Weekly Writing Prompt: Have Some Lines

I have a file on my computer where I put lines I loved from poems that otherwise didn’t work and got discarded. I like to peruse this list of lines sometimes, to see if they generate fresh ideas. This week, I thought I’d take a stanza from a poem I got rid of, and offer it up to you. Steal it, modify it, do whatever you want. It’s yours!

I’m not sure if there are
really this many stars out
here, or if it’s just
the double vision from the beer.

Register for Poetry March Madness 2015


March Madness is all about elimination. The competition winnows out teams one by one until only the best of the best remains. The games are thrilling and sometimes heartbreaking, but it’s the quick elimination of the weaker teams that ratchets up the competitive drama.

Many poets struggle with revising their poems, especially when they have to cut lines or stanzas. Although we know a poem could benefit from pruning, our attachments to our work interfere with our ability to lose the words that weigh a poem down.

In this online workshop, you’ll spend two weeks trimming the excess from your poems. You’ll eliminate bulky lines and unnecessary words. You’ll learn to let go of attachments to the phrases and stanzas that don’t really belong. And you’ll get practical advice for decluttering your space (whether it be hard drive or desk), as well as how and when to let go of the poems that just aren’t taking off.

In April, when it’s National Poetry Month, many of you will try to write a poem every day. Let’s spend the weeks leading up to that shaping, polishing, and revising our old material.

What you’ll get:

  1. Prompts to help you revise and condense your poems.
  2. Advice on how to declutter your hard drive and writing space, organize your work, and let go of drafts that aren’t working.
  3. Intensive one-on-one critique of two poems throughout the beginning, middle, and end of the workshop, guiding you through multiple stages of deep revision. Critiques available via email, phone, or Skype/Google Hangout.

Cost: $20 (Note: Nobody will be turned away for inability to pay. Please contact me at literaryaustin@gmail.com if you need to make alternate arrangements.)

To register:

  1. Fill out the online form: http://goo.gl/forms/LVtGBnW1PA
  2. Submit payment via Paypal to literaryaustin@gmail.com (If unable to use Paypal, please contact me to set something else up.)

Weekly Writing Prompt: Black Sheep

When we think of the family members who taught us the most, wise grandparents or a loving mom and dad comes to mind. But we can also learn important lessons from those who were different. Most families have some sort of black sheep. Think about the person in your family who didn’t quite fit in with the rest of your clan. What did you learn from them? What could they teach you that everyone else couldn’t?

Review: The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Book Cover Photo

The places we love most in life can harm us as well as sustain us. Childhood can be idyllic and beautiful, but even the most bucolic towns can have lurking dangers. Jeannine Hall Gailey’s The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a collection that is part science-fiction fairy tale and part revelation. Drawing on her childhood in Oak Ridge, Tennesse (also known as The Atomic City), Gailey sheds light on a piece of American scientific history that you might have not learned about in school. Gailey was the daughter of a researcher at the Oak Ridge nuclear site. The town, as it turns out, was toxic, tainted by nuclear waste. The Robot Scientist’s Daughter brings us a beautiful, magical place with a horror story lying beneath. It will break your heart, and it will make you think.

While The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a fairy tale composed in poetry, the book I thought of most while I was reading it was Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. Bradbury didn’t just write compelling science fiction. He also composed fantastical stories that touched on the ways in which childhood is magical and beautiful, but also dangerous, fraught, and terrifying. Gailey’s poems reflect a love for Oak Ridge, but also an acknowledgement of the dangers and horrors that came from living in a town that had basically been poisoned by the nuclear research site there. There is fantastic beauty in the janitor’s overgrown tomatoes and flower; there is also terror when you realize the flora is overgrown due to radiation, and that the janitor is slowly dying of radiation poisoning.

One of the difficulties of politically-motivated poetry is how to get the point across without being polemical. Gailey does that masterfully in this collection. She doesn’t have to yell at us about the ways in which nuclear waste is harmful, about the fact that nuclear power is dangerous.  We see it in the sick children, the dying researchers, the land perhaps irreparably corrupted. While it seems that energy debates have been going on my entire life, and while I have heard many people extol the virtues of nuclear power, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a collection that made me think. It compelled me to research and learn. At its best, political poetry forces you to consider what you have known, learn, and change.

It is hard to pick a favorite poem from this book. So many of them left me stunned, shocked, or on the verge of tears. “Cesium Burns Blue” is, I think, one of the definitive poems in this book:

Cesium Burns Blue

Copper burns green. Sodium yellow,
strontium red. Watch the flaming lights
that blaze across your skies, America—
there are burning satellites
even now being swallowed by your horizon,
the detritus of space programs long defunct,
the hollowed masterpieces of dead scientists.
Someone is lying on a grassy hill,
counting shooting stars,
wondering what happens
when they hit the ground.

In my back yard in Oak Ridge,
they lit cesium
to measure the glow.
Hold it in your hand:
foxfire, wormwood, glow worm.
Cesium lights the rain,
is absorbed in the skin,
unstable, unstable,
dancing away, ticking away
in bones, fingernails, brain.
Sick burns through, burns blue.

This poem is the cell from which the rest of the book grows. I am struck by how much it contains, and how easily the other poems seem to shape themselves around it.

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter will officially be released on March 1st. You can preorder it at Mayapple Press. (Which you should definitely do. Not just because it’s an amazing collection, but because if you order now you can get it at a fantastic sale price.)

Weekly Writing Prompt: Sleep On It

Right before bed, jot down an aspect of your story or a line of a poem you’ve been struggling with. Make this the very last thing you do before turning out the light. In the morning, look at what you’ve written down. Sit down with your writing and start working on this trouble spot. See what a good night’s sleep has helped you work out. (This should be done as soon as possible after waking up. Set a reminder on your phone if you have to.)

January Retrospective

2015 started off with some great opportunities for writing, reading, and sharing work.

AWR January 2015

The Austin Writers Roulette group

First, I again had the honor of being a featured poet at the monthly Austin Writers Roulette show. The January theme was “Redemption,” and host Teresa Roberson once again rocked a thematic outfit. I performed three short, silly poems about feeling guilty for irrational things. We had a wide range of poems and stories, some honest and haunting. There were so many brave authors sharing vulnerable but inspiring work.


Having fun in Waco

Despite living only about 90 minutes from Waco, the only time I’ve spent there has been driving through it. But Waco poet Jenuine Poetess, founder of In The Words of Womyn, invited me up for ITWOW’s birthday celebration/daylong writing retreat. I arrived in time for the afternoon potluck where there was amazing food. After two workshops that brought forth some incredible work from all participants, I got to hang out, eat delicious Vietnamese food, and then participate in a reading/open mic, as well as a silent auction. I made some excellent new friends, and found out that Waco has its charms.

Find Me in February

February is already shaping up to be a busy month! If you want to come hear me read, I’ll be at the following venues:

February 7th: Expressions
Baha’i Faith Center
Theme: For the Love Of!
Note: None of the poets at this event will be reading original work. We will be reading the work of deceased poets, and celebrating their lives
Doors at 6:00 p.m., reading starts at 7:00
Admission Free, but please contribute to the potluck or bring canned good donations for Poets Pantry

February 8th: Austin Writers Roulette
Stompin’ Grounds
Theme: Bad Date Night
This is one of the rare instances where I’ll be reading nonfiction rather than poetry.
4:00 p.m.
Admission Free, but $5 donations encouraged to help us pay rent for the venue.

February 13th: V-Day Erotica Reading
I’ll be hosting this event, and featuring Jasmaine Cash, Faylita Hicks, Denise Hudson, and Cindy Huyser.

Weekly Writing Prompt: Dream Journal

Start keeping a dream journal.

I recommend keeping your dream journal in the bathroom, in easy reaching distance of the toilet. A dream journal is too easy to ignore by the side of your bed. If you wake up groggy, you will stumble out of bed and ignore it. If you keep it in the bathroom near the toilet, you will have roused yourself enough to be capable of jotting down a dream. And you will be in a convenient sitting position. (I am not joking. This really works.)

If you’re wondering why this week’s prompt is to keep a dream journal rather than a specific prompt for a poem/story, just wait. Keeping a regular dream journal can lead to a wealth of wonderful new material, delivered straight from your subconscious.