Sunday, August 29, 2010

Online Journals: What I Want Redux

Back in December of 2008, I posted about online journals. I first blogged on the topic as a result of a conversation that had taken place on the Wompo listserv. Print vs Online was the gist of the conversation. Back then I was doing the weekly newsletter for the listserv—and still am doing—and observed that most of the journal publications each week were in print journals. Now less than two years later, that has dramatically reversed. With that reversal in mind and the continued proliferation of online journals and the demise of a number of print ones, this seems like a good time to revisit the topic. This post will be essentially a reprint of the earlier post but with some revisions.

Some online journals are excellent and some are not. I've  visited a number of these journals and my poems have appeared in a number. I've again been asking this question: What makes an online journal worth visiting and revisiting—and worth submitting to?

Here are some of the qualities I look for in an online journal:

1. In 2008 I said, "I want a real website, not a blog posing as a journal. There are some blogs engaging in cool projects, but they don't seem journal-like to me. Just too easy to set up the blog kind. To my eye, they lack a professional, authentic feel. Usually." This is one idea I now must revise. With the ability of both Wordpress and Blogger, the two most popular blog sites, to create multiple pages, it is now possible for a blog journal to achieve a very professional appearance. That professional appearance remains essential to me. However, a caveat: Since these sites are free, anyone can start one. That means more screening for quality before you submit. But then you always do that, right?

2. Ease of navigation around the site. Don't make me jump through hoops to get to the poems. I like a Table of Contents that's no more than one page in. I want it to be easy and quick to get to what I want to see. I want to be able to move on easily from there. I dislike it when I have to use my back button to return to the main menu. I don't want to have to keep starting over.

3. No scrolling down to get to the next poet. Should be a link to take me there. I'm now adding that I truly dislike journals that make me scroll. In fact, I won't do it. This, to my mind, marks an online journal as amateurish. It also means no specific url for each poet. Bummer.

4. No menu with only picture links that I have to click in order to find out where they go to. More irritating than clever.

5. Menu on each page, at top or bottom or sidebar—and plain, not distracting.

6. No pdf download required. I want the material right there, in the journal. I appreciate that a pdf can achieve a book-like appearance, but I'd prefer that the publisher be less fancy and make my life easy.

7. I like it when a journal puts all of one poet's poems together or at least gives me a forward button. I want to read, not spend my time pushing buttons and hunting for things.

8. Bios with the poems or with a link to Contributors' Notes. I'm adding that just as I want contributors' notes in print journals I want them in online journals. I want them.

9. Links to author's website in each bio. Just in case I want more of a particular poet. But I don't want a plethora of links which can get like flies at my eyes. Some publishers go bananas with links. Why send readers away from the journal? Keep them right there, reading what's in the journal.

10. Archives. One of the benefits of publishing in an online journal is the long-term availability of the work. I think a journal should capitalize on that.

11. Inclusion of some reviews. A nice addition and a great way to promote books.

12. Eye appeal. It has to be good-looking. I like some images and I like some colors. Maybe this shouldn't matter, but it does. Dark backgrounds, e.g., black or navy, initially pop and look appealing, but in truth they make for hard reading and should be avoided.

13. Easy to read. No pale gray type in small font size. I dislike small text boxes. Too busy and crowded-looking. I refuse to read an online journal that has multiple font colors. It makes me insane.

14. Freedom from annoying ads. Sorry, but I just can't stand it when the journal is burdened by cheesy ads, especially if they do things like light on and off or move across the screen. More flies.

15. Good submission information. If submissions are now closed, I'd like to know when the doors will be open again.

16. I don't like it when the editor selects favorites from among the poems. That seems like implicit dumping on the others.

17. The editor should not publish in the journal. It's unprofessional. Exception for reviews and essays.

18. I like a mixture of poets familiar to me and ones who are new to me.

19. Of course, the poems should be wonderful and varied. Long poems are always a hard sell, perhaps more so online.

20. An audio element is nice. It's one benefit that the online journal has over the print one.

Next post I'll list some of the online journals that I especially like. This list will include some additions since 2008.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Upon Reflection

The March / April issue of The Writer's Chronicle has a great interview with Gregory Orr. One of his responses struck me especially forcefully. When asked which poets had shaped him as a writer, which ones he felt a kinship with, Orr said: "I have this theory that we're looking for stuff that's going to save our lives: poems and songs we love so much that they're a key to our own being. When we find those poems or songs, and a lot of them are lyric poems but sometimes they're songs, we never forget the first time we heard that song. When we find those things, we're finding a kind of key to our own being. If we put together the fifteen songs and poems that we love most in the world and look at them, it's like looking in a mirror that shows your face; it's more one that's showing your soul."

That got me thinking about which 15 songs and poems might reflect an image of my soul. I ended up making a list of 10 of each:

Songs                                                                       Poems    

Bohemian Rhapsody—Queen                                Wreck of the Deutschland—Gerard Manley Hopkins
We Are the Champions—Queen                            Adam's Curse—W.B. Yeats       
Here You Come Again—Dolly Parton                   Facts About the Moon—Dorianne Laux
Music Again—Adam Lambert                               The Peace of Wild Things—Wendell Berry
Foot Loose—Kenny Loggins                                 Valediction Forbidding Mourning—John Donne
Sea Cruise—Frankie Ford                                      Fragments—Stephen Dobyns
Me and Bobby McGee—Janis Joplin                     Let Evening Come—Jane Kenyon
Maggie May–Rod Stewart                                      Funeral Blues—W.H. Auden
We Didn't Start the Fire—Billy Joel                   After Making Love We Hear Footsteps–Galway Kinnell
Could This Be Magic—The Dubs                          Elegy for Jane—Theodore Roethke

After compiling this list, I looked into the mirror and saw the reflection of my soul. Oh dear. What does yours look like?

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Online Poetry Anthology: Poetry.Us

Photo by Mark Thalman

I am delighted and honored to have been invited to have my work included in Mark Thalman's wonderful new online anthology, Poetry.Us. This is an evolving site which will continue to grow.  I'm already in some very good company, e.g., Alicia Ostriker, Pat Fargnoli, Marilyn L. Taylor, Barbara Crooker, Ingrid Wendt, Tess Gallagher, Floyd Skloot, and Ron Slate. There are 29 poets posted with more coming soon. I've just learned that Linda Pastan and Maria Mazziotti Gillan will soon join the anthology.

This should be a useful resource. Each poet has a brief bio, three poems, a photo, book covers, and writing tips. There is an index that includes links to each poet's page. A separate page hosts links to each poet's website.

I suspect that teachers will find this site a useful instructional tool. If I were still teaching, I might ask my students to peruse the anthology and select 10 poets for a closer reading. After each student has read the selected 30 poems, I might then ask everyone to select one of the 10 poets for a closer study, beginning with the poet's website. Or I might ask each student to select one poem to prepare for an oral reading and discussion. Or to select two poems for a comparison / contrast.

As the anthology includes all contemporary poets, all living, it should prove especially useful in a contemporary poetry / lit course. It could very well serve as the semester anthology with students being asked to buy individual books by the poets they choose to study more closely.

The Writer's Tips should also prove thought-provoking and inspirational. Here's a sample from Alicia Ostriker: "Read voraciously. Memorize poems. And write what you are afraid to write."

But the anthology is more than an instructional resource. It's a living anthology and should offer hours of pleasure to poetry lovers.

My three poems include one from each of my books. They are "'How Is a Shell Like Regret?'" from Temptation by Water, "Linguini" from What Feeds Us, and "My Husband Discovers Poetry" from Eve's Red Dress.

Check it out.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Poetry Salon: Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker is a poet I first met online at the Wompo listserv. We soon met in person when we got together for dinner prior to a reading I was giving in Pennsylvania where Barbara lives. We've met numerous times since then—at poetry retreats, AWP, and conferences. We've also read together and attended each other's readings. It is my pleasure to now host a poetry salon for Barbara's third book, More, recently published by C&R Press.

Barbara will now talk to us about her book.

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?

Barbara: Radiance, my first book, was organized like a quilt patch, with each section containing poems on the main themes: a child with autism, an aging parent’s decline, the search for spiritual meaning in a secular age, love in a long-term relationship, ekphrasis (poems on paintings); all of these touching on some aspect of light. After an introductory section, the others line up in seasonal order, going from black and white winter to the radiance of autumn. In Line Dance, my second book, I had the themes (line, breath, dance and song), then found the cover art and tried to have the poems’ arrangement tie into the art—it’s a line of nests. I wove the four themes, the way birds make their nests, while at the same time, I connected the poems within the sections echoing the conga line in the title poem. So More is more of a departure (pardon the pun), in that this time I’m using a block construction, with all the poems on the same subjects (art, my mother’s illness, family poems) grouped in the same section, each one dealing with a different definition or aspect or function of the word “more”:  the hunger for more, (“Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” Springsteen); the desire for more love (“There is no remedy but to love more,” Thoreau); the need for more beauty, via art and culture (“It is the artist’s duty to create a world that is more beautiful,” Van Gogh); the reach for more of everything (“All I ever wanted was more,” anonymous).

Because it took so long for me to get a first book out—15 years of constant contest entering and submitting—I became a student of how books are put together. I can see a case for both types of construction (the woven or tossed salad approach and the block method); as a reader, either way works for me. I’m also, as a reader, very impressed with writers who are able to start with an idea, then organically construct their books, writing poem after poem as they go. I don’t seem to be able to work that way, alas. So my method of construction is more like a person doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, with poems spread out all over, only it’s a puzzle where you don’t know what the final shape is supposed to look like. You just have to trust your intuition, and keep dancing in the dark. 

Many of the same themes and subjects thread through all three books. I think we’re all given a limited number of things we can write about; the trick is to try to do it better, or, at least, differently, each time. I hope that these poems are deeper, richer, fuller, than the ones on the same subjects in the previous books. I’m trying to work in layers, to add more complexity. And I also hope that it’s clear that poems are about more than their subjects, that these are merely Richard Hugo’s “triggering towns.” I’m trying to catch, with flat, two-dimensional paper and pen (or computer), three-dimensional multi-faceted fluid and ever-changing light and life. . . 

Diane: Tell us the story behind your cover.

Barbara: One of the delights of my life has been going to The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts every eighteen months, and getting to meet other writers, musicians, and visual artists, while I’m there. When the painter Marilyn Banner, who I’ve known for twenty years or so, started working with encaustics, I was smitten, and chose this painting after much indecision. I narrowed it down to six, and kept going back and forth between them, not an easy task on dial-up. This one, in the end, spoke to me because it not only gives the sense of exuberance and expansiveness that I hope the poems convey, but also because I saw echoes of Matisse in the brush strokes and use of black, of Dufy in the color choices, plus the freedom of Monet, the boldness of Kahlo—poems about all of these artists are in section 3. One thing you can’t see in the cover is the texture. My response to encaustic work is visceral and tactile; I just want to lick them. 

Diane: Why did you title the book More?

Barbara: When I stepped back and looked at the work, it seemed that this was what most of the poems in the manuscript had in common. Years ago, the late poet Ann Silsbee said in an e-mail, “When I think about your work, 'plenitude' is the word that always comes to mind,” and although that word wasn’t quite right as the book’s title, the concept was there, in the back of my head.

Diane: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Barbara: Czeslaw Milosz has said, “Poetry is the passionate pursuit of the real,” and my hope is that readers will feel they’ve encountered something real between the covers. I also hope that readers will see that I take as my motto these words of Wendell Berry, “Be joyful, even though you’ve considered all the facts.” I hope that my work is accessible, even though I know it’s a two-edged sword. But most of all, I hope I’ll have readers, people who actually want to hold a book in their hands, and who will read a book of poetry not just once, but many times. I may be describing an endangered species, as recently, books on Kindle surpassed the number of physical books sold on Amazon. But I hope not!

Diane: Please choose a favorite poem for us and, if you like, tell us why you chose this one.

Ode to Chocolate

I hate milk chocolate, don’t want clouds
of cream diluting the dark night sky,
don’t want pralines or raisins, rubble
in this smooth plateau.  I like my coffee
black, my beer from Germany, wine
from Burgundy, the darker, the better.
I like my heroes complicated and brooding,
James Dean in oiled leather, leaning
on a motorcycle.  You know the color.

Oh, chocolate!  From the spice bazaars
of Africa, hulled in mills, beaten,
pressed in bars.  The cold slab of a cave’s
interior, when all the stars
have gone to sleep.

Chocolate strolls up to the microphone
and plays jazz at midnight, the low slow
notes of a bass clarinet.  Chocolate saunters
down the runway, slouches in quaint
boutiques; its style is je ne sais quoi.
Chocolate stays up late and gambles,
likes roulette.  Always bets
on the noir.

Barbara: I chose “Ode to Chocolate” because it’s something I love, something I like to give as gifts.  Instead of a book launch party, I’m bringing chocolate to every reading I do this year (dark, of course!), and handing out squares to the audience. This time it will have to be virtual chocolate, but I hope that the readers of your blog will enjoy every bite!

Now let's all gather round and listen to Barbara read her poem for us.

Party Time! Barbara invites us all to join her in some refreshments.

Barbara: Pull up a wrought iron chair, and come sit with me under the plane trees by a fountain. Yes, we're in a small village somewhere in France. Here comes the waiter with our order: café noir (rich dark coffee) and pain chocolat, the world's greatest culinary invention, a flaky buttery croissant with a layer of chocolate inside. Coffee in France comes with its own square of dark chocolate, bitter and sweet at the same time. How civilized! Spread out your linen napkin, and let's dig in. Best of all, since this is a virtual party, there are no calories!

Overheard at the Party:

“Every time I come face to face with a new poem by Barbara Crooker, whether it's in a literary journal, on-line, or in a perfectly splendid collection like this one (her newest), I shake my head in wonder all over again. In my opinion there is virtually no living poet out there who can spin out an image like she does.”  Marilyn L. Taylor, Poet Laureate of Wisconsin

Don't leave the party without picking up a copy of Barbara's new book. Verbal chocolate! Delicious. While you enjoy the snacks and the poetry, please leave some comments for Barbara in the Comment section. Thanks for coming to the salon.

(Click Cover for Amazon)

Friday, August 6, 2010

On the Internet This Week

Poet and blogger, Adele Kenny, recently invited me to guest blog at her site, The Music in It (a poetry place). She asked me to write about food poems. I'm extremely pleased with the way Adele did the post. Lovely introduction, good-looking post design, and a number of links. I like the way she put all of the links after the post instead of inside it. My poem, "Linguini," is also included. Read it here. Then go back again as Adele will be posting a prompt based on the guest post. Be sure to bookmark Adele's blog, especially if you're looking for regular prompts which is a feature of her blog.

What a sexy dish of linguini!

Sexy consumption in Tom Jones

I was also pleased to be invited to be the debut Poet of the Month at Your Daily Poem, a feature that site owner, Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, plans to make a monthly occurrence. A nice introduction followed by a 10 question interview. Check it out here.  It has been suggested that this entitles me to an entire month of total respect from everyone!
Seven August Fans

In my sidebar you will notice that I'm offering a Giveaway at Goodreads. One free copy of my book, Temptation by Water, will be given to the winner of the drawing. Goodreads selects the winner and then sends me the name. I then do the signing and mailing. So hop on over to the sidebar and enter.

Thanks to all who signed up for my monthly newsletter. I was amazed and delighted by the response. If you signed up and did not receive the August issue, please check your spam folder. If it's not there, let me know. If you didn't sign up but now want to, hop on over to the sidebar and fill out the simple form and you'll be added to the list. The next issue goes out September 1.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Poet on the Poem: Nancy White

Today's featured poet is Nancy White, a very talented poet and a delightful person. I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy this past June at the Caffe Lena Poetry Festival. I loved her poetry and her presentation of it on the stage. After reading her latest book, Detour, I knew I had to have her here.

Nancy White is the author of two books: Sun, Moon, Salt (winner of the Washington Prize, The Word Works) and Detour (Tamarack Editions). Further poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, Black Warrior Review, FIELD, Harpur Palate, Ploughshares, Rattle, Seneca Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. She teaches at Adirondack Community College in upstate New York, is Associate Editor at The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and also now serves as editor and president for The Word Works in D.C.

Today's poem comes from Detour.

(Click for Amazon)


his copper hair his forearm glossy softening
waist scrotum rough his suddenly
attentive kiss his

monstrous appetite for meat his
whims analyzed and deified his hilarity
with children his tin voice his pursed

lips his backbeat rhythm his sigh when
he comes when he takes the first bite
his legs in black his tough rust

colored nipples his neck smelling of
narcissus his lack of hangnails his laugh like
a landmine such intention

of goodness his appearance golden his
tantrums his silence frozen after fine sex
cordial after bad his beauty his

beauty his darkness is love

DL: Why did you decide to omit punctuation and capitalization in this poem?

NW: The issue of punctuation and capitalization was huge for me in this book, actually. If you look at the first poem, “Woven and Sewn,” it’s packed full of periods. Every line has at least one. In other poems the reader has to figure out all the phrasing for herself—where the pauses and grammatical groupings have to occur. One fellow poet, whose advice I respect, felt I should make all the poems in the manuscript adhere to that latter principle. Wrestling with that advice, that possibility, helped me realize and then refine what I was doing with my fluctuating use of periods and commas in the book. The character (who eventually, over the years of working on the book, ceased to be me) was finding news ways to perceive and shape reality—her life—but only after a sort of dissolving feeling, a falling apart. I’m pretty sure most people who have gone through a divorce (with or without children, with or without the legal contract) know what I’m talking about there. Your recovery is dependent upon being able to handle the resulting period of being “at sea,” and then an ability to start putting things back together, but in new ways, in new patterns. I like to think the coming-and-going of the punctuation and other “rules” in the book mirrors that process.

I also found a tremendous lightness in working without those rules, in using white space and line breaks instead of caps or punctuation. A surprising new language evolved, for me, and, like the surprise of being single again, turned out to expand rather than ruin the world. It could be gimmicky, and as poets we have to beware that danger, but if used in a muscular way, as a technique that pushes the language to greater precision and force, I think it makes a superb exercise for any poet. Anyway, I hope I pulled it off!

DL: The strictness of the 3-line stanzas seems at odds with the abandonment of punctuation and capitalization. Tell us why that disparity.

I love the regular look of repeating stanza sizes, but I hate received rhythms, almost never work in received forms. Jazz is more my kind of music, I love spondees that throw the whole train of a poem off the tracks, there’s no better fun than shifting the rhythm of a line—and yet I hate set rhythm. Maybe it’s cheating, but I still like to build in the contradiction of a set stanza size, so the poem has a formal look to it even if there is no received form at work. I used a lot of couplets and tercets (all unrhymed) in this book, two-line stanzas because the book is about the letting go of a two-person relationship, three-line stanzas to show a more stable form, where a third possibility keeps growing out of jarring pairs. I’m hoping I achieved some kind of useful paradox in appearing formal but being in fact pretty loose when it came to standard rules. I want to say this paradox reflects the institution of marriage itself. There’s a formal pact, about which we make an enormous deal with lots of ceremony and so on, but the proof is in the daily pudding, not the formal or legal arrangement.

DL: Another structural device here is the catalog of both the beloved’s body parts and his personal attributes. The selection of items and the order in which they appear—random or calculated?

NW: At first such things are fairly random, but as you revise, you start moving things around. I definitely wanted a mixture of the concrete and the abstract, the parts and the attributes. When you fall in love, you are responding to such an organic mix of parts: the body, the movements, the feelings projected, a million tiny cues about personality and attitude and history. The poem contains by no means an exhaustive list, but I did want it to give a sense of the smorgasbord of elements in a person that I was, long ago, responding to.

DL: You speak of “his appearance golden,” but end with “his darkness is love.” Please explain the apparent contradiction.

NW: Well, you know how first there’s the person of the poet writing out of experience and probably some primitive desire to express an emotion or a thought or “the self” or whatever it is… And then as poets we have to refine what happens, and ask ourselves brutally whether that spurt can ever really become a poem that’s worth anyone else reading. It could take a couple of years of revising for me to know; I’m pretty slow. Anyway, the “him” who got this poem started was indeed quite beautiful, and did have a golden quality. Handsome, smart, and people looked up to him too. The darkness came over time, and confronting and coping with that darkness is part of what this book is about. It’s the darkness of a person who couldn’t rise to the occasions of later life, and who breaks things in his effort to avoid growing up, or facing the music, or whatever it is that a midlife crisis demands of us. By the end of our relationship, or of the development of the poem, his love really was no more than darkness, had been snuffed out. The line used to read, “his darkness his love,” as if they were two separate and possibly battling things. But in the end I decided they had become one entity, and that it was a “love” I did not want to partake of. So that “h” disappeared from the poem, and I felt a kind of letting go as I deleted it too.

DL: I was both amused and surprised by “his lack of hangnails.” Why do you praise the beloved for not having something so insignificant? Would it be a strike against him if he did have hangnails?

NW: I admired his lack of hangnails at first, for the plain reason that I always had them—from worry, from habit. So I envied the smooth hands. As the poem developed, though, and I started adding and taking out details, I realized that his lack of worry was part of his “darkness.” How one person can remain serene, even if only on the polished surface, while recklessly disemboweling a family, a love, is really a cause for horror and not for admiration. So the non-hangnails took on quite a different meaning, but also became emblematic for me of how my own understanding of the situation changed over time. What had seemed beautiful was, under the surface, the opposite. Isn’t remorse our saving grace? So some hangnails would have been nice. Also, though, as a writer I just like to mix up the types of detail that I’m using, just to keep my own and the reader’s minds hopping. Predictability, too much pattern, isn’t what I’m looking for in poetry—my own or other people’s.

Readers, you can have the additional treat of reading "Woven and Sewn" at Verse Daily where it was featured on October 4, 2008.

And please do not miss Nancy's self-interview at The Nervous Breakdown.

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