On Hiring Committees, Mentors, Revision, & Submissions

88º feels like 99º ~ likely heat index will top 110º today, opening the door to the deck is like opening an oven in which there is a water bath steaming around a quiche or cheesecake, the cicadas blend with a neighbor running a saw or power vac, how they stand the wet heat is beyond me

Dear Reader, I cannot believe it has been two full weeks since my last confession, ahem, posting. Lest you think me lazy, let me say that the week of 7/10 – 7/14 was consumed by my service on a hiring committee for a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at UCA. We conducted our on-campus interviews that week, and with most of our faculty out of town for the summer, the bulk of the work came down to myself and one of my colleagues. It was interesting work, and I felt completely invested in every minute, but it was a tad exhausting.

We wrapped up the last candidate dinner on Friday evening around 5:30 p.m. and I arrived home with just enough time to pack a suitcase and set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. the next morning. I had a 7 a.m. flight out of Little Rock bound for the airport at Cedar Rapids, IA. My weekend was a flash visit with family, and a trip to my alma mater, the College of St. Benedict, where my writing mentor, S. Mara Faulkner, celebrated her Golden Jubilee as a sister of the Order of St. Benedict. I loved being a part of honoring Mara’s life’s work. At the mass and reception, I was able to spend time with one of my college roommates, as well as touch base with three more of my undergraduate professors who were crucial in nurturing my poetic roots.

Mara Faulkner, OSB
Dr. Ozzie Mayers
Dr. Mike Opitz
Dr. Karen Erickson

I name them here because they matter. They matter, along with Dr. Madhu Mitra, Jon Hassler, and Eva Hooker, CSC. Each of these professors had some part  in setting me on the path to being the poet I am today, and I am in their debt, forever. I hope, each time I sit down with my BIC (a lesson learned from Jon), that I do them justice.

After another brief visit with Mom, I flew home late Monday evening, and spent most of Tuesday in recovery. As I woke on Wednesday, I was struck by that familiar panic that the summer was GONE, that I hadn’t accomplished all I wanted/needed to, and that school was going to start ANY MINUTE. OK, we don’t report back until the 21st, but there’s still so much to do to meet my goals.

Summer goals
*Write, revise, submit
*Read, write reviews for blog
*Preparations for the C. D. Wright Women Writers Conference
*Prep classes for fall in Illustrated Narrative and Political Poetry
*Collage (I have not met this goal at all, aside from one piece made when I had friends over)
*Organize and prepare to take on directing UCA’s undergraduate creative writing programs

Yesterday, the panic spurred me to turn to the po-biz side of things. Early in the summer, I’d made a push of sending out submissions. I was trying to be brave and sent to top tier magazines. I did this not because my tenure depends on it; no, UCA is not the type of place where a publication in the New Yorker is necessary. I did this for sheer vanity and pride. Now, most of these places take ages and ages to send out the rejections I will most likely receive. Given the sheer number of submissions the editors receive, the odds are not in my favor. However, just to bring me back down to earth, one of the submissions came back within three weeks with a rejection. Ouch. I let it linger in my inbox for almost a month before recording it yesterday.

With that unpleasantness over with, I turned to my stack of unpublished poems, some written recently, some several years old. I read, re-read, always aloud, and made a few tweaks here and there. I already had the poems sectioned into mini manuscripts, meeting the 4 – 6 poem limits for most magazines. Then, I turned to my spreadsheet on all the magazines I know about and I scanned the column for submission periods. And “whomp” I was struck again by the fact that the vast majority of lit mags do not read submissions in the summer. I certainly understand why this is, but it really inconveniences those of us who don’t have much time during the rest of the year for this po-biz work. Le sigh. I did send out a few packets, and made a list of which mags will be opening in August. I’ll enter the queue in a sweeping onrush of submissions along with all the other poets in the universe.

My poetry goal now is to get a few more new drafts in over the next two weeks. Stay tuned for lessons of success or failure. In the meantime, I wish you happy reading, happy writing.

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Process Notes: The 14 Most Common Causes of Fatigue

95º feels like 108º ~ SCUBA weather out there

After two weeks of silence, two posts in one day. Wahoooza.

I’m happy to report that I did meet my goal of drafting a new poem today, as I stated earlier. I wasn’t sure I would, given the chaos of the last two weeks. And therein lies a problem of mine. I tend to convince myself of certain narratives about my own being. One of these narratives is that I must have calm and quiet, long periods of focus, to write. I hold the summer up as WRITING TIME. This summer, I have taken on many new roles at UCA which have meant extending my work off contract (that’s right…I don’t get paid for these hours). This has “cluttered” my life with tasks and problem-solving that have nothing to do with writing poetry (directly). So, I need to break out of my own narrative. Really, all I need to write is a small chunk of time amidst the busy-ness of the rest of life. I’m hoping this realization, this work against my own inner critic, will extend into the real chaos of the academic year. Fingers crossed.

So, after finishing that last blog post, I turned to my journal. I let myself spew for two pages, jotting down all the inner dialogue, all the inner questioning. Then I wrote, “the truth is…” and recorded some more objective observations about my recent days. Finally, I turned to a new page, labeled it, as always, “Tell the Truth” and wrote 4 really horrible lines. I’m still thinking about political poetry, and at the same time, I’ve been struggling with some mild depression and fatigue (of all kinds) this summer. Today, I started writing about headline fatigue and the fact that no amount of “feel good” news can counteract the difficulties of this world today. These were the really horrible lines.

Then, I turned to my old friend, the Oxford English Dictionary, through our subscription at school, and I searched “fatigue.” As soon as the results popped up, I realized that I’d spent some time on these pages two and a half weeks ago when last I wrote. So, I opened another tab and thought I’d give Google a whirl. One of the first hits was from a pseudo-medical site, “The 14 Most Common Causes of Fatigue.” This was the typical info-article interspersed with a zillion ads. It listed things like sleep dysfunction, anemia, diabetes, heart disease, depression, etc. and gave very brief information about each.

It struck me that I’d used a headline to generate a poem earlier this month, so I copied down the title and started drafting a catalog poem. In my journal, I didn’t consider the order of my list. Instead, I focused on trying to generate images that would stand for the things that have been making me fatigued lately. One example is a bit about “grass that insists on growing” and the mower waiting there like a truancy officer. Of course, mowing a tiny lawn is no big deal, but I mean it to stand for all the everyday chores that must still be done, even as we try to make positive change in this world.

Once I turned to the computer to draft out the complete poem, I considered order. I actually only used about 3/4 of the list from my journal and created new “entries” once I was on the screen. The screen can reveal soft or clunky lines more easily than the handwritten page. While a catalog poem seems easy on first sight, there are many considerations. The order of the entries should create a kind of forward momentum, and since, in my case, there’s no narrative to the content, this has to be an emotional movement. Also, the poem must transcend the form of a list. In other words, I couldn’t “fill” any of the entries with fluff just to make the number. Yes, 14 was arbitrary based on the headline of the article and I could have cut myself some slack and changed that number, but for the draft I wanted to get there. As with all poetry, concision is the key, and every word counts, so adding more is a tricky business.

Finally, I was conscious the whole time that I wanted this poem to stretch beyond my own experience to encapsulate the fatigue I know so many people are feeling these days about the political environment. While some of the entries in my list are taken directly from my daily life, the others are plucked from headlines (e.g. the famine in South Sudan) to broaden the scope of the speaker. Like most of the political poems I’ve been writing, I’m hesitant about this one. I will set it aside for a few days and return with fresh eyes.

The whole process I just described reminded me, again, of John Keats and Negative Capability. For those unaware, Keats defined NC as when a person is “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” It struck me again today that the whole process of drafting (of creating any kind of art, really) requires this of us. I had to find a way to set aside the inner critic and my own attempt to control the process. I had to “dwell in Possibility” as Emily Dickinson wrote. Today, I’ll mark my attempt down as a success, as a goal met, regardless of whether the poem makes it to publication or not.

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Process Notes: Transplant

78º ~ rain-cooled, headed for a high of 90º ~ birdsong replacing the thunder

I preach to my students about the BIC method of writing, which would be the Butt-In-Chair method. There’s one sure thing in this world; if your butt isn’t in the chair (which also means switching off the noise of social media and actually giving your body & brain the time & space necessary to go deep), you won’t get anything written. Once again, practicing what I preach has made all the difference.

I did my duty this morning. I repeated my goal of drafting a poem and I sat BIC. I scribbled some ugly lines with no music. I read a few poems. I cast about. I let myself be in the stillness. I continued to think about my current obsession: how can I interrogate my whiteness? How can I make art that might make a difference in this difficult time?

Once again, the key was getting specific. Most of the horrible lines in my journal circle around generalizations, falling into cliché and propaganda. Suddenly, I remembered the feeling, the physical feeling of my white guilt (a sinking and burning in my gut) when I heard family members express their own racism in jokes. I wondered why I had such a reaction and didn’t believe what they believed. I thought of the specific experiences in my childhood that gave me empathy and understanding for those who looked differently than I did. Finally, all of this made me remember coming to the South around the turn of the century and realizing that many native southerners had no idea that outright racism existed in the North. And so the poem began:

In the South, everyone knows Iowa is a pretty
white state, but I have to explain, not
in my hometown

This opening lacks the specific imagery and sound play that I usually rely on, but it does have a kickass linebreak. Because I’m working with some narrative in this draft, I fear I’ve lost a lot of my lyric strengths, so I’ll definitely be going back and trying to up the images and figurative language. This is one of my concerns about writing overtly political poems. The process is very different for me, coming at the poem with some ideas, some philosophy already in place, and I worry about being capable enough as a poet to create that strange elixir that is my goal.

The poem fell into four, five-line stanzas, and does go on to explore several specific, key moments from my childhood. It juxtaposes those moments with older relatives making what they considered “jokes” but were really moments of racist othering. In those instances, I’m afraid, I always remained silent, and I hope that by trying to tell the truth about where I come from, about my own silent complicity, I might be taking a step in the direction of interrogating my own skin, in making a tiny difference by (eventually) sharing the poem through publication.

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Process Notes: Little of What We have Believed has been True

85º feels like 94º ~ dew point 75º (in other words, unless you’ve lived in the mid to deep south, you’ve never really felt humidity) ~ sunny but the trees are so fully leafed and green that I write in shade, the birds call out all day, the cat begs attention

This morning when I sat down to write, I was thinking about writing from headlines, as I did yesterday. Again, I’d checked into the world via my phone before even getting out of bed (I know, I know, this is not necessarily a good habit!). Sure enough, a friend had posted about an event at the White House yesterday, where four astronauts were present, but only the three men were thanked. Sounded like a good lead, so I went in search of information. Turns out the bigger news was what a weird press conference it was, and the woman astronaut, Sandy Magnus, presented a reasonable explanation of why she was not thanked (not there as an astronaut but as an executive director for another organization). So, that fizzled.

I turned then to my email inbox and read the poems there for the day (Poem-a-Day, Poetry Foundation, Writer’s Almanac), which then led me to reading my weekly dose of Brain Pickingswhich featured a refresher on Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel, and seemed a moment of synchronicity as Stevens wrote about the role of the poet (his word for all artists) in troubled times. I fell headlong into the excerpts provided by Brain Pickings, having read Necessary Angel 15 years ago and having been stumped by much of it (I have trouble absorbing philosophy & theory). In any case, this time, I couldn’t stop taking notes and making connections. Two of the biggest lines for me were “events…have made the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement of people in the intervals of a storm” (ellipses mine) and “Little of what we have believed has been true…” (ellipses Stevens).

With five pages of notes, I thought, yes! This is it for today’s draft. Come on: intervals of a storm? Yes! I even thought that I had so much energy for the draft that I didn’t need to start in longhand, so I turned directly to Word and started typing. Big mistake. I typed several really terrible lines and deleted them. Tried another tack and deleted those, too. It all sounded like propaganda, and none of it was based in my reality. So, I took a deep breath and went back to my handwritten lines in the journal, and I asked myself to “tell the truth.”

Stevens sees the artist as the “necessary angel” who can meld imagination and reality, that the artist should not turn away from reality, not escape it by going fully into the imagination. On the other hand, Stevens also notes that the imagination is necessary to the artist, and they can’t turn completely to reality either. In thinking about all of this and asking what my truth is, I discovered, again, my white, upper-middle class guilt about my ability to turn off the news, to move through the storm unafraid for my own life, afraid for the lives of many of my friends for sure, but not for my own. I started thinking about what causes me to avoid the truth, and I struck on this.

Body & brain are wired to walk away
from pain. Sharp & Hot among the first
lessons.

The poem goes on, in lines about this same length, to admit that I “evade the daily news,” but that I can’t completely escape the horrors going on all around me (in which I also include climate change). Obviously, Stevens is in the title, and I bring him back in the last third of the poem when I claim, “I never asked / to wear the wings of a necessary angel.” I confess that I’m exhausted and that I don’t know where to find the energy to resist. I think the ending needs work, but I’m happy with the draft, both content and form. In this case, I have another single-stanza poem (so unusual for me!) because the poem, while still lyric rather than narrative (as is my norm), works on a much more logic-based level than I have in the past. The syntax is normal, and the sentences all directly relate to the previous and the next. Who am I? Sonnets and villanelles in May/June, now column-like, single-stanza work? Through it all, the elements of sound and imagery hold me together and channel my voice.

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Process Notes: 17 Shot in Little Rock Club

82º feels like 87º ~ dew point 73º = soggy air, sweat on skin simply standing ~ bright sun, light breezes, some small rain yesterday, perhaps more tomorrow, all living things thrive

While my website was down this week, I’ve continued to read and think about political poetry, as I mentioned in my last post.  As I’ve read essays in preparation for the class I’ll be teaching, I’m struck most by the positioning of the poets writing the political poems. I continue to ask: must I have experienced the specific oppression or violence in order to write it? This would mean writing poems about feminist, class, gun control, anti-intellectual, and environmental issues for me. It would mean a more nuanced approach to writing about racial oppression, since I am a member of the privileged group in that case. It would mean interrogating whiteness.

In terms of drafting, last night when I did my evening meditation, I added the thought, “I am going to draft a poem tomorrow.” When, I woke up, I didn’t immediately want to get out of bed, so I grabbed my phone to check email and Facebook. There I discovered the news of a shooting at a Little Rock night club. As I went about getting ready for the day, I reminded myself that I would write a poem. When I sat down, news of the shooting popped back into my head, especially these facts: 17 people shot, no fatalities, more people injured trying to get out. Something nagged at me, so I broke my taboo of using the computer at the beginning stages of a draft, and I went online to read about this violent event.

Lines began forming before I finished the article. Lines composed of fragments. Broken syntax appropriate to the situation of the poem. I began:

In the chaos. In the aftermath.

I thought I was writing a political poem about gun control in Arkansas, a state where anyone with a license can now carry a gun on my college campus, concealed no less. But, as I returned again to the article (from the conservative, right-slanted Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) what struck me was that while race was not mentioned in the article, there were many ways the language, and the omissions, conveyed race. In some cases these indications came from police and city spokespeople, and in some cases from the phrasing used by the journalist. (Later, I did watch some footage of the shooting captured on cell phone, but you’ll notice that the Dem-Gaz article only has pictures from the morning, pretty empty crime scene.) I started thinking about how spokespeople frame their statements, how journalists compose their pieces, what each group’s responsibility is, and how a privileged, white audience would read the piece. Now, I’m not saying that police & city spokespeople and journalists need to put a racial qualifier before every noun that indicates personhood. I know that these are often reserved for specific instances where race is a central part of the story. However, at the moment, I’m thinking about how language communicates cultural norms and how these norms influence how we think about those who are different than ourselves.

As the poem evolved, in short lines, in fragments, I came to this:

The facts accumulate.

Facts like the time of the incident, the placement of the club “downtown,” the name of the performer for the evening (Finese2Tymes), that the performer is from Memphis, the shooting was a result of a dispute between individuals, etc. The result of reading the article was that it was easy for me to say, “oh, that was a black club, that will never happen to me or most of the people I know. It’s terrible that people were hurt, but it’s not my main concern of the day.” Well, given my reaction to shootings on school, college, and university campuses, and given my reaction to the shooting at Pulse, I had to stop and interrogate why I was able to distance myself from this shooting. What inner, institutionalized racism still exists in me?

In terms of form marrying content, the poem came out as free verse, short lines, all in a left-justified column. (Light bulbs!) I knew I had to recast it as a newspaper column, block-justified (although, will the new generation of internet news readers recognize the roughly 2-inch column for what it is?) When I moved to the new form, there were new issues of spacing. I had to do some cutting, and some rearranging of sentences. For that, I had to really question the order of the information as presented, which involved not only how the poem created meaning, but also sound. Finally, regardless of switching to the block-justified column, I had not included a first-person speaker in the poem. While I was interrogating my own sense of race in this instance, I did so by referencing location. Most of the poem is a report on the shooting. The last 3 lines, though, refer to readers living in “The Heights” (my very white neighborhood) consuming the news of the shooting. Perhaps it is the coward’s way out to remove myself from the poem. Perhaps I’ll try to write a first-person narrative about the situation soon.

*A note on the title: updates now say 25 people shot. For now, I’m sticking with the original headline and 17.

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Process Notes: Browsing White

84º (no heat index!) ~ a beauty of a day, the lawn begs mowing, enough rain and then sun to make every living thing grow

The father poems seem to have slipped my grasp as I’ve been consumed with the turmoil of the world again, with Philando Castile, Charleena Lyles, the London high-rise massacre, the UPS facility shooting, the Pulse memorials, the capitalist zeal for repealing the Affordable Care Act, and so much more.  With these events heavy on my mind, I am also prepping for classes this fall, and one of those will be a special topics course on writing political poetry. We will be using Carolyn Forché’s anthology, Against Forgetting, as well as Marie Howe’s What the Living Do, Brian Turner’s Here, BulletPatricia Smith’s Blood Dazzlerand Danez Smith’s Black MovieI am excited to teach the class, but also conscious of the fact that UCA is in no way a homogenous institution (student-wise anyway). There will be students from both political parties in the room, and students with differing religious and cultural views. I will have to work hard in the first few weeks to establish a sense of community and trust.

When thinking about political poetry, I always come back to the idea that the personal is political. Because of this, I fall in the camp of “all poetry is political.” However, for this class, I’m shifting my attention to poetry that is overtly political, something we will question and explore as a group over the semester.

All of this being said, when I sat down to write today, I was struggling with the idea of privilege, and with the question of what I can do to help right the wrongs going on all around me. Of course, my first stop was The Oxford English Dictionary database and a thorough reading of the entries for “privilege.” I was struck by the first entry, which had to do with the “privilege” one could buy in the past from the Pope, a practice I knew about thanks to having to take British Lit and having to read The Canterbury Tales. After that introduction, I found criticisms of the practice sprinkled throughout most of Western literature of the Enlightenment. And so, this line appeared in my journal and started the poem:

I purchased this privilege with my skin

Then, the two ideas, privilege and commerce came together. As the title of the poem indicates, it’s topic is shopping while white and the privilege that affords. In the poem, the speaker (yes me, but also, I hope the white reader of the poem) is allowed to browse at will and then becomes woke (again…the idea being that with privilege it is easy to “fall back to sleep” and close one’s eyes against injustice) when she sees a woman of color being harassed by the store clerks, and ends with the speaker’s white guilt for doing nothing. Yes, the poem is based on a slightly similar personal experience, but it’s highly fictionalized.

I found myself writing this poem differently than the father poems or any of my poems in the past. In this case, I had a big-picture idea hovering over it all, driving the poem down the page. Yes, I was still writing to discover my own thoughts and emotions, but it was a more-focused process. I was surprised to find elements of sound developing naturally within the lines (no form here), and I was surprised to find the poem developing into a single stanza (20 lines). Frequent readers will know that I love myself a couplet or a tercet. This poem seemed to eschew white space. It seemed to need to be connected all the way down the page. I will let it sit and reconsider the form when I return for revision, but it’s feeling pretty whole at the moment.

Here are my worries: 1) clichés seem an even bigger concern when working with political material, how do I make the language specific and new when dealing with such well-known material? 2) in writing about my own whiteness, I have included a person of color, am I further “colonizing” that person’s experience by “using” them in the poem? 3) is this poem necessary, isn’t it more necessary to have poems from people of color, people who are actually experiencing aggressions both micro- and macro-? 4) will I ever write a poem about which I have no worries?

Luckily, the grass is tall and mowing = time to contemplate.

 

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Reading Notes: Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair

86º feels like 96º ~ in the thick, summer soup of it, 3+ inches of rain yesterday, the whole world muggy, swamp-like

I had to read Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair over two separate days. This is a book packed with highly charged lyric poems taking on the colonization of Jamaica and the realities of something we like to call “post-colonial” times. Heavy material dispersed into poems made of imagery that unsettles and sound that haunts.

While I did not set out to read books in any order this summer, it turns out this is the third book in a row that I’ve picked up that reminds me of the importance of being woke. Sinclair traces, in broad strokes, the colonization of Jamaica, its place in the slave trade, its current cultural being (including the tensions associated with the tourist industry), and the more personal issues of being a Jamaican woman now living in the U.S. That’s a lot to take in, but all of it is necessary and urgent.

Cannibal begins with a crucial epigraph that tracks the origin of the word cannibal to its Spanish origin which comes from the word “caribal,” referring to the aboriginal people of the West Indies. We can thank Columbus for the idea that these people ate human flesh. Sinclair sums up: “By virtue of being Caribbean, all ‘West Indian’ people are already, in a purely linguistic sense, born savage.”

At its heart, this book chronicles the very process of Othering and the results. Sinclair often alludes to Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest in an attempt to unpack what it means to be labeled “savage.” The poems also revolve around womanhood & ideals of beauty, which are inextricably complicated by a history of racism and white, male rule.

In “Prayer Book for Vanishing,” Sinclair addresses the pressure to attempt skin whitening. Here’s an excerpt.

Approach the angels
to efface this blackness,
another tar-baby, self

I am scorching. In the night
find nothing but a dagger of teeth.
Pitch-black marrow, vile

pigment unwanted,
set fire to my undesirable.

The poem lists common practices such as drinking small amounts of bleach, scrubbing with Epsom salts, baking soda, and peroxide, and using copious amounts of face powder. When I read poems like this, and in fact, all of the poems in this book, I’m struck again by the idea of empathy. Why do I so easily slide into the perspective of a woman of color trying to vanish herself, so easily that I can’t help but see and feel the pain, the harm of racial imbalance the continues to exist today, and yet, so many others can’t see & feel? Was I taught empathy, or is it a part of my nature? (I pray it is the first and not the second, for we are hopeless if it is left to nature.)

Finally, every once in a while Sinclair touches on the fact that she (veiled as the speaker) is a poet writing about her family (especially her flawed, violent father). These poems touch me, in particular, as I’m working through some difficult family material as well. Here’s the opening from “Incorrigible”:

All night I wrestled with it–
the onerous verse, trying to salt the wound;
there are worse things one could fix a gloom upon, I suppose.

But I fight to tack it down,
the indefinite I, I, iamb; to tease this venom out–
its cerasee vine grown thick as my hair,

pulling at my limbs, the fur of my mouth.
Opening my hand in the fissure of my throat,
a gutted fish, I am raking rut out.

 

You can read a selection of the poems from Cannibal here, but I highly recommend reading the entire book.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Process Notes: A Being Admitted as Heir

74º ~a line of pop-up storms moving north to south, an oddity, radar-indicated rain non-existent on the ground, our days are reaching the 90s now

Yesterday, I started reading Safiya Sinclair’s amazing book, Cannibal, and I hope to post reading notes about it in the next few days. (I’m only halfway through.) Born in Jamaica, Sinclair looks closely at postcolonial identity and focuses both on the personal and the historical. As I was reading, I was struck by an early poem, “Pocomania,” in which the speaker addresses her father, using “father” as anaphora. It opens:

Father unbending father unbroken father
with the low-hanging belly, father I was cleaved from

In Sinclair’s poem, the speaker deals with a tense, difficult relationship, just as I have been doing. In fact, at one point in the poem she writes, “Father / and his nest of acolyte women” … “Mother and I were none of them.” I had to stop reading for a minute to catch my breath.

Even as I read the poem, I knew I wanted to write one using the same repetition, but this morning, approaching my desk, it struck me, again, that I’ve written little of my mother. So, I sat down to write a mother poem, using the structure Sinclair presents. Sinclair’s poem is one long stanza filled with long lines, and jam-packed with electric images that expose a flawed man who caused his own child to hurt. I tried for the same long lines, the same electric images, but I was working with a healthy relationship, and that changed a few things.

There is a place in Sinclair’s poem where the speaker implores, “Father forgive my impossible demands.” I didn’t draft my poem line by line to imitate Sinclair’s, but I knew I wanted to include such an asking for forgiveness. In my draft, this occurred in line 7, and I wrote “Mother forgive my silences.” Because of the content of that line, it begged to be set off by itself, so I ended up with a 6-line stanza, followed by a single line, then another 6-line stanza and another single line of asking for forgiveness. Then, I started in on another 6 lines and I came up short. I have no idea where this poem wants to go or how it wants to end.

Here’s the issue: poems about difficult things have built-in conflict, which means they have a built-in need to end, to resolve, even if they are largely lyric (image based) rather than narrative. This poem about my mom is a poem of praise, an ode (although not in the formal sense), and I’m struggling with how to resolve it. It is pure lyric, so there is no narrative to wind to a close. I confess that I hit the wall with this draft, and today, the wall won. I had to save & print the draft unfinished, which takes a bit of the shine off the moment.

I’m going to seek out some poems of praise and check out how they end. I’ve always known that “happy” poems were harder to write than difficult ones (for me at least), and here’s the proof, again.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Miscellany: What Speed Rejection, Grit, Reading Beloit Poetry Journal

83º ~ feels like 87º ~ all bright sun, calm winds, birdsong, freshmown grass, a full moon waiting

One of my goals for the summer is to submit work for publication to literary journals. Publishing poems is one of the criteria on which I’m judged as I make my way toward tenure, but the weight of prepping courses new to me, building a national conference from the floor up, doing my other service work (committees, volunteering for campus activities, etc.), and keeping up on professional development activities prevented me from sending much out this past academic year.

As with reading and writing, I’ve re-engaged with the “po-biz” side of things. As I explained in my recent post about how the poem “A Coward for a Daughter” came to be published, the usual route is to submit work and then not hear anything for months. On the other hand, there are some well-established journals that have perfected the quick turnaround. This week, I submitted poems to The Threepenny Review on Wednesday. By Friday afternoon, I’d received the rejection, which yes, always stings. As Threepenny does not take simultaneous submissions, I appreciate the quick response, but, yikes!, I hadn’t even had time to “forget” about the submission (forgetting sometimes blunts the sting of a rejection just a tad).

I’ve been thinking about grit (regarding the stick-to-itiveness it takes to be a writer) as I’ve been drafting more poems lately. In working on my last poem, I noticed, again, that there came a point when I felt the urge to just stop and drop it. Here is the moment of either persistence or giving up, a moment when one’s grit is called into question.

In general, I get this feeling at one of two points. The first opportunity happens when I’m scribbling longhand in my journal. I might get three or four lines to come together and then nothing. When this happens, I tend to let it go. However, the more crucial turning point is when I’ve gone from journal to computer, and the “meat” of the poem is beginning to appear, word by word, line by line. Even with the energy behind that movement, there is usually a point where I’m confident in the opening salvo of the poem, but then become uncertain of where its going. In this uncertainty is the opportunity for me to waver and lose my grit. In that last poem, I remember sighing; I remember thinking I should just quit. But, then, I had to think about hitting “save.” Seeing that the poem had not reached a critical mass, I knew from experience that hitting “save” was the same as never finishing the poem for me. I had to take control of that little voice inside my head and tell myself, “try again, figure it out, keep your butt in the chair, tell the truth, write it.” Thankfully, I listened to myself and stuck with it to a finished draft.

(Working in forms makes this extra important, as I can save a free verse draft knowing that it is nearly “there,” but not quite. In a formal poem, I’m not sure I could come back and complete an impartial draft.)

This morning, I grabbed the lit mag waiting on top of my to-read pile: Beloit Poetry Journal (67.3) Spring 2017. I confess that the number of books that I own but haven’t read yet is overwhelming, and having the lit mags arriving on the regular simply adds to the overwhelming. However, as soon as I open a cover and begin to read, all the other books drop away.

BPJ is one of the most well-established, long-running, consistently-stellar poetry journals out there, and this issue lives up to that reputation. It was an extra delight to find that friend and fellow Little Rock poet Seth Pennington designed the cover.

I believe in Daniel Pennac’s Reader’s Bill of Rights, which stipulates that it is okay to skip and/or not to finish. When I read journals, I give each piece my full attention at the opening. If the writer can’t hold me, I’m gone. In the case of BPJ, I read all but three of the poems completely, and in about 50% of the cases, I read the poems a second time (they tend to be shorter than longer in this journal). Some of the poems that stood out to me were:

Doug Ramspeck’s “Winter Trance”
Martha Silano’s “I have to deepen my know
Denise Bergman’s “he opened the window’s slit and climbed in
Xandria Phillips’ four poems from Black Eyewitness Directory
David Salner’s “A Shift of Sand and Steel”
Lauren Camp’s “Father to Narrow then Stranger”
Michael Brown, Jr.’s “Freedom”

The whole issue is worth your time and attention.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn

Process Notes: OED: Dutiful (arrow) Duty (arrow) Due

83º ~ feels like 88º ~ dew point 72º ~ we breathe in shallows

Today’s post must be quick, as I woke late and have other engagements. I fumbled about my desk and only half-assed my thoughts about drafting this morning, tho I had gone to bed with the goal of drafting on my mind. I flipped through a book on my desk and read two poems. Somehow, although not in either of those poems, my brain clicked into the word “dutiful.” Ah, I remember now, I got up to turn off the fan and was thinking about “dutiful writer syndrome” (wondering if I should let myself off the hook for drafting today) which led me to think about what it means to be a dutiful daughter.

When I got back to the desk, I knew I wanted to look into the etymology of “dutiful.” Of course, I knew it was a form of “duty,” but I wanted to read the various definitions through time. Thank the universe that UCA subscribes to the Oxford English Dictionary. (This is one of my favorite ways to get into writing a poem.). I logged in and started with “dutiful,” read on to “duty,” and then found the connection to “due” (which included debts, which ties in to a lot of what I’m exploring about my relationship to my father). I scribbled nouns & verbs, I copied quotes & definitions. Most importantly, in the “due” entry, I scrolled downward and found “to give the devil his due.” Shazam.

One of the things I’m struggling with is portraying a lot of negative things about my father. I fear the portrayal is lopsided, and the phrase “to give one their due” or “to give the devil his due” slips right in there as it means to admit something redeeming about an unfavorable person (I probably mashed that paraphrase with some quoting from the OED). So, I started thinking about how my father was not “the devil,” was not a monster, and I drafted:

I cannot give the devil his due, Father
as you were merely a broken man, no monster.

And then, I swore, for the rhymed couplet suggested form. Yet, the rhythm didn’t send me to the sonnet; it sent me to the villanelle. That common phrase “to give the devil his due” seemed to bear repeating and seemed to indicate song. With a little tinkering, these two lines morphed into the first stanza, and the refrain (lines 1 and 3, which are repeated throughout the form) became what I have here as line 1 and some additional language before “no monster.” I moved almost immediately to the computer with only the first stanza because the villanelle is regimented. I needed to put the refrains in place and write around them, all the while being willing to tweak the repeated language as the content unfolded. And then, Dear Reader, I confess it, I made a list of rhymes (hard and slant) in my journal for the father/monster end words. What have I become?

Again, the form provided me a frame to contain my difficult thoughts. In this case exploring my own complicity in my non-relationship with my father, and facing the reality that he was no devil, no person out to cause me harm on purpose. His faults are plenty, but they do not include malice. The tricky part is that when I write, “I cannot give the devil his due,” what I mean is “I cannot call you devil,” not that I can’t give you your due. So, that’s what the poem is trying to explore. We will see if it lasts on future re-reading. I’m thinking the layered meaning is getting lost. Time will tell.

Posted by Sandy Longhorn