Monday, August 31, 2009

The Beginning of My Movie Career

I've been practicing what Todd Boss preaches (see my previous post), i.e., sitting at the computer and making a video with audio of me reading my poem, "The Fruitful Woman," from my book, Eve's Red Dress. I decided to begin with a short poem so I'd get less frustrated when things bombed and I had to begin over. But really, the whole thing was pretty easy.

I also decided that for this one I'd make a video from photos that fit my poem. So first I had to round up a boatload of photos. In the end I ended up with many more than I needed and had to do some strategic cutting. I'd previously used an external microphone to record myself reading some poems, but with my new iMac I now have a good quality internal mic so thought I should learn how to use that.

I first put the photos in what seemed like a sensible order. Then I did a voice over which could not have been easier. I wasn't satisfied with my first several efforts—frog in throat, AC kicking on in the background, too fast, etc. But that was no problem. Just delete the voice over and make a new one. Once I had one that I thought was decent, I fiddled around with the order of the photos and the length of time each would be displayed. Again, very easy. Added a credit page at the beginning and end. Sent the whole thing off to YouTube.

After I was well into this project, the new Snow Leopard arrived at my front door. This upgrade for the Mac includes a new Quick Time which enhances your ability to make videos and audios. I wanted to see how that worked even though I was already set with my finished project. Again, easy to make an audio. One problem I had, though, was saving the recording to iTunes as an audio so that it could be dragged and dropped into a movie project. I eventually figured it out, but I think that's one unexpected glitch in the new program.

Now my next project is to make a movie of me reading one of Shakepeare's sonnets. I want to send that to the Our Daily Sonnet project.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Using Audio to Spread the Word

I've recently become increasingly interested in the various ways that poets might use audio and video production to put their poetry out into the world. If you can't get to California to give a reading, how about bringing California to your website or blog where you've posted some podcasts and videos? After all, historically, poetry is an oral art form. How hard do we work to get music into our lines? And yet, most often we encounter poetry only on the page.

So I was really pleased to get the new Poets & Writers and find an article, "The Audio Revolution," by poet Todd Boss, whose first collection, Yellowrocket, was published by Norton in 2008. Todd's thesis is that while we have at our disposal many ways to quite easily make our poems available in audio forms we continue to rely almost exclusively on print forms, a practice that Todd sees as outdated and not in our best interests. With the internet and its limitless audio opportunities, we could reach a much wider "listening" audience. He suggests that we follow the model used by musicians. By the way, although this article focuses on audio, I think the same points apply equally well to video presentations. In fact, many of the examples Todd points us to combine audio and video.

Todd has a cousin who is a musician, so he used him and his studio to get started. If you visit Todd's website, you'll find examples of his audio and video recordings. When Todd's manuscript was published by Norton, review copies were sent out with CDs featuring some of the poems. What a great way to get people interested in your book!

Todd has since worked with other musicians and has given several readings accompanied by musicians. I've long been wishing that more venues would combine poetry with music. One reading I especially enjoyed giving was at Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania where I was booked along with jazz musicians, Nancy and Spencer Reed. I'd like more of those! Todd also points out that musicians tend to get paid more often and just plain more than poets get paid. True again—Northampton remains one of the best-paying readings I've had.

The article also provides a number of online sites for readers to visit. One is Motion Poems where audio files have been combined with animated videos. Although the article suggests that you might have the same thing done with your poems, the site has only 6 videos posted—5 of them by Todd and one with a poem by Major Jackson. And there's a note that poems are taken by solicitation only. Nevertheless, the site is worth a visit to see what can be done.

Todd also provides some of the technical information you might need. Most new computers now come with the capacity to make audio and video. If you're not satisfied with your computer's audio, Todd suggests a few inexpensive microphones. He also recommends a call-in site,, where you can phone in or upload audio files that will be hosted at the site. I know that provides the same service but no longer offers the phone-in option for free. This site appears easier to use, but also appears to offer storage space for video and web pages as well. If you have a poem in an online journal and that poem is about to disappear, you can preserve it at this site.

Finally, Todd does not suggest that audio options will replace the printed page, but suggests that they can be used to supplement the printed page. Makes sense to me. So now I'm working on a few practice videos with audio.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Do You Recycle?

I'm talking about recycling your writing. I love it when I get a piece published and then later reprinted somewhere else. Getting that extra mileage is especially gratifying if the first publication source had a limited circulation or hit a distant part of the country. I also like to go from print to online and the other way around. Of course, opportunities to republish poems in journals are very limited, and I find that the number of journals that do republish tend to be, well, not so hot.

My favorite way to get a piece back into circulation is anthologies, maybe because I really like anthologies. I'm fussy, though, about which proposed anthologies I send to. I've had several experiences where I've submitted, had the poem or poems accepted, then waited and waited, only to learn that the project wasn't going to fly. Not much lost since the work had already been published. Still, it's annoying. So for the most part, I submit only to anthologies that already have a publication agreement or ones whose editors solicit my work.

My earlier blog post on obsession was originally written a few years ago in response to a call for brief essays on that topic. Each essay was to be accompanied by a poem that illustrated the obsession. Cool idea for an anthology! I wrote the piece, added the poem "Organic Fruit" which had previously been published in the Seattle Review, and sent in my submission. It was accepted. Then I waited. And waited. Queried and was told things were moving slowly, but moving. Many months later it became apparent that the two editors had never even gotten as far as completing their proposal. The project died. One dead essay. But the poem was reprinted in the 2009 Alhambra Poetry Calendar.

Then back in April another blogger invited other bloggers to guest blog at her site. I dug out the essay and the poem and sent them to her. She posted them but could not get the poem formatted correctly. Obviously, that's a poem where format is critical. We went back and forth a few times, but she just couldn't get it right, so I eventually asked her to just delete the post. Essay died again.

Then a few weeks ago Red Room invited their blogging members to post on the topic of obsession. They would then select a handful to feature. So I again dug out the essay and posted it there, but without the poem as I didn't think the poem would format correctly there. My piece was one of ten featured. Nice. Then I thought, hey, why not get a bit more mileage out of this piece and repost at this site. So that's the history of that bit of recycling.

Another kind of recycling that I like is when a poem of mine appears somewhere and some bloggers find it and post it at their sites. I know that not all poets like that. Some are offended if they are not first asked for permission. I don't mind at all as long as the reposter doesn't butcher the poem or mangle my name. Really, I think recycling is cool. What do you think?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Poetry, Tomatoes, and Coffee

On Saturday, August 15, I had a signing for my book, What Feeds Us, at The Fine Grind, a lovely coffee shop in a nearby town. I didn't know it was lovely as I hadn't been there before, but I did know that it had been voted #1 Coffeehouse in northern New Jersey by NJ Monthly Magazine. I also knew that the shop had recently begun a book signing series called "The Fine Print," so when I heard they were looking for authors, I contacted their events coordinator, Jessica Maarek, and we picked a date.

I went with little expectation of much happening. Middle of August, peak vacation time, temperature in the mid-90's, book close to its third birthday, venue close to home where I figured that anyone who wanted my book already had it. Wrong! We had a nice turnout and I sold a goodly number of books. Met some nice people. The time zipped right along, unlike the last signing I did where I sat and watched the clock.

Two unexpected perks: 1) An invitation to give a reading in the spring at a fairly nearby venue where I haven't read before, and 2) An interview with Diane Lilli, founder of and editor and main reporter for The Jersey Tomato, a new online newspaper. Diane, it turned out, loves poetry and graduated from Emerson where she just missed Tom Lux. She came to the signing and we had a nice conversation. She hopes to begin featuring a poem a week in the newspaper. I love that idea!

The article, A Poetic Feast, was posted in the newspaper on Monday, August 17. It includes my poem "Linguini." (By the way, I wasn't as drunk as I appear to be in that photo. If I was under the influence, it was the influence of poetry.)

This experience once again proves that we writers must take advantage of opportunities that come our way. We never know what other doors might open when we pass through one door.

I was the first poet hosted by The Fine Grind. The owners, Rhonda and Jon Mallek, hope to have more. I applaud the efforts of anyone who is helping to bring more literature into our lives, especially more poetry. To encourage more support for their authors, Rhonda and Jon and Jessica have put up bookcases in a cozy back corner. There they stock books by their visiting authors.

This experience also whet my appetite for a nice Jersey beefsteak tomato, so I went to the farm this morning and bought one that's almost as pretty as the one in the painting above. Also picked up some nice white corn.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Writing about Obsessions

I'm a bit obsessive about fruit. I keep coming back for more. I’m often asked why I write poems about fruit—the strawberry, blueberry, apricot, apple, and others. This obsession with fruit is part of a larger obsession with food in general. Of course, it goes back to my childhood. I was a fussy eater whose father insisted that every plate be cleaned. I became adept at surreptitiously getting rid of what I could not bear to swallow. I made unnecessary trips to the bathroom to flush away wads of liver. I coughed asparagus into napkins. I stuffed my pockets with filet of sole. I plastered cottage ham under the dining room table. I risked danger. Food could get me in trouble.

In early adolescence I was a bit pudgy. The foods I loved—cake, cookies, candy, ice cream sundaes—were prohibited by my father who wanted me slender. My cravings only increased. I longed for something sweet and sticky. On the sly I consumed entire jars of Marshmallow Fluff.

I went to Sunday school, racking up eleven years of perfect attendance. That’s where I first met Eve and learned about the garden, the snake, and the apple. I must have filed all of that away for future use. Fruit, temptation, capitulation.

And then I saw the 1963 film, Tom Jones. I was mesmerized by that famous eating scene in which Tom and a buxom woman he meets at an inn sit at opposite ends of a long table and proceed to rip apart chicken legs and stuff their faces with juicy grapes, all the while gazing at each other with—yes!—seduction in their eyes. Food and sex. Of course! An extension of the apple.

I have been punished for my transgressions. Several years ago I developed a cranky stomach. Right at the top of the list of foods I could no longer eat—most of my favorite fruits. I only want them more. I am tantalized by their colors and aromas, their suggestive shapes, their various textures, the seeds, the skin. They are dangerous. They will make me suffer. I only want them more.

Writing about fruit is my way of getting what I want.

Organic Fruit

I want to sing
a song worthy of
the avocado, renegade
fruit, strict individualist, pear
gone crazy. Praise to its skin

like an armadillo’s, the refusal
to adulate beauty. Schmoo-shaped
and always face forward, it is what it
is. Kudos to its courage, its inherent love
of democracy. Hosannas for its motley coat,
neither black, brown, nor green, but purple-hued,
like a bruise. Unlike the obstreperous coconut, the

avocado yields to the knife, surrenders its hide of leather,
blade sliding under the skin and stripping the fruit. Praise
to its nakedness posed before me, homely, yellow-green,
and slippery, bottom-heavy like a woman in a Renoir, her
flesh soft velvet. I cup the fruit in my palm, slice and hold,
slice and hold, down to the stone at the core, firm fist at the
center. Pale peridot crescents slip out, like slivers of moon.
Exquisite moment of ripeness! a dash of salt, the first bite
squishes between tongue and palate, eases down my

throat, oozes vitamins and oil. Could anything be more
delicious, more digestible? Plaudits to its versatility,
yummy in Cobb salad, saucy in guacamole, boldly
stuffed with crabmeat. My avocado dangles from
a tree, lifts its puckered face to the sun, pulls
all that light inside. Praise it for being small,
misshapen, and durable. Praise it for
the largeness of its heart.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You're Invited to a Book Signing

Saturday, August 15
I'll be doing a book signing for
What Feeds Us
The Fine Grind
Plaza Farnese
101 rt. 23 / Pompton Ave.
Little Falls, NJ
Come for some poetry
Come for some coffee and goodies
10:00 AM - 12:00 noon


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Saturday, August 8, 2009

2010 Poet's Market

I'm happy to report that I have an article in the just-released 2010 Poet's Market, the bible of poets looking for journals to submit to. As in previous issues, this edition begins with a number of useful, practical articles. Mine is entitled "Finding Readers: How to Get Your Poetry into Their Hands." I wish the editor had not removed the word "Book" after "Poetry" as getting your book out into the world is the focus of my article, not simply getting your poetry out. Oh well, not major.

About this time last year I saw editor Robert Lee Brewer's call for proposals for articles for the next edition. I had an idea floating around in my head so I wrote it up and sent it in. Much to my delight, Robert accepted it. I was given a word limit and sent a contract. Money would cross hands! (I hate to sound avaricious, but it's really nice to be paid for one's writing work.)

My proposal included compiling a list of small presses, ones that published no more than a dozen poetry books per year, that were selective, that accepted manuscripts outside of contests, and that produced good-looking books. These included my own publisher, Wind Publications, plus Pecan Grove Press, CavanKerry Press, Steel Toe Books, Ahsahta Books, The Backwaters Press, and Mayapple Press.

I contacted each publisher and asked them to send me names and email information for two of their poets who had had success selling a goodly number of books. I asked what they did to promote the books they published. And I also asked each editor what advice they would give poets about increasing their readership for their own books. (I should mention that while I ended with seven publishers I initially contacted nine. Two did not bother to reply which told me a lot about how hard those publishers work for their poets!)

I then contacted two poets from each press. Surprisingly, a few did not reply. Who passes up an opportunity to get one's name and book title into an article? Apparently, some poets. But the responses I received from most of the poets were very useful. I asked them just three questions, all focused on what they did to help promote their own books.

The premise behind the article is that if you have a book with a small press and you want the book to be successful then you are going to have to work hard on behalf of your book. You cannot expect your publisher to do all the work. He doesn't have the money to do a big ad campaign—the consensus was that ads do not sell poetry books—and he works with a small staff and may, in fact, be himself the entire staff. If you're not willing to put in some labor, then please don't complain when your book sits on the shelf.

I received some excellent responses from the poets. I then compiled those responses and organized them into three sections: 1) Spreading the Word, 2) Lining Up Readings, and 3) Using the Internet. In this last section, if I were writing the article now, I'd have to add Twitter and new sites like She Writes and ReadWritePoem.

I was surprised that a few poets said one of their best strategies for getting their books into the hands of readers was to give away the books. That's nice, but it wasn't what I had in mind. Why should poets give away their work? Haven't they worked hard and long on it? I think we devalue our work when we just give it away or trade it away. However, my final piece of advice to poets with books was and is this: "Promoting your book is the business of poetry, but don't expect to make money."

Do expect, though, to work hard on behalf of the work that has taken you years to produce. Your book deserves your best effort. So does your publisher. And all those potential readers. I hope my article will offer some useful ideas for poets with books burning to get into the hands of readers.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Are You Writing Gibberish?

If you're not writing gibberish, perhaps you should be. A week ago I spent a day with a gang of girl poets generating new work. We each brought a prompt. Poets have mixed feelings about prompts. Some claim to be unable to write to them at all, some say if you need prompts you're not a real poet, and some, like me, love them. I like the surprise, not knowing what's coming at me. I like the pressure of writing to the clock. I find that kind of tension creative.

We did two prompts in the morning, 20 minutes each, followed by a read-around with minimal commentary. Mostly appreciative ah's and oh's. The philosophy in operation is that the poet should first have an opportunity to work through several drafts before the poem is exposed to a real critique.

We had lunch together. Then we circled up again and did three more prompts. So everyone left with 5 new drafts in progress. Not all will make it into poemdom, but a number will.

One of my favorite prompts of the day began with these words:
The sicks wry curns orthen we cow natied lay, their dis sler calay, be, wills mat takespurn withe the be cove re's ort-ache patuntroution is ay.

Huh? you ask.

The words had been tossed out by a Gibberish Generator. The prompter had put in some lines from Hamlet and then the generator did its thing. Our job was to translate the gibberish into the opening lines of a poem and go from there.

My first effort began as follows:

Six weary cornstalks with a cow nearby lying down, their distressful corn sounds and cow sounds will make spinning with the bees regarding heartache part ache, part joy.

That ended my translation part. Then I kept going from where that left off. For the sake of my discussion here, I'll just focus on the opening lines. My next draft:

Six weary cornstalks, a cow nearby,
distressful corn sounds and cow sounds
make singing with the bees regarding
heartache part ache, part joy.

"Spinning" is now "singing" and lines are emerging. Not happy with that last line. Corny. (Did I say corny?)

Next draft:

The cracking noise of corn growing
and the groans of cows make singing
with the bees regarding heartache
part ache, part joy.

One of the poets had mentioned that research has proven that corn makes noise while it's growing. That idea was floating around in my head, so I researched it. Sure enough, corn is a noisy veggie. Idea of music is developing. Now actively disliking the last line but still unable to find something better so it's just holding a place.

Next draft:

The cracking noise of corn growing
and the groans of cows, background for singing
with the bees regarding heartache.

Can't replace a line with something better? Maybe just kill it.

At this point, it's feeling like a poem may result from these efforts. I've got a full draft now, all in 3-line stanzas. No title has emerged which may mean that the poem still isn't fully in focus. I know there will be more drafts. Needless to say, without the launch pad of the gibberish, I would not have produced these lines.

Here's a link to an online Gibberish Generator:

Give it a try. Surprise yourself into a new poem.

PS: Last night as I tossed and turned, I suddenly realized that I'd allowed four -ing words into that first stanza! Four! And two as line endings. I am determined to get rid of at least three of them. More work. More fun—I love hunting for better words.

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