Monday, April 16, 2012

April Is the Guiltiest Month

Oh boy, it's that time of year again. April. The month when we're all supposed to be cranking out a poem a day. But here I am, workless, poemless, idealess. I'm not even going to pretend that I've tried to get into this poem-a-day thing. I haven't. At least not this year. I did try a few years ago—and failed. I tried harder the next year—and failed better.

Frankly, I've accepted that this just isn't the way I write. No can do. I love William Stafford, but a poem every single day—and before he even got out of bed? That just makes me feel inadequate. So I've thrown in the towel and admitted that my process isn't that process. I can go days at a time—hey! weeks at a time—without writing a poem. But then things begin to happen, stuff comes out of my head, and lands on paper. Poems get revised and finished. Not prolific but that's how I do it. One of the most important developments in my growth as a poet has been coming to an understanding of my own process. (I'm getting sick of the word "process" but can't come up with a better one right now, so it will have to do.)

Still, even armed with this self-knowledge, I see all these other poets around me posting poems and progress reports on their blogs, on their Facebook timelines, and in the various online groups that have sprung up like daffodils. So I can't help feeling a bit like a slug.

What a relief, then, to come across others like me. Donna Vorreyer, for example, freely admits that while she will pay attention to poetry each day, she's not going to insist on a poem a day. She says, "I will count revision work as a day’s work on a poem. I will count preparing a submission as a day’s work. I will count reading a significant amount of a poetry book as a day’s work. I will count attending and / or giving a poetry reading as a day’s work. And, of course, drafting a poem will absolutely count." Great. I'm off the hook. I just wish she didn't sound quite so productive in subsequent blog posts.

Then there's Martha Silano who says, "I have not been writing a poem a day this month, but every day this month I have either started a new poem, worked on editing my manuscript, worked on an essay about Adrienne Rich, or conducted research for as-yet unwritten poems. Yesterday I began this poem below in my car on the way to chaperoning a field trip with my son's class at Tiger Mountain." 

So there's one more poet who is counting poetry-related activities as having met the April goal. Good. I just wish she hadn't mentioned a new manuscript (she's just had a book published) or posted that draft. I wonder if she wrote it while she was driving?

I guess there's no escaping a bit of guilt. But I'm also going to focus on other aspects of poetry. Last Thursday I went to a reading. I was one of only 9 people in the audience. I felt especially bad for the poet who'd driven in from NYC. Where was everyone else? I wonder if they were home writing poems?

Then I'm giving a reading in two weeks. The very next night I'll be taking a friend to a contest reading where she will read her first place poem. I get points for that, don't I?

I've also just finished and submitted a proposal for a poetry presentation for a 2013 festival.

Last week I submitted some poems to a new anthology. One poem accepted. Yay!

And like Donna and Martha, I have revisions underway. Yesterday morning I went through all my yellow legal pads and marked the pieces that seemed like they might have some potential. I bought new legal pads. New pens. It's only mid-April. I may yet get a new poem or two written. To tell the truth, I'd be delighted with one or two.

Maybe I'm not so bad after all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Fine Art of the Blurb

The Parnassus blog recently posted a piece entitled The Trouble with Blurbs. The writers lament the often sad state of the blurb.

The post begins with an example of a good blurb: “'This is just the book to give your sister—if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.' Thus spake Dylan Thomas on Flann O’Brien’s novel, At Swim-Two-Birds. And they are fighting words, indeed—an author would be hard-pressed to find a better endorsement for her book-jacket."

Absolutely. I already want to read that book though I've never heard of it or Flann O'Brien. I suspect that even if I hadn't heard of Dylan Thomas I'd still want to read the book. 

That example, however, is not typical of blurbs being written lately, according to the members of the Parnassus staff who have noticed a trend in blurb-writing towards "the vague, the hyperbolic, the flat-out useless." 

Editors cite the too-often found use of bothersome words such as "luminous" and its variations. I'd like to add "transcendent" as an equally prevalent and annoying adjective.

The staff also slams the abundant citing of contrasts found in the collection being blurbed. That bothers me less than the use of phony words. For me, one of the marks of a strong collection is its ability to embrace opposites, but I agree that vague terms such as "dark, yet playful" should be replaced by more specific ones.

The staff's third beef: Too often, poetry collections are blurbed as “important,” “necessary,” or “urgently-needed.” Oh brother, I could not agree more. I am so sick of seeing collections described as "urgent" and / or "necessary." What the heck do those words even mean when applied to poetry?

I like blurbs that tell me something specific about the collection, something that will let me know if it's for me or not. I intensely dislike generic blurbs that could have been pasted onto the back of any number of books and give no evidence that the blurber even read the book being blurbed. 

I also dislike hyperbolic blurbs. For example, I had to guffaw a bit when I recently read a blurb for a first book of poetry. The blurber described the poet as "a major American voice." How could the poet of a first book already be major? I can't trust a blurb that overdoes it with the praise. 

Here's my own complaint: The blurb-hungry poet who asks half a dozen or more poets to write a blurb and then plasters them all over the back cover. This always strikes me as gluttonous and egomaniacal. It is also an imposition on the time of too many people, all of whom must spend several hours reading the manuscript and then writing the blurb. Unless, of course, they dip into their bag of generic blurbs.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Girl Talk: The Movie

Each year for the past five years I've run an event at my local library. It's called "Girl Talk: A Poetry Reading in Celebration of Women's History Month." Although my initial intention was to do the event once and then be done with it, the response to it was so wonderful and the requests for another so numerous that I've done one each year since. I've also been lucky to have the support of the library and the assistance of librarian Ethan Galvin.

I invite slightly more than two dozen women poets to come and each read one woman-related poem. This year we had 27 poets read. And I already have requests from several poets to be included next year. The topics cover a wide range: dealing with aging parents, the loss of a parent, childbirth and child-rearing, marriage and divorce, the body, current events, and so on. Although I use alphabetical order for the line-up, somehow the poems play off each other.

When I send out the invitations, I also ask for volunteers to bake cookies for the reception following the reading. This year I had so many volunteers that I had to let a few off the hook. I also had to take home quite a few cookies and eat them myself.

The room holds 80 people and we had it filled. Each poet seems to bring a few people and then lots of people come just to enjoy an afternoon of poetry. Although the audience is made up of primarily women, we do get some men too.

The poets who have recent books out are invited to place them on the book sale table. Sales are managed by library volunteers who each year generously give us their time to support this event. Many books are signed during the reception.

Here's a video I made of the reading. It should give you a hint of Girl Talk.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kicking Off Poetry Month

How nice to learn yesterday that Michael Snell, owner of the Michael Snell Literary Agency in Massachusetts, is featuring me on his website's Welcome page. There's a photo of me and a recording of my poem, "My Husband Discovers Poetry," read by Betty Rauch. What a delightful surprise and what a great way to start Poetry Month. Thanks to Michael and Betty.

Go HERE to listen to the poem. This will remain in its spot for a week.

If you'd like to see the poem, "My Husband Discovers Poetry" can be found online at The Writer's Almanac.

This poem is the last one in my first book, Eve's Red Dress. It's also the first poem in my new e-chapbook, Twelve for the Record. If you were here on Saturday, you know that Amazon had a 24-hour free download of the chapbook. An amazing number of people downloaded it. During those 24 hours I enjoyed some very nifty numbers in the sales rankings. Check this out:

 And check this out. Yes, number 1!
Now if you missed this bargain, do not despair as you can still get the chapbook for your e-reader. It's only $3 which hopefully won't break your bank. Available for quick download HERE.

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