Here you see the latest addition to my wardrobe. I recently purchased business cards from vistaprint.com. To create those, I uploaded my book cover. If you've used vistaprint, you know that once you place an order for one item, you start receiving offers for other items. I try hard to resist, but I was helpless when it came to the free t-shirt offer. I felt like I had to have it. I'm glad I capitulated. I am now a human billboard. The shirt came within days, the brand is Anvil, and the quality is nice. I like the way the cover is imprinted on the cloth. It's very light, not that heavy rubbery stuff you sometimes get on customized t-shirts. My only issue is that I ordered a man's size medium and it's a bit too big for me. No shrinkage as it's pre-shrunk. But guess what. All is not lost. This morning I received another offer for a free t-shirt, so I am going to reorder but this time in small.
In related news, my article, "How to Get Your Poetry into Their Hands," which appeared in the 2010 Poet's Market, is reprinted in the 2011 edition, again edited by Robert Lee Brewer. My article title should have the word "Book" inserted after the word "Poetry." I don't know why it was omitted and I wish that it hadn't been as the piece is not about getting your poems into the hands of readers; it is about getting your book into the hands of readers. The article contains a number of suggestions, some based on my own experiences and some gleaned from the several poets and publishers I interviewed for the article. If I'd had an opportunity to revise, I would have added more about social networks. And I would have suggested getting a t-shirt! But I'm delighted that the article is getting some more mileage and I am grateful for the editor's faith in the article.
I am also very grateful to children's author and fellow blogger Jama Rattigan who has beautifully featured my poem, Blueberry," at her lovely blog, Alphabet Soup. Jama loves words, books, food, and poems. Each Friday's post is devoted to a poem. Please check out this feature, not just for the poem but also for the beauty of the photos that Jama has selected to enhance the feature. I've been told that people in many places have already headed for the nearest farmstand.
Speaking of farms, I learned the other day that a blueberry farmer from Minnesota posted the same poem on the farm's Facebook page. If you're in Minnesota, be sure to stop by the Gierke Blueberry Farm. And if you've ever been there, please let me know.
BTW: The very first issue of my new monthly Poetry newsletter will go out tomorrow. So if you haven't yet signed up and still want to, now is the time. Hop on over to the sidebar and use the easy sign-up form. Be sure to confirm when you get the email notification. If you fail to confirm, you will be "suppressed" and there will be no newsletter for you! Sign up and then confirm. Easy.
No, not that kind of baby! More like a brainchild, though the amount of brain may be debatable. What I'm hatching is a monthly poetry newsletter. My intention is to send this out once a month, ideally on the 1st of the month, allowing for an occasional missed month or a late send-out.
Why, you ask. Just because I thought it might be fun and useful and because I have the time to do it. If it turns out not to be fun or useful or if I end up feeling overburdened, I can throw out the baby with the bath water.
What, you ask. My plan is to include a writing-related quotation, a writing tip or two from who knows where, book recommendations, a poem I've come across and admired, a prompt, links to cool stuff online, and whatever else comes to mind. The newsletter will be kept to a modest length, and you will not be bombarded. This will definitely not be an all about me sort of thing.
How, you ask. If this sounds like something you'd like to receive, just go to the sidebar and fill out the simple sign-up form. That's it. Then you can expect to receive the August issue on August 1.
PLEASE NOTE: When you sign up, you will receive a confirmation email. You must click the link to confirm. If you don't, you will be "suppressed" and not receive the newsletter.
The New York Times recently posted an intriguing article, The Author Takes a Star Turn, which discusses how various authors, e.g., Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls, and Kelly Corrigan, have used video to promote their books, something that the article concludes is now almost a necessity. If you visit the article, you can click through to trailers by a number of the authors. My favorite is "Book Launch 2.0," the winner of this year's Moby award for Best Performance by an Author. That author is Dennis Cass, author of the non-fiction book, Head Case: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain. In the video Cass takes subtle and delightful satirical aim at the entire business of promotion. Take a look.
It seems that everything that Cass has failed to do for his book is what an author should do for a book. Using my powers of inference, I've compiled a list:
1. Get reviews
2. Do a reading tour
3. Get book clubs to use your book
4. Do an email blast
5. Have a website
6. Have a blog
7. Keep 5 & 6 updated (Note: Cass last posted at his website on May 21 and he's deserted his blog.)
8. Join social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter
9. Make a YouTube video
10. Accept, as Cass has, that "this is the world we live in."
The trailer prompted me to put Head Case on reserve at my library. Cass's soft sell page at his website firmed up my interest in his book. Now I wonder if we all need to add a soft sell page to our websites.
On Sunday, July 18, I was honored to have my poem, Blueberry, featured at Your Daily Poem. This site is the project of Jayne Jaudon Ferrer. In 2001, Jayne started delivering poems to a limited group of friends and relatives during the month of April. She did that each April for several years. Then as the list grew, Jayne decided to create a daily website that would be available to everyone. That website is now just a bit more than a year old. You can get your daily poem by visiting the Your Daily Poem website, or you can go to the website and subscribe. If you subscribe, then you will receive each day's poem via email. All poems are archived at the website.
One of Jayne's goals is to make poetry enjoyable to people who might think they don't like poetry but really have just never found the kind of poems that speak to them. Jayne's selections are very democratic and include the well published and the newly published. Her selections cross time periods and geographical borders. One very nice feature is a lovely introduction to each poem. Each poem is followed by a poet picture, bio, and links to Amazon.
"Blueberry" is from my second book, What Feeds Us, but today I am guest blogging at novelist Meg Waite Clayton's blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, about my first book, Eve's Red Dress. This blog includes Meg's own entries about the publication of her novels, The Wednesday Sisters and the forthcoming The Four Ms. Bradwells, as well as entries from a variety of authors on their own experiences getting that first book published.
This past April Meg decided to bring in some poets, so she started "Poetry Tuesdays." Now she has decided to resurrect and continue this as an occasional Tuesday feature. So today I'm blogging about my journey to getting my first poetry book, Eve's Red Dress. This was challenging to do as my head is now filled with thoughts about my recently published third collection, Temptation by Water. But I enjoyed looking backwards and retracing my footsteps. Speaking of feet, those really are not my dirty feet! But I still love them.
Entering poetry book contests often seems like a necessity if you want to get your manuscript published. But what an insidious process it can be. Not to mention expensive. And time-consuming. Before my first book came out in 2003, over a period of maybe six years, I entered the manuscript in dozens of contests. I spent several weeks each summer weeding out the weaker poems and substituting with what I hoped were stronger ones. I reconsidered the order of the poems. I redid the page numbering and the Table of Contests. I wrote out the checks. Then I waited months for notification.
The first time I received a semi-finalist spot was thrilling, more so the first time I received a finalist spot. But by the time I'd accumulated six of these close calls, it was getting stale. I felt stuck in place, always writing poems that could go into that book, unable to move onto the next book. Then I got lucky and found a home for my book, no contest involved. Since then my publisher has stuck with me for the following book and the forthcoming one for which I am hugely grateful. What a relief not to have to do the contest thing.
But recently I saw the process from the other side of the fence, i.e., I served as a first reader in a book contest. After reading through the pile of manuscripts, I put together some thoughts that perhaps someone out there might find useful before pulling out the next roll of stamps and the next batch of checks.
1. Do not overload the manuscript with poems. Too many is too many. I read one manuscript that had close to 100 poems! Now come on. The poet had simply failed to edit his own manuscript. Nor had he followed instructions in regards to number of pages. A collection that long has virtually no chance of being accepted anywhere.
2. I'd always heard that it was essential to have a strong first section. True! A weak first section discourages the reader from moving onto the second section. Weak first section and your goose is cooked.
3. After getting a really strong first section, make sure that the following sections are equally strong. You cannot get away with a weak section. Anywhere.
4. Be mindful of variety. This applies to subject, form, length. Too much sameness leads to boredom.
5. Work really hard on arranging the order of the poems. For many poets this is the most difficult part of putting together a manuscript. That's what friends are for. Ask a few poets whose judgment you trust to read the manuscript for order. Avoid the inclination to group similar poems together. Again, too much sameness leads to boredom. You want some kind of thread or threads running throughout, pleasing leaps from one poem to the next, surprises, and connections. Poor order was one of the main weaknesses in the manuscripts I read. You want a collection of poems, not a bunch of poems.
6. Here's another thing that separated the good from the not so hot: Diction, diction, diction. Why use boring words when there are so many good ones available? The language in the strong manuscripts immediately distinguished those collections.
7. Avoid excess baggage, e.g., accessorizing sections with numbers, plus titles, plus introductory poems, plus epigraphs. Keep it simple.
8. Don't go too highbrow with a bunch of unnecessary End Notes. Don't be pretentious. Nobody likes a stuffed shirt. If the information in the End Notes is essential, maybe it should be in the poem? or on the same page as the poem? I'm not saving never; I'm saying consider carefully the necessity. Likewise, avoid a bunch of ridiculous dedications of individual poems. I dedicate this one to Emily Dickinson, this one to my plumber, etc.
9. Remember that competence is not enough. The collection must stand out. The strong ones had something that was unique, that was special, that made them different from the others.
10. Good looks matter. Make sure your manuscript has a professional appearance. I was surprised to see manuscripts with the title uncentered, with dreadful fonts, with blurry pages. Don't crowd the pages, please! And please, in your Table of Contents, do not insert a hideous line of periods between title and page number.
Now here's the good news: If you have a good manuscript, you have a really good chance of winning. Don't send it out before it's ready, but when it's really ready, believe in it and send it out.
This past week my local newspaper, The Progress, ran an article about my new book. Nothing huge. It's not the New York Times, but it was nice. The neighbors still don't seem to know me or that a poet lives up the street. No one hailed me at the pizzeria Friday night. But a waitress at the diner where my husband gets breakfast told him she'd seen my "advertisement." Advertisement? I've got a dentist appointment this Friday. Maybe Dr. J. will ask for my autograph.
It is my pleasure to host a poetry salon for Susan Rich whose latest book, The Alchemist's Kitchen, was recently released by White Pine Press. Ideally, I'd like to have this party in my home, but since I live in New Jersey and Susan lives in Seattle, that's not possible. I've known Susan for several years on the Wompo listserv. Then we met in the fall of 2007 when we both read at the Burlington Book Festival in Vermont. We met again later that same year at AWP in New York.
Everyone, please get comfortable and let's hear what Susan has to say about her new collection.
Diane: You have two previous collections. Is this new one a continuation of or a departure from those books? What's familiar, what's new?
Susan: I think The Alchemist’s Kitchen is a departure in a number of ways. This is my first time composing poems out of history, out of visual art, out of what it means to be living in middle life. My past two books, Cures Include Travel and The Cartographer's Tongue, focus more on the external world, the poems located in the different countries I’ve worked in: Bosnia, Palestine, Republic of Niger, and South Africa. And although I still love to travel, I’ve now claimed a more permanent geography in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, this summer the anthology New Poets of the West, comes out and it includes two of my poems. So although I grew up in Massachusetts and lived there until my mid-30’s, I am now officially a “new poet of the west.” This makes me ridiculously happy.
More importantly, perhaps, is that The Alchemist’s Kitchen is my most ambitious book. Dealing with my mortality isn’t easy, let alone writing about it. There are many poems in The Alchemist’s Kitchen that I didn’t want to write. For example, the third section of the book focuses on the strangeness of aging with poems like “The [In] Visible Architecture of Existence,” “Letter to the End of the Year” and “Curating My Death.” Perhaps because I passionately did not want to write these poems, they seem to have an extra sense of urgency about them. My personal sense of privacy and decorum lost. The poems won.
This is also true of the poems concerning the life and art of Northwest photographer Myra Albert Wiggins (1869-1956). Drawing inspiration from the visual arts always seemed a little too hoity-toity to me. I began writing the Wiggins poems as a challenge to myself. Could I focus on a historical artist, one that is all but lost to history (the way I may someday be) and re-infuse her work with life? I acquainted myself with her husband and her daughter, her trips to Paris and Jerusalem. By the end of two years, I felt I knew Myra better than I know myself.
Getting back to your question, some things stay the same, of course: attention to cadence, image, and surprise. I’m constantly trying to push forward in these areas. I hope I’ve succeeded, but that’s for my reader to decide.
Diane: Tell us the story behind your cover.
Susan: I think we need an all weekend party for this story! The cover comes from a photograph by the German photographer, Phillip Schumacher, whom I met last summer at an artist residency in Spain. Phillip creates what he calls “one shot films” which means his pictures usually include a broken narrative, an unexpected situation and sometimes a detail of the absurd. The kitchen pictured is located in the Villa Hugel, the family home of the German Industrialist, Alfred Krupp, which is now a famous museum. I hadn’t expected to use a literal kitchen on the cover, but I fell in love with the pans illuminated in a lilac glow, the door within a door, and the overall film noir atmosphere of the image. Plus, I loved featuring the work of Phillip, a photographer whose work I admire so much. Phillip is only at the beginning of a very successful career and it’s an honor to introduce his work to North American audiences. One more thing: the cover only features 1/3 of a very large image which includes a life-size plastic stag, an angry chef, and an oven. Interested guests can visit my blog to see the the photograph in its entirety.
Diane: Why did you title the book The Alchemist's Kitchen?
Susan: The title of this collection came to me far more easily than the titles of either of my past books. I was re-reading Denise Levertov’s New and Selected Essays—many of which were written, I believe, during her time in Seattle. In her essay "Biography and the Poet" (1992), Levertov takes up the question of literary biography of poets (and by extension, she expands, all biographies) as to whether we need to know about the drugs and dalliances of the poets’ lives or if they are “the chaff which the imagination has discarded.” For the most part, she rallies against being too inquisitive regarding the facts of the writing life. But the essay is balanced with praise for certain biographies such as Walter Jackson Bates' Life of Keats, where the biography is in service to the poems or to essays or journal pages some poets had published. Sometimes, Levertov says, while understanding the life of the poet, “one is grateful for a glimpse into the alchemist’s kitchen.” I immediately felt myself drawn to the phrase.
I’ve re-interpreted Levertov’s original sense of looking at a poet’s memoir or biography being the alchemist’s kitchen to the poems themselves being the material of alchemy—the ordinary objects turned to gold. In researching more on the nature of alchemist—in its original meaning—I learned that Alchemy has a double origin in Greek philosophy and Egyptian texts. The origin of the word itself is thought to be Arabic. But what fascinated me the most was that the alchemists were not merely interested in turning base metals into gold but were also in pursuit of spiritual discipline and that the transformation of metals was secondary to the wisdom that the alchemist would himself attain through his work. One of my favorite quotes by the poet Stanley Kunitz goes like this: “The first task of the poet is to create the person who will write the poems.” So to answer your question, I’ve used the term “alchemist’s kitchen” as a metaphor for the process of writing poems. That said, I also am a great lover of food — growing it, preparing it, bringing friends together to enjoy it.
Diane: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Susan: Joy. Wisdom. Entertainment. A hearty appetite for the power of poetry to transform our everyday existence into something better—a way to make sense of the incongruities of our lives. As a reader, when I pick up a poetry book, I yearn to be surprised, to find words that teach me about my interior life, that make me want to read a poem or a line over, and over again. My hope is that I’ve created such an experience for other readers—or at the very least—made them hungry for “a praline heart” or “Spanish torte.”
Diane: Please choose a favorite poem for us and, if you like, tell us why you chose this one.
I’m afraid to own a body, you said
the regressive tax on breast and thigh
would be too high; then you circled
my wrists, held them brightly
and I registered in your eyes, the look
I imagine of accountant or old paleontologist
appraising semiprecious finds.
When you pose me toward the light
and we touch, you take
a transparency with your eyes;
as if April evenings can be
known things, as if
our rental car agreement
extended to tongues and only then
under certain conditions
to wondrous singing.
Praise song for contracts signed
in pocket parks where we
descend with little savings—Bless
even the promissory note
reneged, the unreality of love’s
retreating. Your voice remaining
a little distant, but still companionable
like the announcer on late night radio—
Susan: I chose “Rental” because it is a poem I most definitely did not wish to write. It was the first poem I finished last summer while I was in residence at Fundacion Valparaiso. A relationship that I had been involved in in Seattle had ended abruptly and the last thing I wanted to do was wallow in those knife wounds of heartbreak. There I was in Andalusia, on the shore of the Mediterranean, and yet memory kept interfering with the sun. Until I wrote this poem, no others would show up. Not surprisingly, once I finished “Rental” it became easier to move on to new work. And somehow, in spite of how much I didn’t want to write this poem, I’ve ended up liking it very much. I especially appreciate the ending which tries to name that odd sensation of hearing the ex-lover’s voice—the same voice that uttered love cries during the relationship—speak in the aftermath. Poetry works in a myriad of exasperating ways. How lucky I feel to be a poet in this life. Sometimes I need to remember how much I wanted to be a writer from the time I learned how to read. And here we are—living the writing life—having drinks and even ice cream in the blogosphere.
Now comes the best part of our salon. We get a chance to hear Susan read her poem, "At Middle-Life: A Romance."
What's a party without something delicious to eat? Please help yourselves to a parfait, some cookies, fresh fruit, and cold fruit punch.
Overheard at the party:
"These are poems of praise and wonder graced by a delicate touch."—Brian Turner
“Don't read Susan Rich’s latest book on an empty stomach. Although The Alchemist’s Kitchen contains a wide, intelligent, and thought-provoking variety of poems, it does food better than most of the restaurants I’ve been in.”—Mark Brazaitis, Peace Corps Worldwide
Be sure to pick up a copy of Susan's book. Then while you enjoy your snacks, please feel free to ask Susan some questions. Leave them in the Comment section. Susan has promised to respond. And thanks for coming to the salon.
I've recently been lucky enough to have a friend who hosted a poetry salon for me at her home. The purpose of the salon was to celebrate the publication of my new book. It was a special day and a wonderful way to spend time with friends talking about the book, reading some of the poems, socializing, snacking, and signing.
After the party, I set my brain to figuring out a way that I could celebrate the books of poets I know who live too far away to invite to a salon at my home but whose work I admire. So I have invented the online version of the poetry salon. A poet with a fairly new book will be hosted, he or she will talk to us about the book, we will hear the poet read a poem, food will be plentiful, and there will be good conversation.
My debut salon will be for Susan Rich and her new book, The Alchemist's Kitchen. Look for it tomorrow. You're all invited!
Since I've recently made a poetry book trailer and posted several times about the process, I was immediately interested in this contest sponsored by the journal Quiddity. Maybe you too?
Book Trailer Contest for Writers and Small Presses:
Two prizes of $350 as well as broadcast, Web, and print promotion by Quiddity will be awarded—one prize each in the categories Manuscripts and Books. (Runners-up and/or honorable mentions may also be selected.) This contest closes October 20, 2010 (postmark deadline).
Now take a look at the sample video. I'm a bit intimidated by it! The effects achieved here are quite spectacular and way beyond my capabilities, but I hope this is just to inspire us. I'm planning to make a trailer for my new book and hope to enter the contest. But I'll be keeping my trailer closer to the two minutes recommended elsewhere. I suspect it's true that most viewers won't hang in for more than two minutes.