Sunday, March 30, 2008

Good News Department

Lovely news today! My book, What Feeds Us, is featured in the new e-issue of Rattle. If you click the link, you'll be taken to the page which lists e-issues. Once there, click on the cover image (as seen here), and the issue will open as a gorgeous pdf which, if you like, you can save to your computer. My feature includes five poems from the book: "Annelida," "Meditation in the Park," "The Best Words," "A Boy's Bike," and "Idiosyncrasies of the Body." I feel honored by and grateful for this attention. Please pay me a visit!

And there's so much more there than just me. Poet John Amen's book, More of Me Disappears, is also featured. There are two poems which received the Neil Postman Award for Metaphor, stunning artwork by Dianne Carroll Burdick, two essays about poetry and craft, a generous excerpt of an interview with Marvin Bell, and half a dozen poems to whet your appetite for the upcoming summer print issue of Rattle. The poets include Bob Hicok, Lynne Knight, and Gregory Orr. This entire issue is a visual and graphic delight.

Editor Tim Green has done a wonderful job with the e-issues, a terrific concept for another way of getting poetry out into the world. This is just one of his additions to the journal since taking over as editor. Other contributions include a beautifully enhanced website. At the website you will find book reviews, sample poems from the current issue of Rattle, and an ever-growing audio library of poets reading their poems which previously appeared in the journal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chapbook Spotlight: American Flamingo

There seems to be a proliferation these days of chapbook contests and publications. Historically, the chapbook has been viewed as kind of a stepping stone leading to the full-length book. Perhaps because of the increase in the number of poets submitting to book contests and the limited number of books that publishers can afford to produce each year, the chapbook has taken on increased popularity, and we see many more of them being produced. Some of these are very fine works of art. One such collection is Suzanne Frischkorn's American Flamingo.

Before I move into this chapbook, I want to first say that I have noticed a number of chapbook poets referring to their chapbooks as books. I wish they'd stop doing that. First of all, it's just inaccurate. A chapbook is not a book, so to call it a book sets up a wrong perception. A chapbook is much shorter than a book. The chapbook typically has 12-24 poems and is usually saddle-stitched. The book typically has 40-60 poems and is perfect bound. If I bought something advertised as a book and it turned out to be a chapbook, I would feel that I'd been misled. I'd very likely buy the chapbook anyhow if it sounded like the content would appeal to me, but I like things to be called what they are. Maybe that makes me cranky.

More importantly, a chapbook is different from a book in that it has a much sharper focus, a tighter thematic arrangement. This, to my mind, is what gives the chapbook its appeal. Frischkorn's American Flamingo is an excellent example of this characteristic and virtue of a chapbook.

The collection is the first chapbook in the Cuban-American Poetry Series published by Menendez Publications. The publisher is using to produce the collection. Orders go directly to Lulu rather than to the publisher. I ordered with some reservation as I'd never used Lulu before. But the chapbook arrived within a matter of days, was lovingly packaged in a sturdy box (as opposed to a flimsy envelope) and the chapbook was slipped inside a protective spongy envelope.

Then when I pulled out the chapbook, what a beautiful surprise! This is the prettiest chapbook I've ever seen. My cover image above only hints at the beauty. Inside, each poem is tastefully surrounded by floral designs. While this risks being a distraction, here it isn't as flowers run throughout the poems. The book's design complements the poems.

The collection consists of 15 poems, all pertaining to the experience of being a Cuban exile. With rich imagery Frischkorn evokes the sensuousness of Cuba. We see the flowers—white mariposa, jasmine, jasper, pink oleander—and smell the scent of sugarcane, cargo ship, poverty, and fear. Beauty and violence are tethered together. An important motif is the stain of Cuba, the mark it leaves on its people, even its exiles, or perhaps especially its exiles. History is woven throughout, both the large kind and the personal. A few poems travel back to Spain, several mention specific locations, many are laced with bits of Spanish. The opening poem, "Exilio," informs us that the speaker, the granddaughter of a woman named Mercedes, will "twine a history with silver thread." And that's just what she does in the following poems.

While this chapbook is beautifully unified, there's also a lot of variety in the poems. Some poems use direct address to create a sense of intimacy. There are some prose poems, a persona poem ("La Dama Azul"), and, most cleverly, a crown of five sonnets which instead of appearing one after the other are scattered among the other poems. I loved the echo effect that created. "Granada" closes both the crown and the collection. Here is the poem in its entirety:


Things are looking at you and you cannot look at them,
lavender daisy, alone in a green sea, if you must drown
it is best to be lavender and alone. Here, in the General
Life gardens, morning glories bloom en masse. A visitor

wonders how exile fell on Moors, harbingers of water's
secrets, they who carved verses on their walls. You lose
yourself, or perhaps, wish to. Late summer garden
you have duende too. Leaving is difficult. Sometimes

to stay invites death. I am speaking of the firing squad,
of having cafe with a friend on Monday, and learning
of his death on Tuesday. Come and see the blood
in the streets. I came to the source, seeking the shape

of my eyes, my nose—I passed as a native, and at last
found a way home. I discovered Cuba in Retiro Parque.

This is a fine chapbook, just what a chapbook should be. Assuming that this publisher intends to continue the series, I suggest that she include a table of contents, number the pages, and add her imprint on the title page rather than on the back cover. Most of all, I hope she will continue to publish such aesthetically satisfying collections.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


A nice piece of news: A lovely new review of my book, What Feeds Us, now appears online at Rattle. The reviewer, Karla Huston, did a terrific job and I am very appreciative! I also say three cheers for Rattle which regularly runs reviews on their website. As all poets know, without some reviews it's difficult to get the word out about our books. I therefore often encourage poets to be reviewers themselves. It just makes sense that if we want to receive reviews we need to be willing to write them. If we don't, then who will?

I've been writing reviews of poetry books for several years. It's a bit time-consuming and it's challenging, but I always feel that it enriches me as a poet. I learn something about poetry from each review I write. And I find that I read much more carefully when I'm writing a review of the book in hand. The close and repeated readings usually make me more appreciative of what the poet has accomplished. I pick up a lot that I missed on the first reading.

If you've been avoiding writing reviews because of time, keep in mind that there are many journals that take very short reviews; you don't have to spend weeks on the review. Some such print journals that come to mind: Mid-American Review, Boston Review, Cider Press Review, and New Letters; and some online journals: Poemeleon, Rain Taxi, Rougarou. In addition to what you'll learn while doing the review, you'll be providing an important service and you'll gain some nice publication credits. Everybody wins; everybody gets a prize.

Another journal I want to mention is Review Revue. This journal has been around for maybe three years. It's a tabloid format, easy to fold up and tuck in your pocket. Easy to read on the train. The journal, which comes out three times a year, is devoted entirely to essays, reviews, and interviews—all about poetry. It's one of the best bargains around at only $12 a year per subscription; even better at $20 for a two-year subscription.

The most recent issue, which arrived just yesterday, contains an interview with Fleda Brown, former poet laureate of Delaware; a review of Brown's new book, Reunion; an essay about Georgia O'Keefe by poet Christopher Buckley; an essay about Mark Strand; a review of two collections from Iris Press by poet Phebe Davidson; and an article of tribute to Jean Pedrick by poet Sebastian Matthews. And there's more. (Notice, please, that several of these articles / reviews are by poets!)

I want to encourage you to support this journal. But I must also encourage the editors to make a strong commitment to getting issues out on time. I know that's a persistent problem that many journals suffer from for a variety of reasons. But RR is always late. Hey, there's even part of an editorial about it in this latest issue. This issue, by the way, is dated December 2007. It's now the end of March. (Also, Editors, if you're going to advise readers at the end of a page "continued on page 8" or "continued on page 19," you really should number the pages!) I'm hopeful that the editor's apology means improvement in the meeting deadlines department. This journal is worth keeping around.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry and the Lives of Women

Yesterday I had a wonderful reading experience in an unusual venue, i.e., the world of business. Strange bedfellows—poetry and finance. My daughter works at New York Life Investment Management in Parsippany, New Jersey. Last summer she was talking to Christine Birnbaum, who heads the Human Resources department, and mentioned that her mother is a poet. Christine was interested in both the poetry and the story of my having left teaching to spend more time with writing. As she frequently brings in guest speakers and has made a commitment to humanizing the workplace, she thought a poetry reading and conversation might be something she'd like to arrange.

Several months ago when Christine began thinking about speakers for Women's History Month, she got back together with my daughter. One thing led to another and a visit was arranged. I called my presentation "Poetry and the Lives of Women." Prior to the date, Christine did terrific PR. She invited the members of a group called Financial Women's Association and posted the information on their website. Email invitations went out to NYLIM employees. Fliers were put on tables in the cafeteria. There was even a notice on the lobby tv screen! I wish all venue hosts would do this kind of advance promotion for a reading.

The event began with a breakfast at 8:00 AM. Above is the conference room where the reading was held. NYLIM is a beautiful building, and the above room was really nice. Off to the right was a table set up with donuts and a variety of scones, tea and coffee, and several kinds of juice. Christine had the chairs arranged in semi-circle rows with a chair for me at the front. We ended up with 30 in the audience, 3 men included and very welcome, too.

The reading began at 9:00 with an introduction. I talked a bit about how I began to write poetry, my decision to leave teaching, and the work I do now as a poet. Then I read a dozen poems which I'd organized into woman-related topics, such as Motherhood, Clothes, Our Bodies, Food, Love. Next came a Q&A. I love it when the audience asks good questions and this group did. They seemed so interested in the poetry, where I draw ideas from, how I go about writing a poem and then getting it out into the world. We ended with a raffle of my books which Christine had ordered ahead of time. What a great way to put poetry into people's hands! I signed the books and we had some time for casual conversation.

My sense was that everyone really enjoyed this kind of presentation, something they'd never had before in the office. And there were a number of those great connections that sometimes unexpectedly pop up at poetry events. Two of the women are friends with women poets I know. A few used to write poetry and said they can't wait to get back to it. A few said they'd like to try to write some poetry. A few have children who write poetry. One woman would like to have me read at her library. I hope she can arrange for that to happen.

So don't think that poetry and business don't mix. There's an audience there as hungry for poetry as they are for scones. I was happy to have been the poet who brought poetry into that particular workplace.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Girl Talk: A Women's Poetry Reading

This was such a great day. I put together Girl Talk: A Women's Poetry Reading a few months ago, just an idea for a poetry gathering to honor Women's History Month. I thought I'd assemble maybe a dozen or so women poets to read at my local library. Of course, I asked more as I thought for sure some would say no. But they all said yes. And then I thought of a few women poets I'd missed and really wanted. And then a few more. I ended up with a list of 29 women poets, young and old, experienced and just beginning, some with books and some without. I asked for volunteers to bake cookies. Ten volunteered, so I added a tea party to the reading.

I figured if just the poets came, we'd have a good turnout, but people kept coming and coming. The room holds 80 and it was completely full. The reading took place from 1:00 to 4:00 and almost everyone was there the entire time. It was primarily women, but we had some guys too.

I decided to keep it simple and use alphabetical order for the reading, and that worked just fine, giving us a nice mixture of poems and voices. I introduced the poets by name only as their bios are on the webpage I made for the event. But each poet was invited to say a few (just a few) words about her woman-related poem. We had poems on a wide variety of topics, e.g., moving to a new home after retirement, empty nest, love, sex, giving birth, breast cancer, and cooking. Halfway through we took a 10-minute break. I practically had to threaten people to get them back into their seats! The excitement and the conversation were going at such a high level. We then went on to the second half of the reading.

Then everyone was invited to join the poets for the Tea Party. A library volunteer made the coffee and tea. Cookies were delicious! The book sale was also going on in the corridor during this time. A number of the poets had books so were invited to bring copies of one title. The most amazing thing happened! People stood in line waiting to buy poetry books. It was a beautiful thing to see. We sold a total of 76 books! More conversation during the book signing.
Just shows what can happen when women support women and poets support poets.

I also had a little strategy going to encourage book sales. While at AWP, I'd picked up six copies of the brand new Wompo listserv anthology, Letters to the World. Each book purchased earned the purchaser one chance to win a copy of the anthology. The more books you bought, the greater your chance to win. The drawing was held at the end of the program. Between the books sold and the anthologies won, we put a lot of poetry out on the street.

I think everyone went home happy and exhilarated by a day of poetry, conversation, renewing old friendships and making new ones. One of the poets said the day felt like a reunion. Cards and email addresses were exchanged. Dates for future readings at different venues were made.

The crowd assembling before the reading. We packed this room.

Donna Gelagotis Lee reading from On the Altar of Greece

Charlotte Mandel reading a poem about survivor guilt

Jessica de Koninck reading from Repairs

Me reading "Gender Issue"

Adele Kenny before reading a poem about breast cancer

Penny Harter reading from Night Marsh

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Raising Our Voices

Yesterday I participated in Seton Hall University's "Raising Our Voices" conference. This is an annual women's conference. I learned about it from my daughter who is a graduate student at the university. Several months ago she forwarded me a call for panel proposals. Since the campus is not too far from where I live, I thought I'd give it a try. Also, while I've presented and read individually at a number of conferences and festivals, I've never been part of a panel, so I thought it would be good to try a new experience. Thus came about my proposal for "Jersey Girls: A Chorus of Poetic Voices." I invited three other women poets to be part of the panel: Jessica de Koninck, Adele Kenny, and Evie Shockley. I wanted poets with a range of styles and voices.

Once the proposal was accepted, I sent the poets a list of 10 woman-related topics and polled them for their preferences. From their responses, I pared the list down to four topics. Then for our presentation we read in round-robin fashion, one topic at a time. Our first theme was Motherhood, second was clothes, third was social issues / politics, and our last was love / sexuality. It was so interesting to hear how the poems worked off of each other, how they kind of spoke to each other. And the audience got to hear a variety of voices and approaches to topics relevant to the lives of women.

While we would like to have had a larger audience (isn't that so often the case?), we had a nice group. And while there wasn't enough time for a Q & A or for conversation, we think the audience liked our presentation. We hope to have another opportunity to do it elsewhere.

Each of the poets has published at least one collection. I recommend them all to you.

Repairs is Jessica's first chapbook. It's from Finishing Line Press.

Chosen Ghosts is one of several titles by Adele Kenny, this one from Muse-Pie Press.

a half-red sea is Evie Shockley's first full-length collection. It's from Carolina Wren Press.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Fruitful Woman

One of the very nice editors at Skirt Magazine visited my blog and thought I might like a pdf of my poem feature since the page is too large to scan. I've converted it to a jpeg and uploaded it here. Isn't this a beautiful display? It's too small to read here, so go to the previous entry to read the poem.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Fruitful Day

This is the cover image of Skirt Magazine, a women's publication, very large 11 x 17 inches, full of lovely graphics and full-page ads for women's products and services, and a number of articles. The magazine circulates in a variety of cities and is distributed six times a year. Each issue also features one poem by a woman poet. A few months ago one of the editors contacted me and asked for permission to reprint my poem, "The Fruitful Woman," which appeared in my first book, Eve's Red Dress. I'm not sure how they came across the poem, but I was happy to say yes. Today's mail brought three copies of the March issue. My poem is beautifully displayed on a single page. The page is pale lime green with a swirly design. Then there's a rectangle in the center of the large page, and my poem is in the middle of that. This format draws the eye right to the poem. Here's the poem.

The Fruitful Woman

Today I dress for you
in scarlet. I am
a tomato, plump
and luscious. I pulsate
with seeds.

Today I clothe myself
in yellow. I am
a peach, succulent
and ripe.

For you, I swathe myself
in gold—all melons, oranges,
tangerines, nectarines.

I am a garden of earthly delights.

I am the red apple
you would fall for
a thousand times.

I am the apricot you would die for.

I am all strawberries,
blueberries, raspberries,
and cherries, all these and more.

Today I am royal for you.
I dress in a gown
of purple plum.

Come, lift me out of my skin.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Open Your Umbrella

The new issue of Umbrella Journal is now online, and it's well worth a visit. Kate Bernadette Benedict is the publisher and editor of this quarterly which she began a little more than a year ago. The journal has already earned a reputation for excellence. Each issue contains a number of unusual features. My essay, "Charlotte Mew's 'The Farmer's Bride,'" appears in the Close Reads feature. Then there is also a Milestones feature where poets discuss a poem they feel marked some kind of turning point in their growth as poets. Interviews, book reviews, Bumbershoot (light verse), and, of course, poems. In addition to poems on a variety of topics, there is always a section of themed poems. Poets in the current issue include Annie Finch, Barbara Crooker, Rachel Dacus, Penny Harter, Susan Settlemyre Williams, and Barry Spacks. So check it out. And consider submitting some work for the next issue's call for "hot" poems.

I'm still up in the air in regards to print vs online journals. I confess to a bias in favor of print, but journals like Umbrella, Poemeleon, and Valparaiso Poetry Review have made me aware of how fine online journals can be. And I think it's a good idea to have work online as well as in print. I know I've several times been contacted by readers who've seen my poems online. I don't recall that that has ever happened with a print publication. Is anything cooler than an unexpected bit of fan email? Online publications also have the advantage of being available in perpetuity to everyone all over the world, thus making your work accessible to who knows how many readers. When I'm thinking about online submissions, I look for a journal with an attractive overall design, beautiful artwork, easy navigability, readability, archives, and quality of the work in past issues. I much prefer a journal that is a real website to one that is a blog, possibly because the latter is proliferating so rapidly. And may expire just as rapidly?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Mysterious 123

After saying in my last post that I'd just been tagged for the first time, I almost immediately found myself tagged a second time. This one came from Sherry Chandler. The rules are as follows:
  • look up page 123 in the nearest book
  • look for the fifth sentence
  • then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123
That didn't strike my fancy as it seemed to be just copying down somebody else's words. But I was given permission to cheat. Okay, that's more appealing now. After finding dull sentences in several books, I grabbed Janet Fitch's Paint It Black, a book so tedious and annoying I hadn't been able to finish it, but I liked my three sentences on page 123:

Clean little sounds came through the open window. A sprinkler, Rain Bird-style, shhhttt sht sht sht sht sht shhhttttt, the beeping of a backing truck. But what time was it?

Now I'm going to try to turn those sentences into a found poem:

Clean little sounds,
the open window,
a sprinkler,
rain bird—shh, shh—
the beeping of a truck.
What time was it?
Shh, shh, shh.

Okay, it stinks. At least I played. I'm going to leave this one open to anyone who wants to play. And everyone is granted permission to cheat.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...