Monday, August 31, 2009

In season

I have only two batches of poems currently out, and the reading period for lots of journals begins September 1st (which, though I swear the calendar has got to be pulling my leg, is tomorrow). So... you know what that means: time for this girl to get her act together and get some poems sent out. Though I probably won't take the time to do it until this coming weekend.

I always overthink the submission process -- reading over guidelines, analyzing sample poems from various journals trying to decide if they're anything like any of mine, fiddling with the index cards I still use to keep track of where my poems are and where they've been, making and remaking submission packets. So I thought I'd ask you guys how you go about it.
  • How much do you pay attention to your submission packets as a group -- as a mini-manuscript, as it were? Do you try to send out poems that play off of one another, poems that exhibit a wide stylistic range, a grab bag to give the editors different things to choose from, poems that belong together? What about if you're working on a thematic manuscript or group of poems -- do you send poems from that group out together, and if so, do you point out that fact in your cover letter?
  • Do you pay attention to the order of your poems? I always think I'm putting the strongest poem first in my packets, but looking over my submissions spreadsheet, it looks like the last poem gets picked just about as often as the first. Which probably says as much about the fact that I am not a good judge of my own poems as anything.
  • Do you like to send out a bunch of packets all at once & then sit back for a while, or do you maybe send out one or two at a time & then a little while later send out one or two more?
  • When they come back, do you send out the same group of poems all together to the next journal, or do you go back and make new selections?
  • Finally, I'm always open to recommendations for new places to submit! I like online journals and print journals, both -- I love the feeling of holding a print journal in my hands & seeing my work literally "in print" but I also love being able to send out a URL because it's so much easier to share the poems that way. There are lots of good journals in both formats and I try to keep a bit of a balance in my submissions pattern. So if you've got a journal you really like, or especially if you think of one that my work might be a good fit for, I am all (virtual) ears.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

That long held breath before beginning

The evening feels tinged with sadness in an unexpected way, as the day's clouds clear away just in time for the last of the light. I'm acutely aware of everything I didn't get done this weekend. I've been low-energy, knocked low by a cold that I probably caught either in the pit at the Springsteen show or else on the plane there or back. (In which case it was worth it...)

Classes at the university where I work start tomorrow. It's always hectic, with thousands of students pouring onto campus: long lines at restaurants, parking lots filled to bursting, Target not someplace you want to even think about setting foot in for a while. But at the same time I always love it. Thousands of people, every one of them feeling like they get to have a bit of a new beginning. It's pretty sweet in a hectic, crowded, obnoxious way.

This month marks thirty years since I first moved to Bloomington as a starry-eyed eighteen-year-old freshman. I fell in love with the place right away, sensed that I could become a lot of different people here. I took classes in which people took me seriously as a thinker, as a writer; I learned to take myself seriously as well (maybe a bit too seriously). Funny to think that I have been here so long, stayed here to ride out so many changes. Funny to think of what's stayed the same.

* * * * *

A little pile of rejections over this past week. Clearing the decks, I suppose, for a big submission push in September. At least, if I know what's good for me.

Also got proofs for my poem that's forthcoming in the fall issue of Field. Nice to be reminded of the little successes in the midst of aforementioned rejection pile.

* * * * *

A draftish thing from yesterday, which will (as per usual) disappear after a day or so:


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Night 2 & onward: Don't you lose heart

I don't have it in me to write an extensive review of the second Springsteen/E Street show in Mansfield. Not because it wasn't any good -- it was fan-freakin-tastic. Not because I don't want to boast about how close I got to the stage (one person between me & the stage, more or less in front of Steve Van Zandt, a great vantage point from which to appreciate all the little interactions that go on among the band members). But in many ways, that second show struck me in a non-verbal, purely physical place. Maybe because it was about a million degrees and a kazillion percent humidity in the pit and I sweated more that night than I think I ever have since back in the days of karate practice in a non-air-conditioned dojo. Maybe because it's hard for me to accept how much being at a show like that is home for me, and the brutal fact of it is that I don't get to have that experience more than a few times a year, and sometimes when I'm not actively nestled in the heart of E Street Nation I feel a little bit exiled.

I console myself with music. Right now I'm listening to the bootleg of that second night, when they took a request for a song called "Janey Don't You Lose Heart" -- an older song that I have only recently fallen quite in love with, and had not at all expected to hear performed. In a way it's a slighter song, not one of the big classics, not one of the epics. It isn't "Thunder Road" or "The Rising" or even "Prove It All Night." But it's a sweet song, and it was played with great affection.

That's part of what I love about how the band is performing these days -- the sheer fondness for the songs which is so clearly evident. I've seen & read a couple of interviews with Bruce where he talks about how it's like you're in a car with all the people you have been over the years, the crazy 20-year-old, the 30-year-old who just wants to crash the car into a wall, and so on, and you just hope the guy who's driving is one of the reasonable ones. (Completely paraphrasing there; he said it much better than that.) These days, it's clearly the pushing-sixty Bruce who's driving, taking great care, using all his years of experience to navigate the hairpin curves. But what I love about the guy and his art is that he has never kicked any of those other people out of the car. He is still solidly in touch with the youthful wildness that inspired "Born to Run," the rage that inspired songs like "Murder Incorporated," the sorrow of "Point Blank" or "The River," the complicated emotions of "Independence Day." When he plays those songs it's not with irony or nostalgia; it's with a real inhabiting of the original emotion that inspired the song, but also with a sense of affection and compassion for the version of himself that wrote the song. If that makes any sense at all.

And watching that, watching what happens on that stage as he re-inhabits those songs with compassion & affection but without losing the hard-earned 60-year-old self that can drive that car safely home -- I begin to understand something that I haven't quite put words to, yet. As Springsteen sings in "Tunnel of Love," "you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above" -- and there's something in all this music about learning to live with yourself, with your own sorrows, your own regrets, and yes, your own sheer cussed goofiness.

So much more that I'd like to write about these shows, at some point -- in particular about watching the band members interact with one another, how a raised eyebrow or a tilt of the head can speak volumes among people who've been working & playing together for well over thirty years now, the sheer physicality of who they are with one another. And some of the music itself, too, of course: the second night saw Nils Lofgren taking a "Prove It All Night" solo that verged on the physically impossible (hitting a whole run of scorching harmonics with the guitar up over your head? Come on, Nils, that's just SICK!) and an absolutely spine-tingling "The River," among many other musical highlights.

But I'll leave you with two videos. There are a lot more out there, but these are a couple of my favorites. First up, "Thunder Road" from the second night. Because this is one of my very favorite songs, and because I think the guy who shot this video was about ten feet to my left -- yeah, I was THAT close to the stage.

And finally, just because this is so goofy and so fun, this is what happens when a fan submits a song request via blow-up doll. While Bruce & the E Street Band can make my knees weak and make me weep with deadly serious songs like "Point Blank," they also know how to play in every sense of the word. And you gotta love Stevie plopping that wig on top of Bruce's head while he's playing and singing and can't do a thing about it. :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Concert review: a steamy night in Mansfield, Mass.

So uh... I went to this concert last night.

:D :D :D :D :D

I had a reserved seat last night (I'm in general admission for tonight's show). I usually prefer GA, but my seat was absolutely terrific, I chatted with some very nice people in the seats around me before the show, I could see almost everyone on stage almost the whole time, and I'm pretty sure I got at least one actual moment of eye contact with Steve Van Zandt (don't dare go so far as to speculate that he recognized me from Chicago, but he did look right at me when the lights were up and nodded happily... who knows if he was actually looking at ME but I'll take it).

Where to begin? The show kicked off with "Jackson Cage," a not-often-played song from The River that I was actually thinking about the other day & wondering if I would ever hear, and went from that right into "She's the One" which was just the most perfect segue. Other highlights were "Point Blank," a song I was totally obsessed with when The River first came out (I used to sit in my dorm room and listen to it over & over, picking up the needle at the end of the song & dropping it back at the beginning of the track), and on which Garry Tallent's bass playing was nothing short of stunning and exquisite; "Burning Love" (yep, the Elvis song); a particularly heartfelt and almost wrenching "Backstreets"; "Trapped" (a Jimmy Cliff song, which Bruce has been covering on occasion for some years now and it is always fantastic); a rip-roaring "Detroit Medley" launched by a request in the form of an actual blow-up doll wearing devil horns and a blue dress (for "Devil with a Blue Dress," part of the medley) -- Bruce and Stevie had some fun with the doll before the song, and while they were playing, Stevie took the red-haired wig from the doll and plopped it on top of Bruce's head -- too too silly, and ridiculous fun; "Born in the USA," which doesn't get played much anymore; and a raucous, barn-burnin' "Twist & Shout" to close. They played about 2 hours and 50 minutes, I think.

Not the best E Street show I've ever seen, but a damn fine one, probably in my top five. As hot and sweaty as it was (before "Rosalita" Bruce hollered, instead of his usual "is there anybody alive out there" -- "is it hot enough for ya??" several times), Bruce had that "I do not want to leave this stage!" look on his face. I've seen it a couple times before. He is always whole-heartedly committed to his performance, but some nights he is just so totally fucking ON it's unbelievable. He seemed thoroughly happy, completely present, sometimes somber and serious, sometimes silly and playful, as the song and the moment required.

Oh, and Jay Weinberg (son of Max, the usual drummer) came out & drummed for the encore, which was fun as hell. He's not the master that his father is, but then, he has about 40 years less experience! For his age he is pretty terrific, and a HELL of a lot of fun to watch, very passionate and animated and clearly loves doing it.

As does everyone on that stage, really. Just such radiant joy shining on every face up there. I know it is their job to make it look like they are having a good time -- they are professional entertainers, after all -- but you can not fake that much joy. You just, you just can't. At this point in all of our lives, we know that every show is a blessing and a gift. Everyone in the band is keenly aware of that, especially after Danny Federici's death last year. They don't take it for granted, and neither do a lot of us in the audience. There is no other band on the planet today that speaks so eloquently about survival, and appreciating what you've got, and the kind of joy you can find only when you've made it through some hard times. And that's why I fucking love those guys and that music so, so much... and that's why I fly halfway across the country just to see them again. Because what they're telling me these days is something I want to remember. It's something I'll hold on to for the rest of my life. And for that, I thank them.

And tonight, I get to do it again. I am so very lucky. So very, very lucky.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Counting the obsessions, one by one

I've been thinking about the concept of obsession and what it has to do with poetry (and lo & behold, Diane Lockward had a nice post the other day about one of her own long-term obsessions).

I go through phases with my obsessions. On the one hand, sometimes it looks like I get really really serious about things and then I lose interest in them. As a kid and early teen I was obsessed with horses, like many girls that age, and had a bunch of model horses -- all of whom had names, life stories, in some cases genealogy. I was a serious, dedicated practitioner of karate for a number of years in my late teens through mid-twenties or so; I ate, breathed, and slept the Kyokushin Way. Since 2000 or so I've been fascinated by whales, and have gone great distances (Maui!) for the primary purpose of seeing them. And currently, of course, I'm chasing Bruce Springsteen around the country just as much as my limited finances will allow.

So what of this? Am I just a flake who can't stick with anything for more than a decade or so? I don't think so. I think I mine my obsessions, and now that I've got 30 years of serious writing under my belt, I'm learning how to do so more productively. My first book ms. (the one that's currently visiting various editors' desks and trying to make big "me! pick me!" puppydog eyes) has a ton (whale joke haha) of whale poems in it, as well as poems strongly influenced by what I learned from whale-watching -- connections between humans & animals, gorgeous distances, thinking globally, etc. And of course my second ms., the one I'm so (whether justifiably or not, time will tell) in love with right now, is heavily influenced by Springsteen & my running around chasing those perfect concert moments. It's actually perfect that his tour will most likely be ending after November and the band will most likely take a hiatus for a little while at that point (not that he's said anything of the sort for certain, but cobbling together various hints & comments, that is what looks most likely); once I finish with this manuscript, I think it's possible that I won't be quite as compelled to go quite so far out of my way to see the E Streeters. There's been something I've needed from the experience of being obsessed, and I've just about got most of what I needed, I think.

But as I read through the new manuscript, I am beginning to realize something. It's not the whales or the rockstars that are my obsession, really. There's a deeper vein, things I've been writing about for thirty (gah!) years now. Light, the various qualities of light; darkness, how it can be both threat & comfort. Distances. Regret. Breath. Music in general.

But hey, what poet isn't obsessed with most of those? So, hmm.

I do write a hell of a lot about light, though. Some people remember the smell of places they've been in; I remember the quality of light. Provincetown, the unbelievable clarity. The shifting cloud-sun-cloud-sun afternoon light through the windows of my early childhood. Stagelight, how the technicians use a spotlight to carve the performers out of the darkness.


* * * * *

I really love this poem from today's Poetry Daily -- like, "suck in your breath and hold it for a minute while your heart breaks a little" love it:


Goodbye again. Say there is a little song in my head

and because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
about the future. Now the song runs all the way down

to the beach where I sit as if the sky

were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing. Not even me.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

No mouth. Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
the last moments may be with someone.

--Jason Shinder

Monday, August 17, 2009

Countdown to the circus

I'm back online, thankfully - and working to catch up on everything.

* * * * *

Friday morning at butt o'clock I get on a plane for Boston. Saturday night and Sunday night I will be in the good company of my beloved E Street Band and a few thousand of their friends. It's the farthest I have traveled just for a concert (or two), and maybe it's not entirely rational to be doing this. But it feels right, these little pilgrimages to join the circus for a night or two. (I'm headed for Chicago in September, St. Louis in October, and Nashville in November -- and maybe, just maybe, Cleveland as well.)

And as this tour moves towards its inevitable end, so does work on my new manuscript. Tonight I had a flash of insight that I think will help me tie everything together a little bit more: a little clearer understanding of what I'm really writing about, behind all the spotlights and guitars and the trappings of character & plot, and why I'm really writing it. I feel like I'm on the verge of articulating something that will be the key, something that will bring this thing to closure.

I've been working on this puppy since the spring of last year, and part of me doesn't want it to be finished. It's been one of my favorite writing experiences ever. I console myself with the thought that I'll probably have to spend another year revising the thing before it's ready for prime time. :)

* * * * *

Cross your fingers, if you would, that Hurricane Bill takes a hard right turn and gives the East Coast a miss. There are a few powerful figures I would love to meet this coming weekend, but Bill ain't one of 'em.

* * * * *

By the way, if anyone has any great ideas for possible reading opportunities in Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, or Cleveland, drop me an email and I'll give you the dates that I will be in those cities. I'd happily extend my Bruce-related visit by a day for the chance to do a reading. I should have more copies of my chapbook available by then (if you're waiting on one now, I hope to have 'em and get 'em sent out before I hit the road this week) and although I doubt I could sell enough to finance an extra night of hotel room, I'd love the opportunity to read and get a few copies out there.

* * * * *

None baby but the brave, no one baby but the brave...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Land of disconnection

My DSL at home has seemingly crapped out entirely, and now I can't even get a usable dialup connection. Given my work schedule which is packed with meetings and reference desk shifts, it looks like Wednesday morning is the first time a technician can come out and take a look at things. I'll try to do some more troubleshooting between now and then -- goodness knows I should be able to figure it out if it is anything at all on my end; I'm a good troubleshooter usually, and it's something I do routinely as part of my job so I have that particular brand of "methodical" down.

So, because I am an addict, I'm actually spending money to sit at [horrible corporate coffee place] and drink a [actually-not-half-bad corporate smoothie] and use their wi-fi. (The smoothie is the part that costs money.) I'll get through what I can before the annoyance of being in a room with other human beings, listening to music I did not select (Einstein here seems to have forgotten her earbuds), gets to me and I go running back to my cave -- er, my own house. I am so far behind on email, Facebook comments, etc. it's not even funny.

* * * * *

So, Book Manuscript #2 has gone out to two of its first readers. The first one got back to me with very helpful comments the other day, and the second one gave me a call today to check in after a first read-through. So far, I'm getting pretty positive reactions, which makes me breathe a big sigh of relief. I'm getting some good suggestions too, and feeling pretty good about the next phase of this work. I envision a couple more small revision passes through the ms. and maybe one major-ish shuffle; I'd still like to get it down to a little shorter length than its current page count, but I feel like I'm on the right track.

I am a total process junkie. (As befits the stereotype of us feminists, actually. Heh.) I'm fascinated by my own writing, revision, & manuscripting processes. I'm fascinated by yours. I'm fascinated by anyone's creative process, really, if they write or talk about it with any kind of insight. (Yet another reason why I like Bruce Springsteen; in some of his interviews he's revealed a tendency towards a bit of process-junkie-ness himself, and he seems to be quite thoughtful about his own creative process -- maybe not something you'd expect from a rockstar, but there you go.)

Being aware of my own process sometimes helps me write things I wouldn't otherwise have known to catch. It's like I can see the poem coming from a greater distance, and because I catch it early instead of waiting until it's clobbering me upside the head, I'm able to be looser with it, catch language that is somehow closer to the untranslatable whatever that poetry is. It's more unmediated, somehow. Both more and less controlled. (If that makes any sense at all. Maybe what I mean is ... more aware, and less controlled.) And that affords me possibilities I would not otherwise have.

That's for individual poems. This business of a manuscript? A book? That's still new to me, even though this is the second one I've put together. (Third one, if you count the totally sucky one I put together and sent to like one or two places sometime around 1992.) The process this time around feels completely different than it did with the Firstborn, but I don't know how much of that is because I learned a few things the first time around & how much is because this project is a completely different beast from that first one. But I can't help thinking that what I've learned about the process of writing probably applies, on some level, to any writing -- whether a poem, or a book, or whatever.

I'm fascinated by process. There are few things I enjoy more than sitting down with a writer (or a musician, or any kind of creative artist really) and sharing notes. Everything from "so do you listen to music while you work?" to "how do you know when something is finished?" to "how do you let yourself be influenced without crossing the line into being derivative?" Not that those conversations generally get that interview-question-ish, but it's the sort of ground I love to cover.

I'm planning (tentatively) a trip to Cleveland this fall, in part to spend some time at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They have a big-ass Springsteen exhibit up right now, and it includes a lot of his notebooks. Yes, notebooks, as in the notebooks in which he worked on the first drafts of some of his songs. Since I doubt I'll ever get a chance to buy the guy a corporate smoothie (actually mister wealthy rockstar should really buy, now shouldn't he?) and pick his brain about his writing process, I'm hoping to gain some insight from peering at his scribblings, his doodles and deletia.

I'm sure that for some people, examining your own creative process is about as interesting as examining your own boogers. Some people are more intuitive and instinctive than I am, I think. I do overanalyze sometimes. But that's kind of like telling really bad jokes: it's OK, so long as you know you're doing it.

* * * * *

Bla, bla, bla.

* * * * *

Tomorrow I need to spend some time coming up with a thirty-minute set for my reading at the Writers' Center in Indy on Sunday. 7:00 pm, northside of Indianapolis - stop by if you're in the area! Drop me an email if you want driving directions. There will be an open mic following my set. I promise to stick around for the open mic - I hate it when featured readers bail on the open mic, though I understand why people do (open mics can be so... how to put this kindly... excruciating, sometimes). I'll be reading poems from Breach, but I'll be reading new work from both book manuscripts, too. I'm looking forward to it. Should be fun.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sunday draft

Jumping on while I have connectivity for a minute. This is a drafty draft from earlier this afternoon -- it will go "poof" in a day or so.