moon” as well as “Buck Moon” but I believe I meant it for February. But the word “thunder” appears in the poem itself…maybe the connection to February is wrong?) As I think about it, February actually has two poems in the manuscript, this one and “Hunger Moon.” Anyway, writing about the moon felt authentic to me, and authentic to the experience of all the women characters in the manuscript. (Not surprising—as Marge Piercy reminds us, “The Moon Is Always Female.”)
With this publication, the total number of poems in the manuscript that have been published in journals comes to 11—when the manuscript is 83 poems, my publication rate looks feeble, a mere 13%. But it has been difficult to publish poems from this collection because it’s narrative (the Moon Poems not withstanding), and they are interdependent, and how do you take individual poems which all contribute to a story out of their milieu and make them make sense as stand-alones?
I’d very much like to have at least 20 poems from this collection published—that seems like a reasonable goal—then I would feel like maybe the manuscript would finally have a chance. And getting the rest of the Moon Poems published might be the way to accomplish that goal.
On the other hand, there is still the other idea I have been kicking around in my head…taking out the line breaks in nearly all of the manuscript poems (except the Moon Poems), and trying to get it published as a hybrid flash fiction/poetry work. So far I’m not that desperate—I mean, I conceived the book as poetry, and would hate to lose the beauty of well-wrought-lines, so I’m going to hold out the hope until I get the next batch of manuscript rejections that it will get published as the verse novel it is.
But the line break removal thing is still a possibility… because it has worked for me before, transforming what I thought were poems into flash fiction and flash nonfiction—or rather, perhaps the conversion process only revealed what their true form meant them to be. And in many cases, these erstwhile poems found homes in journals like right away.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy “Storm Moon.” Let me know what you think.