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!

May the year ahead grace you with all good things,

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.
    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,

Seattle Womxn’s March

On Saturday, my family traveled to Seattle for my eleven-year-old’s Lego Robotics competition. It was the Washington State semifinals, for which my son’s team of fifth-graders had qualified at the local competition in December. The semifinals happened to be on the same day as the Women’s Marches, and because the competition required that kids have parental supervision all day, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to join in the march. But I did at least want to see it–to witness what I knew might be one of the most important collective actions of my lifetime–and to cheer on the marchers. I also hoped to be able to take my son to see what one form of nonviolent resistance looks like.

As it turned out, the only break parents had from the robotics competition was during the kids’ project presentations. So while our kids’ team was sequestered with the judges, several other parents and I dashed outside to try to find the march. For safety reasons, march organizers didn’t announce the exact route ahead of time, but we were guessing that it would pass through the north part of downtown on 4th Avenue, just a few blocks from the Amazon building where we were.

c2uqj9zuqaaebqrWe did indeed find the march. As we got to the intersection of 4th Avenue and Virginia, police were blocking off the cross-streets. A line of officers on motorcycles assembled across the lanes and slowly moved forward to clear the route for the marchers. Then twenty or more bicycle officers arranged themselves along the curbs. Finally, the leaders of the march, a group of Native American drummers, approached, quietly singing. We couldn’t hear them very well, because a news helicopter was hovering directly above, but the sight was stunning. As the front of the march got nearer, the bicycle cops began slowly pedaling along, making sure the way was clear.

Something unique about the Seattle march was its intentional silence. To me, this was one of its most moving features. The marchers acknowledged the cheers of those of us on the curb by bobbing their signs and sometimes waving to us. It was terrifically powerful, on several occasions, to make eye contact with a marcher and exchange a smile of solidarity.

Here’s a sampling of the photos I took showing some of my favorite signs:







I was disappointed that my son couldn’t be present to see this demonstration of peaceful collective engagement. The participation of so many children, both in the march and as supporters, made a powerful statement of its own. But afterwards, when I showed him the video footage I took on my phone, he watched with fascination as the marchers approached and streamed by.

Soon the march stretched to the farthest visible points both up and down 4th Avenue. Two news helicopters continued to hover over the march, filming. Shortly after we tore ourselves away and hurried back to the Amazon building, local news reported that the front of the march was arriving at its destination near the Space Needle, and marchers were still leaving from the starting point in Judkins Park, 3.6 miles away. (Here’s a time-lapse video of the entire Seattle march from King 5 News.) Organizers had planned for 50,000-75,000 marchers to participate; the actual number swelled to some 130,000, or possibly as many as 175,000. In spite of this overwhelming turnout, the entire demonstration was peaceful and unmarred by violence.

Before witnessing the march, I confess that I’d been slowly losing ground to despair. Since the election, my thoughts about the state of the world have vacillated between “bleak” and “OMFG we’re in 1936 Germany, panic NOW.” I’ve even considered warning my son–a gentle and loving boy who adores his gentle and loving father, and who, though he has promising talents in golf, basketball, and robotics coding, wants most of all some day to be a dad–I’ve considered warning him that to protect himself from despair, to raise his chances of surviving an increasingly likely environmental apocalypse, and to safeguard his own heart, he probably should not have children.

The march turned me around. Just being close to it, experiencing it from the curb, electrified me, restarted my stalled courage. It gave me my hope back. Hope, you see, is one area I’ve always been deficient in. Hope is a nutrient I don’t seem to have been born with much of, or which I depleted very young, and no amount of research, theology, or reassuring news analysis has sufficiently supplemented it for me. But witnessing the march gave me a potent and energizing dose.

This isn’t to say that things aren’t going to get really bad. Clearly, things are bad already, and we’re only at Day 4. But I see, now, having glimpsed the power of our joining together, how we can resist.

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!