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!

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Readings During National Poetry Month

Hello! I get to join two amazing lineups of poets for April readings in the Seattle area. I plan to read some bird and horse poems, some Amanda Bubble poems, some mythological persona poems, and possibly a new prose poem about a goat named Derrick. Please come if you can!

April 6, I’ll be part of a Floating Bridge Press reading at the Fremont Library featuring Dennis Caswell and Michael Schmeltzer. Their manuscripts were among the finalists for last year’s Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award, and somehow my manuscript, Amanda Bubble Is Nearly on Fire, was also one of them. Dennis Caswell’s 2012 collection Phlogiston was published by Floating Bridge, and Michael Schmeltzer’s poetry manuscripts have had near brushes with winning a number of highly competitive awards. I’ve had the pleasure of reading with Michael twice this past year, and this month, I’ll get to read twice with Dennis!

…because on April 16, when I read at Edmonds Book Shop, the lineup again includes Dennis, along with Bethany Reid (one of my other favorite poets to read with and author of Sparrow, one of my favorite poetry books of 2012), Erika Michael, and David Horowitz, editor at Rose Alley Press and author of the brand-new collection Cathedral and Highrise. So much poetry to enjoy!

Here are the relevant particulars:

Monday, April 6: Floating Bridge Press reading at the Fremont Library, 731 N. 35th St., Seattle, 6:30 p.m. (here are directions and map)

Thursday, April 16: Poetry in Edmonds at Edmonds Book Shop, 111 5th Avenue South, Edmonds, WA, 6:30 p.m. (here are directions and map link)

Please help me to spread the word, and I hope to see you around during Poetry Month!

Amanda Bubble Has Had a Really Good Year

A few years ago, I invented a persona named Amanda Bubble, in whose voice I’ve written a couple of dozen poems. Gradually, hers has become the most frequent voice in my full-length manuscript (the latest iteration of which I’ve given the working title “Amanda Bubble and the Wild-Caught Gods”). Like me, she asks a lot of questions about God, ethics, and poetry. Unlike me, she’s young (probably late twenties), sassy, and frustrated about not being able to write novels. I’m having a lot of fun with her voice, which I imagine includes frequent uptalk at the end of her sentences? And those sentences, sometimes fragments, like she’s just tossing off remarks.

Amanda Bubble has had the good fortune of making a lot of friends in the past year. Four of her poems have been published in two different issues of Clover: A Literary Rag, and another in the 2013 Floating Bridge Review. This year, Floating Bridge Review has chosen another for the forthcoming issue. She has received many kind compliments from audiences at readings, and most exciting of all, she’s become the star of her own chapbook manuscript. (She likes that very much, but is just a little uncomfortable with all the attention?)

That chapbook manuscript, titled “Amanda Bubble Is Nearly on Fire,” was one of five finalists for this year’s Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award, open to Washington-State poets. I’m thrilled that I’ve been invited to give a reading with another finalist, Michael Schmeltzer, and the winner, John Whalen, at the Seattle launch of his winning chapbook, Above the Pear Trees.

That reading will be Monday, September 29, 7:00 p.m. at Richard Hugo House in Seattle.

I’ll also be reading a couple of Amanda Bubble poems at a multi-author reading from the current issue of Clover: A Literary Rag on Sunday, September 21, 4:00 p.m. at Village Books in Bellingham.

If you’re in the area, please come to one or both of these events and enjoy the celebrations!

Reflections on AWP, Part 1

I had a wonderful time attending my first AWP Convention in Seattle the week before last. I went to readings and panel presentations, and made delightful and informative forays into the book fair.

Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts, impressions, and pieces of information I came away with after my three days at the temporary center of the literary universe:

1) There is more than one way to write an ekphrastic poem. I used to think that ekphrastic poems need to be about the work of art they refer to–or at least about the event, scene, or figure that the work of art portrays. In a panel session exploring ekphrastic poetry, I learned some ways to work beyond this conventional definition:

  • The poet can allude to, but not announce, the poem’s relationship to the work of art.
  • The poet can immerse in the work of art, and the work of art can trigger the writing of the poem, without the poem describing the work of art.
  • Images usually suggest stories, and the poet can write a poem that resists the narrative intentions of the image by inventing an alternative story.
  • If, as Edward Hirsch asserts, poems inspired by art are “imaginative acts of attention,” then the way a poet pays attention to one work of art can inform how s/he pays attention to another work of art. In this way, a poem can respond, either explicitly or implicitly, to more than one work of art.

2) It is possible to live quite comfortably on trail mix and espresso for three straight days. Because when tantalizing conference sessions and readings and book displays cram the schedule from 8 a.m. until midnight, who has time to sit down to a proper meal? Well, I am exaggerating a little; I did supplement my trail-mix diet with a Chipotle burrito and a couple of breakfast sandwiches ordered to-go. Also, some very kind friends from Bellingham (thank you, Judy and Luther!) fed me apples and yogurt, and offered me additional high-quality proteins, after a late-night reading. Next time I go to a multi-day conference, I intend to carve out time to try at least a couple of good local restaurants. Or, at the very least, increase the chocolate-chip-to-almonds-and-dried-fruit ratio of my homemade mix.

3) I need to be very, very patient about getting a full-length poetry manuscript into print. Contrary to what the annual “Debut Poets” feature in Poets & Writers Magazine tends to indicate–i.e., that most first-book manuscripts are submitted to just a few publishers before being chosen for publication–the presenters of a panel session on book contests that I attended emphasized that finding a publisher for a poetry manuscript can take many years. As in ten to twelve years. As in multiple times being named a contest finalist, but never being chosen as the winner (a phenomenon known as Bridesmaid’s Syndrome: always the bridesmaid, never the bride). HOWEVER, refusing to be discouraged by these statistics, I took heart from several points made by the editors and poets making up this panel:

  • Having one’s manuscript chosen as a finalist, even when the final judge doesn’t select it to win, does get the attention of the press’s editors and can result in publication outside the auspices of the contest. Panelist Dora Malech, for instance, saw two of her collections published after being named a finalist at two different presses, three years in a row; even though her manuscripts didn’t win these contests, she developed relationships with the editors who eventually chose her work.
  • Prize money attached to a contest is nice, but it won’t solve your financial problems, or even necessarily cover the travel expenses you incur to promote the book.
  • Winning a contest can, nevertheless, attract reviews and publicity that less frequently accompany the publication of other poetry books.
  • 50-65 pages of poems is the new ideal for a full-length collection. (This is because paper and printing costs have continued to rise, and the recession has made book buyers even more price-conscious than before.) While some poetry publishers allow manuscripts of up to 90 or more pages, Joseph Harrison, editor at Waywiser Press, quipped, “I’ve never seen an 88-page manuscript that needed all 88 pages.”
  • Another conclusion I drew from this panel session is that I am UNBELIEVABLY FORTUNATE  to have a substantial chapbook in print. Thank you, Lana Hechtman Ayers of MoonPath Press, for turning me into the published author of a beautiful little book. You are my Fairy Godmother.

In Part 2, which will follow soon, I’ll elaborate on these further points:

  • The chapbook abides as a thing of beauty.
  • There is a place for politics in poetry, so long as the poetry is not sacrificed to the political message.
  • Editors and publishers are actual people, and I had the pleasure of meeting several very fine ones.

Thanks for reading!
Jennifer

Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing

My sincere thanks to Andrew Shattuck McBride and Tsena Paulson for “tagging” me to participate in the Blog Hop, in which I get to detail “The Next Big Thing” I’m working on in my writing.

Here, I respond to a standard set of interview questions about my writing projects. Please bear with  my unusual numbering. I mostly do know how to count; it’s just that my “poetic” logic occasionally supersedes rigid numerical sequencing.

1. What is the title of your book? Is it a working title? / 5. What genre does your book fall under?

My book is titled Impossible Lessons: Poems. It’s due out this April from MoonPath Press. Working titles for my manuscript included “About the Food Chain, and Other Pointed Questions for the Deities,” “The Logic of Leaves,” and “Myths of Origin, Falling Away.” My publisher, Lana Hechtman Ayers, came up with several more idea for titles, including “Impossible Lesson,” and Andy McBride suggested ending “-s” to the end of that. I’m delighted with the resulting title, Impossible Lessons. It implies that the poems ask challenging questions, and that the answers I receive through them are equally challenging.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from? / 3. Who and/or what inspired you to write your book?

The poems in this book are inspired by hikes in the Pacific Northwest and England; by my struggle to reconcile my experiences of a loving God with the violence I observe in nature and among humans; and by my search beyond Judeo-Christianity and Western philosophy, into the realm of other ancient mythologies, for explanations. My inspirations also included my horses, a cat, and several wayward chickens.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The poems in the manuscript span thirteen years of writing and revising. One of the earliest poems I drafted, “Strange Bird,” is from 2000, whereas others, such as “Eve Reflects” and “Cover Letter from the Goddess,” I wrote within this past year. I’ve been submitting various iterations of the manuscript to first-book competitions for the past nine years.

6. What books would you compare yours to in your chosen genre?

While I wouldn’t presume to compare my book to theirs, I can say that my writing in it is strongly influenced by the poems of Mary Oliver and Luci Shaw, and by the lyric prose essays of Annie Dillard. I also frame some of my poems as responses to William Stafford, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

7. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Alder, appetite, campfire, cedar, sorrel horse, goldfinch, grasses, cantaloupe, quantum, boulder, backbone, blame, molar, altar, swallow, snakeskin, suffering, farewell, whiskey-jack, allure, sparrow, cattle, blood cell, thistle, cosmos, alfalfa, spindle, impermanence, chemo, woodpecker, salmon, heron, flaring, huckleberry, gratitude, granite, fir, world, blade, feather, unfolding, holy.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

8. Do you have a publisher, or will you self-publish your book or seek representation?

Lana Hechtman Ayers at MoonPath Press, which publishes poetry by writers from the Pacific Northwest, is the editor and publisher of the book. I am terrifically indebted to Lana, who invited me to submit my manuscript–and then hand-selected and arranged the poems for the volume! I’m outrageously pleased with the result: the collection she has compiled is essentially a “best of” representation of my writing from the past thirteen years.

10. What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?

It uses the F-word just once, and that’s quoting Philip Larkin, so it’s really okay.

9. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie or to read your work for a recording?

Ah, now we’re getting to the next Next Big Thing I’m working on. That would be a manuscript of persona poems with the working title “Impersonations,” for which I’m seeking a publisher. My poems in this collection are voiced by various Old-Testament figures, Greek goddesses, and two characters of my own invention: emerging poet Amanda Bubble and her imperious, mercurial, epistle-penning aunt, Fabiana. I wouldn’t know how to wrangle all these personae into a film with a plot, but if I were to stage the poems as a dramatic reading, with the characters writing letter-poems to each other, I could envision the following cast:

Mia Farrow as Eve
James Earl Jones as Abraham
Carol Kane as Noah’s Wife
Lucy Lawless as Artemis
My completely awesome local FedEx delivery lady as Aphrodite
Zachary Quinto as George Clooney–wait, no: George Clooney as George Clooney
Zachary Quinto as Amanda Bubble’s imaginary boyfriend (but I digress…)
Gwyneth Paltrow as Amanda Bubble
Joanna Lumley–wait, no: Helena Bonham-Carter–wait, no: Carla Bruni as Fabiana

But I digress again. The next next Next Big Thing I’ve recently begun writing is a lyric essay, inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds and Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and Holy the Firm. It’s an autobiographical meditation that interbraids topics of adoption, horses, forgiveness, walking, place, and becoming a mother.

And now, I’m very pleased to tell you about the four writers I’m “tagging” to respond the interview questions next:

Marilyn Cavicchia lives in Chicago, where she is an editor at the American Bar Association and a freelance editor at home. She received a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in journalism, both from Ohio University. For about 15 years after college, she wrote hardly any poetry. Since resuming in 2009, she has had about a dozen poems published in literary journals. Her next challenge: chapbooks. She blogs at http://MarilynCavicchiaEditorPoet.wordpress.com/ and will post on February 12.

Bethany Reid, while earning her MFA and PhD at the University of Washington, authored a chapbook, The Coyotes and My Mom (Bellowing Ark Press) and became 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. She blogs at http://AWritersAlchemy.wordpress.com/and will post on February 15.

Amy Shouse is an L.A. native who lives with her husband and dog. Her childhood had just the right amount of unwieldy dysfunction to make her a hopeful reader looking for safety as well as a writer who loves to hear the reverberation that comes back when she throws words out into the world. She is the author of the poetry collection Underway–Looking Aft and blogs as Cupcake Murphy at http://OddGoodTrue.com. She will post on February 24.

Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson is a Canadian who married an American. She resides in Bellingham, Washington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous places, including The Literary Review of Canada, The Liner, EDGE, Echolocation, and the anthology Killer Verse. She blogs at http://www.CaitlinThomson.com/wp/ and will post on February 26.

Many thanks to these writers for agreeing to carry the Blog Hop forward. I’ll post links to each of their blogs on the days they post their responses to the interview questions, so that you can see what The Next Big Thing is for each of them!

Thank you for reading!

Cheers,
Jennifer

An Accidental Encounter with a William Stafford Poem (A Trip to the Methow Valley, Washington, Part 1)

Where have I been the last couple of months? Well, I’ve been poeting–lots of poeting. Unreported poeting. You see, from the end of September through the end of October, I was engaging in a poem-a-day challenge that my writer friend and co-challenger, Andrew S. McBride, and I called Patchwork Poetry Writing Month–PaPoWriMo, for short. The “Patchwork” part derived from the fact that during October, I was hosting two sets of out-of-town family, planning a birthday party for my now seven-year-old, and traveling to eastern Washington. So we started the challenge early–backing up the start to September 24–to fit in 30 days of writing by the end of October.

My goal for PaPoWriMo was to produce enough new poems to complete a book-length manuscript of persona poems to submit to first-book contests with deadlines falling on October 31 and throughout November. I’m happy to report that I was able to write 18 new poems, and re-write more than a dozen older ones, to complete a manuscript of 46 poems in time to make those deadlines.

One of the happy interruptions to my PaPoWriMo challenge was a trip with my husband and son to the Methow (pronounced MET-how, with the “t” and the “h” pronounced separately) Valley for five days during the third week of October. This was the third autumn in the past four years that we’d gone there to relax, stare in amazement at the fall colors, and hike the numerous trails immediately outside of–and even connecting–the towns of Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp, WA, on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. For Mark and me, the Methow Valley Community Trail (open to walkers, bikers, equestrians, and skiers, depending on the season) reminds us of the village-to-village foot travel we used to do in England and Scotland. For our son, the trail offers an opportunity to ride his little bike as fast as he wants without having to negotiate traffic.

Our first day’s walk led us to the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, an impressive footbridge spanning the Methow River on the Methow Valley Community Trail. We had explored this section of the trail last year, but it wasn’t until this trip that I noticed, just to the side of the trail on the south side of the bridge, a plaque displaying a poem by William Stafford! Since I could hardly believe my eyes, I asked Mark to take a picture of it:

At Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, Methow Valley Community Trail

William Stafford’s poem “Where We Are” at Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, Methow Valley Community Trail

Since it’s hard to read Stafford’s poem in the photo, here’s how it goes:

WHERE WE ARE, by William Stafford

 

Fog in the morning here
will make some of the world far away
and the near only a hint. But rain
will feel its blind progress along the valley,
tapping to convert one boulder at a time
into a glistening fact. Daylight will
love what came.
Whatever fits will be welcome, whatever
steps back in the fog will disappear
and hardly exist. You hear the river
saying a prayer for all that’s gone.

Far over the valley there is an island
for everything left; and our own island
will drift there too, unless we hold on,
unless we tap like this: “Friend,
are you there? Will you touch when
you pass, like the rain?”

This poem, which I’d never read before seeing it there on the plaque beside the Methow River, transfixed me, and still haunts me. The idea that one’s seeing calls the landscape into existence makes my hair stand on end, and the image “Daylight will / love what came” is deeply true for the east-of-the-mountains light that seems to bless whatever it touches in this place.

This extraordinary light, in fact, is one reason Mark brought his Nikon with us to the Methow Valley. However, that camera proved cumbersome on the trail, and he didn’t want it getting rained on, so he shot all of the following photos using his iPhone 4s:

Methow River, looking downstream from beside the Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Methow River, looking downstream from beside the Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Fall colors along the Methow Community Trail, just downstream from Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Fall colors along the Methow Community Trail, just downstream from Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and Stafford plaque. Photo by Mark Kummer.

OMG aspens!  Photo by Mark Kummer.

OMG aspens! Photo by Mark Kummer.

Oh my heart. Aspen, alder, and cottonwood leaves on the Methow Valley Community Trail. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Aspen, alder, and cottonwood leaves on the Methow Valley Community Trail. O my heart. Photo by Mark Kummer.

Coming up in Part 2:  our walk along the Big Valley Ranch Trail and my poem responding to William Stafford’s “Where We Are.”

Cheers, and more soon!
Jennifer

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