Brushing with Fame When You Don’t Know You’re Doing It

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what a lot of writers look like.  Unlike movie and television stars, whose photos are ubiquitous, writers—even most superstar writers—don’t get their photos splashed everywhere.  I don’t watch TV, so while writers might be doing the book tours, and showing up at morning chat shows, I’ll never see them there.

Authors I would recognize if I saw them walking in the streets:  Stephen King, John Grisham, Roxane Gay, Joyce Carol Oates.  (And Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and Audre Lorde—but of course, they’re long dead.  And if they were walking in the streets, that would be terrifying and highly inappropriate for a corpse.)

Forget poets, I have no idea what they look like.  We live in obscurity.  The only poets whose faces I’d recognize are the poets I know personally—not an insignificant number, but not a huge one either—or the poets I follow on Twitter, though their images are about the size of a finger nail.

My point being, sometimes you bump into a famous author—whose name or work you know, but you don’t know the person, so you’re caught a little flat-footed until you see his or her name badge.  This very sitch happened at AWP this year in Washington D.C.

Working the Atlanta Review table on Friday morning (Feb. 9th), I perfected my carney act, trying to entice passers-by to get interested in the journal and maybe buy a subscription, when a handsome older man in a dapper hat, too polite to pass on by after I flagged him down, stopped.

“Do you know about Atlanta Review?” I asked in my dreadfully cheerful, most hopeful voice.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“Are you a poet?  Have you sent us some submissions?”

“Well, I have a list of 100 journals that I’m currently going down the line and sending work to.  Atlanta Review is somewhere in the middle, a great journal.  But I’m mainly a fiction writer.” (Dramatic pause.)  “I’ve written…oh, maybe 50 books.”

And that’s when I notice his name badge, peeking out from his scarf—Walter Mosely.

Oh, geez, do I feel stupid.  Of course he’s written 50 books, he’s Walter Fucking Mosely, famous for his Easy Rawlins detective novels, like Devil in a Blue Dress, which came out in 1990.

walter-mosely-photo

via John Winokur on Twitter @AdviceToWriters

We chitchat a little longer, and then he promises that he’ll send some work our way soon, and wanders away from the table.

I’m standing there, bemused, thinking, If I had just seen his name badge, I could have been a lot more effusive in my interaction with him.  I could have sounded like a fan.  (Not to hustle him into buying a subscription, but because writers like to be appreciated for their work.) But he was absolutely charming, and didn’t seem to hold it against me that I didn’t recognize his face.  (Thank goodness.)

Of course, this is all by way of saying, we should know what authors look like—they should be in our collective consciousness, like movie actors—writers are just as important and affect people in personal, sometimes lifelong, ways.  And it’s just too bad that on some arbitrary scale of cultural significance, writers, and especially poets, fall somewhere near the bottom.

I think they should make posters of famous authors, and there should be issues of the equivalent of Tiger Beat for poets.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  If suddenly we had magazines full of poet pinups?  (I think that would be fun.)  Or if there were trading cards with bubble gum which you could collect?  Or glossy, autographed headshots?

On a last note, I realize I do live under a rock, so perhaps others are more aware of what their literary heroes and heroines look like than I am.  But I wish that as a group, we were a little better at publicity.  That fame game is hard.  (I wish I was a little better at it myself.)

AWPost Mortems

It’s no secret I didn’t want to go to AWP.  In fact, when Karen Head announced to me that she had arranged it, fait accompli, that I was going to the conference, I pretty much decided to permanently take to my bed with the vapors.  My attitude wavered between considering how amputation of all my limbs or a lobotomy without anaesthesia would be preferable to flying out to Los Angeles (a city I was happy to be rid of the last time I left in 2002) and being thrust into a situation where I always have to be “on” and charming and cheerful, like a carnie, trying to tempt people to part with their cash.  (Although, of course, buying poetry is a better deal than any carnival game—and at least you don’t get snookered.)  But I’m always fine once I get to a place.  It’s the getting there, and the pre-anxiety (and the fact that I had a raging case of bronchitis—can I ever get through a Spring without it?  Geez!), that always cast a pall.

2016-03-31 08.53.04But I had a great time at AWP.  While I missed some interesting panels (being married to the booth for the entire time), I made up for it by being excellent at getting people to subscribe to the Atlanta Review.  Among the three of us—Dan Veach (now Editor Emeritus of AR), Karen (the new Editor), and me—we sold 42 or 43 subscriptions, sold out of all the journals that Dan brought with him (he brought 120 copies!), and met and encouraged lots of poets to send us their work.  I expect we’ll have quite the slush pile once Karen and I take over!  And that’s good because the more people who know about the Atlanta Review, the more we can spread our influence and get new readers and conquer the poetry world, Mwahahahah!  (Ah, sorry, I lost my head for a minute.  But you take my point.)  We want to continue Dan’s success with the journal, and between Karen and me, I think we waded into this new endeavor with aplomb.  And Collin Kelley was at the table off-and-on, and he is always one of my favorite people.

write buttonsOf course, what I always forget about AWP is how much fun the Book Fair is.  Especially when the swag is so good.  And it was pretty good this year.  The hot giveaway was buttons—everyone was giving away buttons, and so my AWP lanyard was bespangled with them from all manner of journals, the London Review of Books, PoetLore, Five Points, Sierra Nevada College’s “This Sh*t Is Lit,” “Poetry Changes Everything,” and nearly two dozen more. (I was all about the buttons—and even got several compliments from random peeps about my lanyard.  The best one sported a picture of a catalope (cat with antlers)—of course I can’t remember what journal I picked that one up at—I really wanted to buy a tee shirt from them, but they were out.)  (Also, we’re totally giving away buttons next year at the AR table—we totally need to swag it up.)

write poetry fresher

 

Other swag of note:  Poetry gave away car air fresheners.  I am totally mystified by this choice.  It smells vaguely piney, and also like antiseptic.  And ass.  Not really the smell your car longs for.  But on the back is the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, published in Poetry in August 1913, which is kind of nice.  Permafrost gave away a squishy stress-ball in the shape of a polar bear (awesome) as well as free copies of their journal.  There was one booth that as I was leaving the Book Fair for the day had some earbuds lying around.  I’m pretty sure they were giving them away…they had several pairs sitting on the table… but if not—if I accidentally liberated them—then I can add kleptomania to my list of skills, along with poetry and sarcasm.  (It’s good to diversify, you know.)

write bear

 

Then there was the booth with this one woman who apparently is a self-publishing machine. (I’m withholding her name in case my ridicule gets out of hand—but she shares a name with a famous early 20th century woman poet.)  I mean, she was probably 80, wizened like the Southwest—she looked like New Mexico—and draped in scarves and flowing skirts, and had stacks of her books in front of her like a fortress—all published through Amazon.  No matter how I tried to extricate myself from her clutches, she would not let me leave—she kept wanting me to purchase her books.

As soon as I’d inch away, she’d thrust another of her books into my hands, telling me how her life had been changed and how these poems represent her experience.  She gave me one book to take with me—which I totally thought was a catalogue describing her various books, with a few poems in between ads for her other books—and when I got back to the hotel, it turns out she was actually selling that book—there was a price of $18.95 stamped on the back.  (I was like, dafuq?  Really? Who would buy that??) Anyway, when she saw she could not entice me to purchase her whole corpus of books, she foisted her most recent one on me—which actually, from a graphic design standpoint, seems really kind of nice—the cover is lovely, and it looks like a real book of poetry, not something from a vanity press.  But I mean, how good can these poems be?  The first line of copy on the back cover states, “These new poems were all written during the first two months of 2016…” and the pub date is March 5.  I guess I am being a poetry snob.  I haven’t read the book yet—it could be wonderful.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Another book that was given to me for free was Jessie Carty’s Practicing Disaster (Kelsay Books/ Aldrich Press 2014).  I have a bit more faith in this book, although its title on the cover is written in shitty Comic Sans.  (Really?  Like who thought that was a good idea?)  The inside cover has the author’s name signed and the line “Not a joke—free poetry” with a smiley face.  And the acknowledgements list at the front of the book is quite impressive—among the places that Carty has published work include Eye Socket Journal, The Dead Mule, Blue Fifth Review, and Poet’s Market 2013.  So, I’ll try to read through it at some point.

write booksAs far as purchased books, I bought Parades by Sara Deniz Akant (OmniDawn 2014), and Hungry Moon by Henrietta Goodman (Colorado State 2013) (which kind of got banged up on the flight home—c’est la vie).  And the stack of journals I picked up is impressive—Moon City Review, New South, Southern Indiana Review, Rock and Sling, Michigan Quarterly Review, Sugar House Review (which has a beautiful cover), the Laurel Review, and several others—all of which will be seeing submissions from me in the near future—hahah.

write journalsOf course one of the things people flock to AWP for is all the famous people, as well as catching up with old friends.  I didn’t meet any famousy-famous people, though I did get to meet Kelli Russel Agodon, of Two Sylvias Press (a press that makes lovely little books), who is one of my heroes (I love her as a poet and as an editor), and who tweets great material always (follow her if you don’t:  @KelliAgodon).  So meeting her at the Two Sylvias table was so nice—I was fulsome enough in talking to her, I think she felt like she had to hug me.  But we had a nice little convo.  And I did get to see some old Nebraska alums—Liz Ahl, who I always forget how divine she is (we had drinks with her at Tom’s Urban, in L.A. Live, across from the Convention Center), and Darryl Farmer, who was here at Georgia Tech too for a little while, before moving off to the wilds of Alaska.  But overall, not as many Nebraska folks as I expected to see.  (I went over to the Prairie Schooner table, thinking there might be someone from the old days, but I didn’t know any of those people.)  I would have liked to see a few more, at least.  (I did see another UNL alum, who, as always, looked right through me, the putz.  I refuse to mention him by name, but a pox on his head.)

2016-04-01 16.41.19

View from the Santa Monica Pier

Not at the conference, I met up with my old best friend/ enemy/ boyfriend-ish/ not boyfriend-ish/  “I’m gay” “No kidding” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I thought you knew” / best friend again from back in my USC Trojan days.  We spent late Friday afternoon and Friday evening walking all over Santa Monica—we walked from Wilshire Blvd. to the Pier, and up and down the Pier, and along the beach for a long stretch (geezus, the water was cold as fuck), and then up and down the Third Street Promenade about three or four times, tried finding a movie to watch (we went to the movies all the time when I lived out there), went out to dinner, ate liquid nitrogen ice cream at Creams & Dreams, and then hung out at his place in Venice to watch Brooklyn—a great (if slow-paced slice-of-lifey movie… about 10 minutes into it, I thought, “This is so my Mom’s kind of movie”).  I didn’t get back to the hotel till well after midnight.  But it was so good to see him… and fun to tool around L.A. like we did when we were younger.

Anyway, I’m glad to be back, I won’t lie.  I need to recharge my introvert batteries which were sadly depleted while I was away.  And mostly I need to…

write like a mofo          …And so do you.

Oh,Venice, Mi Manchi

Underneath day’s azure eyes,
Ocean’s nursling, Venice, lies—
A peopled labyrinth of walls,
Amphitrite’s destined halls,
Which her hoary sire now paves
With his blue and beaming waves.

—from P.B. Shelley’s “View from the Euganean Hills”

I’ve been dreaming about Venice off and on for the last several weeks (in between dreams about houses missing an outside wall, pun-offs with Bob Wood—not as funny as it sounds, btw—or reading books with weird languages in them).  It’s almost strange how Venice has crystallized into this mythic place in my mind—and I want so much to go back there, and enjoy it in a way I didn’t enjoy it two years ago.  Like I really want to get lost there for maybe 3 weeks—but this time, I’d have my phone and a good map and I’d be on my own time table, and so it would be a controlled “lost”—I could explore at my will, and learn the city at my own pace, and see all the art (that I didn’t see before), and find interesting little alleys (that I didn’t have to map in my notebook so I could find my way back out of them), and visit the churches and the gardens and the other islands and the shopping districts (that I had to skip).  I just didn’t have that time before.

(To wit:  think about how the first day I was there was a complete wash, stranded as I was in the airport; the second day, I stayed in bed trying to recover from the emotional trauma of first day as well as from jet lag, and I was completely money-less except for maybe like €3 [which I spent on 2 cans of ambrosia of the gods Lemon Fanta] because I needed to find a bank—so that was 2 days out of 6 down.  And then of course I was there for work, and I was on someone else’s schedule.)

By the end of that week, I was finally getting a feel for the city, and could make my way around with some autonomy—and then, hello, I had to leave.  But it was in those last couple of days that I fell in love with Venice and realized that there’s a Venice book in me (right?  all the writers who’ve been to Venice—Shakespeare, Henry James, the Romantics, plus gobs of others—fall in love with the city and thinks there’s a book in them about it), but I really need to get back in that milieu and absorb the rhythms and sounds and textures of the place to be able to write it.  Or at least to write it with some authenticity, with the flavor of presence, and not just the hazy taste of memory.

I want to experience some of the touristy things—like take a gondola ride or visit the Peggy Guggenheim museum—and drink Aperol in every bar, and walk until I’m so tired all I can do is stumble upon little out-of-the way cafes and write for a couple of hours before I’m ready to walk back home.  That would be my dream:  to go back there (not in high summer—maybe, February, when it’s cold and rainy, the off-season for cruise ships—such weather would not deter my enthusiasm at all) and write and write and write and eat and drink and write.  There’s a reason that staying in Venice was an expected stop on the Grand Tour for like centuries—because it’s a capital of culture (yes, yes, dead, white, male, upper class, Eurocentric culture—spare me the lecture), and putting yourself in that space, away from your home space, gives you a different perspective on the world.  Maybe not a big difference in perspective—it’s still Western, it still has wi-fi—but it certainly influences your thought patterns.  It’s certainly also influenced my writing—and I keep coming back to writing those little prose poem/ memoir hybrid pieces (like the one I was nominated for a Pushcart for).  I have a number of them.  I think there are more inside me though.  Another trip to Venice would coax them out, I bet… (Haha.)

Speaking of things (roundabout) Venetian, I have to go to AWP’s annual chaos of a conference at the end of the month in Los Angeles as part of my new duties for The Atlanta Review.  I do not look forward to the conference; it’s gargantuan, spread out over multiple hotels, full of 50,000 writers (and that’s not my usual hyperbole) rushing to panels and readings (and apparently, I’m reading too—so great, now I have to figure out what the hell to read)—but I hope that I can get out to Venice Beach (or Santa Monica) for a little bit of time.  I need to see the ocean up close and personal, because it’s been a while (at least 14 years since I’ve seen the Pacific).  And Venice Beach, for all the times I’ve visited, always amuses me.  It’s quirky and endearing and strange, and I dig that.  Again, like so much of my time in L.A. in past, I will be sans auto, so not sure how I’ll get out there.  And a $60 taxi ride wouldn’t be my first choice for transportation, much as I’d like to go… But I’ll figure that out when I get there.  Who knows, maybe I’ll write a few Venice Beach poems.  That could be interesting.

As for Venice, Italy, I’ll get back there some day.  My book will still be waiting for me to write it.

grand canal image 06.24.14

A picture I took, maybe of the Grand Canal (I can’t remember), June 24, 2014.

Big News in My Writing World (But Not a Manuscript Acceptance, Let’s Not Get Crazy)

It’s chilly—44 degrees out, and blustery.  There are few leaves on the trees, but they rattle as the wind blows, and somehow the weather is fooling me into believing it’s October.  I want to believe Halloween is right around the corner…because it would mean that November was right around the corner too, and that would mean it’s time for another NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been missing the energy of NaNoWriMo.  I’m still in the early stages of Hecate Applebough 3 (still untitled), and part of my lack of progress has to do with a weirdo persistent migrainey exhaustion I’ve been suffering for the last month (and which my Mom has nagged me about going to see a doctor for—ugh), and also not feeling that compulsion to write every day those 1,667 words because I have nowhere to chart the progress, no pep-talk e-mails from the NaNo people coming every few days encouraging me.  It’s just me now, and it’s harder to write, without the community.

But, a couple of days ago, a fortuitous tweet put me on to an app called Writeometer, which exists only for Android (sorry iPhone folks) and which gamifies the writing process, kind of the way NaNo does—you can set a daily/ monthly/ word goal, use its timer, enter your daily word count, and get reminders about writing, and you can earn “guavas.”  I don’t know all tricks of the app yet, so I’m not sure what earning the guavas can do for you, but I’m sure I’ll find out as I become more familiar with the app.  I’m looking forward to using it—I need the motivation.  So I’ll let you know how it goes.  (If any of my Five Readers have tried the app, I’d be curious to know what you think about it—but I suspect most of you are Apple users.)

Other than working on Hecate, I’ve produced a few short pieces lately—a few honest-and-for-true prose poems—one of them came out so well that I’ve “given” it to Hecate, and shoehorned it into the second book…although if I can get it published on its own, I will—and a few bits of flash that I want desperately to be prose poems, but I knew they aren’t.

Prose poems have a certain surreal quality—and so does my flash, except that the surrealism of prose poems is its own little thing.  When I try to do surreal flash, it just comes out as nutty.  Like maybe I’m trying too hard.  But hey, two pieces of just such flash were accepted by a journal on Monday, so I guess nutty works too.  In general, I just have a little “heart on” for prose poems, because they’re hard to do well, and because I think, in my mind, I still privilege poetry over prose as being Important and Worthwhile… while fiction just seems like something you do for cash.  (Not that I have received any cash for ANY bit of fiction I’ve produced—not ever—but you take my meaning, I’m sure.)  And of course, even as I write that, I know that’s a false dichotomy—but there it is.  The poet’s bias against fiction writers.  Hmm.

How’s this for burying the lede?  In other news, now that Dan Veach is passing the editorial reigns of The Atlanta Review over to Karen Head, she has asked me (WHAT????) to serve as the managing editor.  OMG OMG OMG.  This is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to sit down with her and discuss all the ins-and-outs, and really sink my teeth into this project.  Reading some brand-new poems (that aren’t mine—haha) that are searching for a home is exciting.  It’s been a long time since I did any work on a literary journal, and The Atlanta Review is a Big Deal—this isn’t any dinky fly-by-night online journal, this is prize-winning print journal with an international following.  The work that Dan Veach has done on the journal (founding it and running it) is amazing and impressive, and I’m so thrilled that I get to be involved…and so grateful to Karen for asking me to assist her.  Read Collin Kelley’s article in Atlanta INtown, about the transition of editorship to Karen, because it’s interesting and offers some history about the journal.  (As my first order of business as managing editor, I propose we update the website!)

What else is there to share?  I’m still working on reading those three books of poems I mentioned in my last blog post—I got a little distracted by my manga habit, and my weirdo exhaustion that makes me want to fall asleep at 6 p.m.—but I hope to finish them this weekend (in and around the 85,000 tennis matches I’ve scheduled).  And, I’ve gotten yet another rejection on my poetry manuscript, but I sent it out to two more places, and I’m crossing my fingers. At some point, SOMEONE is going to want it, right?  Maybe I need to “attach a few more zeros” onto the contest fees I send off… maybe bribery would work?  (You never know!)