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.

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!

 

 

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!

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*

Hostage Situation: When Your Accepted Work Doesn’t Actually Get Published

handcuffsI’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:

  1. I’ve paid for them to read my submission.
  2. They accepted my story for publication.
  3. They have not published the story.
  4. 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.)

New Poem Up at Amaryllis

amaryllisRecently, 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.

Two New Poems Up at Redheaded Stepchild

gatti

A few “gatti”

I was so excited to get the news that Redheaded Stepchild accepted “Ghiaccio” and “Gatti,” two poems from my Venice sequence.  Of course these are earlier versions than what have become the final versions (the ones that are in the chapbook I’ve been submitting), but they’re not hugely different.

You can read the poems here, if you’re interested.