Sunday, January 14, 2018

Liner Notes: Two Poems in Willawaw Journal

Are there any sweeter words to a poet than “Please send me some poems,” spoken to you by a literary journal editor after a reading? Yep, pretty much nothing beats it, other than “Here’s your Pulitzer.” That’s how I happened to get two poems in the new online magazine Willawaw Journal, helmed by editors Rachel Barton (who spoke those words to me at the Springfield Poetry Series this past October) and Jade Rosina McCutcheon. I respect that in an editor, that thing where they go see the poet and inspect the goods, as it were, before committing to a purchase.

Here’s a link to the two poems, “My Ex, the Surgeon” and “Balloon Payment.”

“My Ex, the Surgeon” is about a real person. The entry point for the poem was the sound his knuckles made, that little crack, which I remember distinctly all these years later. We were both vegetarians at the time, and we cooked together a lot—usually meals of steamed artichokes, brown rice, and sautéed bean sprouts with mushrooms. I hate mushrooms, hate, hate, hate them*, but for some reason I liked the way he cooked them. Might have been all the butter. We cooked those foods so often that we called that a “standard dinner,” a joke we’ve had for years. (We’re still friends**.) Secret poetic-license fact: He isn’t actually a surgeon; he’s a mathematician.

“Balloon Payment” was originally written for the August Poetry Postcard Fest, which I’ve written a lot about on this blog. The poem is a direct reaction to the mortgage crisis, which some say peaked a few years ago but is really still reverberating. It’s also about the kind of hierarchy that's too common in the political landscape right now, the desire to always look down on someone else no matter how hard life has smacked you down. I usually try to write compassionately, but I was not feeling charitable that day; I was seeing close-up that bigotry and fearmongering reign in small houses as well as large ones. The one element in the poem that's not from that xenophobic landscape is the neighbor rigging his sailboat; that’s actually my very sweet neighbor Ron, who often unfurls the sail on his beautiful little wooden boat in his driveway when he’s cleaning and fixing it. The mast is a bit higher than his roofline, so it’s pretty spectacular. I see the boat out the kitchen window and think, “There's Ron, sailing again!”

* Is that a genetic thing, like cilantro? All mushrooms taste like dirt to me.

** I’m friends with a lot of my exes. Some people find that odd.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

This Old Blog (and All the Pans)

A few weeks ago, poets Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon had a Twitter conversation about a strange phenomenon they’ve noticed in the poetry world. A few years back, they noted, there were lots of poets writing blogs about poetry, their creative process, and their writing lives. But with the rise of social media the past few years, many poets let their blogs go fallow, turning instead to the smaller-byte writing environs of Facebook and Twitter. As Donna and Kelli said, that was kind of a shame; in the days before social media, they both had formed strong relationships with fellow poet bloggers, and they missed those blogs, that sense of shared community and slightly-longer-form news, thoughts, and quirkiness. So they decided to fire up a Poet Bloggers Revival Tour—a new network of poetry bloggers, all committed to posting each week in 2018 and reigniting some community and conversations.

Reading about this on Donna’s website, I realized that that same thing had happened to me: I still maintain this blog, which you (bless you) are reading right now, but I’ve got to admit, I don’t post here as much as I used to. Partly it’s because of time constraints; my day job gets hellishly hectic (I know, whose doesn’t?), and as I get older I find that the nighttime isn’t necessarily the right time for writing anymore, with my brain battered from workday emergencies. Some nights it’s all I can do to pick up the remote and turn on The Great British Baking Show*. 

Another reason why I haven’t blogged as much the past couple of years is because I’m getting more nonfiction published in literary journals—and, wonder of wonders, nonfiction pays (which poetry largely doesn’t). So I started to listen to those people who had long complained that bloggers were wasting their writing on their own blogs, when they could be earning money with it elsewhere. I had to give that some thought; I am, after all, 55 years old and looking over the horizon at retirement, a time which I hope to spend eating burritos and not cat food. My conclusion is that, though I disagree that all blogging is a pointless waste of writing material, I do see that there are some nonfiction/essay/memoir pieces that I should shop around to journals (and other blogs that have large followings) rather than posting them on my own blog. And I’ve done that, and they’re actually getting published, and that makes me write more of those, and that’s all good. 

But I do still love this blog, because it’s still the only place where I can write anything I damn well please and publish it with no gatekeeper. So I am committing to writing a bit more on this blog in the coming year. And I’ll at least occasionally try writing on the shorter side**, like some expert bloggers say you’re supposed to do. And I can’t imagine that every post will be about poetry, because this is my blog, so you know Star Trek and lists of entertaining street names and wistful musings about horses will inevitably sneak into it. 

Last year I really upped my writing-submission game***. I sent out so many submissions****, in so many genres, that I came up with a writing mantra for myself: “All the pans, in all the fires, all the time.” So here’s another pan.

* That show, I swear, is the cure for everything. Talented people making beautiful and delicious baked goods, talking in cute accents, winning abashedly and losing gracefully? It’s the perfect antidote to bad workdays, crazy relatives, and our current American nightmare.

** No guarantees about that. 

*** Hey, that’s an idea for a blog post.

**** How many? I honestly don't know, because I have the world's most Luddite submission-tracking system. Another idea for a blog post!