Tuesday, May 31, 2005

blink and you might miss this one

so rough I haven't even gone back to read this one yet. I may not leave this up...

[sorry, you blinked. if you missed it and want to see it, comment or backchannel --]

Crankiness and a book meme

Acquired today: one parking ticket (which I'm 95% certain I should be able to successfully appeal, but still) and two rejection slips (no ink nor nothin') for what I thought -- still think, really -- are pretty strong poems. If you need me I'll be over here in the cranky corner.

Sarah tagged me so here you go:

1. Total number of books I own:
You have got to be kidding me. Um, one of these days I'm going to get out the measuring tape and post how many feet of bookshelves are in my house. Suffice it to say there are lots of bookshelves and they are not empty. And there are various piles here and there. I could retire tomorrow and never buy another book again and on the day I died I'd still be plowing through what I've got. How many books? Um, thousands, I'm sure. And I don't even have the decency to be embarrassed about it.

2. Last book I bought:
I'm not sure what was the very most recent, but I think these were the most recent:
Rosie O'Donnell, Find Me (snagged in the $1 department at Target, of all places)
Patricia Fargnoli, Duties of the Spirit
Ilya Kaminsky, Dancing in Odessa
And these were birthday gifts:
Don Saliers & Emily Saliers, A Song To Sing, A Life To Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice (copy signed by Emily Saliers, which is awesome)
The Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves (brand-new edition)

3. Last book(s) I read:
Rosie O'Donnell, Find Me
Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues
Brian Teare, The Room Where I Was Born
Patricia Fargnoli, Duties of the Spirit
A. Loudermilk, The Daughterliest Son
Tora Johnson, Entanglements: The Intertwined Fates of Whales and Fishermen
Mark Doty, School of the Arts
Alison Smith, Name All The Animals
And currently reading:
Mary Oliver, Long Life
D.A. Powell, Cocktails

4. 5 books that mean a lot to me:
Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy
Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird
Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops

5. Tag 5 people and ask them to fill this out on their blogs.
Oh hell. I get in trouble when I do this. If you want to do it, do it; if I read your blog (and I read a buttload of them), I'd be curious to see your answers to this.

Monday, May 30, 2005


There are things that are mine to write about. I'm forty-four years old now -- "midlife" by any definition; given my family history in which hardly anyone makes it past about 70 years old (and the ones who make it that far are in the minority), I'm probably well past the middle of my life. Tonight my mom and I watched a documentary about the violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, who is just about my age. She talked about her devotion to her work, and about her suicide attempt at one low point when -- it was implied -- her work, her art, was not enough to overcome loneliness and loss. I don't have her intensity and sometimes I wish I did. But would I go where she went, would I willingly go there even if it meant I would write with as much genius as she pours into her playing? Last night Mom and I watched a Bobby McFerrin concert on DVD. He's a freakin' genius too -- the man embodies music, apparently has a red telephone hotwired directly to the muse. But he seems to have so much joy. It's an intensity, but a very different one from Nadja's.

Do I have any of that intensity, either the painful passion or the joyous kind? Am I mired in middle-aged mediocrity? When I'm dying -- whenever that happens -- will I wish I'd taken the standard route and put my energies into finding a partner, having a family? Has what I've done with my life so far been enough to justify not taking that route? It's too late for many things now -- so where do I go with this?

There are things that are mine to write about, and some of them I've barely touched so far. Some of them I may never touch even though they're mine. Some of them belong in dark rooms and silence. Some of them don't.

In my life, I am mostly happy. Content. Is contentedness enough? It is if you're a cat, but for a woman?

There are things that are mine to write about, and things that are not.

All day today I've had a stunning headache. I've barely been online while I've been here at my mom's, which makes me realize how much this online world serves to fill the gaps when I have no actual human voices around me. And poetry, what gaps does that fill? The ones that will always be there no matter what?

Back tomorrow night. Probably won't catch up on comments or email until Tuesday night. Be kind to yourselves, friends -- be kind.

Friday, May 27, 2005

No chapbook love

Just got my rejection from the Flume Press chapbook contest. They actually give a couple pararaphs of critique, which is nice. They seemed to think the title was good ("Breach contains powerful imagery, especially in reference to the collection title") -- I like the title myself, so it's nice to get a little validation there -- and they picked out one poem they especially liked. And they picked out some stuff they didn't like so much, which I will think about. Anyway, they had 188 submissions; the winner was Sharon Charde, whoever she is -- Sharon, if you're out there, congratulations. (Congrats also to Christopher Buckley, Don Colburn, and Richard Spilman, who were finalists.)

Oh, and I get a copy of the winning chapbook -- Bad Girl at the Altar Rail, which is a cool title, isn't it? -- when it comes out. That's why I entered this particular contest -- getting a bit of critique & a copy of the winner makes the entry fee seem a lot more worthwhile.

I have another ms. currently out to a chapbook contest. I'd kind of like to revise Breach so that it doesn't duplicate any of the poems in Landlocked Luck, and send them both around for a while. Maybe that's a good goal for this summer. I think this will be the Summer of Revision. I don't feel like I have a whole lot new to say these days, so maybe revising the stuff I've got is the best plan. And god knows a lot of it needs it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Next week on an all-new episode of Land Mammal...

Tonight and tomorrow: house cleaning, packing, errand running, and so forth. Tomorrow night: drive up to Mom's (about a 4.5 hour drive, including the fun of wading through Indianapolis 500 traffic). Saturday: my 44th birthday; dinner with Mom and her boyfriend. Sunday: brunch with Mom at Tippecanoe Place (followed shortly by a rather comatose state -- they serve a HUGE, wonderful brunch). Monday: drive back home. Don't expect a whole lot of blogging till I get back.

Next week: need to write up two ultra-short bio notes, find two appropriate quotations with which to open, and select two 4.5-minute groups of poems to record for "The Poets Weave" with Jenny Kander on WFIU, our local NPR station. These will air on July 24 and August 7 at 11:45 am Indiana time, and you can listen online -- I'll post reminders closer to the date! I actually think I know more or less what poems I'm going to read (Jenni - you'll like that one of the programs will be mostly Sugar poems) and I've written up the bios, but finding appropriate quotes is going to take some poking around. I always enjoy reading on the radio, though I can never quite bear to listen to the sound of my own voice.

Then I'll have the weekend to practice reading those poems and (gasp) do some writing, I hope. The IU Writers' Conference begins that Sunday (June 5th) and I'll be attending most of the evening readings, which should be fun. Monday the 6th I'll troop over to WFIU in the late afternoon to record poems. It's neat that I'm doing that in the midst of the conference energy -- the readings are usually a lot of fun and get me excited about poetry, and I'm glad they are open to the public so I can attend even in years when I don't spend money/vacation time on the conference itself.

The next 3 weeks or so are really busy at work though -- I'll be covering some odd shifts, working an evening or two and a couple of weekend days, which is unusual for me, and training a new student worker. I suspect the month between now and my D.A. Powell workshop is going to fly right by. Hooray!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Too Cranky for Poetry: A List

  1. Realized today that with the way Northwest Airlines has changed my schedule on me (they cancelled the sweet nonstop flight I originally had), my trip to Provincetown is being cut short by what feels like almost a full day -- I will have to catch the 11 am ferry back to Boston in order to make my 5:48 pm flight. That is the latest flight of the day on Northwest, and the next later ferry would get me to the airport without enough time to safely make the plane. I'd hoped to spend the morning/early afternoon on the beach or on a whale-watch boat and catch the 3:00 ferry; under the original schedule that would have gotten me to the airport about 90 minutes before my flight. (It's 90 minutes on the ferry, plus allow about a half-hour to get across the harbor via water taxi & catch the bus to the airport proper.) I will investigate flying via Cape Air, but I think that will be too expensive to consider. I am bummed about this hijacking of the last few hours of my vacation. On the other hand, I may be able to meet up with some Boston friends for lunch at the airport, since I'll be there for over four hours.
  2. Took my car to get the oil changed today and found out that my brake lights are completely out. Since I don't have a garage to park in, I don't really have any way to see my own brake lights (picture a 1991 Toyota Corolla craning itself around to check out its own butt), so no idea how long this has been the case, and I'm quite surprised I have not been pulled over. The bulbs are apparently fine, so they suspect it is the switch. I drove across the street to the Marathon with the decent garage, but they were unable to look at it today. So first thing tomorrow morning, instead of getting to work on time, I have to take the car to the shop. I can't drive around without brake lights!
  3. On top of all that, our e-reserves server at work was apparently down today, and it was like pulling teeth to get anyone to give me any information about it. Sure hope it's back tomorrow.
  4. So overall, I am just plain cranky today. Too cranky for poetry.
  5. Two good things: [5a] In three days, I turn forty-four years old. [5b] And in one month, I will be able to get sand between my toes and salt water on my lips. I'll spend my mornings by the water, my afternoons talking about poetry, and my evenings going to readings & coming back to my little room to write. I cannot imagine any better vacation. (Well, okay, having class in the morning so I could have my beach time in the afternoons would be a little better. But that's okay. I'm counting the days anyhow.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Blogoview Question of the Week

Charlie asks: "If you could turn any room or building in the world into your writing studio, what would you choose and why?"

Take a look at these cottages ... one of these (preferably the Beach Cottage, though I'll take any of 'em) comes pretty darn close to my answer. At least at this moment. This is like asking what's my favorite book -- I suspect I'll have a different answer if you ask me in a month.

Why here? Because the thought of being able to look up from writing and see the ocean makes me sigh dreamily. I do a lot of staring into space when I'm writing, and the constant-yet-constantly-changing view of the water would, I think, be perfect. Enough change and movement to stimulate me, but not so much that I'd get distracted and watch instead of writing. Also, I could step out the door and walk on the beach when I needed to get some air, or sit outside and write on nice days. Having lived all my life in the Midwest, the thought of being next to the ocean (okay, the bay, but close enough) makes me all swoony. My two favorite vacation places (Provincetown and Maui) are both ocean-y places, and the smell of salt air makes me feel so awake.

Someday maybe I'll get a little grant and I can rent a place like this for a month and have a little writing retreat. (I daydream of a month-long writing retreat -- that's probably the longest I could manage to get off work -- but it won't happen as long as I have a geriatric, diabetic cat to take care of. After he's gone, mind you I'm in no hurry for that to happen, I might be able to take the other cat to my mom's for a month of being spoiled & playing with her other cats while I zip off to a writing retreat somewhere. But even then, a place like these cottages will be out of reach financially ... but there are a lot of wonderful retreats I could try to get into. It's a favorite dream of mine right now.)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Thanks and welcome

First, my thanks to the generous souls who agreed to take a look at the poem I was stuck on. You guys rock! (Please know that there's no hurry, though -- I doubt I'll have time to work on the thing until after Memorial Day. Sigh.)

Second, welcome to any readers picking me up via the feed at slisblogs.com. I feel like I should watch my mouth now, or something. ;) Y'all should know that I don't talk about SLIS stuff much here, or much library stuff at all, really -- this blog is devoted primarily to nattering about writing, or writing about nattering, as the case may be, with a side dish of dithering and blathering. If you are interested in contemporary poetry & poetics, click through to my blog and check out my links to many other (much more interesting) poet-bloggers.

(For those non-SLIS folks who are now scratching their heads, SLIS is the School of Library & Information Science here at Indiana U., and the SLIS Library is where I work & how I pay the bills that poetry refuses to look at. Damn poetry. Someday it's gonna take me out to lunch and pick up the check, I swear to god, or else it's getting kicked out of this house. Poetry is such a moocher.)

It is just over a month now till I head out to Provincetown for a week-long poetry workshop on "Vision and Revision" with D.A. Powell at the Fine Arts Work Center. I can't decide whether I'm looking forward to it more for the workshop itself or for just getting the heck out of Indiana for a few days. Both, I guess. P-town is one of my favorite places on the planet, but it feels even better to be going there with a purpose this time -- like I'm not just another tourist. Silly, I know. And I know I will learn a ton from D.A. Powell; I'm rereading Cocktails now and his use of language is just, well, wow. And it will be good to spend a few days studying with someone whose voice is so very different from my own. Hopefully that will help me to step outside my own work a bit and understand how to revise it -- not just editing, but re/vision, seeing it again with new eyes and different understandings. I plan to take a little stack of poems I feel more or less stuck on. Hopefully I'll make some headway.

Patty Larkin is on E-Town on the radio right now. Oh, this is so nice. I listen to someone like her and I wish I were a musician instead of a poet. There are things that can be said in the bend of a note that can't be said in whole volumes filled with words. Sometimes I think my poetry wishes it could be music the way a barking dog chasing geese into the air wishes she could fly.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Two funnies and a request

The best laugh I've had all week: Emily has a great post at her blog about "poetry face" -- and Robin points out that "The cat deliberately mistakes poetry face for cat-ass-mirror. Cats like to edit, though."

CAT-ASS-MIRROR! I am still giggling over that one.


Some searches that have led people to my blog in the last month or so:
national hairball awareness day
strange mammal
cheating poems
duck manuscripting
find the mammal donut whole
"adam eve and steve"
poems about librarians
picture of hairball


Would anyone be willing to take a look at a somewhat long-ass poem I'm wrestling with? It's about two and a half pages right now, fairly narrative, and it feels terribly unfocused -- I'm afraid that I am too wedded to the "true story" and haven't yet unearthed the actual truth of the poem. I don't need extensive critique at this point, just a sense of direction, maybe -- nobody's read it yet and it feels like time. You can comment here or backchannel me (ahaines at gmail dot com) and I can fire it off to you, with much gratitude.

(No pressure, mind. I can always bring it in to my poetry group for a little feedback, so don't feel that someone must pipe up here.)


I did get my new laptop power cord yesterday, and we had a joyous little reunion last night. Let there be power!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Haven't fallen off the face of the earth...

...I'm just dealing with Technical Difficulties. The power cord for my laptop died a few days ago, and my desktop machine is so slow I get fed up after a few minutes -- so my home connectivity has been limited. And I don't like to blog from work very much. I actually ordered a new power cord before the old one completely died, but I should've ordered it sooner, I guess.

There is no phrase sweeter than "out for delivery" on the UPS website. Hopefully I'll be back in action sometime tonight.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Biding my time

I haven't been writing much for the past couple-three weeks. Oddly, I feel fairly OK with this. I did draft a sortakinda poem a few days ago, in a voice that's fairly different for me -- I may pull it out later and see if it's worth working on, but I suspect that part of what's happening is that I do want to try working in some new ways/new voices and I can't quite just plunge directly from the familiar patterns into new ones. I have a sneaking suspicion that sometime in the next month -- or for sure, sometime during my D.A. Powell workshop in P-town -- a poem will come out of me that will make me say "what the HELL?" but in a good way. You know, sometimes you can write a poem, and you look at it afterwards and it doesn't seem like a part of you, it seems like a poem someone else would have written -- but you really like it and it occurs to you that because of this poem, there are others you can write now.

So I'm biding my time, blogging here and there (but not a whole lot of that as I feel awfully boring lately), reading poems and fiction (just finished Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues, which is marvelous) and other stuff, using this time to fire off a lot of submissions, trying to maintain the condition of being OK with this not-writing-at-the-moment thing. If I don't keep part of my mind connected to poetry, it will be easy to fall into the trap of thinking I have nothing of any importance to say, nothing to write about. But I am reading (poetry and blogs and poetry blogs and other stuff), and I am doing a good job of keeping a bunch of submission packets out at all times; I do not feel like I have stepped away from poetry, as I have at times in the past. I'm still there with it, just keeping silent for a bit. This is different from not having anything to say -- this is knowing I have something to say, but not quite knowing what yet, or in what language or in what form.

Something in there's percolating. Drip drip drip brewing, steam still not quite visible but beginning to rise. I'll try not to be too impatient with it. And before too long, it will be soup. I mean poetry. It's so hard to tell the difference sometimes, isn't it?

(This coming weekend is busy: intensive housecleaning, as I am off to my mom's the following weekend -- Memorial Day weekend -- to celebrate my b-day, and although I'm the least picky housekeeper on the planet, I do need to have the place at least tidy enough for the cat sitter to find the cats. And maybe have a place for her to sit down, too. And only the smaller dust bunnies should be allowed to stay, not the ones that might attack her and chew her to smithereens. So that's two weekends without much writing time. After getting back from Mom's, I suspect I will hit the writing with renewed vigor. ...I hope so, anyway.)

Friday, May 13, 2005

quick before it storms

The comments on my writers' group posts have me thinking about other aspects of the writers' group experience I want to blog about, though not tonight. The question of when -- and whether -- to open an existing group to new members is a tricky thing that's caused tensions, both good and bad, in both of the groups I've belonged to. It can feel as easy as hiring the perfect candidate for a job, or as emotionally challenging as opening up a previously-monogamous marriage. (Not that I have any experience with the latter.)

Diane K. Martin has a group that's been together for 18 years. That deserves notice, and probably applause.

Welcome to the blogosphere: Garbo! Garbo was a long-time member of Source, my first writers' group, until she moved away from Bloomington. She is an amazing fiction writer, and I never regretted that the group was mixed-genre because it was so cool to read her work as it evolved, plus she was always a good poetry reader/critiquer. Sometimes I get my best critique from fiction writers, oddly enough (this was the case in the class I took from Cathy Bowman as well). I could tell you about the time that Source went on a weekend camping retreat and a mole popped up under Garbo's tent in the middle of the night and scared the crap out of her by whispering in her ear, but I'll save her the embarrassment.

Uh, oops. :)

Also stumbled across E. Ethelbert Miller's blog, which is worth a read, and which I don't believe I have seen mentioned anywhere.

Spent the afternoon training a new staff member, so I'm pooped and brain-dead, so no further profundities from me tonight.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

One important rule and two tidbits

Two rejection slips this week (so far). One had a scribbled "sorry" with the editor's name, which isn't as encouraging as "we liked this but" or "try us again" but I choose to be encouraged by it, dammit. Especially since it came from a relatively prestigious mag. Also in the mail today: an oversized postcard from the Fine Arts Work Center advertising their summer gallery schedule. In honor of the exhibit "Stanley Kunitz / The Wild Braid: A Celebration of Stanley's 100th Birthday," the front of the postcard is a lovely photograph of Kunitz in his garden, seen through a haze of unfocused leaves. I assume this photo is by Marnie Crawford Samuelson, whose exhibit it is. Too bad that exhibit doesn't open until three weeks after I'll be there. It's a neat photograph -- I may try to find a little frame that fits it, and hang it in my study. I was fortunate enough to hear Kunitz speak (it wasn't exactly a reading, more like a talk with some poems in it) two years ago in Provincetown. It was such an event -- the buzz in the room before he entered was palpable, and his energy/spirit was absolutely incredible. I thought, here's a man who has loved his life. And I realized that one of my own goals is for people to be able to say that about me, someday.

Well, not so much the "man" part. You know.


Today's newspaper, in the "weekend" tabloid section, has a nice article on poet Kevin Young. When he started winning prizes right and left a couple years ago, I predicted he wouldn't stick around Indiana much longer, and sure enough, I was right -- he's packing up and moving to Atlanta to teach at Emory. As I recall, Komunyakaa left right after he started scooping up prizes too. Go figure. I wonder who they'll recruit to replace Young -- if nothing else, this probably means there will be several worthwhile readings next academic year, since they always have their two or three top candidates do a public reading when they come in for interviews.

I may pick up his new book, Black Maria -- at least check it out from the library. I liked Jelly Roll quite a bit.


In my post about writers' groups last night, I forgot to write about one of the most important rules we had in Source. The rule was, "Do not apologize for your work." Which means: Don't bring a poem to a meeting saying, "Well, this isn't very good, but..." If you really don't think it's any good, don't bring it in. And don't be afraid to own the goodness of your work. It can be really hard -- especially for women, who are taught to be self-effacing -- to say yes, I'm a writer, what I write is worth reading and worth the effort I put into it. It can be hard to do, but it's important to learn how to do it. It's important to learn to believe in your own work.

This doesn't mean you can't bring in a poem to the group and say "look, this is just a first draft, don't spend our workshop time picking on misspellings and comma faults." Because, sure, you can do that. Sometimes you have a piece that's a first draft and all you really need to know is whether it's worth working on or not, where its energy is, whether it makes any sense whatsoever. Sometimes you have a piece that's particularly difficult for you, whether it's because you're working with difficult content or whether you're trying out a new voice or whatever, and over-workshopping it will be damaging. It's important to be aware of this, and if you're in a group that's okay with this, to let them know. In Source we talked about "heart" and "craft" and sometimes we'd ask for just a "heart critique" -- trusting the writer to go back and polish the craft later on. I don't think the two can be separated quite as easily as this makes it seem, but I think there's validity in recognizing those two aspects of writing and honoring both of them. I've been in workshops that focused heavily on craft and never stepped back to say, "hey, what you're writing about here is important material" or "look, you're writing about this relationship you had, but howcome the other person never shows up in the poems?" You can skate dangerously close to therapy, and the dynamic of that is different in an academic workshop vs. the "chosen-family" feeling of a writers' group that has been together for years, but it is still valid to spend workshop time talking about what we write about in addition to talking about how we write about it.

Anyway. Don't apologize for your work. Don't say "This sucks. Please read it." Because, I mean, that's kind of like saying, "Here, taste this. I think it's spoiled." It's just not nice, either to you or to your reader(s). Just bring the work to the table and put it out there. Give your own work that much respect. That's all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

On writers' groups

First, my own history with writers' groups. In 1985, I founded a group called Source: Women Writers. That group met every week for nearly ten years, met sporadically for a few years after that, and still gets together on occasion. For much of that first ten years we put together public readings once or twice a year; we put out two self-published chapbooks, led a bunch of workshops, and got a couple of grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to do some workshops. This group was (as you might have guessed from the name of the group) all women, and had a specifically feminist (not specifically lesbian, though we were about half-and-half) orientation, and it was a mixed poetry/fiction group -- with the occasional song, essay, or other bit of writing thrown in for fun.

In 2001, I joined a group that had already been in existence for quite a while, Five Women Poets. (That group just celebrated its 30th anniversary last year -- two of the founding members are still in the group.) This group is all women and all poets (I know that comes as a great shock, because of the name) -- we don't necessarily have five members at any given time, though. Hey, we're poets, not mathematicians. We do a reading once a year; before I joined, the group had put out two chapbooks, and last year we put out a CD.

The dynamic involved in joining an existing group vs. starting a new one is pretty different, and here I'm going to focus primarily on my experiences with Source, although my experiences with Five Women Poets will enter in as well, I'm sure.

Anyway, I got a lot of my initial "how to do it" ideas from an essay by Marge Piercy, in her book Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt (U. of Michigan Poets on Poetry series). If I'm not mistaken, this essay also appeared in the Feminist Writers' Guild handbook, Words In Our Pockets (which looks to be out of print). This essay suggested such things as having food at each meeting and having the leadership/chairpersonship of the group rotate, so that everyone has a turn at being "in charge" -- both ideas I subscribe to wholeheartedly. I also got some of my ideas from the undergraduate creative writing workshops I'd been in.

When I decided to start a writers' group, I knew I wanted it to be an all-women's group; that's just where I was at the time and what worked for me. I couldn't decide whether I wanted it to be just poetry or both poetry & fiction, so I figured I'd just put up some flyers and see who called me. If too many women were interested, I'd limit it to poetry. As it turned out, I had about seven serious contacts, which was a nice size group, and a couple of them were more interested in fiction, so I went with the mixed group. For this particular group, that worked really well.

So how to find people to start a group? Five Women Poets was founded when Tonia & Helen (and several other poets) took a workshop from Sandra Gilbert and wanted to continue meeting after the semester was over. Drawing from an existing class or workshop, whether that's a university class, a summer workshop, or something at a local writers' center or arts center, is a very good way to find interested & compatible writers to meet with. You can also talk up the idea at local poetry readings or book groups -- libraries & bookstores often know about these.

When I went to start a writers' group, I just put up a crapload of flyers. I put them up in the English department on campus (nary a bit of interest from there), on bulletin boards in bookstores & grocery stores & the public library, and pretty much everywhere I could think of. Don't limit yourself to "literary" establishments only; I got two members from one flyer I'd offhandedly slapped up in a laundromat!

People will start to call you (hopefully), and when that happens you will want to know what to say to them. Although the group will take on its own character as it develops, and you probably don't want to be a benevolent (or otherwise) dictator, so you may be reluctant to set up rules in advance. However, if you reach this stage of the process with an "eh, whatever" attitude, you will wind up with an "eh, whatever" group. So think about what you want from a group. Are you a serious writer looking to produce polished, publishable work? Do you want a group because it will provide you with a certain amount of pressure to come up with a poem to workshop on a weekly basis? Do you want to spend most of your time on peer critique/workshopping, or would you rather do writing exercises together? (You can have a combination of these things, but you should think about what will be most useful to you.) Do you mainly just want to hang out with other writers, talking about writing and gossiping about who wrote nasty letters to Poetry this month and going to readings together sometimes? This is a perfectly valid sort of group to have, but if you want a serious workshoppy group and others in the group want to hang out and drink wine & chatter, someone's not going to get what they want.

And finally -- & maybe the most sticky, in a way -- what sort of people do you want in your group? I encourage you not to be overly picky about credentials: someone who's written very little poetry but who spends a lot of time reading the stuff can give terrific critique, and watching their own work evolve and improve can be ridiculously gratifying. Good questions to ask are: Have you been in a writing workshop before? (If they haven't, it can be fine, but you will want to talk about expectations and guidelines pretty carefully with them.) What poets/writers do you enjoy reading? Are you interested in publishing your work? Are you interested in giving readings?

The answers to questions like these will give you some idea of what sort of person and what sort of writer this is who's called you to inquire. I'm not going to tell you there is a right or wrong answer, but if you really want the group to give readings a couple times a year, you probably want the other group members to be at least persuadable in this direction. And while being published doesn't necessarily mean someone is a better writer than someone who's not published, to have made the effort to send stuff out tells you something about that writer's seriousness and intention.

So. Know what you want, but be flexible. You may want a group of seven very serious avant-garde poets who have all completed first book manuscripts and prefer to drink red Spanish wines while critiquing, but depending on where you live, you may not get to be that picky. But by asking the right questions, you should be able to weed out the Hallmark-card poets or the fifteen-year-old angsty goth poets, anyway. But do be flexible. If everyone keeps an open mind, there's no reason why you can't have a 60-year-old Mary Oliver fanatic and a 25-year-old avant-gardener in the same group. Really.

At the first meeting, I recommend that you do not plan on workshopping. I suggest having each person bring a finished piece of theirs which they feel introduces them, and spend the first meeting introducing yourselves and talking about where you want the group to go. Talk about workshop experiences: what's worked for people? what have been their bad experiences? Some of us who have been in a lot of workshops sort of take for granted that the person whose work is being discussed shuts up and listens, and then has time at the end to ask questions -- but someone who's never been in a workshop may not understand this. Talk about the ground rules. (I'm not saying, incidentally, that the "person being discussed shuts up" routine is the only way to run a workshop -- but I think most of the time it's a good practice.) Will you meet weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly? Will you meet in various people's houses, or do you have a meeting room on campus or at the public library or can you take over a cafe? Who brings food? Who brings the group to order? What if someone doesn't bring in work every meeting -- is someone kicked out of the group if they go several meetings without bringing in work? What if someone can't make a meeting? I strongly recommend requiring group members to let someone know if they're not going to be there, so you don't sit around waiting for them. What if someone can't make several meetings? Are the members OK with having sort of a "drop-in" membership, or is it important to know that most or all of the group members will be there ready to talk about the poem you worked so hard on? Will you meet at a specified time (every third Thursday at 8, the night of the full moon, the 10th of every month) or will you take time at each meeting to get out your calendars and schedule the next meeting? Source met every Thursday at 6:30; Five Women Poets plans month-by-month because we have a couple of members whose schedules are pretty wacky and unpredictable.

Will you send out your work ahead of time (much easier now that most everyone's got email), or will you pass out copies at the beginning of the meeting and spend the first half-hour or so reading & making notes, or do you prefer to critique "cold"? I prefer to have work ahead of time, but in a smaller group, taking time to read (and eat) at the beginning of the meeting can work well too. If you want work submitted ahead of time, agree on a deadline, so that someone doesn't email out a poem at 5:00 when you have a 7:00 meeting.

I do really recommend having food at meetings. It helps relax people, and if you meet in the evenings, a lot of times we working folks don't have time to get home from work and eat a proper dinner before zipping across town for a 6:30 or 7:00 meeting. Either have everyone bring something small every week, or take turns providing food. In Source, the member who was the designated "futon" (they would have been the "chair," see, except in the apartment I had at the time, I didn't have any chairs in the living room, only a futon...) was responsible for bringing food and convening the group/keeping us all in line. In Five Women Poets, everyone brings a little something and whoever is hosting that month's meeting in her home provides beverages.

I recommend against serving alcohol at the meetings, by the way. Some people don't drink, and some just plain shouldn't; it can be an ice-breaker, but it also turns the meeting into much more of a social event than a working session. You can break out the booze after the meeting, if you're so inclined.

How many to have in the group? If you have only three, you'd better all be there every single time, or else you're not going to get much feedback on your work. If you have twelve, it's hard to workshop everybody at every meeting. (Which isn't a requirement -- especially for fiction writers, you may want to plan on everyone getting workshopped once every two or three meetings -- but you want to make sure everyone does get a chance.) I recommend five to eight.

Also: Make sure everyone speaks up and feels comfortable doing so. In Source, at one point, we realized we were so much in the habit of interrupting each other that we finally got some little trinket or other and only the person holding that object was permitted to speak. That was a bit of a crutch, and we got past it, but it helped for a while.

Okay, so that's your first meeting. :) I'll talk more about workshopping and peer critique in another post, I think. Most people reading this blog probably have a fair amount of workshop experience, though there are some differences between a workshop led by a teacher and a peer-critique group, and I'd like to talk about that a bit. But later.

Here are a few things you can kick around for the future of your group, just to get you excited:
  • Public readings
  • Chapbook publication
  • Making a CD
  • Leading community workshops
  • Pooling your funds and bringing in a "name" poet to give you a private workshop now and then
  • Attending readings together
  • Sharing work by writers you enjoy, either reading to one another or bringing in books to pass around and borrow
  • Weekend (or longer) retreats -- you can go camping, rent a cabin, spend an afternoon at someone's house writing like crazy, have a sleepover, rent a van and drive to the coast!
  • Doing writing exercises together now & then if you normally spend your time workshopping, or vice-versa
  • Getting leather jackets & chains & starting a poetry motorcycle gang! OK, just kidding. Maybe.
That's it for now. More later. It's thunderstorming and I'd really better unplug the modem before lightning hits my laptop.

Monday, May 09, 2005

1974 is alive and well...

A while back I posted about some cool library book sale finds, including several old issues of Poetry. I mentioned that the 1974 issue I found had cover art that, well, placed it pretty firmly in the 1970s. I finally had a chance to scan the thing. Check this out:

Poetry, August 1974

Saturday, May 07, 2005


Someone said the date
oh five, oh seven, oh five
should be haiku day.
(I ganked that from someone on livejournal and now I forget who.)

Happy Haiku Day!
Today all blogging should be
Done in haiku form.

Five, seven, and five --
There are more rules to haiku
But that would be hard.

So go for it, y'all.
Five, seven, five for your blogs
To honor this day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

My First Time...

Peter and some other folks have been posting their first published poems this week. After some hemming and hawing (what the hell is "hemming and hawing" anyway? Hemming should be shortening one's pants, and "hawing" -- ?) I'm joining in. I wrote this when I was, um, probably 12 years old. Unbeknownst to me, my mother submitted it to a local literary journal, the Michiana Poetry Review, and they accepted it. (I suspect they liked its "childlike simplicity" or some such thing. They put a cute little pen-and-ink drawing of a little girl in big rain boots carrying a cute umbrella next to it on the page.) They had a little celebratory reading in a coffeehouse and I went with my parents, feeling all artsy and poetic and grown-up and stuff. I don't remember for sure, but I probably wore black. Heh.


Rain comes down softly,
Or quickly
And thickly.

-A.H., published in Michiana Poetry Review, 1973

Yep, that's it, that's all there is. Even shorter than "Door." Hah! I submitted several poems (doing it myself this time, not leaving it to my mom) for their next issue, and they sent me a rejection letter that said "we do not have a children's page." I was a tiny bit crushed, but apparently I got over it.

Okay, that one sort of doesn't count. There was the usual string of publications in high school and college literary mags, and then this was my first poem in a journal that was not published in my own state (I still kinda like this one):


Your face, radioactive blue
in late television light.
The sound blurred, magnetic
waves through a storm.
Upper atmosphere
disturbance, I think,
watching your eyes
flicker, not really seeing
the late, late show.
It crosses my mind
to say something, but you
don't know I'm here, standing
in the doorway, watching you.
I tiptoe upstairs
in the dark, in the subliminal,
fluorescent hum
as the storm comes closer
lightning on the horizon
cutting through the static
the bright, unsteady glow
of the all-night station.

-A.H. 1985, published in Images, 1988

That publication kicked off a string of about five years in which I got published fairly regularly, something I found I enjoyed a great deal -- got into some pretty good journals, had a few chapbook mss. named as finalists in pretty good contests, etc. -- then around early '94 I stopped writing & submitting for a few years. I guess I'm back in the thick of it now, though, and it feels good. I suppose it's a "guilty pleasure" because I know publishing isn't the point of it all, and I'm certain that it's highly uncool to admit this, but damn, I like getting published. It's fun.

Come on, admit it. If you send stuff out for publication, it's because you like it, too. It's not like we are in this for the money. :)

P.S. Added a handful of new links over there --------->

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Amy Lowell

The current issue of Bloom has a nice interview with Honor Moore (by Joan Larkin), about the new American Poets Project edition of Amy Lowell's selected poems, which Moore edited. Interesting stuff. Like many people, I suspect, I was only slightly familiar with Lowell's work -- but along with the interview there are a couple of her poems in Bloom, and one of them, "The Weather-Cock Points South," had me practically fanning myself. Oh my. I know "labia-as-flower" is the biggest cliche in the Big Book of Lesbian Cliches, but the detail and specificity in this poem and the lovely unhurried rhythm of it fully redeem it from cliche-land, as far as this reader is concerned.

I've just read it again, and I think I need to go be alone for a while. Good night.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The little poem that could

A couple of years ago I wrote a teeny tiny little poem called "Door." Seven short lines. (In fact, I was taking a workshop with Cathy Bowman at the time, just for the heck of it -- the only graduate-level workshop one can take at IU without being in the MFA program -- and wrote the poem as an assignment for that class. The assignment? "Write a short poem." Cathy's response? "Wow, that's really short." Muahaha.)

I decided it wasn't a bad little poem, and sent it out. Lo and behold, it got accepted the first time out (which hardly ever happens) and appeared in issue 9 of Poetry Midwest. A bit later, my poetry group, Five Women Poets, decided to record a CD to celebrate the group's thirtieth anniversary. (No, I haven't been with the group for 30 years -- I would have had to join when I was 13, and hoo boy did my poems suck then. We do still have two of the original founding members, though.) I selected "Door" as one of the poems I wanted to record.

A couple of months later, I received an email from a local composer, who was working on setting a bunch of poems by Bloomington poets. He'd read a bunch of my poems and listened to our CD. The poem he wanted to set to music? "Door." Of course I said yes; I've heard the piece once so far, and it's really cool, partly because it's very different from anything I would have imagined for it -- it's fascinating to get a glimpse into how someone else hears my words. He's continuing to work on this project and sometime next fall, I think, there will be a performance and possibly a CD. He is quite a good composer with a lovely baritone voice, and his partner is a faculty member in the IU School of Music -- one of the best music schools in the country -- so you can imagine his work has a bit of Serious Music Cred.

I ran into him at a reading not long ago, and he said that he'd submitted some samples of this project to a state agency in an effort to obtain a grant. They'd given him some feedback, and the piece they most especially liked? Yep, "Door."

For a teeny tiny little short poem, this puppy's racking up a lot of mileage. I am quite amused. It's far from the best poem I have ever written, but my goodness, how can I not be fond of a poem that makes such good things happen? It's my lovable-runt-of-the-litter poem. It's the little poem that could.


I often stand in doorways
between one room and the next
looking in, looking out.
It isn’t indecision
that keeps me here
but the moment of passage,
the opening, the frame.

-A.H. 2003; first published in Poetry Midwest

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Chapbook armed and ready

Phew. Just finalized a 30-page chapbook ms. for a contest. (The guidelines specify 25-40 pages, so 30 sounds good to me.) I think in the process I identified something new to write about. The ms. has 2 sections, one on home and the body and one with poems about animals (not that animals don't show up quite a bit in the first section...), and I started thinking about the connection between the two. I stole a couple lines from Mark Doty as an epigraph for the second section: "and on the street a few men knew what I wished: / that my plain clothes hid hooves and haunches." (from "Now You're an Animal") And I think that I wish my relationship with "home and the body" (two concepts I tend to conflate in the first-section poems) were as uncomplicated as an animal's relationship with its body. Okay, that's a big oversimplification, but if Mister Norton Anthology is reading this, clip'n'save just in case I ever get famous, because there's your first footnote. ;)

(And yes, I've totally misappropriated the Doty lines in a way -- what he meant by them is kind of different from what I'm working with -- doh! -- but I think they add kind of a cool dimension to the animality [is that a word?] of the poems in my second section. So.)

The epigraph for the first section is a couple lines from an Indigo Girls song. Sometimes I am such a lesbian.

I wish chapbook contests would be a little more uniform in their requirements, because this other one that I'd like to enter has a 15-20 page specification. I think that means if I want to enter, I'm going to have to start from scratch and do an entirely different manuscript. I guess I could take one section from this ms. and add a couple extra poems, though. Well, that's for later. I've barely done any reading this weekend, and haven't even touched my journal in days and days, so I think the rest of this evening -- what precious little there is left of it -- will have to be devoted to reading & writing.

Which is not, after all, such a bad note on which to end the weekend.