Drafting: “Continental Drift”

I found another inspiration poem yesterday, and it was on. I don’t know quite how I stumbled upon Lindsay Tigue’s “Convergent Boundaries,” but I fell in love with it immediately. I love the scientific description interposed against the chatty speaker and then wound together perfectly at the end.

I chose to write about the same topic, but differently. Tique compares it to lovers and a break-up. I took it as more of a mother/child thing, and I tried to bring in more of a chatty speaker, which I usually shy away from.

The first line is close to the one that appears in Tigue’s, but the rest takes off on its own:

“When I heard about the fable of Pangaea,
all of us so near, mettle and marrow, I cried—
or at least I wrote here I did. Let’s say I didn’t,
for a moment; let’s say I was glad

for the distance…”

I was entirely foolish again. I put this in another packet of poems and sent it off to several journals, even ones that charge reading/service fees (which I usually avoid because $3 per submission can add up quickly if I do that too often)! Reading the poem again today, I can already see places where it doesn’t feel quite done, another word could go there, this line break doesn’t wholly make sense, but it’s out in the world already. Time to see if it floats or sinks.

2014 Goals


Last year and the year before, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met four, a big feat! I got not just one but four creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. I wrote 3 more than my 50 poem goal. I submitted high, though I haven’t fallen into the stars just yet (but I did get some personalized rejections), and I did plenty special just for my writing: I worked through the 12-week Artist’s Way program with a group of writers and did two poem-a-day months (in January and November).

Here are my goals for 2014:

#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (I’m carrying this over from last year’s list. S.T. got an encouraging rejection from an independent press and a semifinalist nod from a fancy contest. It feels worthy enough to keep trying.)

#2. Keep writing creative nonfiction. (I wrote four essays and all four got published. There’s something there, and I need to figure it out by continuing to write.)

#3. Write with vulnerability and graciousness. Write because I need to. Write because I love to.

#4. Submit high. (Another carryover from last year. Keep submitting to the journals I hope one day to be in.)

#5. Read more. (Teaching with passion and fervor has meant I’ve given up joy-reading to compensate for it. I recently started reading again, and I need to find a good balance. Reading is too lovely of a gift to myself to give it up again.)

I met four out of my five goals from last year. Let’s see how this next year will hold.

What are your literary goals for 2014?

The Numbers: 2013

This is my third year of doing this post, and it’s helpful for me to assess where I need to go next.

Here are the numbers (in descending order):

110 submissions sent ~  65 for poetry, 26 for creative nonfiction, 12 for my manuscript Swallow Tongue, 6 for fiction, and 1 for my chapbook Philomela. 108 electronic, 2 postal. Down from 117 last year (but not by much!) .

86 rejections ~ 49 for poetry, 24 for creative nonfiction, 8 for my manuscript, and 5 for fiction. Up from 65 last year.

57 new pieces ~ 53 poems, 4 essays, and 0 short stories. Up from 28 last year.

9 acceptances ~ 4 poems, 4 essays, and 1 chapbook. Down from 15 last year.

2-3 hours per week ~ my average time drafting, revising, submitting, reading, and blogging. Down from 5-7 last year.

Conclusion: Statistically (based on dividing the number of acceptances by the number of rejections received), my chapbook odds at 100% (1/1), creative nonfiction at 17% (4/24), and poetry at 8% (4/49).  Fiction and my manuscript are at 0%.

Things I can do in 2014:

1. Keep up submitting, especially now that I’m throwing in a manuscript and several essays into the mix.

2. Keep up the faith.

3. Write

4. Submit.

5. Repeat.

Hope you all do your own numbers game and see where you stand. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves and others this year!

Working with a Template (poetry drafting idea)

It’s December! My poem-a-day task  throughout the month of November worked really well (excluding a day of wanting to do nothing and two days of a sinus infection), and I now have 27 poems that have just enough muscle and light to maybe be worked into something better.

Since I was working in a limited time frame (writing a poem at 5:30 in the morning until I had to get ready for work at 6), I opted not to write draft notes for individual pieces, but I did want to give a run-down of my general process.

Most days, I used a “template” technique. I’d find a poem somewhere online (websites listed below) that jumped out at me for word choice or structure, and copy and paste it into a word document for me to play with. I end up changing everything, but having those words already on the page helped me quickly move from “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO WRITE! IT’S SOOO EARLY!” to “oooo! bread and starlings…”

Sometimes, having the template didn’t work. I’d get caught up in how lovely the poem was that I didn’t want to change a thing. When this happened, I’d have to erase the template, maybe pull some words from it for a word bank, and start from scratch.

When working with a template, make sure to NEVER EVER plagiarize. Do whatever you can to change everything.

Ideas to help with that:

-Look up synonyms in the dictionary for words already on the page. If you find a word you like, replace the original and keep doing this. You may find a story after you’ve done a couple of these that will help you change the rest.

-Look up antonyms for words on the page. Replace the originals and keep doing this until you find your story.

-Pull words from that poem and another one and try to use one per line.

-If you’re stuck on the story, write it from another point of view (first person, third, from the voice of a character in the poem). Write it backwards chronologically, literally.

The important thing is to work WITH the template, to let its words and phrasing inspire new words and phrasings for you. It is not to copy, but to explore the interaction between yourself and someone else’s work. At the end of a draft with a template, I might have a poem that is still too similar to the original, so I let it set and come back to it later without the original on my mind and shape it into something totally new.

Websites I Used to Find Templates

1. Verse Daily (Particularly the archives section when the daily poem didn’t do anything for me)

2. Linebreak (Again, the archives section)

3. Poem-A-Day (This one was really hit or miss for me. Many of the poems aren’t contemporary, but some really helped me play with structure in a different way, so the poems here might work better for you than they did me.)

4. A Poem A Day (This one was sometimes helpful for me just to read through when I couldn’t figure out where to move next in a poem.)

5. [PANK] Magazine (Go through the online issues. Can be hard to distinguish between poetry and prose unless they publish more than one poem from the same author, but they choose such lyric prose that it’s not a bad idea to pull templates from the stories as well.)

Drafting: “Bride of the West”

A friend of mine and I have committed to trying NaNoWriMo, though we’re both cheating a little. She is trying to finish up a novel she’s already been working on, and I’m trying to write a poem a day to push me into figuring out a potentially new project.

I’m going to be including drafting notes for only the poems that feel done. So many end up like slop that when I try to scoop them into something manageable, most of them fall through my fingers. Sometimes I can salvage scraps from those and fold them into later poems, but it’s usually not worth trying to give scaffolding and solidity to something without, so I’ll only include drafting notes for poems that have some muscle.

This morning, I really wanted to work on something like a template. I sometimes struggle with figuring out how to drive a poem down a page and feel daunted by all that empty space, so it’s good to already have something there to work with.

What I often do is comb the internet for a poem that seems like a far throw from anything I might write. I usually find myself surprised with what words and phrases come out of it playing with what they’ve got.

My go-to is often Linebreak. They continually publish high quality work that is easily accessible online. Even if I’m not struck by the current poem, I can always comb through the archives to find something.

Today I was struck by Johnathon Williams’s “Valediction Lessons,” so I just copied and pasted the poem into an empty word document. Once there, I tried a technique a friend of mine told me about: Take a poem and write the negative of important words, so replace where it says “light” with “dark,” etc. What this does, often, is bring up weird connections and completely change the poem (completely changing the poem is also necessary. Can’t plagiarize!).

Doing this with a couple of words, like changing “forever” to “never” made me think of a storyline. Molly Spencer has written some absolutely lovely “Mail Order Bride” poems, and the farm imagery of the Williams’s poem made me think of the 1800s unclaimed West and the women who accepted newspaper proposals from men already living out there.

It begins,

“When I said yes
to a stranger’s love, every promise

the life of flour in the wind and a heart full
of refused rooms.”

I kept the couplet structure and continued messing with word choice and syntax to keep pulling out the bones of the original until it could stand on its own. The ending doesn’t fit all that well right now, but I think some editing will help it get its feet.

Writing this made me think a lot about the six “wife” poems that appear in Swallow Tongue, my full-length manuscript, and how writing more could lead to a new project idea. I’m always a little nervous about saying something like “This could be part of a new collection/book!” but I’ll keep it in mind and see where my muse takes me.

Happy writing!

Swallow Tongue Gets Revised Again

I’m nearing the end of another major revision.

I first laid out the poems and organized them by theme. What I found is that my poems fit pretty neatly into child, lover, mother poems, excepting two which I pulled out. The rest of them were already working thematically or could be reworked easily.

The child and mother poem sections had a good 10-13 poems each, but the lover one had nearly 30, so I decided to go through that section again and see if there was another way to divide it. I found that nearly half dealt with some sort of violence and the other half didn’t, so I could really just split that section in half.

Then I had to figure out how to begin the book. My po friend had made some suggestions for new beginning poems, and I started thinking about each of them and how they might help begin the narrative.

One, in particular, now titled “Song” but once called “Philomela,” really had all of the things I wanted the book to start with and is basically the title poem because it recounts the story of a hawk tearing out the tongue of a swallow (based on the myth of Philomela).

I chose “Song” to begin the book, but didn’t want to launch into lover poems just yet which it would be more closely linked to, so now I’m thinking about having “Song” be a prologue poem (or proem).

April Ossmann said, “As a reader, my expectation for a prologue is that it be one of the strongest and most representative poems in the collection, yet poets often choose a weak one, placing it in the most visible spot in the manuscript.” I’ve talked with my po friend, and we both think it’s a strong poem and could work, so I’m hoping I wouldn’t be doing exactly what she cautions against!

I wanted the child section to come next. It came first in the last manuscript order, but I’m completely re-ordering the whole section, and I just like it.

Next, I stuck the violent love poems since the child section is an easy transition to this one. Then the mother poems, which begin violent and end sweet, and then lastly, the sort of “sweet” love poems ending with being abandoned.

I still need to fine-tune the order, as well as read it through from beginning to end, to make sure it makes sense. So far, I’m pleased. I got the four sections I wanted, and thematically each of them is really tight. After I lock the order, I need to go back through and see if there are places where I can make the poems ring of each other more as well as do line edits to keep the poems really tight.

My next manuscript re-ordering should include reversing its current order, going from abandoned to mother to violence to child. Hopefully I won’t ever have to get there, but it’d be an interesting idea.

Onward, writers!

Drafting: “in dreams our fathers leave no footsteps”

While I was going through my po friend’s manuscript this weekend, I came across the line, “In dreams we leave no evidence.” It’s a fantastic line, and I knew I wanted to shape it into something.

I put it as the first line and then returned to Rochelle Hurt’s poem “Infants of the Field.” There were some words like lupine, animal, and disappointment that I wanted to use, so I changed the opening line to “In dreams our fathers leave no footsteps.” I liked the mythic quality of that, so I ran with it: the fathers are animal forces that lurk outside; the mothers must protect the children.

It begins,

“In dreams our fathers leave no footsteps. Their animal anger, lupine fits of disappointment pacing in the shuddering wheat fields.”

It continues in prose form, and ends with the children waiting for their mothers to wake them.

This is a bit of a messy draft, and I’m embarrassed by what I have to show for it for the moment, but, hey, it’s a poem!

Happy writing!