Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finally, A Yes!

Last night, just as I was shutting things down to call it a day, I checked in at my email account to see if anything new came in. The only new item was from a poetry journal I had sent a couple of poems to. As is wont to happen these days, I felt that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I asked myself: do you really want to open that now? Self replied: well, no, but now or tomorrow, it's all the same. I really didn't want to go to bed disappointed, but my curiosity got the best of me and I opened the email.

The first thing I noticed was how long the email was compared to the previous rejection emails. So I started from the beginning, kept reading, and learned one of the poems had been selected for publication in this poetry journal. Then, I started crying. Yep. I cry over the Thanks but no thanks emails, and I cry over the Congratulations emails. I am that person.

Funny Delightful Son came in as I was sitting at my desk, still basking in the feeling of having finally received a yes. I told him about the poem being accepted, and he said, "So now you're done with your sabbatical. Mission completed. You can play all you want until you have to go back to work in January." Tempting. Very tempting.

But I'm going to keep working. I have more words that are pestering me to play with them. I can see my chapbook coming together, which I'm finding more and more exciting with each poem I add to it. With each piece I write, I feel the desire to really push myself to explore, experiment, play, and I have several poets sitting next to me so I can examine what they did in their poetry, how what they did might work with what I'm doing. And I have a quote from Dylan Thomas' "Poetic Manifesto" propped up next to the computer, a quote I absolutely love, love, love: "The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in." Yes. This.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Seeing Holy in Melancholy

As I was writing this morning, I used the word melancholy. I've always loved this word. Not only does it get at a deeper sense of sadness, but the sound of the word lends itself to the sensuous nature, the depth of which this kind of sadness can be felt. All the sudden, I realized the word holy is part of melancholy. Not in the etymological sense. Just in letters spelling the word inside another word sense. And now I'm all excited, finding myself working up a piece that hopefully will hint at the connection between being holy and feeling a profound sadness.

Along with being really excited about seeing a word inside another word, I'm also totally in love with the idea of duende, a concept Federico Garcia Lorca explored in depth. I've been reading whatever I can find that addresses duende and Lorca's thoughts about it. His lecture "Theory and Play of the Duende" offers many examples to help shed light on what duende is and how it plays a role in writing, especially poetry. This part reached out and captured me, I think because I've been feeling the wound that never heals:

"When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work."

All my life I've felt these wounds. I've tried to move beyond them, and at times I've thought they've scabbed over then gave way to new flesh covering the spot where the wound occurred, but more often than not, the scab just got torn off over and over again. The wounds are still there. Maybe that's why Lorca's ideas have my head spinning. I feel like Tracy K. Smith, who wrote:

"[T]his concept of duende . . . supposes that our poems are not things we create in order that a reader might be pleased or impressed (or, if you will, delighted or instructed); we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely."

This is what I'm finding out about myself. It started with the yoga practice and became more pronounced in my meditation practice, and I now see it happening with my writing practice. All of my writing, be it journaling, sketching out a poem, or posting here on the blog. I'm engaging, finally, purposefully and openly in the struggle to inhabit my real self, the one I barely recognize. Somewhere along the way I stopped expressing the amazement I feel about life. I'm not sure where or when this happened. I do harbor, though, a very faint, very foggy memory or memories that my thoughts, ideas, zest weren't received well, were poked fun at, and that's why I stopped inhabiting my real self. 

This sabbatical has allowed me time and space to immerse myself in the struggle, and what I have found myself thinking at odd times throughout my days is I feel so free.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Slowly Figuring Things Out

A couple of days ago, Funny Delightful Son came in from work and sat in the overstuffed chair in front of the windows overlooking the backyard. I had been lounging on the couch most of the afternoon, binging a program I didn't have to give much attention to keep up with what was going on. Mostly I was simmering in self-pity over receiving yet another rejection.

"What're you doing?" Funny Delightful Son asked.

"Soothing my sobbing soul," I said.

"Hmmm. Is that right? Why is it sobbing?" I could see Funny Delightful Son trying really hard not to laugh at me.

"Another editor telling me my writing sucks."

"So Mom . . .." This is what Funny Delightful Son always says just before he launches into his practical, matter-of-fact take on a situation. " . . .why is it so important to you to have someone else tell you your writing is good, or at least good enough for whatever publication they are putting out?"

All I could do was look at him with what I'm sure was a classic blank face. I had no answer. I still have no answer to his question.

Why, indeed, is receiving validation from the editor of a literary magazine that practically no one reads so important to me?

We sat and talked further, me saying publishing is just something I've always wanted to happen. Funny Delightful Son then said, "But why? How is publishing going to make your life any better than what it is right now?" Again, I had no answer, and I still don't.

During the course of our conversation, in addition to the questions I have no answers for, Funny Delightful Son asked, "Why not self-publish? Why give away your artistic freedom? Why not keep all the control and call all the shots yourself?"

In all honesty, I know the main reason I am hoping an editor says yes at some point is to be able to say, "See, someone who doesn't know me, who isn't related to me, thinks my writing is worth putting out there for others to read." It's vanity.

That being said, if I'm truly wanting to walk the path of non-attachment, of non-competitiveness, I need to move away from the vanity. I need to focus on bringing to fruition the beauty I see in all that surrounds me and find a way to share those expressions in a way that isn't about what others think. Perhaps Funny Delightful Son is onto something with the self-publishing suggestion. I mean, just recently I sent a couple of poems to a literary mag and the editor emailed me to let me know he'd received the poems. Then he wrote, "Please note that we do NOT accept simultaneous submissions." At the time my reaction was fine, no problem. Now, the more I think about it, the more my reaction is along the lines of eff u! (yeah, I have some work to do in walking a more peaceful path). It's my work and I'll send the same poems to as many literary magazines at the same time as I deem necessary. Most publications even say now that they won't accept work that a person has posted to his/her personal blog. As Funny Delightful Son pointed out, why am I willing to let others control the decisions related to my artistic work?

I think today is a good day to take full control of my work. In that spirit, here is a recent piece. Totally in draft form. Still tinkering, still rearranging, still wondering where it might be headed.

Breathing Lessons (yes, I know there's a Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same title, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated; any and all suggestions for the poem itself would be greatly appreciated, as well)

When the breath falters, a tiny bit
of doubt finds the crack to seep past,
like winter cold
curling around loose window casing,
trickling inside to dilute warmth
from the fire.

When the breath falters, attention shifts
from soft caress of air
spidering in, through, down,
casting gossamer threads
to couple mind with fleshy matter
and is left untethered.

When the breath falters, the posture
begins to decompose, those tomatoes
left untended in last summer’s garden
where tiny black bugs snip
past skin to eat juicy pulp

until first frost.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Aye Yi Yi!

At this point, I'm not sure what to think about the pieces I'm writing. I remind myself all the time, I mean All. The. Time., not to be emotionally attached. I keep in mind how writing, especially fiction and poetry it seems to me, is incredibly subjective. Both of these notes-to-self notwithstanding, I still wonder if I'll ever produce anything that will be deemed publish-worthy. If the feedback I'm getting from the readers at the site I joined is any indication, I won't ever make the cut.

A more recent piece is one in which I'm exploring the juxtaposition between enjoying a life of exploration, being able to experience the feelings brought about through travel and being able to make the calls versus not having this kind of freedom. The title of the poem is "Rift," which I was hoping would help the reader see there is a line/break/hole/chasm/difference of opinion that separates the two. The way the poem is set up, I thought, also gets at this idea of line/break/hole/chasm/difference. The word choices, if thought through carefully, point to this same idea. One person who offered a response to this particular piece said, "After reading the complete piece, I could not connect the opening to the closing stanza. I mean, you started off really well and closed well too - but both the stanzas seem a little disconnected." Ummm, cue title? The disconnection is the point. Perhaps I'm trying to do too much in the poem and it's just too muddled. While it makes perfect sense to me, this doesn't matter. What matters is how the reader sees it. 

Another piece I posted for feedback, one reader took it upon herself to strike out words, add in words, and take what I had intended to be unadorned to being rather sappy. She also wrote, "I prefer you break your lines into stanzas." Well, she can prefer that all she wants, but I intentionally decided not to do that to create less interruption while reading. I realize I'm putting myself out there for others to critique, but I think there is a fine line between offering thoughtful feedback and taking ownership of another's piece. I know my role as a writing instructor for upwards of 25 years, with lots of hours invested in how to respond to the writing of others in a respectful, thoughtful, and helpful way, not by taking ownership of it, is influencing my response to this person's critique, so now I'm finding myself wondering if I should let her know I'm not too keen on her method or just let it go. Knowing myself, I'll end up letting it go. At least this time.

So the trials and tribulations of writing and publishing continue. I'll keep plugging away as I'm not the type to give up. If nothing else, my kids being witnesses to my ups and downs might be what this part of my life is truly about. My resolve to keep writing, to continue learning, to be gracious to those offering their thoughts might be useful to them one day. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Stranger Gives Me Hope

I wrote a poem the other day from an idea that I've been batting around for about two months. Whenever an idea occurs to me, I jot it down in one of my far too many journals scattered around the desk, or I open a Word doc and write down the basic idea. I returned to the idea a few days ago, set to work, and after several hours of what felt like slogging through ankle-deep mud, I had a draft in place. I tinkered with it, got up to take Ado for a walk, came back to tinker a bit more, then closed out the file. I felt like the poem was taking shape, but could feel something more needed to be done.

Today I returned to the poem and the something more appeared to me as if it had been right in front of me all along. I slashed about six lines. I changed a word that made me stop every single time I read the poem. It's amazing to me how one little word can have such a huge impact on reading. At that point, I decided to post the work to the online site for feedback. After typing in the title, I realized I unconsciously changed two words from what I had on the Word doc version. I sat back, wondering if I should leave the new title and decided that yes, this title does something subtle to the overall reading that the previous title didn't.

Just a few minutes ago, I received a comment on my poem. The person who responded started out by saying he doesn't usually read or critique poetry as it isn't where his interest lies. He went on to say he decided to check out this poem because of the title, and after finishing the poem, he went back to read the other poems I have posted to the site. This person continued, offering such kind words about this poem that I found myself wiping away tears.

Many days I wonder if what I'm writing is any good. So far, the editors of all the literary magazines I've submitted to haven't thought my work is good enough to publish. This person's comment gives me hope, and I will continue trying. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

This Beautiful Rainy Day Monday

Today I moved between writing, reading, vet, landlord, more writing, and sitting in front of the fire just watching the flame while listening to the rain patter against the roof, accompanied by a favorite jazz album playing softly. It was truly the kind of day to stay inside, snuggle into comfy clothes, and sip on hot chocolate. Although, to be honest, my choice of beverage this evening was a very delicious warm and fuzzy apple cider. Just lovely to sip on.

The toughest part of the day definitely had to be the writing. I have three new pieces going at the same time while trying to revise two pieces that are closer to being "finished." I had one of the pieces workshopped by members of the online site I recently joined, and the critiques have been mixed. Several readers weren't able to make the connection to the time element working, which I thought might be problematic. That being said, the last person to critique did pick up on the lapse in time. A couple of other issues pointed to gave me several things to consider. One especially. In this piece I refer to two young Black men, capitalizing the B in Black. I capitalize to show respect and that I'm not just referring to the color black, but rather to a culture, a group. One reader actually struck through the B and lowercased it. Another reader asked if the B should be a lowercase b. To better decide what I wanted to do with this part of my poem, I did some reading and found the B to be the best way to go for the intentions within the poem.

A couple of other comments regarded line breaks and word choice. Both of these I give serious consideration, maybe too much. I typically make a break at the end of a line when I want the reader to settle on a word for a reason. I'm constantly thinking about how the word will impact the meaning of the line, what comes before, what comes after. I'm constantly thinking about rhythm, how it affects the overall reading of the poem. Perhaps I'm thinking too much while writing. I do believe there's something to be said for letting go of the thinking and just writing, let come out what wants to come out.

Which is kind of what I did with one of the new pieces I have going. I've been staring at the jumbled mess I vomited onto the page and tried to get something sensical happening. Nothing. Then I just said screw it and went with whatever popped into my head. All the sudden, 142 words spilled out, just like that. I know 142 words don't sound like much, but when I read those142 words, I know they're going to take me somewhere. Where that somewhere is I don't really know yet, but I think the beginning has at least started. And now I'm all excited about what might happen here.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Putting Myself in the Hot Seat

So I signed up to be a member of a writer's group online. One where I can read others' works and offer feedback. I can also put myself in the hot seat by uploading my work for feedback.

I've become totally consumed by reading others' poems and offering critiques. Seriously, I could spend my entire day just sitting here reading not only the poems but also the critiques others are offering. Even though the critiques are not in response to anything I've submitted, I still find them extremely helpful when looking at my own writing.

With this site, I have had to gain karma points before I can submit anything for a critique (since I'm tight with a nickel as Angel Baby is fond of saying, and went with the free version of this site). The karma points come from reading and critiquing poems submitted by other members. They also come from the writers of those poems responding to the feedback in a positive way. I earned enough karma points today to submit one of my more recent poems. This poem was mostly an exercise in going out of my comfort zone and writing whatever popped into my head, not forcing an idea or theme. To be honest, I have no idea what the poem is even about. What I do know is this: it is the poem I've had the most fun with.

I posted it for critique earlier today, and so far, three people have responded. One person just said he thought it was wonderful. I'm glad he liked it and it was nice to get a positive response. The second person was more thorough and pointed to some specific places in the poem that could be worked on. The third response was the most helpful. The person who responded showed several words that aren't necessary, marked a sentence that has too much going on, and discussed the theme she sees at work. When I went in and made the changes she suggested, I could see the poem pull together a bit.

What I find most interesting is it took this person reading my poem and her thoughts about the theme working for me to see it. I guess I kind of knew it was there, but after reading what she wrote, I can see it much more clearly.

Another interesting takeaway: I feel energized to write and share. For years it's mostly been me responding to others' works. It's exciting to have the opportunity to share my work and receive feedback to help me make my writing even stronger.