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Sunday, November 25, 2012

365 Days from First Draft to Publication: "La Gioconda"

About a year ago I checked in at writer's retreat at an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest on the US/Canadian border. Once I was settled in (bags unpacked, bed made, electric fireplace ignited) I began writing a poem about Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous painting, The Mona Lisa.

It took me most of a morning to bang out the first draft, which I had decided to compose in 3rd person. After a few days of tinkering, it occurred to me I might be able to change the "she" to an "I," making what I considered a bold move from third-person distant and cool to first-person direct. I doubted I could pull it off, but it turned out to be fairly easy to change she/I in a series of revisions over the next few days. By January 2012 the poem felt good enough to read in public, which I did at the University of Washington for Richard Kenney's Writers on Writing class. My lecture focused on my writing process, for which I created a Powerpoint slide show featuring early drafts of several poems, including "La Gioconda."

The poem felt done,  but it took another nine months (and at least six rejections) before receiving an email from Timothy Green at Rattle: A Magazine for the 21st Century in early August letting me know that "La Gioconda" had been accepted for publication. If you are not familiar with Rattle, it is about the most gorgeous literary magazine out there, with stunningly beautiful glossy covers, a very stiff binding, the most luxurious card stock, and, most importantly, a wonderful mix of poems in all styles and voices, showcasing the widest array of perspectives. Instead of focusing on a narrow aesthetic, the editors at Rattle eschew a narrow lens for an extra-extra wide and all-encompassing one. Needless to say, I was stoked!

I learned a few weeks after acceptance that my poem was on an accelerated path toward appearing in print, having just made it for the Winter 2012 issue. Hell's bells! This meant my poem would actually appear in just four months from the date of acceptance, virtually unheard of for print journals.

I received my contributor copy about a week ago, and what a thing of beauty it is. Authors and titles  are available at the Rattle website. In a few months, each of the poems in this issue will be featured at a day at a time, but for now the poems appear only in print. This issue features a dossier on speculative poetry. Poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey, Charles Harper Webb, Kristin Berkey-Abbott, and Eloise Klein Healy, among others, will light up your brain. There are also thought-provoking interviews with Timothy Steele and Rhina A. Espaillat.

Those who write and publish poetry know how good it feels when a poem finds a good home, especially when the journey from draft to publication occurs within one year's time. Such a rare thing, and so very welcome. But does "La Gioconda" live up to its relatively speedy ride from first draft to publication? Have a look-see yourself by ordering your very own copy of Rattle today!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Packed, Cozy, Distinctive November Beacon Bards Reading Features Agodon & Spaulding-Convy

Kelli Russell Agodon 
Riveted Crowd
Annette Spaulding-Convy 

It was another laughter-filled and high-sigh quality night of poetry on Beacon Hill when Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy took the podium for the 3rd monthly reading in the newly formed Beacon Bards poetry reading series featuring (mostly) Seattle-area poets. I was especially pleased because Kelli read her poem about black bras that behave very similarly to black holes, and delighted because I heard for the first time poems by Annette about some of the 333 titles for the Virgin Mary, as well as a funny story having to do with one particular nun and her undergarments.

There were many fine moments in this night of singing words, wine, women, men, and a very receptive audience, including an open mic-er's memorable recitation of a love poem by Hafiz, and another open mic-er's moving verse about his deceased father. I found myself wishing the open mic would not end, which says a lot about the great poetry to be found in Seattle, not to mention a small neighborhood up on a hill which has been historically culturally neglected when it comes to the literary arts. But no more!

Next month we welcome Kary Wayson and Melanie Noel to the humble yet steadfast podium (which is actually a music stand). Please, if you venture out to see them, plan on arriving prior to 7 pm to both make it there in time for happy hour prices and secure yourself a seat. If you don't, you might end up on a folding chair or worse, plastered to the back wall. We also hope you'll stay for the open mic that follows. You won't be disappointed.

Beacon Bards
Sponsored by RockIt Arts
2nd Wednesday of the Month, 7 pm
The Station Cafe on Seattle's Beacon Hill
2533 16th Ave S.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poetry Makes Things Happen Department

So this is how it went:

I was randomly sampling poems in a copy of Kevin Young's wonderfully edited anthology of food poems, The Hungry Ear, enjoying work by Elizabeth Alexander, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, Pablo Neruda, and Ruth Stone, among others (the great thing about this book is that it contains poems by a diverse array of mostly contemporary poets; many I've never read before--goodness knows how permissions were handled; I surmise it was a feat getting all the living poets to sign contracts!).

Among the poems I read was Jane Kenyon's "Potatoes," in which she laments that she tossed a potato only half rotten in with "the consort of coffee grounds / banana skins, carrot peelings," how this potato, despite being delegated to the "steaming scraps and leaves," "turned up / unfailingly, as if to revile me-- /  looking plumper, firmer, resurrected / instead of dissembling." She surmises she might have made a "shepherd's pie for a whole hamlet" with that only-one-end-spoiled potato.

I couldn't get this lowly potato off my mind. I thought about the half-rotted veggies and fruit I often toss into the compost, feeling what Kenyon must've been feeling: that the impulse to throw away something only half-rotten is akin to seeing the cup half empty instead of half full, to not appreciate the joy in one's life when there's only a small blight of misery at one end of our healthy potato lives.

The next day I was out in the garden gathering up the last of the season's cherry tomatoes. A few were split open, but when I sniffed for the smell of rot I sniffed only fresh tomato. They weren't slimy or swarming with gnats, so I brought them into the house, then went searching for a recipe to make good use of them. It turns out roasting is the best way to deal with half-green, half-spent tomatoes.  I had transformed what could have been tossed into the compost pile into a delectable treat to be spooned into  a pasta dish along with feta, kalamata olives, capers, fresh thyme. Bon appetit!

I know Auden's quote is oft  repeated, and out of context. What he actually wrote is:

     For poetry makes nothing happen; it survives
     In the valley of its making where executives
     Would never want to tamper, flows on south
     From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
     Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
     A way of happening, a mouth.

But still I persist in reveling in the fact that poetry makes things happen (at least for me) nearly every day -- because unlike people who claim they don't *get* poetry, I read it daily. Kenyon's poem has permanently altered my view of bruised or imperfect produce  (the literally less than perfect) but reminded me to see past the surface blemishes toward what is not only usable and bearable, but welcome (the figurative). And she has done it with poetry, where executives in fact should tamper.