About time

It is the last day of the calendar year, and tomorrow evening a full moon will shine over our snow-dressed meadow. End-of-year events have left me thoughtful about time, memory, fear, love, and other such. Which brought to mind this poem I wrote quite a few years back. It’s part of The Red Queen Hypothesis manuscript.

Let 2018 be a time to press against the dam and swell into your next adventure.

~

 

Counsel

Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time. —Pericles, Plutarch’s Lives

Always, you have hated the wait,
fidgeting at the desk, the queue, your bed.
You suffer the malaise of the young
whose imaginations collide
with the world’s dull and repetitive ways,

for whom responsibility is a petty bureaucrat
in a cheap gray suit
watching the clock you punch, counting
irretrievable minutes you spend
doing work you cannot love.

Do not despair.
After you’ve done some time
in the slow slog of nickel and dime
your passions, silvery as fishes,
will gather in schools that swell and press
against the dam—

that damn ordinariness
dulling your heart—
and spill themselves brilliant into
the crooked creek of your next adventure,
each carrying in its small body
the germ of an idea, yours
to pursue.

~

waterfall

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Shift

This past weekend, I decided it was time to submit to some changes in the way I have been submitting.

Submitting manuscripts, that is.

I have sent out a full-length collection of poetry, my second manuscript of over 60 poems, for three or four years now and the time has come to re-assess. On the spur of the moment Saturday I sent out a chapbook-length collection of poems in a completely different vein, on another topic.

Sometimes, a writer just needs to shake things up, shift direction–whether she wants to or not. It is far too easy to get comfortable in a routine (in this case, easy to send the same manuscript file through various online submission portals, at regular intervals depending upon motivation and spare time). Submittable has become the most common software portal for submissions in the poetry world; but I recall vividly the days when I had to print everything out and photocopy the manuscript, then send it by postal mail to each prospective publisher.

So everything shifts, and we adjust.

Alas, The Red Queen Hypothesis and other poems has had no takers. Maybe I need to tear the manuscript apart, rearrange and update it. Maybe the poems just are not as strong as I thought they were, even though more than half of them have been published individually; maybe there is simply no audience for that particular collection of poetry.

I do not consider this giving up on the collection or on the poems in it. I merely aim to make transition, to move along to something a little different for awhile. Wake myself up to the work I have been composing more recently, concentrate on those pieces instead.

Submit to change, and make the best of that change, and allow the change to change the writer. I think I learned that in my MFA program at Goddard.  🙂

grassesA

Writing process? Got that. Sort of.

Last year, I was invited into a blog-go-round for writers (see this post). Many thanks to Lesley Wheeler for tapping me for this 2014 blog tour on “the writing process.” I read Wheeler’s 2010 book Heterotopia and was wowed; she’s also the author of  The Receptionist and Other Tales, Heathen, Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920′s to the Present  and other work. With Moira Richards, Rosemary Starace, and other members of a dedicated collective, she coedited Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv (Red Hen, 2008). We got introduced virtually via the Wom-po listserv.

Lesley is a formidable scholar and critic who writes a wise and witty blog, which you’ll find linked to her answers in the paragraph below this one. Now the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, Wheeler has held fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the American Association of University Women. Wheeler received her BA from Rutgers College, summa cum laude, and her PhD in English from Princeton University. Despite all these amazing academic chops, which could appear intimidating, Lesley strikes me as approachable, generously interested in the wide world (not just ivory towers), and funny.

Click here for her answers to the prescribed questions. Below are my own.

~water-rites_cover

1)     What am I working on?

I have a completed manuscript that I sent out last year, The Red Queen Hypothesis; but I have had a change of heart about it. I am revising it completely. It’s a major renovation, because as I revisited the not-yet-book I found myself re-thinking the purpose of the collected poems. I had originally conceived the manuscript as an experiment in nonce forms, with a biological theme threading the poems together. As I re-read my work, I realized that my thinking, my purpose, for the poems has altered. Let’s just say some major life changes have been underway in the background of my creative efforts, and the influences made themselves felt. The book as originally imagined turns out not to be the book I want to write.

So, what I’m working on this year turns out to be what I was working on last year, only re-envisioned. I did complete (I think!) a collection of poems centering on adolescent girls of the 1970s that is a sort of a girls’-eyes-view of Bruce Springsteen songs–it’s called Barefoot Girls.  I’ll be sending that out to find a publisher.

Meanwhile, I am writing new work which, alas, seems to be rather dark–if you happen to consider poems about mortality to be dark.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I would love to say that my poetry is wildly original in approach or style, but it isn’t. If you were to categorize my work as “eco-poetry,” it would be different from the genre because of a quieter rhetoric. If you were to call my poetry “nature poetry,” it would not fit quite comfortably into the genre because of its trending toward the intellectual. My poetry is usually “accessible,” but I don’t eschew the multisyllabic latinate vocabulary at all costs, and my allusions are often a bit arcane. I like form and classic poetic strategies, but I also like to break rules, and I adore free verse and prose poems. What did Stevens say? “All poetry is experimental poetry.” Yes. That.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

Journals, because of Harriet the Spy when I was 10, and ever since. Harriet_the_Spy_(book)_cover

Blogs, to practice the less emotional, more inquisitive side of myself and because I’m an autodidact.

Essays and criticism or reviews, because writing that type of work requires skills my brain needs to exercise in order to do other things, such as be an educator; and because I love to read and think about what I’m reading.

Libretti, because colleagues asked, and new things are compelling to attempt.

Poetry, because I can’t do without it.

4)     How does your writing process work?

Interesting question at this time, as I feel the way I go about writing is changing after many years of pretty solid operational process. It may be that I am getting older or because see above: significant life changes.

One thing hasn’t changed, and that is the need for a certain kind of solitude. Distractions aren’t in and of themselves anathema to my writing process, but the distractions need to be of a non-urgent kind. I don’t mind being distracted by a broad-winged hawk overhead or a siren in the distance or an overheard conversation, but sometimes even a loved one’s “Hello, I’m back from the grocery store!” shifts my focus irrevocably.

[aside: My loved ones do not really understand this effect.]

The way I begin a poem is akin to how I’ve heard mindfulness described. I allow myself to be relatively vacant, and something drops in to fill the moment. I assure you this is nothing like a bolt of inspiration from the blue; and usually all I get is a phrase, a metaphor, an image, an aphorism. But it’s a start. From there, the process is about association, relationships, combinations, experiment, and a certain amount of loopy freedom to write a bad poem if that’s what emerges.

Then, I pause. The draft sits there for days (weeks, months, years) until I decide to start revising poems, which I tend to attack in batches. That’s one thing I do differently these days: revise in bunches the way I did back in graduate school under a time crunch. What I currently notice changing, too, is the way that I enter emptiness. In years past, my favored way was to take a walk or to work in the garden. Physical issues have to some degree limited the amount of time I can spend doing those activities, and finding an acceptable substitute has been hard. I am muddling through, waiting to see what works best.

~

Next up, April Lindner and Zara Raab. They should have their writing process blog posts up sometime in the next 7-10 days; and I am excited to learn what approaches each of them takes.

April Lindner is the author of three Young Adult novels: Catherine, a modernization of Wuthering Heights; Jane, an update of Jane Eyre; and Love, Lucy, a retelling of E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View, forthcoming in early 2015 from Poppy.  She also has published two poetry collections, Skin and This Bed Our Bodies Shaped.  With R. S. Gwynn, she co-edited the anthology Contemporary American Poetry for Longman’s Penguin Pocket Academic series.  April lives near Philadelphia with her husband and sons.

Zara Raab’s latest book is Fracas & Asylum. Earlier books are Swimming the Eel and The Book of Gretel, narrative poems of the remote Lost Coast of Northern California in an earlier time. Her poems, essays and reviews appear in River Styx, West Branch, Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, and The Dark Horse. She is a contributing editor to Poetry Flash and The Redwood Coast ReviewRumpelstiltskin, or What’s in a Name?  was a finalist for the Dana Award. She lives near the San Francisco Bay.

“Next Big Thing”

A friend & colleague-in-poetry, April Lindner, has invited me to participate in the round-robin writing blog event (termed a “blog hop”) called “The Next Big Thing.” Thanks to Molly Spencer for coordinating this web-event, which has been going awhile, so she is no longer curating it as actively. At the end of this post, I’m linking my readers to a handful of other participants. From their sites, you can locate others…and so on! We hope to foster discovery of writers our own blog followers–or random visitors–are not yet familiar with, and to spur readership in general. I love to read, and I have a mission to introduce more people to reading, to poetry, and to contemporary artists–especially word-artists. Therefore, I’m thrilled to be asked to add my 2¢ to The Next Big Thing…even though some of the formulated “interview questions” lend themselves more to fiction writers than to poets. Some of the answers may end up sounding a bit far-fetched, or simply silly.

But poets do possess senses of humor, folks. We are not all depressive garret-dwelling introverted cynics. [Ha!]

~

Now to commence with the interview questions:

What is the working title of your next book (or story, or project)?

I have two. One manuscript is finished, and I am seeking a publisher–that one is titled The Red Queen Hypothesis. The work-in-progress is tentatively called Barefoot Girls.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

imagesThe Red Queen Hypothesis seems to be culled from a bunch of my poems musing on science. I love science because it is so weird, much odder than so-called real life. Also, the nomenclature…I swoon over those latinates, Greek roots, and things-named-after-other-things. Here’s the biological definition of the Red Queen Hypothesis from Wikipedia: “an evolutionary hypothesis which proposes that organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain reproductive advantage, but also simply to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in an ever-changing environment.” As Alice and the Red Queen are hurriedly running through the chessboard of Wonderland in Through the Looking-Glass, the Queen remarks, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Don’t we often feel that way?

PBS has a good little article on it here, for those who want to learn a little science with their poetry.

Barefoot Girls evolves as I revise. As of now, the poems are memoir-based about being a teenaged girl in New Jersey, and many of them allude to Bruce Springsteen songs. The collection is, I suppose, lyrical narrative in style. Mostly free verse but with some ballad-type pieces and even a sonnet or two. I may have some trouble getting that manuscript into print because I have to get Springsteen’s permission to use a couple of epigraphs. God knows how long that will take–or if it is even possible!

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry. No other genre need apply.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  

I would love to have Gary Cooper or Barbara Stanwyck play characters in my poems, which makes about as much sense–since they are dead–as making a movie of a poetry collection.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?   

Life, love, family, environment, death, memory, animals, youth, curiosity, god.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

1) No.

And 2) –you have got to be kidding! Literary agents in the USA generally avoid poets as though we harbor west Nile virus.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Four years, generally, though some individual poems evolve more slowly. My first full-length collection, Water-Rites, took much longer…closer to ten years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Ah, the “inspiration” question. I have a deep indifference to the question of inspiration. I suggest you read other writers on this topic.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The Red Queen Hypothesis includes numerous poems that employ formal strategies, as well as plenty of nonce forms; I think of them as experiments, the way scientists frame their work though experiment.There are also philosophical undertones. It is a book of questions that are scientific, speculative, spiritual and philosophical. Barefoot Girls, the project in process, also poses questions–but of a different kind. More social and gender-related questions, more coming-of-age curiosity. The fact that these poetry pursuits came one after the other intrigues me since they seem in many ways fairly unrelated. Perhaps I will discover the relationship as I continue to revise Barefoot Girls.

Meanwhile, if anyone can suggest a publisher for RQH, I’m all ears!

Who are you tagging for The Next Big Thing?

~As The Next Big Thing is on hiatus, I suggest my readers browse for it or follow the links below that will lead to other links & literary discoveries!!

Here are some other Next Big Thing posts:

http://boysinger.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/the-next-big-thing/