The Next Big Thing Hops to Bethany Reid’s Blog

Bethany Reid

Today, writer Bethany Reid, who graciously agreed to be “tagged” in the Blog Hop, has posted her responses to the interview questions about The Next Big Thing in her writing and her generous write-ups of several blogs she follows. Please click on over to both parts and enjoy!

Bethany Reid earned her MFA and PhD at the University of Washington. She is author of a chapbook, The Coyotes and My Mom (Bellowing Ark Press), and served as an editor for The Seattle Review. She has won the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize at Calyx and, in 2012, the Gell Prize for her poetry collection Sparrow. She lives with her family in Edmonds, Washington, and teaches at Everett Community College.

Bad Blogger

Hello, Dear Readers–

I’ve been away too long! The past few weeks have been filled with poetry-related excitement. Here’s where I’ve been:

  • Participating in a Mother’s Day reading at an outdoor sculpture garden. Along with six other Bellingham poets, I read poems celebrating mothers while the sun shone, the rhododendrons bloomed, and the visual art luminesced. Since most of my own poems about motherhood involve vomit and being an unwitting casualty of the Mommy Wars, I had to go looking for poems more appropriate to the occasion. I found wonderful pieces to share by May Sarton, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Martha Silano.
  • Studying Martha Silano’s collections Blue Positive and The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception. The latter, especially, in addition to being a delightful and thought-provoking read, fascinated me for the way Silano manages to arrange the poems into a sequence that somehow–brilliantly–interweaves pieces about motherhood, faith, aliens, sex, cosmology, and consumer culture. I went to school on the structure of this book, since at the same time, I was also…
  • Reworking my book-length manuscript to include some of the poems I wrote during NaPoWriMo. Realizing that the sequence of poems I’d come up with for my manuscript last fall was actually a tangled mess, I struggled mightily to find a new arrangement that makes any kind of sense out of my poems about theodicy, origin myths, the food chain, and cognition. Adding to the urgency were two May deadlines for first-book competitions–one of which I’d already submitted the Messy Manuscript to a few months back, but withdrew to substitute the New and Improved.
  • Receiving acceptances by two literary journals! Getting my first acceptance by a paying market is a thrill–I’m a professional writer now! The complicated part was completing the mountain of paperwork attendant upon becoming an independent contractor with the State of Texas (via the public university where this literary journal is housed). In addition to signing up to receive the honorarium check, I also may have agreed to donate organs and possibly acquired licensure to drive a hazardous-materials rig. I’m not sure–the accountant I had to hire is still figuring out what I committed to. (In any case, my apologies in advance to Reno King, whose tax dollars are probably at work here. If it’s any consolation, the accountant is very deserving.) More details as press time approaches!
  • Attending the Skagit River Poetry Festival. This is the west-coast sister of the Dodge Festival, held every two years in charming La Conner, Washington. During the three days, I took in readings and panel discussions by Jeremy Voigt, Christopher Howell, Chris Dombrowski, Linda Bierds, Rachel Rose, Mark Schafer, Marie Howe, Bob Hicok, Ellen Bass, Lorna Crozier, Jericho Brown, Caroline Forché, Tony Hoagland, and Nikki Giovanni. It was a feast of beautiful and nourishing words. And on the final day, I attended a terrific writing workshop with Tony Hoagland, whose book What Narcissism Means to Me (in addition to having the world’s funniest title) gave me permission, when I first read it four years ago, to engage in serious play with poetic voice.
  • Learning how to levitate. Actually, this was completely effortless; the gift of walking on air was given to me at the Skagit River Poetry Festival, by a small-press editor I deeply respect, who asked, out of the blue, to see my book manuscript. So I’ve spent the past week re-re-reworking the thing to submit there. In the immortal words of Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes, not the Reformation), “Further bulletins as events warrant”!

It’s good to be back here with you, blogger friends!

Cheers to you,
Jennifer

Reflections on NaPoWriMo

Dear Readers,

My thanks to all of you who read, inspired, and gifted me with such generous responses on my poems this past month. I feel like you’ve been on a long road trip with me, and you don’t even mind that I talk too much while I drive, that I eat more than my share of the Doritos (or the artisanal small-batch, fair-trade, non-GMO dried kale chips, depending on where we last filled up), and that we somehow ended up in Philly even though I’d originally said we’d be going to Charlottesville.

Thanks to you, I’ve learned a lot along the way. This has been my first time to participate in National Poetry Writing Month, and in gratitude to you and as reminders to myself for Aprils yet to come, I want to recap these highlights:

  1. Poems, poems, poems! By my rough count, I wrote 22 new ones. Even though this is far fewer than most of you who committed to April’s NaPoWriMo, Poem-a-Day, or 30/30 challenge, this has been my most prolific writing stretch in twelve years. I also got six or eight other snippets and starts out of the effort–partial drafts that weren’t ready for prime time, but that I hope to develop into full poems. (Stay tuned for my first one from this batch, tentatively titled “I Want a Megalith.”)
  2. New and wonderful sources of inspiration. I discovered that prompts abound on the web. Though I sought and found poems in my usual sources–walks, others’ poetry, a quiet voice that drops words and lines on my head to reward me for doing household chores–the daily deadlines of NaPoWriMo often required a more e-caffeinated start. In addition to the thought-provoking daily prompts from Maureen Thorson and Robert Lee Brewer, I found brilliant and original exercises created by Danielle Mitchell and Rachel McKibbens.
  3. The afterparty ROCKS. Nothing prepared me for the lively, high-humored amazingness you people hand me, and each other, in your comments and posts. In the course of three weeks, I received a business tip from Marilyn  Cavicchia, Editor and Poet, to sell my horse-hair ponies on Etsy; was initiated, also by Marilyn, into the sacred rite of post-Easter roasting of Marshmallow Peepswas provoked to make a proposal of marriage (still unanswered–you’re breakin’ my heart over here, Judy!) to ChocoalteIsAVerb; and was featured on Vince Gotera’s vibrant and encyclopedic poetry blog. And best of all has been…
  4. The inordinately supportive, positive comments you have been making on my poems. They have been so lovely. In the last week of April, I received eight rejection notices (plus another one this morning) from journals and book & chapbook competitions, but arriving as they did while I was basking happily in the glow of your generous words, their sting was largely blunted. I’m especially thankful to Andrew Shattuck McBride, who–in addition to taking off the top of my head, in the best Dickensonian way, with such poems as this, this, and this–knows how to give one hell of a peptalk. Thanks to his and your encouragement, I’m energized to start a new round of revising and submitting this month. Seriously, friends, you are only egging me on when you do that.
  5. Resetting priorities. Participating in NaPoWriMo has broken my unhappy addiction to news websites and fostered, in its place, a radiant enthusiasm for your writing and art sites. ChocolateIsAVerb’s word-collages, DadPoet’s video-readings, Cupcake Murphy’s OddGoodTrue-ness, Doug’s “Bad Poems,” Arna Baartz’s SilverPoetry, Reno King’s poetic blues stylings, Mick Axelrod’s performance-vibe poems, Vince Gotera’s and Catherine Pritchard Childress’s poems, plus those I’ve already mentioned above, and many others, have brightened my days and strengthened my soul. As wise nutritionist Danielle Mitchell says at LitNivorous, “You are what you read,” and thanks to all your sharing of your creative gifts, I am growing better-nourished by the day.
  6. A further nutritional discovery: even when I put protein powder into my antioxidant berry smoothie, the Kentucky Bourbon still makes it delicious. This I discovered seeking brainfood when,this April, I was awake poeming at late hours. But it was friend, colleague, and writer Jeffrey Klausman who introduced me to the Bourbon recently, and long ago to the practice of writing poems. (Next time I wake up hung over and surrounded by inky shreds of paper, Jeffrey, I’m blaming you.)
  7. Note to self for next April: arrange childcare beforehand. When I rashly jumped, a week late, into NaPoWriMo, I failed to anticipate that my six-year-old was going to be at school for no more than eight and a half days for all of April. Spring Break encompassed the first nine days of the month, and parent-teacher conferences the last five. In between came the stomach flu. Hence all those late-night writing sessions. For next year’s NaPoWriMo, I’m going to save up my royalty money (ha!) and hire a nanny for a couple hours each day so I can write during my son’s school breaks without losing so much sleep. This, in turn, will reduce the need for late-night protein smoothies flavor-enhanced with Bourbon. It’s a win-win.

While I catch up on sleep over the next few months, I’ll return to my pre-NaPoWriMo blogging schedule of one or two posts per week. I intend to keep working on and posting new poems, just at a more leisurely pace, as well as myth-book reports and the occasional metaphysical screed.

Also in my plans is to catch up and keep up with all of YOUR blogs. This road trip with you has been a blast, and it’s not over yet.

Oh! Now I know why we ended up in Philly. It’s to go birding with DadPoet!

With my gratitude to you,
Jennifer

NaPoWriMo, Day 23 or Whatever (Day 30/30 for Everyone Else)

Today’s poem is, once again, from Rachel McKibbens’s treasury of fantastic writing exercises, this time #67. Rachel, thank you–you are saving my life over here!

ALTERNATE ENDINGS

Finally there is room in one town
for two gunslingers.

The governess fends off her master
and marries the mad lady locked away.

The dislikable climber deranged by speed and testosterone
is brought to safety.

The dying mother confesses she annealed her son’s heart
to prevent him from probing the cracks in her own,
and she lives.

The warrior wins his battle and
both of his loves.

The ship docks with its crystal intact
and everyone disembarks ahead of the hurricane.

The silver cloud shaped like a fish
tears a piece off its back to feed to the wind.

* * * * * * * *

Thanks for reading, dear Readers. Please stay tuned for a recap of NaPoWriMo in a day or two!

NaPoWriMo, Day 19 (Day 26 for Everyone Else)

Today’s poem responds to Maureen Thorson’s “elegy” prompt. I’m grateful that her prompt put a purpose to this poem, which I started over three years ago in a workshop (led by the fabulous Nance Van Winckel) but hadn’t been able to finish satisfactorily. That’s because I didn’t know then that the poem was trying to be an elegy.

ELEGY

Ten years old in a mowed oat field,
I plodded through stubble beside
my much-taller father. His shadow

covered me like a low roof,
his black-oak shotgun slung between us
in the crook of his left arm.

My own shadow bulged heavy
with three dead pheasants in the canvas sack
strapped across my shoulder.

The first two hens had died from the birdshot.
The third was live and flapping
when our retriever brought her back.

My father, who had seen me cry
over the death of my pet guinea pig
and decided I needed toughening,

seized the moment to teach me neck-wringing
and made me use my own hands.
He’d always despised my vulnerability as a girl,

tried often to thicken my skin with ridicule
to protect me from greater hurt.
Tried, that day, to toughen me past grieving

by putting the feathered neck between my fists
and making me twist it down to strings.
What he achieved was to make me face

a different loss, begin my grieving
of something I never have succeeded
in bringing back to life.

NaPoWriMo Day 18 (Day 25 for Everyone Else)

This poem has been simmering for a couple of weeks now, ever since I used the persona-poem prompt to write about Abraham. Today, seeing a magnificent poem in the voice of Hagar, by Catherine Pritchard Childress at Vince Gotera’s blog, sent me back to work on the new poem, this time from Sarah’s point of view:

SARAH BREAKS HER SILENCE

Some time later I tested Abraham
by bidding him to lie with my servant-woman, Hagar.
It had been many years since The Speaking
granting us a land for our descendants–
and my husband was feeling keenly his dearth
of descendants. I suspected that his trust
in The Speaker was growing shaky (imperceptibly
to all but me), like both of our wrinkling hands.

I myself had never doubted
that the promised child was far off.
I knew that for a time, The Speaker was just keeping
His word to Himself. And often,
in the hot afternoons when the tent grew quiet
and the livestock slept, faintly I could hear
the approaching child’s laughter fluttering
around my body like a gossamer cloak.

Besides, I remembered clearly
my own Speaking vision, given when my father
gave me in marriage to his brother:
I half heard, half saw, fully knew my husband’s destiny
would be to try to carve a blade into our future son’s lean neck
the way his own father had sliced and gouged
temple idols out of oak. In this way I knew
my husband, in consenting to turn upon our son,
would turn away from me and from every deity of trees.

Thus at Mamre, it was not just my laughter
but my own cracking bark I heard
upon the visitors’ Speech announcing
our next-year baby. That, and the chopping fall
of all the oak Asherah poles outside His future temples–
and my betrayal by a Deity without roots.

NaPoWriMo, Day 10 for Me (Day 17 for Everybody Else), Using a Prompt from Day 15 with the Extremely Well Suited Title “Mixed Up”

Thanks once again to Robert Lee Brewer for this prompt– “Mixed Up”–on his blog at Writer’s Digest. It’s the perfect construct for re-creating one of those maddening recurring nonsensical dreams.

[ANY SUGGESTIONS AS TO A TITLE FOR THIS ONE? I HAVE A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH TITLES.]

In this new dream of my grandmother’s house,
it’s been a couple years since she died
and we’re all gathered for another encore wake.

I am five or forty-seven, and as usual
in big trouble with a randomly assigned patriarch
for bursting in and waking the twin infants,
one of whom is mine; the other, me.

So I descend the stairs to do, as commanded,
more sorting and packing in my grandmother’s
basement store-room. I load one box for her fifties
(tubes of oil paints, big unfinished canvases, modeling clay
in unopened wrappers). Another for her sixties
(alfalfa pills for arthritis, photos of my little brother,
the nylon teepee she’d set up for me to lounge in with Nancy Drew).
Another carton for her seventies (herb seeds from her garden
I helped her harvest and dry, a huge steamer trunk she refinished).

Then it is her nineties and time for me to take her mail to her
in the nursing home, and in trying to find my way upstairs
I discover a basement room I’d never known about.
How can it, too, be lighted from the window
in the room I just came from that has no window?
In this new room are shelves holding my literary theory notebooks
and all my childhood Christmases ruined
by the feuding of adults.

The light, I find, is coming from yet a different room
joined to this one by narrow, steep, mosaic-tiled ramps.
I choose one to climb and am momentarily glad
the sticky airborne grease from my grandmother’s frying pork chops
has made it less slick. From the top I see down, way down
into the next room–a deeper cellar
with bright picture windows and a man
who is an aged Cousin Phil,
but who can’t be Cousin Phil since he’s the miscarried child
of the first wife, who was committed to an asylum
before she could rat on her perjuring ex–

yet that story is from my husband’s side
of the family. Still, here is ancient, impossible Cousin Phil
scrubbing with Ajax and a blue bristle brush
in the basement room that I understand suddenly
is where my grandmother took out everything, viciously,
on her small bewildered son.

And now Cousin Phil is scrubbing away the sticky porkchop grease
from the mosaic-tiled ramp that plummets
to this subterrain, and I begin to slip down it,

sliding at speed,
having exhausted my Freud and half my Jung
digging and sorting and packing and pitching
in this house where I never did live,
this house I will never move out of.