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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Go on over to Book of Kells and Rock Out to the Rejection Blues

Oh yeah, things can only get better, is right. If you are feeling like me, and it's been one rejection too many, you might appreciate this post over at Kelli Russell Agodon's Book of Kells.

On the other hand, if everything's coming up kale starts, that's simply peachy, and you should go around wearing a rhinestone tiara for the next several months.

I will not likely be wearing a tiara anytime soon, thank you. This is because I've got those big, fat, fecking rejection blues.

One editor told me my poems did not have the same sparkle. Sparkle! My poems lacked sparkle. How cruddy is that?

But mostly it's been worse-- it's just been no thanks, not even close.

I am a toughie under most circumstances, but right now I am feeling particularly unlucky because I know I need to make the poems better, but when?

But in the mean time I'm rocking out to "Things Can Only Get Better," one of my fav tunes of 1985. Thanks for taking the sting out, Kelli.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets

Jeffrey Skinner's The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets is, in a word, a HOOT. I picked it up at midnight on a Monday night and had to force myself to put it down at ... 2:30 am. Finished it on the train the next morning. What made this book nearly impossible to put down? Skinner is funny; Skinner is wise. Skinner quotes James Baldwin on talent:

Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.

Lucky the poet who lands on this quotation (and Skinner's book) early in his or her poetry career.

Also, how about this for good advice:

But I have said no to committees, opportunities, parties, dinners, friends, etc., in order to say Yes to poems. --David Baker

AND (from Jeffrey himself):

"Get rid of all your notions of how and when poems are to be written. Discard all superstitions."

"Nothing in life is certain; it is less certain as a poet. You have to commit to the uncertainty...You have to get lost."

"You can move yourself closer to the angel, but you can't make her sit down and whisper in your ear."

"When you write well, reward yourself."

"Use all electronics as rarely as possible." 

All invaluable pieces of advice.

Skinner shares how when he was undressed and paddy-wacked in a big way by the likes of Philip Levine, his response was NOT to curl up in a ball but to make him see how wrong he was. Skinner preaches toughness and defiance against those who will inevitably tell us we have no talent, no chance in becoming a poet. He makes good on Baldwin's quote, but he takes it a step further. In the end he thanks Levine for teaching him that writing poetry "depends more about character than talent or luck." He also shares the essential thing Levine taught him: be who you are.

He also praises poems that grapple with big subjects like science, praising the poet who conducts research while writing poems. Hurrah!

Using the poets Susan Howe and Kathleen Ossip as examples, he drives home the following equation:

Fact + mystery = reality or truth

In other words, "open your poems to a wider landscape."

Lastly, Skinner renews my faith that it's enough to write and publish good poems. You don't have to all smarty-tarty with your Phd and your erudition. Thanks, Jeffrey, for reminding us that writing is more important than, say, teaching and editing.

Being rich helps too, but hopefully he's tongue and cheek on that one.

On second thought, likely he is not being tongue and cheek.

Skinner's recipe for success: two cups of defiance, three cups perseverance, a heaping tablespoon of deep pockets, two dashes of "to thine own self be true," plus a dash of "whatever you do, don't give up." Bake in a pan lined with "fuck talent."

Your neighbor may not understand contemporary poet, but you can at least try to write something she can make sense of.

Poets are misunderstood, often lonely, and die young. The guy sitting next to you on the subway will not understand how an AWP conference can be a great load of fun, but then again most poets feel the same way about a Nascar convention.

Skinner has written a bomb of a book. I am definitely making it required reading the next time I teach poetry writing. You should, too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

AWP 2012, Part 2: A Tribute to Carolyn Kizer

The last panel slot on the last day of the conference: no wonder my scarf is hanging crooked! No wonder David R had lost his voice! Despite these minor shortcomings, I felt wholeheartedly that each of us gave our best to share our great regard and admiration for a poet who has meant so very much to us.

Claudia Emerson, Moderator David Rigsbee, Panelist Emily Warn

Claudia Emerson, Carolyn Wright, and Panelists Martha Silano and  Emily Warn

Center: Kevin Craft, Editor-in-Chief, Poetry Northwest

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AWP, 2012: Part 1

What: The Art Institute of Chicago
When: Friday, 2-4 pm

Florine Stettheimer's Portrait of Virgil Thomson, commemorating Four Saints in Three Acts librettist Gertrude Stein

Black Cross, New Mexico (1929), by Georgia O'Keeffe. One of my favorites.

The Ascension (1490/1500), France (Picardy). Artist unknown.