“Honey-Sweet We Sing for You”: A Poetic Collaboration (My Guest Post at The Poetry Department)

Please check out my guest post at J.I. Kleinberg’s blog, The Poetry Department, about my collaboration with Seattle composer Aaron Grad on our cantata reinterpreting the Sirens myth for the Early Music Seattle program “For All Our Sisters”! Click here:  “Honey-Sweet We Sing for You”: A Poetic Collaboration.

UPDATE 7/24: The videos I made about the cantata are now live on the Early Music Seattle “For All Our Sisters” Performances page. Click on my photo to view the hour-long interview with Claudia Castro-Luna and me, and click on the Sirens painting below it to view the three-minute video of me describing my approach to the Sirens myth in writing the libretto.

Thanks, too, to Early Music Seattle for featuring me in their weekly Clef Notes series. Scroll halfway down to “This Week’s Selections” to see their very kind words about my poetry and a gathering of links to my work available online.

Gratitude for Good Things in Spring 2020

I have many thanks to pass along to journal editors, amid the pandemic and heavy griefs of this spring, for bright spots of cheer and good publication news. Back in March, Terrain.org published my poem “the summer the sun hid” as part of its Letters to America series. Cherry Tree included my poem “Narcissus in Love,” about you-know-who enamored of his own reflection, in its annual issue. EcoTheo Review published my poem “Mother Earth’s Easter Address” in both its print and online issues.

And I found a wonderful home in the journal Cave Wall for “Landscape with Unsettled Figures,” the concluding poem in one of my full-length manuscripts. I’ve been submitting poems to Cave Wall for over eleven years; it’s one of my “dream” journals, featuring superb poems and beautiful wood-block prints. Not only did editor Rhett Iseman Trull select it to publish in this spring’s issue; she also, astonishingly, nominated it for a Pushcart Prize and a Best New Poets award. Much gratitude to all these editors for supporting my poetry in these ways.

[UPDATE: “Landscape with Unsettled Figures” has also been picked up for Verse Daily! Click on “Archives” to find my poem posted on June 15, 2020. My sincere thanks to editor J.P. Dancing Bear for choosing it!]

I wish safety and good health to you and all your loved ones. If you can, will you join me in making donations to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter Global Network, or community bail fund of your choice to support the fight for human rights in America?

Hello Again!

It’s been over a year. A YEAR! since I last updated. Thank you for sticking with me during my long blog silence.

I have several pieces of happy writing news to share. This past year, I had poems appear in Clover, Cider Press Review, Menacing Hedge, and Under a Warm Green Linden. The latter also selected my poem “Narcissus on the Hunt” to a produce as a broadside print. All proceeds from sales of the broadside support Green Linden Press’s tree-planting mission! Thank you, Editor-in-Chief Christopher Nelson, for continuing to believe in and feature my work.

These publications are all poems are from my manuscript of resistance poems, “The Tongue of Narcissus,” in which I use family history and Ovidian myth to engage the ongoing political crisis in psychological, esthetic, and ecological terms. This manuscript was again a finalist for last year’s Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes for Poetry at the University of Wisconsin Press, and it’s now under submission there a third time. (Let’s hope that’s a charm!) I’m especially pleased that the lead poem, “How to Walk Like a Quadruped” (inspired by Ada Limón’s amazing poem “How to Triumph Like a Girl”), has found a good home at Cider Press Review–much gratitude to Editor-in-Chief Caron Andregg and Poetry Editor Emerita Ruth Foley!

As well, a poem and a flash essay of mine were selected for publication in the anthology For Love of Orcas, sales of which benefit the SeaDoc Society in its efforts to restore the Southern Resident Killer Whales and their Salish Sea habitat. My thanks to co-editors Andrew Shattuck McBride and Jill McCabe Johnson for including my work. If you’re in the Seattle area tomorrow (11/12/19), catch a reading and panel discussion about For Love of Orcas at Hugo House at 7:00 p.m.!

My first essay to be published in a journal appeared online in Gulf Coast this past winter. “Feathers”–about travel anxiety, a 14th-century mural of St. Christopher in a 12th-century church, and taking our son on a long-distance walking trip through the English countryside–received an honorable mention in the 2017 Gulf Coast Prize for Nonfiction. Much gratitude to the editors and to judge Diane Roberts for selecting my essay.

Also, I had a record summer for journal acceptances. I received news that seven of my poems have been selected for publication this coming year in Cherry Tree, Terrain.org, and EcoTheo! As well, the final poem in my “Tongue of Narcissus” manuscript is going to appear in Cave Wall, one of my dream journals, to which I’ve been submitting poems (unsuccessfully) for many years. Plus, Seattle-based Floating Bridge Press named my chapbook manuscript a semi-finalist and has selected two poems for upcoming publication in its journal, Pontoon Poetry.

Especially amid the dire ecological and political news, I’m very grateful for these bright spots of creativity and connection in the writing world.

I hope things are well with you. Thanks for reading!
Jennifer

SpeakEasy 22 on October 20!

Bellingham & Whatcom County, please join us at Mt. Baker Theater’s Encore Room for SpeakEasy 22, “Animal Beast Creature”: SpeakEasy22
Many thanks to SpeakEasy curators J.I. Kleinberg and Luther Allen for inviting me to participate!

April Events: National Poetry Month

Hello, and happy spring!

I get to do three poetry events in three days this April. For the first two, I’ll be appearing at the Orcas Island Literary Festival, which takes place April 13-15 in Eastsound, Washington, in the theaters at Orcas Center and in various venues around Eastsound on Orcas Island:

On the lucky literary evening of Friday, April 13, I’ll be participating in a Lit Walk reading with Rick Barot, Allen Braden (my AWP Writer-to-Writer Mentor in 2015!), Derek Sheffield, and Tina Schumann. (The Kitchen restaurant, 249 Prune Alley, Eastsound, WA, 6:30 p.m.)

On Saturday, April 14, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion titled “Exterior to Interior Landscapes: Writing to Explore” with Rick Barot, Allen Braden (Moderator), Gail Folkins, and Derek Sheffield. In this presentation, we’ll share how contemporary writers use setting to work with themes involving science, myth, history, politics, or family. The panel will also engage participants with generative exercises relevant to writing about one’s environment. (Black Box Theater, Orcas Center, 917 Mt. Baker Road, Eastsound, WA, 9:30 a.m.)

Then, on Sunday, April 15, I jump on a ferry to sail and drive back to Bellingham for an afternoon reading with Maya Jewell Zeller and Kathryn Smith at Village Books. Maya will be presenting Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts, her new eco-feminist, poetry-and-art collaborative with Carrie deBacker; and Kathryn will be presenting poems from Book of Exodus, which narrates the imagined experiences of the Lykovs, a Russian family who lived for 40 years in the Siberian taiga.  (Village Books, 1200 11th St.. Bellingham, WA, 4:00 p.m.)

If you’ll be near Northwest Washington for this middle weekend of April, please join us!

Catching Up and Looking Forward

I’m thankful to have closed out 2017 with an autumn of publications, encouraging news, and lots of literary events to look forward to in 2018.

I spent the first half of 2017 writing and revising a new full-length manuscript of resistance poems titled “The Tongue of Narcissus.” Since then, I’ve continued to polish the manuscript and slide in occasional new poems. I’ve found wonderful homes for seven of those poems in Rise Up Review, Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, Heavy Feather Review, and, most recently, Green Linden. Three more are slated for publicaton in Moon City Review next spring. And in November, I got amazing news: the manuscript is a finalist for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes at the University of Wisconsin Press! I’ll need to hold my breath until mid-February, possibly, to hear the results. (Deep inhale with fingers crossed!)

In addition, 2017 was a year of progress for “Wild-Caught Gods,” the full-length manuscript I’ve been working on for 10 years now. I put it through two more revisions, one during the summer and another last month, to implement lessons I learned from the process of assembling my new manuscript. As a collection of persona poems, “Wild-Caught Gods” needed more glue to pull together its multi-vocal distress cries about ecological crisis, epistemic anxiety, and what I call my “toxic patriarchy” critiques of monotheism. As you can guess from this description, it also needed more humor! So I added in my weird, sarcastic-voiced poems using scientific lexicons to leaven and punctuate the seriousness. Poems from this manuscript found good homes in Water~Stone Review, Bracken, Clover, and Washington 129: Poets of Washington, edited by State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall. Amanda Bubble had an especially good autumn, with two poems in her voice appearing in Bellingham Review, and five poems in Muse / A Journal, including the very first Amanda Bubble poem I wrote: “When Your Name Is Amanda Bubble, You Don’t Get to Cry at the Bar.” I’m thrilled that Muse /A Journal Editor Greg Murray has nominated “Amanda Bubble Pines for a God to Call Her Own” for a Pushcart Prize! To cap it off, the manuscript was a finalist for the Moon City Poetry Prize at Moon City Press. It didn’t win, but knowing it advanced so far through the selection process energized me to continue to hone it.

I deeply appreciate the work of all these editors, who do so much to support the writers they publish and nurture the communities they create around their presses and journals.

I tried for other ambitious goals last year. I applied for a writing residency in Brora, Scotland, and was named a finalist. I submitted a lyric essay to The Gulf Coast Prize for Nonfiction and received an honorable mention. My review of Cecily Parks’s anthology The Echoing Green: Poems of Fields, Meadows, and Grasses was published in Terrain.org. Successes (and exciting near-misses) like these have given me great encouragement to aim high with my writing.

In the coming year, I have exciting plans to share. This month, I’m racing toward a deadline on a creative-nonfiction book proposal and partial manuscript for a collection of essays dealing with mental health, motherhood, ecological crisis, theology, and walking. I’ve submitted presentation and workshop proposals for a spring literary festival, and plans are in the works for readings in Duvall and Tacoma.

Also this winter, I’m doing group readings of Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Edited by Grace Bauer and Julie Kane, Lost Horse Press, 2017) in Bellingham, Redmond, and Seattle. Whatcom County friends: please join Carolyne Wright, Jessica Lee, Susan J. Erickson, and me on Sunday, January 14, 4:00 p.m. at Village Books in Fairhaven for the anthology’s western Washington launch!

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May the year ahead grace you with all good things,
Jennifer

Upcoming Events, and New Poems in Heavy Feather Review

If you live in Northwest Washington, I invite you to attend two events I’m participating in this month:

First is the launch celebration and reading for Volume 13 of Clover: A Literary Rag. I’m one of twelve contributors who’ll be reading, starting at 4:00 p.m., Sunday, September 10, at Village Books in Fairhaven.

Poetry at St Paul'sAnd then, at the end of this month, I invite you to Poetry at St. Paul’s, Friday and Saturday, September 29-30. The Festival program includes evening presentations by Gregory Wolfe, Luci Shaw, Jeannie Murray Walker, and Scott Cairns. Saturday afternoon, three poetry-writing workshops will be led by Luci Shaw, Caitlin Thomson, and me. An open mic will follow. Pre-register for a workshop on the festival website. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2117 Walnut Street, in Bellingham.

Finally, I’m thrilled and honored to have five new poems up as the #NotMyPresident feature at Heavy Feather Review. These poems are from my new full-length manuscript, “The Tongue of Narcissus,” in which I use Heinz Kohut’s theories on narcissistic pathology and characters from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to engage the current political situation. (Hint: Narcissus stands in for you-know-who.) Many thanks to Heavy Feather Review editors Jason Teal, Nathan Floom, Ally Harris, dezireé a. brown, and Hayli M. Cox for selecting my work!

Poetry News…

… has been happy news for me lately! Here’s a roundup of recent developments to share with you:

  • Back in the winter, Bracken Magazine published my poem “Some Kind of Gift” in its third issue. My thanks to editors Alina Rios and Jed Myers for selecting my poem and presenting it in such great company.
  • My poem “Diana Bristles” appears in the April issue of Rise Up Review, founded after the election to be “a landing site for the poetry of opposition.” That poem has also been selected for inclusion in the Nasty Women Poets Anthology, to be published in the fall by Lost Horse Press.
  • Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall has chosen my poem “Claude Lévi-Strauss Paces the Beach at Pt. Whitehorn, Washington” to include in the anthology Washington 129, which contains one poem for every year of Washington statehood. Published by Sage Hill Press, the anthology was celebrated at a release party last month at the state capital in Olympia. In addition, the poem will be printed as a broadside produced by Tod Marshall’s literary editing and design course at Gonzaga University in Spokane.IMG_1644
  • My poem “In Which I Sense Everywhere a Willingness” has been accepted for next fall’s issue of Water~Stone Review.
  • Since the election, I’ve been writing protest poems.  In late February, I picked up the pace of my writing and now have 36 new poems towards a book manuscript. I intend to continue writing and revising these poems, with the goal of submitting the manuscript to publishers this summer. Working on these poems has been very helpful for keeping a lid on my anxiety about the current political situation.
  • I have two readings coming up in the San Juan Islands! I’ll be reading with my Eugene, Oregon pressmate Laura LeHew, whose marvelous poetry collection Willingly Would I Burn was published in the same cohort as Impossible Lessons. We’ll read at Darvill’s Books on Orcas Island, June 1, and, with Lopezian writer and Shark Reef co-founder Lorna Reese, at Lopez Bookshop, June 2. Thank you to Jill McCabe Johnson (another of my MoonPath Press-mates) of Artsmith and Iris Graville of Lopez Bookshop for inviting me to do these! Please see my Events page for details.
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    I’ve been spending as much time as I can outside. After an exceptionally long winter, we’re having a lush, rainy, beautiful spring. I hope spring is wonderful where you are, too!

    Cheers and courage and good words to you,
    Jennifer

Recent Publications

I’m dimly rousing myself after the election to express my gratitude that three poems of mine have been published this fall. My thanks to Christopher Nelson, editor of Green Linden Press, for today’s launch of Issue 2 of Green Linden, which until last spring specialized in poetry reviews and interviews, and is now a full-service poetry biannual. The inclusion of my poem among those by several of my poetry idols gives me a much-appreciated jolt of joy.

And my belated thanks are due to editors Jennifer Givhan and Molly Sutton Kiefer of Tinderbox Poetry Journal, who selected my prose poem “Amanda Bubble Composes a Fifty-Word, Third-Person Contributor Bio for an Anthology on the Theme of Vulnerability” to include in Issue 3.5. And to Caron Andregg and Ruth Foley, editors of Cider Press Review, for including my poem “I Anticipate a Metamorphosis” in Issue 18-4.

I’m grateful for the work and support of all these editors and for the vibrant, lovely journals they produce. Each issue creates a community with the writers and readers–including, I hope, you!–who join in. That community, and the writing itself, are solace and motivation.

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!