Monday, June 29, 2009

New kids & cheap books

Quick notes:

  • Look who's blogging now! A couple of my favorite poets have recently joined the (I know this isn't a word) blogosphere: D.A. Powell and Patricia Fargnoli. Drop by and welcome them.
  • The University of Pittsburgh Press is having a humongous Summer Poetry Sale until August 1. Lots of great stuff for half price. Because you can never have too many books, right? (sigh)

I know. I know.

Seems like every post I make starts off with an apology. I'm going to stop doing that & just accept that these days I don't seem to have much to blog about, or much inclination. I'm still reading most of you at least occasionally. Not quite ready to declare myself on an official hiatus, not just yet.

Today I spent, no joke, about ten hours tampering with manuscripts -- both the Firstborn and the New Kid. I rejiggered the Firstborn somewhat: pulled out a good handful of poems and shook up the sections, which now number 4 instead of 5. The New Kid is still taking up more space than it oughta, but it's down below 100 pages now at least, which is a pretty nifty feat considering the very first draft clocked in at just over 140. (I know! Crazy. This thing is gonna have more viable outtakes than Springsteen's The River album.)

I'm still working on tightening up the New Kid. But, I'd be very happy to get suggestions for presses that might consider a strongly thematic poetry manuscript of almost 100 pages.

The two mss. are so different it's unreal. I definitely feel that they are both "my voice," whatever that means, and they certainly have some overarching themes/obsessions in common (I'm almost afraid to run either of them through a tag-cloud machine because I'm scared to see how big the word "light" would be), but there are very, very few -- if any -- poems that could conceivably be swapped from one into the other. #1 is your typical first book, where I'd written poems one by one over several years & have played puzzle pieces with them, fitting them together to see how they interact with one another. It does have an emotional/thematic arc, or a couple of them, and I do think it hangs together as a ms. But #2 clearly has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and almost all of the poems in it were written knowing that they were going to be part of an extended story. In fact some of the poems in #2 may not even make a lot of sense outside the context of the collection.

It was interesting today, going back to the Firstborn after having spent so much of my time & energy on the New Kid recently; despite their differences I'd definitely gained a few insights that helped me tighten up the Firstborn. So, that's good.

What is the New Kid about? Well, I've got snippets from various places incorporated throughout the thing, and this one sums up a good bit of it:
"On stage your exhilaration is in direct proportion to the void you're dancing over."
--Bruce Springsteen, Super Bowl Journal (February 2009)
Anyone else out there have the experience of working on two different collections simultaneously? I never thought I'd find myself in this position, for sure. It's interesting.

I do have two readers lined up for the New Kid, and one for the revised Firstborn. I don't know whether or not I want to go out looking for more, but if anyone's dying to cast an evaluative eye on one of 'em, feel free to backchannel me.

I've had a few other things eating my brain over the past few weeks, besides poetry. I've vacillated about whether or not I wanted to mention anything about this in such a public place, and I may come back later & edit this post -- but, my mom has just started radiation treatments for a wee dab of breast cancer. All the doctors are extremely optimistic, and there's every reason to believe that after a little radiation she'll be able to put this thing completely behind her. But it has, understandably I think, thrown me for a bit of a loop. So there's that to contend with. Among other things.

Well, this has certainly been a self-involved post. I was going to leave you with a really cool video to make up for that a bit, but it's been taken down from YouTube "due to a copyright claim by British Broadcasting Corporation." Dang. It was Springsteen singing "The River" at the Glastonbury festival in the UK a couple days ago; a decent performance of one of his best songs, but what was really cool about it was that steam was visibly rising off of his body. He sweats a lot when he's onstage, and apparently it was chilly & damp at Glastonbury (chilly & damp in that part of the world? nooooo!) which caused the striking visual effect. I mean, I've seen racehorses steaming after a workout, but never rockstars. It's an image I would love to steal for my rock-related manuscript, but nobody would believe it! You'll just have to take my word for it, I guess. It was just a cool, cool video, with the steam and the humongous crowd and the giant flags & banners everywhere. Maybe they'll release it on DVD or something. One can only hope. I'd buy it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Peeking out from under

Sorry I haven't been around. I'm way behind on email as well, so if I owe you one, please be patient & accept my apologies... I've had a lot going on, to be honest, some of which won't see the light of this blog, some of which will.

What I've been doing

Well, partly, I've now got a working draft of my second (!) book manuscript. (The firstborn is out there in the world, visiting editors and trying to make nice. Imagine it like some ever so slightly questionable hippie hitchhiking and couch-surfing, hoping somebody will ask it to just move in...) I was actually up until ahem-ahem-A.M. one night last week pulling together the initial draft, from which I've since pulled out a bunch of poems and added a couple of new ones. This one has been a very different experience from my first ms., in that this has consciously been A Project almost from the beginning, just over a year ago. I won't say that makes it better or worse than the firstborn, just different. I'm at the dangerous stage right now of being a little bit in love with the thing. I need to get over that before I start giving it to readers (got the first one lined up).

Now that this ms. has gone from being a disorganized pile of poems to being A Thing, I may be in a better position to go back to the firstborn and revisit it; I haven't looked closely at it for a few months. They're very different projects, but maybe I've learned a few things. I actually want to write at more length about the differences between the two, though maybe talking too much about a manuscript before it gets accepted anywhere might jinx it.


The Indiana University Writers' Conference is going on this week. As always, the evening readings by conference faculty are open to the public. I can't make most of them this week due to work & other commitments, but I did get to see Aracelis Girmay and Manuel Munoz the other night. I heard Aracelis Girmay last year at the Indiana Review "funk reading" and really liked her work, so I was glad to see her again; she read a lot of new work that was just phenomenal. (Seriously, there was a poem involving a green dress which alone was worth the price of admission -- well, the reading was free, but if there'd been an admission price, this poem would've been worth it. It got spontaneous mid-reading applause, too, which is always nice.) I enjoyed Manuel Munoz as well; fiction readings often leave me a bit cold, especially when the writer races through paragraphs & pages like they were being paid by the word & need to get in as many as possible in their allotted time, but he read at just the right pace & had a great reading voice. I'll have to check out his work.

Road Trip

I seem to have planned a quick trip out East in late August (yes, there are concert tickets involved). I haven't yet booked a flight, so I'll throw this out there: if anyone knows of a possible reading venue in or near Boston, MA or Providence, RI on August 20 or 21, drop me a note. If I could sell a few chapbooks, it'd be worth my while to extend the trip by a day or so.

You Know You're Really Truly Middle-Aged...

... when you find yourself reading an article about one of your favorite rockstars, not in High Times or Rolling Stone, but in Arthritis Today.



Here's one of the newest poems from Manuscript #2 (aka The Project That Pretty Much Ate My Brain This Year). The protagonist has been on the road and is well on the way to becoming a successful touring musician, but there turns out to be a price...

(I'll take this down in a day or two)

[gone again, gone again]

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ah, memories...

Spent some time poking around Flickr tonight and was rewarded by finding one more great shot from the Springsteen show in Chicago last month. You may need to click on the photo to enlarge it. Look just to the left of Bruce, a little lower than his butt (ahem). I'm the chick in the tie-dye t-shirt, singing along for all she's worth.

Damn, that was a great night.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Poem of the week & salsa!

My first writers' group (the one that I started back in, um, 1985 or 1986 -- we meet sporadically and casually these days, but we still have a powerful bond with one another) met yesterday afternoon. We sat around on Barb's back deck in the sunshine, which was lovely. Anyway, we generally bring some kind of munchies to share, and I was in a chips-and-salsa mood so that's what I brought. Except I randomly decided to bring a kind of salsa I'd never tried before: peach-mango! Boy oh boy, is that ever some good stuff. It has that spicy-sweet thing going on that I just love. Very summery and refreshing. I brought home what was left & just finished it off as an after-work snack (I had the late shift on the reference desk tonight so didn't get home until after 9). Yum.

Then I randomly stumbled across a poem I know I'd read before, but not recently. You know how sometimes a poem you've read before will haul off and wallop you upside the head like a whole new revelation? Yeah. That. This is the one that did it to me this time:

The Truth the Dead Know

For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

-Anne Sexton

That third stanza! Holy crap. And the fourth one too. I'm generally allergic to drama and excessive intensity in my actual life (not counting whatever happens in the context of a rock show), but boy howdy do I love it in poems.

* * * * *

As I was typing that my computer made its little "you have a new message! go look at it instead of having any kind of actual attention span!" chime. I could tell from the first few words (gmail displays the subject line and the first few words of the message before you open it) that it was a rejection note -- when they're accepting something they usually use your name instead of the generic "Dear Poet" -- but was pleased to note a P.S. mentioning they'd liked one of the poems, which was my own favorite of the batch anyway. I think that's the first time I've ever gotten "ink" on an emailed rejection note; I've gotten emailed rejections that I suspected were the "encouraging" version of the form rejection, but I've never been sure about those. Too bad they didn't actually take any of the poems, but encouragement is encouraging and so I am duly encouraged.