OMG! My Chapbook! It’s Here!

Today I came home to a huge carton on my doorstep. From CreateSpace. Could it be–already?

Yes, Dear Readers. Yes it is.

My chapbook!

The front cover. Remember all that fuss over which of Mark's photos to use? (Yeah, me neither.)

The front cover. Remember all that fuss over which of Mark’s photos to use? (Yeah, me neither.)

I am, as you might guess, giddy. It is 43 pages of poems, elegantly arranged over 58 pages, Oreo-cookied between one of the loveliest photos ever taken of fall leaves in the Methow River and three of the most embarrassingly glowing blurbs ever to grace a back cover. I can hardly believe it.

I’m profoundly grateful to Lana Hechtman Ayers, editor and publisher of MoonPath Press in Kingston, WA for inviting me, exactly one year ago today, to submit my manuscript for her to consider publishing; for her artfully selecting and shaping the poems into sequence; and for her meticulous care and patience throughout the process of editing and producing the chapbook. I thank Tonya Namura, too, for designing the cover so beautifully and laying out the text. This is my dream come true!

And my thanks to you, Dear Readers, for your enthusiasm and encouragement about this project. It’s been fantastic to be able to share this great news with you throughout the process. I’ll post details soon about getting copies of the chapbook into your hands.

Cheers,
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

Bootprints on My Dining Room Carpet, and Other Clues That I’m Assembling a Manuscript

It’s first-book contest season, and new poets throughout the land are busy compiling, revising, and otherwise fretting over their poetry manuscripts.  Aside from self-publishing, first-book competitions are the most common way for poets to get their first books into print.  How these work, in the ever-tightening world of book publishing, is that the entry fees for each contest provide publishers with the funding to risk taking on poets who lack previous book credits.  (And ominously, some first-book contests are becoming first- and second-book contests, since these days, a successful first book is no guarantee that a publisher will break even on a poet’s second collection.) In the last seven years, I estimate I’ve spent enough on contest entry fees (most run $10 to $25 per manuscript) to fund the literary launching of Matthew and Michael Dickman.

In hopes of getting launched myself one of these years, I too am in the process of putting together my manuscript and researching which of the several contests with October and November deadlines to submit it to. This time around, I’m refocusing the manuscript to incorporate the large number of poems I’ve written in the last year, which seem (to me, anyway) stronger than than many of my earlier pieces. The subjects of my poems haven’t changed much–they still obsess about the food chain, theodicy, birds, the usual material–but in more complex and, I hope, skillful ways. My tentative title is “Myths of Origin, Falling Away” to reflect my increased use of mythological motifs and personae in the newer poems.

So I’m experimenting with different ways to organize this 60-odd-page pile of papers:

  • Good old topical sections:  a chunk of theological poems, a chunk of nature poems, a chunk of mythological poems… This method has never worked well for me in the past, but I did sequence one version of the manuscript this way just to take inventory as I was getting started last week. At this stage, I did a lot of pruning, taking out poems that appeared weak next to their stronger neighbors in each section, to get the manuscript down to a trimmer and hardier 52 pages.
  • Organization by “voice”:  after a brief section of strong poems that introduce the collection’s major themes, a long section of poems that are quiet-voiced and meditative, followed by another long section of poems that are more kinetic and lively-voiced. I like some of the poem sequences I came up with here, and sorting my poems according to “voice” was instructive as to the direction I seem to be moving in my writing (that is, away from the earnest-voiced poet-in-the-first-person and toward the zingy persona poem).
  • A more woven, cyclical structure:  following the model of some poem sequences that I came up with during my experiment with organization-by-voice, I’m currently trying to meta-sequence the whole manuscript accordingly.  By this I mean setting up repeating cycles, such as of three mythological persona poems followed by a theological meditation followed by a skeptical tantrum followed by a couple of consoling nature poems…and repeating. The actual formula is more complicated (and, to be honest, more flexible) than this, and it’s seriously bending my brain. I feel like I’m trying to juggle eggs, watermelons, chainsaws and flaming torches–about a dozen of each–simultaneously. If I can get it to work, though, I think this will be the best-structured manuscript I’ve come up with so far.

As I work on all this, I pace around my dining table, making numerous lines and piles on it with my poems, then writing down the sequences I’ve laid out–then gathering up the pages and laying them out differently, according to a different idea of order. This passage in Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life always comes to mind when I’m assembling a manuscript:

“I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet” (46).

At Dillard’s suggestion, that is exactly what I am doing as I write this. Cheers to you, Dear Readers, and more soon.

Note as of Oct. 10:  Jeffrey Klausman’s comment on this post, and my reply, ended up over here.

Farewell, Zonker Bonker and Baby Tabby

Sad goodbyes to our two beloved tabby cats. Yesterday, we had to put down Zonker , whose failing kidneys finally stopped responding to the intensive veterinary care that had been keeping them functioning for the past year and a half. As we mourn that sweet marmalade kitty, we also grieve Baby Tabby, who disappeared in July. I don’t like to picture Baby’s likely end, in the jaws of a coyote that neighbors say they saw prowling our street this summer. Two days ago, indulging my wishful thinking, I made one more round of the local animal shelters, just in case his homecoming could give his buddy Zonker, and all of us, a lift on Zonker’s last day. No success.

So I just have to imagine Baby snuggled in next to Zonker in the little grave in our back yard, our two Love Tabbies warming each other in this sleep as they had for many years in their cozy naps on our haystack, on our beds, in the sun on our deck.

Now, the struggle to make meaning out of these goodbyes. Here’s one attempt of mine from several years ago, originally published in the journal Rock & Sling (vol. 4, issue 2, Winter 2007):

 

Strange Accounting

Grieving Tomcat, flattened in the road
Easter morning, I told over the litany
of his many names and nicknames
and wept, harder, at “Daffodil.”  His orange
tabby patches and white roundnesses,
the blameless pink of his nose and mouth
and ears, had all suggested increase

of blooming and brightness.  Amid the lilies,
I always forget:  this is my season of loss,
of wondering what to do with loss, of watching
as the cosmic accounts are reconciled
by means of a heroic and terrible dying.
I struggle to understand this system of bookkeeping.
Still, the ultimate audit intrigues me,

and that night I re-read the Franciscan
who says that when you are resurrected, all
that your heart has loved is resurrected with you.
And so I prayed for salvation, not so much
for my own body as for the eventual unburying
of fur, of purr and pink and scamper,
and the everness of springtime without passing.

 

Baby and Zonker, Love Tabbies

Farewell, Zonker Bonker. Farewell, Baby Tabby. Farewell Tomcat, Buster, Poco, Alex, Beanie, Sylvester, Seymour, and our other loved ones. Bless all your hooves and paws.