Persistence is omnipotent

On Friday, I made the poor decision of looking up contests I could send my book to. I looked up people’s books I liked, checked out the contests they won, checked out that contest’s other books, and then started looking up fees, deadlines, etc.

Once I started looking at the fee aspect, I didn’t want to write or edit anymore. All my desire just seized up. Really, fear stepped in. How am I going to pay all those fees? What happens if I do and it loses all the contests anyway? What happens if all this work now means I just end up re-editing it next year and the next…?

Oh, fear. It’s hard enough being a poet when there are bunches of us and so everything is incredibly competitive, but load on some fear of being selected and work being for naught in there too…

I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Albergotti at the Southern Festival of Books. His second book, Millenial Teeth, won the Crab Orchard Review Open Poetry Competition. He told me, “Persistence is omnipotent.”

per·sist·ence
pərˈsistəns/
noun
firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

om·nip·o·tent
ˌämˈnipəd(ə)nt/
adjective
having unlimited power; able to do anything.

Basically, if I keep at it, things will work out. That obviously worked for him, so it’s possible it could work for me.

Right now, the manuscript is at 54 pages, and I really think it should be at 60. It may not be possible to do currently since I can write until the cows come home, but are the poems going to be good enough to put in the manuscript? We will see.

I’m also finding that my current work now all has a similar vein, so I’m wondering if it wouldn’t suit me better to give up on this manuscript and start working toward another one instead or do another chapbook.

Persistence is omnipotent…persistence is omnipotent….

The end of the editing?

Editing my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, has been going wonderfully. I’ve cut at least 12 poems (so down from 60 pages to 48), and then added in 4 (so up to 52).

I’m shaking the dust off. This manuscript has been two+ long years in the making, and some poems I’d been hanging onto because they seemed to work thematically, but really bored me otherwise. If they bore me, I can imagine how they must bore a reader, so I cut them. All of them. All of the dusty old poems that weren’t holding up, gone.

And my writing has been off to the races. Ten months no writing, and now, I’ve written four poems! Four poems I really, really like! They easily fit into one section, and now the first three (as they’re currently divided, which may change) seem really firm. The poems and order make sense.

The last section, which I moved several poems from and cut others, is now the weakest, and something needs to be done about that. I think I may need to keep writing. The last section is about abandonment, so I need to do more along those lines. I’m going to try to mine some of the poems I cut for ideas and search for models to help.

I’m also sending this manuscript off to a friend to help get her thoughts on the structure. Currently, there are two framing poems with four sections sandwiched in between. Four sections seems like a lot, but thematically, each section is very obvious. The sections are also untitled, but could be I’m thinking, maybe, “Child,” “Wife,” “Mother.” The last section doesn’t clearly have a title like the above, so now I’m wondering if I could put the abandoned lover poems into the “wife” section and just have the three sections, so the work would be ending on the mother section…Hmm…SO MANY IDEAS!

The contest deadlines that I want to enter is November 15th, so I’ve got some time!

Drafting: “Continental Drift”

I found another inspiration poem yesterday, and it was on. I don’t know quite how I stumbled upon Lindsay Tigue’s “Convergent Boundaries,” but I fell in love with it immediately. I love the scientific description interposed against the chatty speaker and then wound together perfectly at the end.

I chose to write about the same topic, but differently. Tique compares it to lovers and a break-up. I took it as more of a mother/child thing, and I tried to bring in more of a chatty speaker, which I usually shy away from.

The first line is close to the one that appears in Tigue’s, but the rest takes off on its own:

“When I heard about the fable of Pangaea,
all of us so near, mettle and marrow, I cried—
or at least I wrote here I did. Let’s say I didn’t,
for a moment; let’s say I was glad

for the distance…”

I was entirely foolish again. I put this in another packet of poems and sent it off to several journals, even ones that charge reading/service fees (which I usually avoid because $3 per submission can add up quickly if I do that too often)! Reading the poem again today, I can already see places where it doesn’t feel quite done, another word could go there, this line break doesn’t wholly make sense, but it’s out in the world already. Time to see if it floats or sinks.

Rejection Motivation

Last night, I felt like pumping myself up, so I went through a special email folder I have for every good rejection I’ve gotten so far: the close calls, the personal editor messages, the “please send us mores.”

I don’t know how other people feel about keeping their rejection letters, but I’ve always kept mine. I read a memoir a long time ago about a woman who would decorate her bedroom wall with hers and how she even went to a Halloween party once in a trench coat with a load of rejections stapled to it. Her costume was “a working writer.” Sylvia Plath said, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

Clicking through all of my almosts, I felt pretty proud of myself. I didn’t start seriously submitting until December of 2009, the end of my first semester in graduate school, and in these five short years, I’ve had some fantastic publications, a chapbook, and a slew of almosts from reputable and some thoroughly dreamy journals.

I also believe wholeheartedly that if someone sends me a close call rejection, I need to submit to them again. It’s a call to action, not a mope-in-my-soup-bowl rebuke.
I often send to them pretty immediately and include something in my cover letter thanking them for their kind rejection and hoping they like something from this current submission.

The press I want to be published tv hosts two contests a year. I first submitted to their First Book contest in July 2012. Swallow Tongue was then called Predator Tongue and was very much my recently completed MFA thesis. Form rejection. I did a major overhaul and resubmitted it in July 2013. Semifinalist. I did more tweaks and resubmitted it in October 2013 for their Open contest, got another Semifinalist.

It’s all a matter of time. If I gave up now, I wouldn’t ever get there.

Drafting: “Losing a Baby”

As I wrote in my last post, I started writing again after a 10 month drought. I returned to poetry slowly.

I found myself reading it again sometimes. A poem here or there. Then a handful from a literary journal. Then every poem in a literary journal. Then a collection.

Around the time I started going through all of the poems in a literary journal, I found myself skimming words that rose to the top, and once I had words, the poems were already half-formed.

The first official one I wrote was one taken from a model.

Pick any poem. Use its line breaks, form, etc. as a model, and start rewriting it. Change every word possible, but try to follow the “template” of the original. It’s okay if the framing is similar because, more than likely, this will just be an inspiration for a poem; it will be a little too clunky to be the final.

“Your belly becomes a coffin. Watch

its swells rise like sheets
over a phantom haunting your sleep.”

I’ve never lost a baby, never even been pregnant, but I spent the whole process of writing this poem crying. It reminded me of a quote from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

I felt so inspired about the act of writing again that I immediately turned around and submitted this and a couple other new poems to some reach-for-the-stars journals like The Kenyon Review and The New Yorker. It felt like a wild and impulsive decision since these poems feel very fragile and untested, but it felt good to shove them into the light and maybe even try to give them wings. (They have already received some rejection, but I’m still riding the high!)

A Return

It’s been a long hiatus because I’ve been dedicating my time to another project. I actually feel rusty coming back to this blog. Is my voice right? What about my tone? What was my “persona” for this blog vs. the other one? Oh, whatever.

I’ve been struggling in my personal life with a great degree of powerlessness. There are things I want in my life that aren’t happening, and in response, I simply stopped writing poetry. It was a painful drought from December 2013 to September 2014. Poetry is often a way I process feelings, emotions, instances. I rarely write “confessional” poetry, or even poetry that includes much of me as a character, but I often find a way to write about something without really writing about it.

I wrote several poems about women married to awful husbands as I was preparing to get married myself. I felt this churning worry of what would happen if I marry someone who changes into someone awful? or someone who is already awful and just hidden it really well from me? I wrote poems that enacted that fear, and it made my fear lessen. If these women could survive, I could.

It took me 10 months before I could start writing about it without really writing about it, and it’s helped, like I’m finally starting to maybe become myself again.

This past weekend, I also went to the Southern Festival of Books. I went to a lot of great sessions and picked up new books from Dan Albergotti, Megan Sexton, and John Bensko.

I also felt a renewed energy to get my full-length, Swallow Tongue, out and about and published. As I’ve written before, I turned down a publication offer for it earlier this year. After attending the conference and reading through the lovely books I picked up, I have some great ideas on how to tackle editing it once again. I’ve also selected a press which I really, really, really want to be published by, and I just started saying yesterday, “when they publish my book” instead of “if they publish my book.” It’s going to happen. I’m going to visualize it a bunch (plus do all the necessary editing and submitting that goes along with it). They also have a contest deadline coming up, and it’s time for me to get off my butt and start putting some action into place.

So, it’s been a long road with this book, but these will my last (hopefully) round of edits on it, and I think these are legitimately good changes.

*Have two framing poems

*Change from 5 sections to 3

*Trim, trim, trim. I have at least 10 poems I just need to let go. They’re not that great and could trim up the flow more.

I started yesterday by putting in the framing poems, and this morning by replacing some of the not-so-great poems with stronger, more recent ones. I also highlighted the rest of the ones I think need to go, and I’m exploring things to replace them with. Albergotti’s Millenial Teeth plays a lot with form, and I’m interested in the idea of bringing in another ghazal or a sestina. I also love the active practice of writing in form.

It’s a start. I’m back. A little broken with a little more experience, and it feels good.

Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Jessica Goodfellow for tagging me in this!

1.  What are you working on? 
I’m still working on getting my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, published. It’s been through several iterations of edits, offered publication once, and made it to two semi-finalist spots on prestigious contests, but hasn’t found its home yet. I will probably be revising it once again around May to submit to another round of contests. I am also working on a group of “wife” poems that if they don’t make it into the first manuscript will definitely work well in a manuscript of their own.
 2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I know of at least several poets that adapt Roman myths to a modern context, and/or re-write them, but I also throw in a couple of fairy tale re-writes and poems with their own mythicisms.
3. Why do you write what you do?
Because I can’t write anything else. Because they’re my obsessions.
4. How does your writing process work?
Right now, my process is all fits and starts. I tackled a poem-a-day in November, which was huge, but haven’t written much of a word since. My job sucks up a lot of my time, and since I’m at a new place, I’m still in the adjustment period. Once the summer comes and I can breathe, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a process and having a good plan for how I will tackle the next year.
Two other poets will be nominated to do this. Coming soon!