Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bits and Pieces of This and That

It must be fall. Writing news is coming in.

First, the local The Alternative Press (TAP), an online newspaper, did an article about my new book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. Read it at TAP.

Then along came two very nice reviews of the book. The first, by Martha Silano, appears at Blue Positive. This is a thorough review of the book. I especially like how Martha, herself a fantastic poet, describes how she has been putting the book to use. She received the book just as she was beginning a poem-a-day challenge, so the timing was perfect. It made me happy to know that the book has provoked some new work from Martha's pen. Martha says ". . .this is a poetry exercise/craft tip book poets (and English instructors) only dream about. . ." Read the review at Blue Positive.

The second review is by Kelli Russell Agodon at Book of Kells. Kelli says, "What I like about this book is that it offers you poems, prompts and even interviews." Referring to the subtitle, she says, "The book is definitely a portable workshop that you can use by yourself or with a group." Good, that's just what I intended it to be. Read the review at Book of Kells.

I'm happy to have a poem in the new issue of Rose Red Review. This journal is in its second year and puts out three issues per year. Editor Larissa Nash does a very nice job with the journal which focuses on fiction and poetry related to fairy tales and magic. My poem is The Color of Magic.

I also have a poem in Prime Number Magazine. This online journal posts a very limited number of poems every other month, then gathers them into a print volume at the end of the year. The poetry editor is Valerie Nieman. My poem, By the side of the road, is followed by a one-question Q&A.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Invitation to a Poetry Reading

Calling all NJ poets and poetry lovers! Please join us this Sunday, September 29, for this Poetry Reading. Two NJ poets, Sandra Duguid and Charlotte Mandel, will read work from their new books. The books will be available for sale and signing. I'll be providing the introductions.

If that's not enough for you, there will be a Reception following the reading. With refreshments!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Poem about a Poem Might Be a Poem for the Birds

Kwame Dawes, the editor of Prairie Schooner, has penned a blog piece entitled Memos to Poets: A Twitter Journey. This is a fantastic list of 110 tips for poets, all of them full of wisdom. I jumped on #4:

Only one poem about writing poems a year. They are all the same poem written when we have nothing to say.

I could not agree more with this. I am so sick of poems about poems. So many of them have been written that each new one feels like a cliché. Each time I come across yet one more, I groan, Oh no, not this again. I often just move right to the next poem.

Two offenses that particularly bug me:

Violation #1: The poem that titles itself with the word "poem." For example, we might find "Poem about Birds." What a lazy title! Such a title is evidence of a poet with a disengaged imagination. And am I such a stupid reader that I won't know this is a poem unless I'm told? Can't I tell just by looking at the poem that it's a poem? Isn't the appearance, the shape of a poem one of its distinguishing characteristics?

So what's this poet supposed to do with his or her dull title? Brainstorm a list of better titles.

Alternatives to "Poem": Meditation, Song, A Theory of, Musings, Contemplation, Daydream, Reflections, A Study of, Pondering, Ode to, In Praise of, A Curse Against.

Just constructing such a list might suggest new ideas for the poem as well as for the title. Perhaps the poet will decide, for example, that "Birds" is rather vague and focus the poem instead on Robins, Goldfinches, or Mourning Doves.

A few examples from the past: "The Lark Ascending" (George Meredith), "To a Skylark" (Shelley), "Ode to a Nightingale" (Keats).

John Frederick Nims got away with titling a poem "Love Poem." And what a great poem it is. But he did it, so you shouldn't.

Violation #2: The poem that appears to be about one topic, then towards the end announces itself as a poem. For example, the poet is writing a lovely poem of description. He's evoking the setting so well I almost feel transported. And then comes something like this: And that's why I decided today to sit here and write this poem about blah, blah, blah.

What a cheap way to end a poem. What an evasion. What a disappointment. What laziness. It's like one of those short stories that instead of offering a real resolution ends with the main character waking up from a dream.

This poet needs to continue to write that poem. Get into the spot where the flop begins and write some more. Spend days, weeks on it. No stopping until something is zinging and singing.

I should perhaps confess that my best traveled poem has the word "Poetry" in the title. Having done that once, I will never do it again. Why not? Because I've done it. Dawes allows you one poem about writing poems a year. I allow you one in a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Few Thoughts about Submissions

I recently came across The 10 Rules of Submitting to Literary Magazines at The BookBaby Blog. The author includes 10 solid pieces of advice. I was particularly interested in #3, probably because I think it's a mistake many of us make. I know I have. Here it is:

3. Send simultaneous submissions to similarly-tiered publications (in terms of prestige/influence)

"You don’t want to send the same poem to Tin House AND your friend’s fledgling online poetry journal. What if your friend takes the poem and publishes it immediately, and then you get an acceptance letter from Tin House later that same day before having a chance to notify them of the other acceptance? You’re gonna be bummed that the unknown online journal is publishing the poem—and there’s no way to tell editors “hey, thanks for accepting my poem—but before you publish it, can you wait a couple weeks to see if I hear back from Tin House?” By sending simultaneous submissions to publications of similar stature, you won’t find yourself in this situation."

In our zeal to get our work published, we may think that we're being smart by sending the same batch of poems to a top flight journal (the one we'd give an essential body part to get in) and to a mid-level journal and to one that's just okay (the safety journal). It's certainly not a bad idea to have backups in case you don't get into any of the top flight journals on your list. But the key here is "backups." Don't send to your backups at the same time you send to your favorites. Don't send to your number 2 and number 3 choices until after you've tried at least half a dozen really good journals. (I'm assuming here that we're talking about poems you believe are among your best work.)

I found myself in that creepy situation a few years ago. I'd been invited to submit to a state magazine that was doing a NJ artist feature in each of its monthly issues. So I sent the magazine some poems. At the same time, I sent the same poems to a journal I'd been dying to get into but so far had only been turned away from. I also sent to several other journals I liked. Well, the magazine replied within days that they were taking two of the poems. I then withdrew the poems from the other places I'd sent them. Except I neglected to notify the one journal that I really wanted to get into. I'm scrupulous about record-keeping and playing by the rules, but in this case I just flat-out messed up.

Several months later I received an email from the journal I was dying to get into and was told they'd accepted one of the poems taken by the state magazine. My chagrin was doubled. First there was the disappointment that I was going to have to say no. Then there was the mortification that I'd have to confess my error in failing to withdraw the poem. Now I ended up getting paid $100 per poem from the NJ magazine, but honestly I would have much preferred to have had the one poem published in the other journal and received just a contributor's copy. The editor was very nice when I apologized and explained my error. But guess what? I've submitted to that journal at least six times since and never made it through the door. I may have missed my one shot there.

I want to add one more thought here. That fledgling, poorly done journal just started by your friend? Or that one you'll take as a last chance sort of place? Don't send your poems at all to those places. If you believe your poems are really good, don't send them to a place where you won't be proud to have them appear. You'll be sorry later. It's not a good idea to just try to amass publication credits. It's wiser to be selective. Many a good poem has made it into a book without ever having appeared in a journal. Be selective.

And here's yet one more thought: If your poems have come back repeatedly, you just might be smart to take another close look at them and consider revising them. I took three such poems to a revision workshop recently, three poems I'll admit to thinking were pretty snazzy but which had suffered multiple rejections. With feedback from a group of good readers, I realized they needed more work. Pain in the neck? Yes, but also really nice to get all fired up about new possibilities. I spent several weeks reworking those poems, not just little stuff but deep revisions. I now suspect that one of them just isn't going to work. The other two are out to places I really want to be in.

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