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

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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

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

NaPoWriMo, Day Whatever (Day 14 for Everybody Else): A List Poem

One of the things I’m enjoying most about participating in  NaPoWriMo–in addition to generating a bunch of new poems–is crossing paths with so many other poets who are busily scurrying around the Web this month. One new e-acquaintance I’ve made is with Los Angeles poet Danielle Mitchell at Cult.Bomb, “a blast of contemporary letters assembled to emphasize literary news, discoveries, oddities, events, ideas, and damn fine writing.”

To get going on today’s poem, I followed one of her writing prompts, which borrows the structure of Richard Jackson’s list poem “Ten Things.”  I had a lot of fun generating lines according to the specific, well thought-out steps Danielle Mitchell provides, and what I ended up with is either weirdly irreverent, or reverently weird. You decide:

APRIL CREDO

Jesus loves me, this I’m pretty sure of.
Also, that he will mess me up if I cross him.
And after, peace me back down.

It’s true that he will bring to justice those responsible,
especially himself.
Maybe he came down here just to share the contents

of his vast pocket of lonely.
Maybe he wanted to wear a body unbearable in all
its knowing. Or maybe not,

since in April, even the fir trees raise their green
middle fingers to the sky.
It’s lucky I noticed this in time.

O, the beautiful miles sprint and wheel–
how many times can a universe spin
without wobbling?

Meanwhile, the birch trees are knocking
each other up right here in the park.
That doesn’t matter to most, but my nose

is embarrassed.
The difference is something else.
The difference is that God is good,

and apparently he is doing this for my own.
Meanwhile, I wonder who let the money out.
Again and again, I marvel at the green.

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.