Reporting In, Summer 2016

Hi there! It’s been months since I’ve last posted, and I thought I’d give you an update about what I’ve been doing in my writing. I’ve revised (again) my book-length manuscript of persona poems: weaving in newer, stronger pieces and pulling out weaker ones, as well as re-organizing them into a different sequence. You know, the usual. And sending off sets of poems in the manuscript to journals—lots of journals!

Since November 2015, I’ve been making a concerted effort to send out far more journal submissions, and to do so more systematically, than I have before. To get organized for that effort, I created a big chart of about 30 journals in which I’d love to see my work published. Using data from Duotrope, The Review Review, and NewPages, I assembled information about acceptance rates, reading periods, response times, and editorial preferences. As time went on, I added over 30 more journals to my chart, as well as recorded dates on which I’ve submitted poems and received responses, plus the comments I’ve received from several editors. Inspired by poets who post their submissions stats on Jessica Piazza’s Poetry Has Value blog, here are my numbers, after 9 months of this project, as they currently stand:

  • Sets of (3-5) poems submitted: 60
  • Individual poems submitted: 50
  • Total poems submitted: 296
  • Individual poems accepted for publication: 5 (by 3 journals)
  • Sets of poems rejected: 58
  • Rejection notices with encouraging notes like “these poems came close” or “we encourage you to send us more to consider”: 16
  • Presses to which I submitted my chapbook and full-length and manuscripts: 19 (rejections: 8–but my manuscript was a semifinalist in one contest)
  • Journals to which I’ve submitted two different nonfiction lyric essays:  9 (rejections received: 5)
  • Total rejections received: 71

This project yields only a 1.6% acceptance rate for my poems, but I’m glad I’m making this effort. I’m encouraged by the number of “send us more” rejections; these motivate me to sustain this push, which has resulted in my sending out more work in the past ¾ of a year than I’ve sent out in the past 15 years combined.

I’m motivated also by an article I read recently in LitHub by Kim Liao, who explains “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year: Flipping Your Perspective on Rejections, and Failing Best.” By aiming for this many rejections, a writer is sure to score some acceptances along the way. Perhaps even more important, this approach helps take the sting out of receiving rejections, and reinforces the truth that rejections are just part of the business of being a writer, not a soul-crushing indictment of the quality of one’s writing. By Kim Liao’s method, I’m 71% of the way to reaching the goal of 100 for the year. (But my year began in mid-November 2015, so I’d better pick up my lackadaisical summer pace if I’m going to make it to 100 by mid-November 2016!)

Another benefit of sending out so many submissions is receiving encouragement from journal editors, even when that encouragement arrives in the context of a rejection notice. To hear from an editor that even though they don’t currently have space for my work, they really enjoyed it, or that my poem made it to their final round of consideration, and that they want to read more from me in the future, is terrifically affirming. To receive this kind of feedback from editors I deeply respect–including those at journals like Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Puerto del Sol, and Water~Stone Review–is validation to continue aiming high as I submit my work to literary magazines. Yes, I do plan to broaden my approach to include publications that aren’t quite so keenly competitive, so that I’ll increase my chances for actually getting my work into print. But this “at first, aim high” approach has been very useful as an exercise in level-finding. Now that I know where my work almost gets accepted, I can focus on those journals, and on journals in the next tier down, as I make subsequent rounds of submissions.

So where did those 3 acceptances come from, you may ask?

One is from Tinderbox Poetry Journal, one of the literary magazines to which I submitted a set of poems last December and whose editors replied that one of them came close. So this spring I submitted another set, and they chose my prose poem “Amanda Bubble Composes a Fifty-Word, Third-Person Contributor Bio for an Anthology on the Theme of Vulnerability” to appear in the October 2016 issue.

Another acceptance was from Bellingham Review, whose previous editors included one of my poems in last fall’s online issue and featured me in a blog interview. Subsequently, the new editors have accepted two more poems, “Amanda Bubble Has Moments of Sublimity and Moments of Abjection” and “In Which I Apologize to Amanda Bubble.” These are slated to appear in the spring 2017 print issue.

The third acceptance is from Cider Press Review–another wonderful repeat acceptance. After publishing one of my poems this past winter, the editors accepted two more for this year–and one of them went live the very next day! You can read “Organize Your Home Using This Weird Old Trick” here, in Issue 18.3, and “I Anticipate a Metamorphosis” will appear in a later issue. Thank you to editors Ruth Foley and Caron Andregg for giving these poems such an excellent home!


Wonderful News for Susan J. Erickson

Congratulations to Bellingham poet Susan J. Erickson, who has won the 2015 Brick Road Poetry Press Contest for her manuscript Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine!

You may remember Susan’s discussion of her persona poems in my interview with her last year. At that time, the manuscript was titled “Above Nerve,” after the Emily Dickinson lines “If your Nerve, deny you– | Go above your Nerve–”. The new title highlights the book’s identity as a collection of persona poems: a lively and powerful assortment of poems in the voices of women both well- and lesser-known, including Georgia O’Keeffe; Frida Kahlo; Lucy Audubon; Amelia Earhart; Kitty Wright; Mamah Borthwick Cheney, mistress of Frank Lloyd Wright; and Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who disguised herself as a man and fought in the Union Army.

Go to Susan’s interview for links to enjoy several of these poems available online, and to the Brick Road Facebook announcement to read another poem from the collection, “Rapunzel Brings Her Women’s Studies Class to the Tower.” And for more of Susan’s thoughts about persona poems, check out the guest column she wrote for Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog at Writer’s Digest: “The Many Faces of Persona Poems.”

Susan’s book is slated for release in time for the AWP Convention in February 2017. I’ll share more exciting details as the book makes its way through the publication process. Congratulations, Susan, and we look forward to reading more!

New Publications and a Reading

Happy New Year to you! I have some happy poetry news to share: a new poem published in the current issue of Cider Press Review, and a poem from my chapbook included in the anthology Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington. Published by Other Mind Press, and edited by Luther Allen and J. I. Kleinberg, Noisy Water contains poems by 101 poets connected to the damp, moss-covered county where I live.

On Tuesday, February 9, I’ll be participating in a reading with eight other Noisy Water poets–DeeDee Chapman, Paul Fisher, Susan Chase Foster, Dick Harris, J.I. Kleinberg, Rob Lewis, Dobbie Reese Norris, and Stan Tag–at the South Whatcom Library in Sudden Valley. Start time is 7:00!

New Poems Up at Bellingham Review and Pontoon

I’m honored to have two poems published this month! “Amanda Bubble Crafts a New Creation Story” appears in Issue 71 of Bellingham Review; my thanks to former Editor-in-Chief Brenda Miller, current Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Paola Antonetta, former Managing Editor Ellie A. Rogers, and current Managing Editor Louis McLaughlin for including my poem. When you visit, please check out the gorgeous essay “He Worked as an Electrician. He Enjoyed Television. (His Obituary Was Plain.)” by Spokane poet Maya Jewell Zeller!

In addition, my poem “What Was Good about Going to Church” has been selected for this year’s issue of Pontoon, the journal of poems by Washington-state poets who submitted chapbook manuscripts to Floating Bridge Press. My thanks to everyone on the editorial committee at FBP! For the first time, Pontoon is now online, allowing wider access to readers. Here’s my poem, and here’s the first page of the Table of Contents (be sure to click through all four pages to read the whole issue). I hope you enjoy!

Episode 3 of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report (Early August)

This episode of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual Radio Trail Report is brought to you by The Drought. Already famous for its results in California and the Southwest, The Drought has recently expanded operations to the Pacific Northwest, where it has successfully reduced the mountain snowpack by 78%.

Though I normally lump The Drought in with bad actors like Halliburton* and Monsanto*, today I thank The Drought both for its sponsorship of this episode and for its opening up a new-to-me trail. I’ve walked past it dozens of times in the past, but today I was able to see it for the first time, because the foliage normally concealing the entrance to this trail is withering.

*Not actual persons.

This trail is near the far end of my usual route. Since its beginning consists of about 50 feet of small granite stones, I named it the Rocky Start Trail. It passes through a grove of alders down to a small stream bed (currently dry), proceeds up the opposite bank through a mixed stretch of cedars and firs, and leads to a branch off the North-South Trail that I’d previously thought was a dead end. What this means, friends, is a loop trail! Now I can hike a two-hour-and-fifteen minute route shaped like a lollipop, or a tennis racquet, or a half note—no longer a one-way, out-and-back, linear, or snake-shaped route.

Speaking of snakes, let’s get to today’s Trail Report. I did indeed see a snake: garter, two feet long, frozen still, head held up half a foot off the ground, smack in the middle of the Middle Loop Trail. After recovering from my zero-at-the-bone moment,* I backed away, not wanting to scare the snake worse than the snake had scared me. It didn’t move, so I walked closer, very slowly, looking for a way around it to the side of the trail. The snake still did not move at all, apparently focused on something in the underbrush on the left side of the trail. I stepped slowly around it, then walked slowly down the trail beyond it, turning several times to look. It never moved. I can’t wait to check tomorrow to see if it’s still there!

*Not an actual Emily Dickinson sighting.  But here is one of my favorite Emily poems:

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him—did you not
His notice sudden is,
The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your feet,

And opens further on.
He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn,
But when a boy and barefoot,
I more than once at noon
Have passed, I thought, a whip lash,
Unbraiding in the sun,
When stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality.
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

–Emily Dickinson, #1096


Berry Report: Snowberries by the birdseed trunk are plumping. Rowan berries are drooping. Salal berries and huckleberries shriveled to nonexistent. Blackberries plentiful—ripening and sweetening nicely. Let’s hope the rain forecasted for two days from now will actually arrive (don’t tell today’s sponsor I said that) to plump the juice cells so that the berries will ripen before they shrivel in the heat.

Noises Heard: The quiet ticking sounds of GREEN HEMLOCK AND FIR NEEDLES FALLING TO THE GROUND. It’s dry out here, people. Scary dry.

Please stay tuned for Episode 4, in which I’ll go looking for that snake again!



Episode 2 of Thinking on My Feet: Doc Bullis’s Virtual-Radio Trail Report (Mid-June)

Welcome to the second episode of Doc Bullis’s Virtual Radio* Trail Report. Today’s episode is brought to you by Mystery Rot™, a subsidiary of 2015, The Hottest Year on Record.

* Not an actual radio.

Friends, allow me to tell you a little bit about my walking habit. My town—Bellingham, Washington—has an incredible wealth of trails. Not all of the area is pedestrian-friendly, but trails, and systems of trails, are numerous. With only a few miles of pavement stomping necessary, it’s possible to string together a whole day’s calm by rambling through interurban forests, undeveloped woodlands, and neighborhood networks. Some trails are in designated parks; others have been established through long habits of use by dedicated walkers.

For the 23 years I’ve lived in western Washington, I’ve attempted to maintain basic health and mental equilibrium by hiking several days a week.  (Some days I ride my horse or binge on tortilla chips instead. The former works very well, the latter not quite so much.) Daily walking, especially when I can be on the trail for an hour or more, is a way to derail my anxious thoughts, which otherwise steam-engine through my brain—thoughts I amplify if I sit at the computer intending to write but instead read news websites and despair about the rapidly worsening condition of our planet. When I get up and go outside, get on a dirt trail and move my legs, some kind of kinesthetic therapy takes place. I burn off the stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol—induced by all the bad news, and replace some of my despairing, spinning, anxious thoughts with serene thoughts, creative ideas, and images of natural beauty.

Sharpie on paper, June 2015

Sharpie on paper, June 2015

I’ve been meaning to write about this natural beauty for some time. I’ve been slowly learning to draw and paint, following a parallel urge to create visual versions of what I find in these coastal Cascade lowlands and foothills.

My impulses to draw and paint have taken on additional urgency from the distress my local nature is currently experiencing. We on the west coast of North America are experiencing The Hottest Year on Record. Last winter, our mountains got just 22% of normal snowfall. Since spring, El Nino conditions have meant that most of the rainstorms usually saturating our landscape have bypassed us. It’s possible that this dryness will be prolonged, as part of a new pattern of regional heat and drought that are part of a changing global climate. The Pacific Northwest is hot, folks, and our forests are hurting.

I know this with a deep dread that feels different from my usual anxious dread. For years, I’ve been able to alleviate anxiety by taking myself to the woods. Now, the woods are in distress, and they are are distressing me back.

What am I going to do? I’m going to keep walking the trails. I’m going to tell you what I experience. I’m going to bear witness, to bring you words about the peril and the beauty I see.

So what did I see this week? Let’s get to the Trail Report.

Noises Heard:

  • Swainson’s thrushes along North-South Trail. Love those fluting, upward-spiraling notes! Apparently, the males use these songs to warn other males away from their nesting territories.
  • The sound of leaves falling. Whaaaa? Seriously: it’s only June, and with this year’s warm, early spring, the trees have gone all in on leaf production. Even on still days, blackened alder leaves—rotted from early heat? Some kind of fungal infestation? —slowly drift to the ground. Meanwhile, more alder leaves, big-leaf maple leaves, and cottonwood leaves continue to flourish and proliferate on every available stem.
Not actual huckleberries.

Not actual huckleberries.

Berry Update: Salmonberries done; thimbleberries ripe and delicious. Salal berries forming from heather-like buds, which appear to be fewer this year. Tiny green huckleberries forming. Elderberries plentiful: abundant and striking red throughout the woods.

Wildlife Sighted: Downy woodpecker on fir trunk along Upper Loop Trail. Douglas squirrel at Five Cedars One Nurse Log.

Wilddeath Sighted: Dead mole on North-South Trail; dead mouse on Maple Cathedral Trail. Not sure what to make of these deaths: no indications of predators. Are these further victims of Mystery Rot?

Thanks for listening, and please stay tuned for next week’s episode, in which I’ll be having another episode!

Chris Jarmick–Two Readings in Bellingham, September 26 & 28

Christopher Jarmick and NOT ALOUD

Christopher Jarmick and NOT ALOUD

Seattle-area poet Christopher Jarmick, who has a new book out with MoonPath Press, will be in Bellingham this Saturday night to read at Village Books, and again on Monday night for PoetryNight.

I know Chris from his excellent work organizing poetry events around Western Washington. He’s a lively and engaging presenter of his own fine poems, which are now gathered into a collection published by the same press as my chapbook.

MoonPath Press Editor and Publisher Lana Hechtman Ayers writes,  “Not Aloud presents some 30 plus years of Christopher J. Jarmick’s marvelous poetry. Jarmick’s thematic territory is expansive– family, relationships, the art of writing, philosophy, his patented poem starters, and much, much more. His language is musical, approachable, and memorable. His refreshing turns of phrases stand clichés on their heads: “The clouds/are not metaphors at all./ They hide the sky,/they get fat,/sometimes they burst,/but not with tears,/Mr. Tambourine Man,/just with rain.” Full of humor, acute observation, and deep emotion, Not Aloud is a collection you’ll want to return to again and again.”

Here are the relevant particulars for these Bellingham readings:

Saturday, September 26, 7:00 p.m.
Village Books
1200 11th St. in Fairhaven
Bellingham, WA


Monday, September 28, 8:00 p.m.
Bellingham Public Library
210 Central Avenue,
Bellingham, WA

Learn more about Chris and his poems at the MoonPath Press page and Facebook page for Not Aloud, as well as the book page on Chris’s blog. (While you’re there, check out the huge list of Western-Washington poetry events Chris publicizes on his home page. Lots of poetry throughout the region!)

I hope to see you at one or both of these readings!