New Nonfiction Published

This week, Trivia: Voices of Feminism launched its newest issue, which includes my short memoir, “The First Six Months of Survival.” The essay is about loss of fellow writer and dear friend Reesa Brown, and brings to the fold some of the most important books I read during that time.

It’s interesting how things have changed since I finished that piece. For example, in the last section, I talk about wanting to scatter Reesa’s ashes in New Orleans, but I ended up scattering them in Prague when I was there last month. But I made the conscious decision not to change that part of the essay to note what actually happened. This piece is a reflection of where I was at a certain point in time. I’m satisfied with the way it ends; I didn’t want to change it.

I’m also glad this piece found a home with Trivia; they’ve published my work before, and they’re one of my favorite feminist spaces online, and to share this issue with writers I admire so much.

Pulitzer Remix, Weeks 3 and 4.

April has been a busy month, with little time for blogging. So I slacked off on linking to the Pulitzer Remix poems. But it’s the last night of this project, so time for one more roundup!

April 15th: “Stranger

April 16th: “Break Free

April 17th: “Open Window

April 18th: “Ennui

April 19th: “It’s not being sure that keeps him alive

April 20th: “We are all trying to leave our bodies behind

April 21st: “Kitchen

April 22nd: “For one thing

April 23rd: “Summertime, and the living is…

April 24th: “Scene

April 25th: “Summer, Ending

April 26th: “On the subject of her martyrdom

April 27th: “A Hot Thing

April 28th: “Financial Times

April 29th: “She couldn’t get over the city

April 30th: “High Summer

30/30 Project: Wrapping Up

The January portion of the 30/30 Project ended today. Thanks to everyone who donated as a result of our efforts. Your contributions are appreciated by press and poet alike.

Final inspirations: Patti Smith albums (specifically Gung Ho and Peace and Noise), Lewis Turco’s “Paren(t)hesis” exercise in Wingbeats, Afaa Michael Weaver’s “The Bop” exercise in Wingbeats, the smell of barbecue in the middle of the afternoon, Ravi Shankar’s “A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem” in Wingbeats, and Catherine Bowman’s “The Bermuda Triangle” exercise in Wingbeats.

The project also generated notice from Kenyon Review blogger Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers. I wrote a long comment at the post, and because I feel like it does a great job of summarizing why I undertook this project and what I got out of it, I’m going to reproduce that comment here:

As a Tupelo 30/30 participant, this challenge was an extension of my own practice. In 2012 I committed to drafting a poem a day. And I used the term “drafting” consciously. I did not have to finish a poem in a day. I just had to get a draft of a piece down on paper.

At the end of the year, maybe a third of what I wrote ended up getting revised and completed. Most of what I wrote ended up not going very far. But the point wasn’t to produce finished drafts every day. The point was to sit down and do the words to see what arose from discipline. And what arose was more quality work than I’d produced before, when I’d waited for inspiration to happen.

With the Tupelo 30/30, the goal intensified. For an entire month, I couldn’t have a bad day. Not once so far have I been able to say “Today’s words sucked, but oh well. I’ll leave them be and do better tomorrow.” Being able to have an off-day is a luxury. If a poem utterly failed, I had to start over until I got something worthwhile.

People were going to be reading everything I put up–-I couldn’t turn in awful work. My goal for the Tupelo project was to have something I would consider worthy of taking into my critique group. I don’t take rough drafts into that group; I take in poems that have potential, that will achieve fullness.

Some of my Tupelo poems I do consider finished work. Most are still in-progress. A few have already been taken to critique group. I know that not all of my pieces will resonate with all of our audience members, but I’m proud of the work I did. I’m also humbled by the work of the eight other poets who took this challenge with me in January. I’m continually impressed with the quality of their work.

A big thanks to T.M. De Vos, Shannon Hardwick, Lindsay Penelope Illich, Mike McGeehon, Janie Miller, Nina Pick, Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, and Margaret Young. I had an amazing month writing with you.

And best wishes to the February participants. I can’t wait to read your work.

It’s a major award!

Yup. Exactly.
Yup. Exactly.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be so silly, but I just couldn’t resist making that reference. What can I say? I’m giddy.

I found out that my poem, “Of Barbecue and Blood,” won third prize in the Southern Writers Symposium Emerging Writers Award. I was floored when I found out. I’m looking forward to planning a trip to North Carolina for the Symposium, and meeting my fellow winners, as well as all the other writers in attendance.

“Of Barbecue and Blood” is an abecedarian sonnet, and it discusses both food and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Those opposed to blood or horror movies might want to look away, because I’m posting the poem below.

Of Barbecue and Blood

Everyone knows it’s all about the sausage; that’s the good stuff,

going, then gone at the market, but most people relish

ignorance of how it’s made. I envision the hook, a metal J,

keeping up slabs of meat, and then a full

memory of Leatherface, Pam hung up like pork, and then

once that’s done, stuffed in the freezer, as though the health department might stop,

question the family about their hygiene practices. Celluloid horror

shaped my first opinions about Texas. Maybe that’s why when I set

up shop here, I went vegetarian for four years, no beef, no chicken kiev.

What years I wasted, fearing meat, but there’s only so much cheese-filled Tex-Mex

you can eat before you have to try the good stuff. They started me on Kruez,

Artz, then Southside, and learned a thing or two about sauce and rub.

Calm down, memory of monster movies. I’m not going home empty-handed.

Time for a victory dance

The screencap above is the Scrivener corkboard view for my next poetry manuscript! I finished the very first full draft about an hour ago. The working title is Curved Tongue, Forked Road, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay that way for the rest of the revision process, though I’m open to the possibility that it might change.

The process so far

These are poems I’ve been writing since I made the final selections for inclusion in my chapbook. Once that was done and I started sending out We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are, every poem I wrote was considered for possible inclusion in the next book. The writing process thus began in late August/early September 2011. Since I have the practice of writing a poem a day, I began to generate possible poems pretty quickly. That’s not to say that every poem I have written per day has been worth considering. I think only about 10-15% of the poems I write I consider worth revising, submitting, or including in a book, and not all of those even end up going places. Still, if you’re drafting one poem a day, you get to the potential good poems faster than you would otherwise. The small percentage of poems that made the cut got put into a separate “for collection” folder.

After that, it was a process of writing and waiting. Not just to accumulate enough poems, but for a structure or theme to emerge. Several concepts bounced around in my head. First, I thought I’d be writing mostly about math and physics. Then, I thought I was going to write about physics and travel, and title it Everything in Transit (a title shamelessly stolen from a Jack’s Mannequin album.) Then, this past October, just after a year of writing and waiting, I developed the idea for a three-part structure, encompassing a few different things I’d been working on. This would allow me to have a unifying concept without feeling tied down to one single thing. 

As it stands, the book now has three parts. “Heartways” consists of poems I’ve written on the various incarnations that love takes (aka ways of looking at love). “Wordways” consists of the twenty-six abecedarian sonnets I’ve been working on since September, which are thematically organized around various locations within Texas (not just ways of looking at Texas, but ways of looking at words in the confines of this particular poetry form). And finally, I have “Roadways,” a section focused on travel poems. These are somewhat Texas-based, but less explicitly so than the abecedarian sonnets, and are more concerned with ways of looking at the road than looking at a particular place. The collection title Curved Tongue, Forked Road came to me almost out of the blue, and I like the way it invokes dialogue, exploration, and discovery.

Compared to getting my chapbook together, the rough draft of this collection was, in fact, easier. I didn’t develop my daily poetry practice until a month or two before I finally started getting the chapbook together. I didn’t know as much about revision as I do now. I didn’t have a critique group to help me out. And I certainly didn’t have any idea how to organize a book. Now, I am more disciplined, I have a critique group, and I have some sense of how the poems in a book should work together. While I still have a lot of work to do, having that knowledge made the first draft so much easier.

What happens next?

I have a long road of revision ahead. While a lot of the poems in “Roadways” are actually pretty near complete, the first two sections are much rougher. I’m going to work these poems by myself for a while, and then sometime in the spring of 2013, I want to work with a mentor to help me get the book in final shape for submission. I learned a lot working with a mentor for my chapbook, but I certainly don’t know everything. Plus, a full collection is a different beast from a chapbook.

Ideally, I’d like to have this ready to submit by June of 2013, but I also know I can’t rush the revision process. So I’m setting that as my ideal goal, but I’m also not going to get too attached to it. It will be done when it’s done. As long as I’m giving it the attention it deserves, as long as I’m performing due diligence, that’s what matters.

I know that when all is said and done, the final draft will not look like the current one. Some of the abecedarian sonnets will be rewritten from scratch. Some pieces that are in the first and third sections might get deleted. Poems I haven’t written yet, haven’t even thought of yet, might get slotted in. It will be an interesting journey, and I can’t wait to see what this book looks like when it’s finally done.

The Artist’s Way, Weeks 4-5

The last Artist’s Way entry was illustrated with a marginally-relevant yet absolutely adorable dog photo. It would be wrong of me to favor Max and not let Simon have his internet glory.

So I survived the week of no reading. It was tougher than an entire month of unprocessed food. I need reading way more than I need artificial preservatives and white flour. It was a pretty frustrating week, because my primary method of relaxation was just gone. I realize the point of the week was to focus on trying new things and different forms of relaxation, but I basically felt on edge the entire time. It was such a relief to read again.

Week Five was a lot of fun. Most of the exercises involved visualization as a component, as well as collecting images of what we want and what inspires us. As a result, I ended up joining Pinterest, and creating a board for images I collect related to The Artist’s Way.

Halfway through Week Six, I’m noticing that I love the odd-numbered weeks, and having less fun with the even-numbered weeks. The even-numbered challenges are frustrating, or they seem harder to balance with work, writing, kung fu, and my social life. But I take it one week at a time. I’m still enjoying the overall process.

A Blackbird Sings now available!

Back in January, I took up the challenge of  writing one small stone every day for the entire month. Two of those pieces were selected for A Blackbird Sings, which is now available on Kindle in both the US and the UK. (UK readers can also preorder the paperback here; US paperback coming soon.) I love the little poems in this anthology, and I’m honored to be a part of this book. In addition, editors Fiona and Kaspa have declared November 1st Mindful Writing Day (in addition to being the first day of NaNoWriMo, for those of you keeping track…), and the Kindle edition will be free that day (plus, you have the chance to win a copy by participating in the event).

Older readers might remember that I lost one of my closest friends to cancer on January 12th. I submitted five small stones for the anthology; two of them were written within days of that event. My two grief stones were the ones selected to be published. Despite the fact that ten months have passed and I have come a long way in the process, I admittedly felt vulnerable when I checked the proof copy. Both of my pieces are only three lines each, and yet they bring back the memories of those first few weeks of knowing Reesa was gone from my life.

I’m glad these small stones are out in the world. I hope they’re able to give someone else insight and hope.

August Accomplishments

August was one of my slower months for writing. Well, that’s not entirely true. It was a very good month for poetry; I just didn’t do much with other projects.

  • Drafted 40 poems
  • Submitted 21 poems
  • Submitted chapbook
  • Wrote and submitted a piece of creative nonfiction
  • Began planning the First Annual Austin Feminist Poetry Festival

A couple of things in August did not go as planned:

  • While doing research for my horror novel, I realized my initial idea was just not going to work. I scrapped my plans to mull things over. And while thinking things over, I ultimately decided that I don’t really enjoy the process of trying to write novels. Stories and essays and poems are enjoyable; there’s something about writing and revising novels that, ultimately, I don’t really love. So I’ve decided to scrap long projects and focus on shorter works. As a result, I’ve decided to start the horror project over again from scratch, as a series of linked short stories. The main concept will still be there, but this will be radically different from what I had intended.
  • I did not apply for the fellowship I wanted, because I found out my friend’s wedding would conflict with the conferences. Maybe next year.

With these shakeups, here’s how the rest of the year is shaking up:

  • Poetry every day.
  • Put plans into motion for the poetry festival. (So much to do. So little time. This is intimidating. But fun.)
  • September-October: Research and sketches for horror project.
  • September/October: Apply for the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship.
  • October/November: apply for a grant from AROHO.
  • November: Draft the horror project for NaNoWriMo, even though I won’t be writing an actual novel. (This is what’s known as a “NaNo Rebel.”)
  • December: revisions on horror project.

New poem at Big River Poetry Review

At the Blue Willow reading last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting John Lambremont, Sr., editor of Big River Poetry Review. He drove all the way out from Baton Rouge to hear us read, and his presence was very much appreciated.

Big River Poetry Review is a new publication; it debuted online this past spring. In addition, it will run an annual print anthology. Rather than publishing once every few weeks or months, John Lambremont’s aim is to update daily, sharing poetry on an ongoing basis.

I submitted some poems soon after returning to Austin, and I’m happy to share that one of my poems, entitled “What is dust?,” appeared on the site earlier this week. I’m very happy to be a part of this new publication, and look forward to watching its growth over the coming year.

Level Up!

Early in May, Jon and I walked into Master Gohring’s Tai Chi and Kung Fu somewhat on a whim. Jon wanted to get more exercise and had always wanted to try martial arts. And as much as I love to dance, after twenty years of that being my primary physical activity, I was looking to shake things up a bit. So we signed up for a new student special, and after the first 30-minute class, I turned to Jon and said, “Let’s do that again!” A week later, we formally enrolled.

Master Gohring’s school is a family-oriented place, so there are children in most of the classes — most of whom are higher ranked than we are. It’s been pretty humbling to have at least 15 years on some of my classmates, and have them be far more skilled than I am. No matter how much I’ve accomplished in life, I’m always going to be a beginner at something.

This past week, we took our first sash test, and promoted up to Gold. Next week, we start a new unit. I’m looking forward to learning new forms, and also honing what I’ve already picked up. There is a long road ahead to Black Sash, and I’m looking forward to it.