Writing Happies

New poem up at Cider Press Review here.

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My full-length collection, Swallow, was most recently a finalist for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Finalist means it got into the hands of the judges, which means it was actually close to winning. Endgame is always get that book into the hands of the judges. So now my little book might be one or two re-arrangements away from winning a contest! woohoo!

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I’ve got poems forthcoming from more places than all of the publications I had in 2014. That’s a sign that not only am I getting my work out there more, but that it’s also worthy of being published (because it is; it really really is).

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Keep writing, friends. It’s a good fight.

Post-Sewanee

Someone asked me a while back to write something about the Sewanee Writers’ Conference I attended in July of this year. It’s been hard for me to put into words a response to that, but I might have one now.

Every morning, I walked half a mile to the inn to eat breakfast with writers (fiction and poetry and play writers). I’d then walk to a reading of fellows or sit in on a panel of journal or press editors with writers. I’d walk back to the inn for my lunch with writers. I then went to a workshop or attended other readings or other panels with writers. I then walked to dinner with writers. I then went to a reading with writers. I then went to an open mic night and then to the french house after that with writers. I swam in a lake under a brilliant full moon with writers. I danced with writers. 

I’ve graduated from an MFA program. I’ve gone to AWP, but never have I spent so much time with other writers on top of being engaged with and listening to some of the best contemporary literary voices. There’s something about being with your people, that soul-click.

A.E. Stallings was my mentor. She, along with Charles Martin, led my workshop, and then I had an hour long session alone with Alicia where we just talked about my work, and in that meeting, she told me that if I wrote a blank verse poem while we were there that she’d read it. So I wrote a blank verse poem and met with her a second time. Brandon Courtney, a super nice guy and the writer of the stunning The Grief Musclesoffered to read some of my work and give me feedback on it, which was the nicest thing.

There’s nothing like attending the kind of conference I attended.

And since I’ve returned, I’ve found peace. A peace with the book I’ve been tussling with since I graduated with my MFA. A peace with the new project I’m working on that resonates more with me, that’s more honest, and (because I always love my newer work more) better. I’ve written at least seven poems since returning home on August 2nd, and for this poet, that is a success. Not all of the poems have been good. Very few have felt even remotely “done,” but the work is alive and fresh to me in a way my work hasn’t felt in a while.

If anything, the conference dusted off something inside of me that’d become clouded.

I’m so much more happy and alive and joyous when I can write and engage with writing, and I was so happy and alive and joyous while I was at the conference and since I’ve returned home. I made friends that I still keep in contact with. I’ve sent my book out to a few contests. I’ve submitted poems. A journal that previously always rejected me in less than a day has had some of my work for 33 days now. Things are going somewhere. I could feel it when I arrived at Sewanee, like I had boarded a train that I knew was heading somewhere beautiful and I was so grateful to be on it.

Since returning, these are what I’ve understood to be truths:

  • I must connect with other writers on a regular basis. Whether it be through friendships or workshops or one-on-one exchanging of work, I must engage with other writers and their pages. When I engage, I see things I’m meant to see in my own work. I make room for the love, the rawness of seemingly dead-end rough drafts and the hardness of editing and re-editing.
  • I must read good work. I’ve been going to bed with Brandon Courtney’s The Grief Muscles or Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy every night. I read a few pages of one or the other. I go to bed with good sentences in my head. I’m not reading through them quickly at all, but I’m reading good work, and reading good work inspires me to write good work.
  • I must attend book festivals, conferences, and readings. When I walk around with some beautiful set of sentences in my head, I make room for my own sentences to meet them.

I’ll be practicing some of those truths when I’ll be reading at the Mid-South Book Festival and then teaching a student writers workshop next weekend. I’ll also hear as much good stuff as I can and buy some books. If the above are truths to me and I’m not practicing them as standards of behavior (if I’m consistently reading bad writing or Facebooking or refusing to help another writer edit their manuscript), then they aren’t my truths anymore.

I came home changed. I came home better. 

In honor of National Dog Day, some poets and their dogs

“Twice Flush had done his utmost to kill his enemy; twice he had failed. And why had he failed, he asked himself? Because he loved Miss Barrett. Looking up at her from under his eyebrows as she lay, severe and silent on the sofa, he knew that he must love her forever. Things are not simple but complex. If he bit Mr. Browning, he bit her too. Hatred is not hatred; hatred is also love.”

-From Flush, Virginia Woolf’s biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beloved cocker spaniel

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Lord Byron wrote this on the headstone of his beloved dog, Boatswain:

“Near this Spot
Are deposited the Remains of one
Who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity
And all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
If inscribed over human Ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
Who was born in Newfoundland May 1803,
And died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.”

Epitafio-perro-Lord-Byron Lord-Byrons-dog-Boatswain-002

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“People who lived here long ago
Did by this stone, it seems, intend
To name for future times to know
The dachs-hound, Geist, their little friend.”

-From Matthew Arnold’s poem “Geist’s Grave,” a tender elegy on the loss of his dachshund.

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“I started Early — Took my Dog —
And visited the Sea —
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –”

-Emily Dickinson, on Carlo, the dog she received as a gift from her father

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“In wood and wild, ye warbling throng,
Your heavy loss deplore;
Now, half extinct your powers of song,
Sweet Echo is no more.

Ye jarring, screeching things around,
Scream your discordant joys;
Now, half your din of tuneless sound
With Echo silent lies.”

-From Rober Burns’s “Epitaph on a Lap-dog”

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“Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passsion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.”

-From Rudyard Kipling’s “The Power of the Dog”

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“Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.”

-From Pablo Neruda’s “A Dog Has Died”

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“We don’t have a future,
we have a dog.”

-From “Atlantis” by Mark Doty

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“Mornings I walk the dog: that part of life
is intact.”

-From “Christmas Away from Home” by Jane Kenyon

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Where I’ll Be: Mid-South Book Fest Reading Tent & Student Writer Workshop

Come check out me and any of the other fabulous writers who will be reading at the Reading Tent set up on Cooper Ave. for the Mid-South Book Festival.

9:30am – Elaine Scudder-Walters
10:00am – Lonette Robertson
10:25am – Betsy Phillips
10:50am – Harrison Scott Key
11:15am – Sandy Longhorn
11:40am- Eric McQuade
12:05pm – Courtney Miller Santo
12:30pm – Caki Wilkinson
12:55pm – Jonathan May
1:20pm – Cheryl Smart
1:45pm – Natalie Parker-Lawrence
2:10pm – Jamey Hatley
2:35pm – Tara Mae Mulroy
3:00pm – James E. Cherry
3:25pm – Neil White
3:50pm – Christian Anton Gerard
4:15pm – TBA

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If you’re a writer between the ages of 12 and 17, I’ll also be doing a workshop for the Mid-South Book Festival’s inaugural Student Writers Conference along with several other great writers to be held at the Circuit Playhouse.

Schedule of Events:

11:30am-12:00pm: Registration

12:00-12:30pm: Welcome and Introductions

12:30-1:45pm: Breakout Sessions

Like It May Rain Today: Writing Memory and Senses

From the Page to the Screen with Rachel Taylor

Retelling Tales: Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales with Tara Mae Mulroy

1:45-3:00pm Breakout Sessions

Writing from the Margins with Jonathan May

From the Radio to the Page: Integrating Songs into Writing with James Dickson

Authentic Voice in Playwriting with Natalie Parker-Lawrence

3:00-4:15pm Breakout Sessions

Persona Poetry and Fiction: Writing from Another’s Point of View with Elaine Scudder-Walters

Writing Home: Memoirs with Lonette Robinson

Eric McQuade: Writing Fiction About Jobs

4:15-5:30pm

Readings and signings by authors

Interview

Chapbooks can make themes or images seem claustrophobic. There’s little room to get out. It is good, then, to have something that sucks our breath out and drives us for air once we’re done gasping along the pages.

Check out the rest of this interview on my chapbook, Philomela, up at Speaking of Marvels!

Heading off to Sewanee Writers’ Conference!

After some wonderful folks donated and a manuscript editing job came in for the exact amount I needed to cover the rest, all of the stars have aligned to make attending the 2015 Sewanee Writers’ Conference a possibility. I head down tomorrow morning as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. WOO HOO!

I’m super excited to spend 12 wonderful days attending workshops, lectures, and readings and meeting tons of other writers in all stages of their careers.

For all of you who have attended writing conferences/residencies before, any feedback, advice, suggestions for the newbie?

By the way, when I asked my Facebook friends what I should bring to wear to the conference, here were their ideas:

11745545_511873038963703_111658127444564431_n 11745961_511872918963715_2273012976266982596_n10500500_10207374116455207_8370188025743883841_n11225207_10207373649883543_3222956494953498477_nHilarious? Oh yes.

Submit like a Man

After reading this post a long while ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own submission habits and how they have developed.

I used to be a diehard submitter. I submitted pretty much as soon as I had new work, and since I was in graduate school, I was generating new work all the time (at least 12 poems a semester). Each of my submission packets included at least one new poem and one old poem and a few other pieces that I may or may not have been entirely sure were ready. I pushed pieces out into the world way before they were ready because sometimes I got lucky (an editor saw something I didn’t see or asked for a revision) or sometimes the process of being rejected gave me the space I needed to look at a piece with fresh eyes and edit it fiercely and precisely.

My submitting process started as follows:

I’d hit the reach-for-the-stars journals (The New Yorker, Agni, etc.), but only if they took online submissions and were free.

I’d hit the just-right journals, journals I believed my work fit in just well.

I’d hit maybe-someday journals that were between the just-right and the reach-for-the-stars journals. These journals I more than likely found through combing the contributor notes of an author I felt my work aligned with in some journal I was reading at the time.

After getting rejected quite a few times from the reach-for-the-stars journals and the just-right journals and the maybe-someday journals, I kept closer to the vest. I submitted mostly to just-right journals and sometimes ventured out to include maybe-someday journals. Sometimes, I got lucky. Sometimes, I didn’t. When I got an encouraging rejection, I immediately sent them another submission. Having worked for a graduate-student run literary journal, I know that the person who liked your work in October will be gone in December, so I always tried to respond quickly.

After slowing down in my submitting considerably, I started mostly hitting only the maybe-someday journals and the reach-for-the-stars journals. I’d accumulated quite a few publications at this point, and I felt like it would be a good move in my career to try to focus on pairing my work with journals that carry a larger readership, especially now that I’m shopping my collection around.

In December of 2013, I submitted to The New Yorker, and I got an encouraging rejection back in late February 2014. Did I re-submit immediately?

Uh…no. One of the most prestigious literary journals in the country sending me an encouraging rejection? No no no. Can’t possibly be true.

I can’t tell if that reasoning came into my head because I’m a woman or a writer or a woman writer or a bookless writer or a bookless woman writer or just a defect of my personality, but I simply didn’t believe it. I kept re-reading it.

We are grateful for the opportunity to read and consider your new work. We very much regret that we are not able to carry it in the magazine. We do, however, look forward to reading more when the time comes.

I showed it to friends. I even confirmed it on Literary Journals and Rejections Wiki. It took me seven months to get over my, “You like me? You really like me?” insecure freak-out and re-submit in September. Eight months later in May 2015, I got the same encouraging rejection. I re-submitted within a week. They said they liked me twice. That’s not beating around the bush. That’s straight-up courtship.

Large prestigious journals are less likely to change their editors every 6 months, but editors of large prestigious journals also read a lot of work. They have to. So many of us are vying for those coveted spots. I shouldn’t have waited around seven months before re-submitting after that first encouraging rejection because those editors could have easily forgotten me or my work (and they may have, to be honest. I may have just gotten lucky to send them two submission packets they enjoyed.).

I’m better off, as a writing human, of being in a space of recognizing that I produce worthy work, and that an editor of a journal that encourages me to send more sees the merit in my work as well.