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.

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!

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!

The Nature of Revising and Revising and Revising

The reason why an MFA program is so helpful is once I’m able to figure out what’s not quite right with someone else’s work, I start to see it in my own. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything akin to critiquing someone else’s work, so when a poet friend of mine asked to read my manuscript (Swallow Tongue) not only did I take him up on it, I asked to read his as well.

This weekend amid lesson planning, Memphis Madness, a wedding, and a great local production of Young Frankenstein, I went through it for the first round and made organizational suggestions. They were suggestions I needed to hear myself, and I need to go back through it again to look more at it poem by poem.

For my own manuscript, I’m feeling resistant to plowing through it right now. I came up with plenty else I could do this weekend instead of working on it, and then last night I got an e-mail back from an independent press I had queried and then asked for my full:, “Your submission made it to our final round of reading, but unfortunately we have limited resources & cannot accept everything we enjoy. There was a lot to admire about your work, but not enough within this particular iteration of the manuscript hit us just right to warrant publication at this time.”

Of course, that’s never good news to get, but as Traci Brimhall says in her essay, “Notes from the Slush Pile: Advice on Book Contests and Some Confessions,” sometimes we send a book out before it’s ready. Though ST got a semifinalist nod from Crab Orchard Series First Book Poetry Award and now this “close, but not quite” e-mail from an independent press, it’s obviously got potential, but it does need some work. :/

What is good about this news is that I can start editing (any day now) and feel no hesitation about sending my manuscript out to a couple of the contests with upcoming deadlines.

This morning, instead of revising, I looked up general information about revising and re-ordering and found a couple of helpful essays:

April Ossman’s “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript

Jeffrey Levine’s “On Making the Poetry Manuscript

I remember reading plenty of posts from Sandy Longhorn about her reading her own manuscript with an editor’s eye, really taking a step back and pulling out and putting in poems. Her hard work paid off and her second book is now in print.

I’m having some trouble letting go enough to be the editor for my manuscript, so I’m actually hopeful that my po friend who I exchanged manuscripts with can help me out. I know if I really want to push this manuscript, I’m going to do what everyone suggests: read each poem, assess its strengths and weaknesses, think more about themes and ordering. Right now, I’m just in the whining/struggling phase. Give me a day or so and hopefully I’ll snap out of it.

Hope you are faring better on your writing adventures!

Drafting: “Scylla”

Since I last wrote a poem about Charybdis, it seemed fitting to try to write about her counterpart: Scylla.

Less is known about Scylla, but the story I like the most for is she had piqued the fancy of Glaucus, a sea-god. Unfortunately for her, Circe (known also from The Odyssey), a sorceress, also loved Glaucus.

When he spurned Circe for Scylla, Circe retaliated by poisoning the sea water where Scylla bathed. She was “transformed into a monster with four eyes, six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of twelve tentacle-like legs and a cat’s tail while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist.” Needless to say, her love affair with Glaucus ended. 

She took up shop across from Charybdis, and sailors had the choice of driving their boat into a whirlpool , or being grabbed up and eaten by Scylla.

I pulled several words from Rochelle Hurt’s lovely poem “Infants of the Field” from Crab Orchard Review‘s Winter/Spring 2013 issue to form a word bank that I’d use for drafting this poem:

salt licks; creek; pied; starlings; bunting; death-bitten

From there, I added a couple of phrases that I’d heard and been tossing around:

chicken wire; den window

It begins,

“I’ve entered this poem by way of chicken wire and salt, the promise of a creek behind the house that doesn’t dry up a mile down.”

From there, the poem was really…country. Lots of chicken and farm references, and I don’t ever want to stick too close to the original myth, but I did want some hints of it, and all the farm stuff was really pulling away from that. So I changed “death-bitten” to “sea-bitten” and dropped off the “licks” after salt.

Bunting was a little tough for me, but I loved the sound of it and the meaning of a loosely woven fabric. It made sense for me to connect it to her future appearance (twelve tentacles and two arms). Keats has a poem titled “TO—(‘What Can I Do to Drive Away’)” with the line, “Touch has a memory,” and that worked for me in shaping maybe how her monstrous form was also an extension of her desires:

“I want more hands for a bunting of it.”

Happy writing! I’m glad to feel like I’m sort of in the swing of it again. We’ll see if I’m able to stick with it!