30 November 2009

Writing and Arrival

While earning my undergraduate degree, I was ten years older than most of the students in my classes. I was filled with gratitude to finally know what I wanted to do with my life. I was mature enough to see my dreams through. But I struggled with the fear that I had come to writing too late. I had lost too much time. There would be no catching up.

I hope you know that these fears are ridiculous. Most days I know that they are ridiculous as well until I see an early-twenty-something poet old winning a national book prize. I would like to call this feeling fear, but its jealousy.

If I am going to get honest with myself, I need to face some facts:

1. I couldn't write about the things I am writing about now ten years ago. The view from my early 30s is much different than from my early 20s.

2. In my early 20s I was still in love with the idea of being a painter and was too undisciplined to actually paint or finish my degree.

3. If I am still writing poetry because I want to fame, not only is the line long, but I had better be prepared for heartbreak.

4. Jealousy can only generate so many poems before it will burn me into cinders.

An elderly woman purchasing a sci-fi novel from me confessed that she hadn’t started reading the genre until she was in her mid 50s. She said, “I was going through all sorts of horrible things in my life and needed an escape. I found sci-fi just in time.”

The truth is that I came to writing at the right time. If I had come to it any sooner, I would not have been ready to embrace the grinding work of writing and revising. I could not have handled the initial crush of rejection.

Writing arrived in my life at precise moment it was supposed to and it saved me.

18 November 2009

Found Poems, From Your Own Material?

The wisdom of the Academy of American Poets website defines a found poem as "poems [that] take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems."

The Academy continues with "A pure found poem consists exclusively of..." But let's not go there.

Pilfering through my old notebooks, I am finding work that I don't remember jotting down. Sometimes I can't even read my own handwriting. I nod my head at poems I remember the drafts for and wince at some of the lines I had forgotten. But found poems got me wondering if you can create found poems from your own work.

Does making poems out of your old poems just become recycling, editing or revising? To celebrate old notebooks coming to light, I wanted to post some raw material.

Lucia Perillo says that writing poetry is a narcissistic act. Does creating new poems from my old poems make me completely self obsessed?

Here are some of the unedited lines from my past. Do with them as you will.

"They took us through a traveling tour ten miles up the road. Offered us coffee too hot to drink in a lobby too uncomfortable to sit in. Wicker furniture. Rattan. Cheap decor lit with a gas fireplace. Smell of dairy cattle and frying hamburgers."


"Know your directions before you go. For there is nothing on the horizon to help you keep your bearings. And the women here with blue eyeliner under each stare, proud in their forms, wear bright dresses over their curves to protest the flatness of this place."

15 November 2009

Your Loss is My Gain (Poetry)

I wanted to note two new books of poems that I picked up at the bookstore where I work. We buy used books and the used buyers alert me if we get a glut of poetry. It is rare for anyone to sell us a large quantity of poetry, but on Saturday someone did.

Here are the two books that I picked up:

How Some People Like Their Eggs
by Sean Lovelace
Rose Metal Press, August 2009
ISBN: 9780978984878

by Brane Mozetic
A Midsummer Night's Press, December 2008
ISBN: 9780979420832

09 November 2009

Poetry: Nice Work If You Can Get It

I stumbled across a collection of essays at work by Thomas Lynch called “Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade.” Lynch, a poet, also works as an undertaker. He writes about how one trade informs the other.

Nancy Peacock the award-winning author is another writer who had a nonliterary job to pay the bills. She cleaned houses. Peacock wrote a book about her experiences called “A Broom of Her Own.” It took an honest look at what it takes to be writer in the face of hard economic realities.

These two authors are successful in literary circles, but they also hold jobs that are a far cry from what most consider the lofty world of literary success. Writing, like many of the other arts, does not often pay well enough to live on. This is why most artists, even writers, are described as "starving."

The literary world is filled with well-known authors who had other professions. John Rechy, author of “City of Night” and “Numbers” earned his literary fame writing about his career as a male hustler. While the poet Richard Hugo worked at Boeing for years until his first book was published. He spent many years working on airplanes and poems at the same time.

In creative writing classes one may hear the term "working poet" but instructors don't frequently mention that poets often be working full-time jobs unrelated to poetry or even writing. So what does it take? What does it take to make it as a writer? It takes and extraordinary amount of time and dedication. A writer must generate new work, revise it, and then send it out into the world. And when a writer's hard work is rejected (again and again) he or she must be willing to send it out all over again.

The longer I write and seek to put my work into print, the more I realize that writing is not only about craft. Writing is also equal parts patience and endurance.

04 November 2009

Is Your Blog Eating Your Blog?

The past two weeks have kept me moving. Graduate school applications, academic resumes, writing statements, Form A and Form B burned up a good amount of time and energy. Between working full-time and panicking about my academic future, I haven’t felt up to doing much writing…Excluding the essays and letters that I’ve been agonizing over, Does this sentence make me look like I should be relegated to the unfunded pile?

During the time that I’ve been “forced” to write, I’ve also considered the direction in which I want to grow my blog. In the original vision, I dreamed of a blog that would both showcase some of my writing that had gone to print, but was not available online and give me room to explore and comment on a wide range of writing. But rarely does the vision match the practice.

What happened: instead I used my blog to re-circulate reviews and interviews that I had written previously. I used the blog to post new book reviews and a few musings on poetry. Because so much of my writing has been queer focused, I became locked in an unintentional LGBT trajectory.

I love writing about queer authors and queer literature, but when I started out, I didn’t intend for the blog to become homocentric. Then the guilt set in. Why NOT have an exclusively queer blog? Why NOT promote LGBT authors and artists? Why NOT increase queer art visibility on the Web? I had no good argument against doing these things.

During the two weeks in which I hammered out forms and formulas, I found some reasons NOT to keep this blog exclusive to the LGBT writing world. The most important is that I do not limit my own life and literature consumption to some queer-only zone. Truth be told, I haven’t been reading any queer authors in the past three weeks. I was derailed rereading A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes and Radio Crackling, Radio Gone by Lisa Olstein. I started and completed Jackalope Dreams by Mary Clearman Blew and 30 Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius by Paul Mariani. Some of these books were better than others, but not one of them was written by a LGBT author nor dealt with queer themes. But I want to talk about some of these books on my blog, especially a poet as brilliant as Lisa Olstein.

So where does this leave Literary Magpie? Rather than use the excuse of blog-fatigue or that the demands of life grew too great, I will just admit that I am not perfect. I am inconsistent and mercurial. I start running in one direction and then something catches my eye and I start running in another direction. (My reading list should have told you that much.)

For the next few weeks expect a shake-up. I am going to blog about all kinds of authors and writing. I may even delve into the dreaded world of poetry prompts. Or I might just repost snippets of what I’m reading to share with the rest of you.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of different things that inform me as a writer and I don’t want to put blinders on this blog (or my life) just to make things “fit.”


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