Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer and Set Lists

Here we are, the day after Memorial Day, which means summer has started, right?  Except that a lot of us are still in school.  I suspect that most of us are experiencing summer weather; down here, we've been enjoying (or enduring) summer weather for several months.  Our default weather position down here is hot with blinding sun.  Unlike the rest of the country, we could really use some rain.  My yard is crunchy.

Of course, we'll soon be in the rainy season, and hurricane season starts tomorrow.  It's not uncommon for us to get 10 inches of rain in an afternoon storm.  I have one more day of not thinking about hurricanes, so let me stop.

If we were rock stars, we might be gearing up for the summer touring season.  If you were part of my mandolin punk band, you might be packing too.  Lots of bands make the bulk of their money by touring and selling CDs and other stuff (or do they sell CDs at concerts anymore?).

As poets, we may not have a touring season, but as we plan poetry readings, we can learn from our musician friends.  I wrote a Voice Alpha post on putting together a set list, and Thursday, I'll follow up with a post for those of us who have several books, which might complicate putting together a set list.

My next poetry reading isn't until August, unless I arrange something else, so I have plenty of time to think about my set list.  More immediately, it's back to work for me; in addition to my own job, I'll be doing some of the duties of a coworker who's taking some vacation time.  My vacation time will come later in June, when I have to take time or lose it.  Yesterday gave me a little taste of vacation time.  I'm ready for an extended vacation, even if I won't be spending it at the music festivals of my youth.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Grace of Old Friends

It’s strange to be home this Memorial Day week-end. We’ve spent almost every Memorial Day week-end for the past twenty-five years with college friends having a mini-reunion. Of course, for many years, we had to leave on Sunday, because I taught in South Carolina, a state which didn’t have Memorial Day as a state holiday.

And before that, I’ve often been in the D.C. area, where it’s difficult to avoid the memorials to the war dead. My Air Force dad made sure we understood that our freedom came at a real cost, a lesson that too many people seem to have skipped.

Nothing drives home the cost of war more than a visit to the Vietnam Memorial and seeing those 58,000 or so names carved into a black scar of granite.

How might our thinking about war change if we also added the names of all the maimed war veterans? What a cost.

And then there are the civilians.  And the family members.  So much wreckage on so many sides.

So, even though I’ve been enjoying my holiday week-end, there’s an undercurrent swirling in my brain. Of course, I want that undercurrent to always be there, so that I appreciate what I have, so that I appreciate the calm periods, so that I'm always on the lookout for ways to promote peace in the world.

I’ve spent the week-end book-ended by old friends of a different sort (Simon and Garfunkel fans, did you catch the two references in that sentence?). I’ve been listening to Paul Simon, old and new, along with Simon and Garfunkel.

I’ve been a Paul Simon fan from long back in every incarnation. My dad bought Bridge Over Troubled Water on the day that my sister was born.  Yup, Paul Simon and I go way back--especially since my dad had the previous albums too.

If anyone ever asked me how I learned to be a poet, I’d have to give Paul Simon a lot of credit. His songs are the ones that taught me that good poetry should turn my world upside down and change the way I see that world. For almost thirty years, I’ve marveled at the lyrics to "Graceland." You might argue that the setting had to be the house of Elvis, which just happens to have that name. I would argue. He could have chosen just about any place, but he chose that one. And the song talks about grace of all sorts and a lack of grace (“She comes back to tell me she’s gone / as if I didn’t know that / as if I didn’t know my own bed”).

In fact, the idea of grace runs like a silver cord (chord?) throughout much of Simon’s work. Here’s an example from the wonderful, but underappreciated album, Heart and Bones: “Have you ever experienced a period of grace? / Where your brain just takes a seat behind your face?” (“Think Too Much”).

Other old friends: I’ve been rereading Jane Eyre, and happily I’m discovering that I like Jane the character just as much as I ever did. I admire her ability at such an early age to know what’s good for her and to hold fast to her principles. It’s one of the first times in almost 2 decades that I’ve gone back to works that were so essential to my dissertation. I felt a bit nervous, but it’s been a treat to discover that I still like them.

I also thought of this post by Bookgirl where she talks about wishing she could eliminate memories temporarily, so that she has the joy of reading books like Jane Eyre and not knowing how it's all going to turn out.  She has a friend who said that we wouldn't understand the movie that came out a few months ago if we hadn't read the book and remembered the plot.  Her friend is probably right.  Still, it's an intriguing idea.

Of course, many of us journal and blog precisely so that we won't lose those memories so quickly.

I spent much of Saturday rereading some of my old paper journals. I’ve worried a bit because most of my journaling now happens online. I keep a paper journal, just in case I have some unbloggable stuff that I need to sort out. Happily, there’s not as much of that these days. What does it mean that so much of my life can be lived so publicly? Am I boringly stable at midlife?  If so, let me pause now for a grateful prayer of thanks.

I did spend some time with the journal from the year 2005, unarguably the worst—WORST—year of my life, with the horrible hospital experience with my mother-in-law that eventually led to her death and the worst hurricane season I hope to ever experience. There were all sorts of losses that year: professional losses for just about everyone I loved, for example, and the loss of trees and the loss of faith in my surroundings and medical issues and aftermaths for my dad and sister (both happily resolved, but hellish to live through). This year, too, has shown that few of us are as removed from the apocalyptic forces of nature as we like to think.

I might write more about this experience of going back to read these journals, or I might not. But it’s sort of like visiting an old friend—me! I’m happy that I don’t read those journals and hate myself. I feel some sorrow, some wishing that I might have handled some things differently, some pride in managing to survive and come back from some real catastrophe. For the most part, I’m happy with my life choices, and that’s the kind of old friend of happiness that bookends my days now. It’s grace, in all the permutations of that word.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hearts of Darkness, Hearts of Whiteness

I spent the last few days devouring Mat Johnson's wonderful novel Pym.  It's got something for everyone:  sci-fi, an adventure tale, an exploration of darkness and whiteness, apocalypse, paradise, thoughts on education and literature, a meditation on Edgar Allen Poe, lots of thoughts on slavery (past and present) and slave narratives, and lots and lots of humor.

I added this book to my evergrowing to-read list after reading this review in The Washington PostThe Post's reviewers seldom lead me astray, and I must say, after reading the book and re-reading the review, I agree with every word, especially the conclusion:  "Reminiscent of Philip Roth in its seemingly effortless blend of the serious, comic and fantastic, Johnson's "Pym" really shouldn't be missed."

But what is it about?  Chris Jaynes has his tenure bid denied and he sets out on a trip to try to discover if the polar tropical island described in the only novel that Edgar Allen Poe ever wrote might really exist.  Jaynes is African-American, as is the crew that he takes with him.  Along the way, as they're drawn ever more deeply into the polar whiteness, they discover an alternate race.  Or is it alternate?

Even though the book draws heavily from the Edgar Allen Poe novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, I also see more than a hint of Conrad here.  Of course, in this novel, all the references are turned around and sometimes inside out.  Instead of going ever more deeply into dark wildness, the batch of characters travel into frigid whiteness.  Johnson gives himself all sorts of ways to explore how we think about race, how we structure our societies, what it means to resist oppression, how we see the Other . . . all those things which make the book a treat for English major geeks like me.  But there's plenty here for other folks too:  those who like buddy narratives, those who love the sci-fi of British writers like Verne and Lovecraft (I could tell there were lots of allusions I missed, but it didn't subtract from my enjoyment), those who love after-the-apocalypse stories.

And did I mention how funny the novel is?

In the review, it sounded almost heavy, and I probably wouldn't have checked it out if the library had had any of the other books on my list.  I'm happy that they didn't.  I'd hate to have missed this book.  It's a quick read, but at the same time, it gives the reader much to consider--a great treat as we head into summer.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Too Late to Take a Nap, To Early to Go to Bed

Last night at 6:30, my spouse and I deliberated calling it a day and a work week and just giving in to the temptation to fall asleep for the night.  But it's one thing to eat dinner extra early; after all, we can say that we're giving ourselves a few extra hours to burn calories or that we can't sleep easily with food in our stomachs or that our acid reflux might act up.

But to go to bed before the sun has even set?

So, we pondered our choices.  How to stay awake until a respectable bedtime?  We thought about going to Target, but wandering around a store in a sleep deprived state didn't seem wise.  Friday night is a worse television night than Saturday; besides, watching TV makes me fall asleep right away.

So, we went to the beach.  We went to our favorite ice cream spot and got soft serve.  We thought about the time in 1998 when we first moved to South Florida and couldn't stay away from the beach and ocean which looked like no other coastline we had ever seen.  We were trying to stretch our savings, so only occasionally splurged on a soft serve cone.

Our financial life has improved:  I got a hot fudge sundae, and my spouse got a banana shake.  We consumed our treats while watching obviously out of town children run and play.

How did we know they were from out of town?  Because they called the Atlantic Ocean "the lake."

On the way back to the car, we saw a elementary school choir performing at the band shell.  Actually, we heard them before we saw them.  They sang, "Fare thee well, old Joe Clark."  My spouse and I sang along.  We got to the band shell in time for the song that they played on recorders (Either "Old Susannah" or "The Yellow Rose of Texas"--I can't remember!). 

I loved their enthusiasm.  I loved their teacher who had written out the notes for the recorders and the words for the songs on big pieces of posterboard.  I loved the standing-room-only crowd that clapped enthusiastically.

An evening at the beach as the sun set behind us was the perfect antidote for a work week that has left me weary:  weary of scheduling, weary of drama, weary of reading all the news reports that deliberated whether or not a college education is worth it.  Yes, as a college administrator, I sometimes feel like a Detroit autoworker must have felt in the late 70's or the way newspaper writers must have felt in the early years of this century.  I feel the landscape shifting around me, and I can't quite tell how it will all turn out.

What to do?  Walk along the beach, marvelling at all the different humans, appreciating the beauty of both the natural and human-made world.  And then return home, with the scent of salt air, still in our noses, to fall asleep on the sofa.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Poets and College Teaching

A few days ago, Justin Evans wrote this post that wondered if he would have more advantages as a poet if he taught at a university.  He talked about the poets and writers of all types who might come through the university.  He could take a class or workshop.  He noted the advantages of not having to publish or research, but still his post seemed full of a yearning of a type I recognize.

I, too, have wanted to be part of a community that treasures poetry.  And maybe, if I taught in an MFA program as part of the poetry staff, maybe I would feel that way.  Justin wondered if he romanticized things a bit, and I know that I have a tendency to do that.

Here are the things that I know, however, things that are worth reminding myself.

Some of those communities can be snake pits.  One of the more talented writers I know stopped writing for years after taking some MFA classes--that's how brutal the community had been.  Happily she recovered, but she had the advantage of being able to leave.  If my mortgage payments depended on me staying as part of the poetry staff, I couldn't leave.

Even if I found a great community, with great opportunities in terms of the chance to hear writers read or work with them or go see interesting speakers from other departments, well, let's be honest, life would still get in the way.  There would be many nights when I just wouldn't want to go.  There would be great opportunities that I couldn't take advantage of because of family duties or other types of duties.

Here's what I don't like about teaching:  the grading.  Would it be different if I taught in an MFA program?  Different, yes, but I imagine the grading dynamic would still take my mental energy that I need for writing.

And that's if I was lucky enough to get a teaching job in an MFA program. 

Let's face it, most of us who get MFAs and PhDs are going to end up teaching a lot of Composition classes.  When I was at the AWP, listening to the conversations that swirled around me, I noticed that people without jobs (students and such) assumed that they would be getting those plum jobs where they'd teach a poetry section or two and some graduate theses to oversee.

But that's simply not reality.  If they're lucky, they'll teach full-time in a school where they'll get a lit class or a creative writing class a term, and the rest will be Composition.  That's the bread and butter of any English department.

If they're not lucky, they'll spend lots of time driving from adjunct job to adjunct job.

We also tend to assume that college students will be involved and interested in the subject matter.  That may be the case.  But frankly, my friends who teach in high school are often the ones who get to teach the most interesting students, the ones who are full of enthusiasm.  My high school teacher friends are teaching novels that I'm sure my students wouldn't read, not even under threat of an F.  Yet they get no push back.

But my high school teacher friends also have endless grading.

So, back to Justin's question:  what should a poetry life look like?  Well, any life that allows us to write our poetry and send it out is a place to start.  It would be lovely to have a poetry life that allows us to go out and do readings and support our work, but even if we don't have that luxury, if we have a job that doesn't leave us too drained/terrified/exhausted to write, well that's no small thing.

We're lucky to live at this time, where even if we don't have a local poetry community, we can create an online poetry community.  We can find people who understand why we do what we do, even if our coworkers don't.  We can also read the blogs of people who landed those perfect poetry jobs in lovely MFA programs, and we can realize that even those jobs come with downsides. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Perfect Book for Post-Rapture Times: "Framed in Silence" by Lynn Domina

My reading life has gotten strange lately.  I'm making my way through Jane Eyre, our next book club pick.  I've been reading Nicholas Carr's book on what the Internet is doing to our brains and will write more about that later.  And I've been doing some theological reading.

I've been monitoring the huge firestorm surrounding Rob Bell's book Love Wins, and when a friend at church offered to loan it to me, I said yes.  I wanted to make my way through it quickly so I could return it in a timely fashion.  Then there was that whole Rapture brouhaha (with emphasis on the ha ha).  Bell's book made me want to revisit N. T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope, which covers some of the same territory Bell does, but in much more depth.  For my review of the Bell book, go here; for more on the Wright book, go here.

It's time for some poetry, and I have just the book.  For several months now, I've returned again and again to Lynn Domina's Framed in Silence.  I first came to know Lynn through Poets on the Psalms, a wonderful book that she edited (my review here and here).  I also had a wonderful meal with her at the AWP in February.  But I'd never read her poems. 

Happily, I love these poems.  And there's something here for everyone.  Some of you might be thinking, hmm, sounds a little too religious for me.  But I'd encourage you to give this book a chance.

I love poems that make me see the world differently, poems that tilt my carefully constructed reality towards a different view.  The first section of the book, "Creation Sequence," is full of those kind of poems.  In these poems, Domina envisions God in the act of creating (or relaxing after creating), and what a delight it is:  ". . . God grins at ingenuity, as at the sustenance / a thornbug derives from sap, so many insects surviving / on bits of leaf or wood shavings or stray husks . . ."  It's a God that some of us may remember from the earliest Genesis story, the God that creates and declares everything "Good."  It's not a stretch to imagine a God amused by some of those creations.

Domina does not give us a pre-Science view of Genesis retold here.  No, right from the beginning, we know that Domina comes to this subject with an educated brain.  In her poem, "Chaos," she references things atomic, electromagnetic radiation, electricity, chaos theory--all done in a condensed style:  " . . . God spun doodles into symbols:  / positive charge, negative charge, divided by, pi / degrees of arc, is or is not equal to, infinity."

Here's a wonderful view of creation from the same poem:

"Chaos bled into channels; the wind halted,
organized itself into breeze, gust, chinook, doldrums,
squall, gale, tempest.  Meaning resided, God knew, in the proximity
of one symbol to another:  . . ."

Instead of ellipses, the poem contains equations that I can't make the computer do, like E=mc(squared). 

The second section of the book, "All Saints," continues the theological inquiry, but the inquiry roams more freely.  "Gift" gives us a cool view of grace, through many snowflake metaphors.  "Antique Shop" gives us a realistic view of the modern human:  ". . . Of course I believe / angels welcomed her to paradise / even as I doubt / the reality of angels."  Domina shows her ecumenical approach in poems like "New Year's at Moon Luck Noodle Shop," "Immanence," and "Opening Lecture on Buddhism."

The third section "Peaceable Obsession" offers poems perfect for people who love ekphrastic poems.  These poems were inspired by the paintings by Edward Hicks, who painted many versions of "The Peaceable Kingdom," images which are probably familiar to most of us.  Even if you don't like ekphrastic work, these poems have much to say about Biblical teachings and the ways we interpret them, about food, about animals, and about our relationships.

This book is well worth your time.  It's the kind of book that offers rewards for reading in one sitting, from front to back.  But it also offers treasures for the kind of reader who dips in and out, and for the ones who only have time to read one poem a week or one a month.  There's not an unsatisfying poem in the book, and so many made me gasp in awe.

For example, here's a view of Heaven, one that would make Rob Bell or N. T. Wright happy:  "Rather than Peter polishing the keys, couldn't we also imagine / heaven's gate unlocked by the Iscariot, forgiven?"  That's from the poem, "The Quality of Mercy," which repeats and ends in this word:  "forgiven."

"Not Exactly What You Had in Mind" gives us a vision of God as sprawling, smoking woman in a flowered, stained muumuu. Wow!  It works theologically, and Domina pulls it off poetically.  Here's a view of God that I adore, a view of God incarnate:

"You wonder what signal you missed,
when God became the type of person
to so let herself go, what possible whim
plopped her down amid the crabgrass
and thistles you call yours."

The God who lets herself go by hanging out with us--good news indeed!

Obviously this book will not appeal to those of you saying, "Ack, blasphemy, heresy, blhhhh."  But surely those people stopped reading my blog years ago.  For the rest of us, those who delight in poems that take us to unusual places and return us safely home with strange visions to delight us, do not miss this book.

You can buy it here, if you scroll down to the third row (at least that's where it is on my screen), if you want to buy directly from the Main Street Rag website.  This press puts out such fine work, like Richard Allen Taylor's book (reviewed here) and the work of Suzanne Frischkorn.  The deadline for the chapbook contest comes soon, June 1, and it's one of the contests where everyone gets a copy of the winning book; go here for details.  They also have an annual contest for a full length book, with the deadline in January (details here).  I must remember to enter!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oprah, Emerson, and the Things I Think I Know for Sure

Today is the last day of the Oprah Winfrey show, at least the week day incarnation of that show that most of us have known.  I was in my last year of undergraduate school when that show aired, and it meant a lot to me.  Oprah talked so openly about so many things.  These days, I get weary of people spilling their guts about anything and everything on national television, but it's important to remember how rare that used to be just 25 years ago.  Few people talked about incest or battering or what poverty feels like as you can't find a job that lets you earn what a man would earn.  Oprah took feminist concerns to a global level that likely wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Today is also Emerson's birthday, and this article in The Washington Post makes a comparison between Oprah and Emerson.  Marjorie Jolles, a professor women’s and gender studies at Roosevelt University, says, "'I see Emerson as her main rhetorical ancestor, in thinking that the individual is something that unfolds in a divinely-inspired way.'”

Here's a quote from Emerson's 1841 essay, "The Over-Soul":  "And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul. Only by the vision of that Wisdom can the horoscope of the ages be read, and by falling back on our better thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man, we can know what it saith."

Sounds Oprah-esque, doesn't it?

Oprah's done an amazing amount of spiritual work with/for many of us.  My favorite Oprah was the Oprah that we saw in the middle 1990's, when she decided that her show had been getting too slimy, and she headed for higher ground.  I loved the segment that ended every show on Listening to Your Spirit.  I loved her focus on self-improvement.  I loved the books that she recommended during that time.  I loved the deeper connections that she encouraged us to make.

With a nod to this piece by Linda Holmes, here are some of the things that I learned from Oprah through the past 25 years.

Listen to your Spirit.

I love her ideas about getting in touch with our inner wisdom, our essential selves.  I love her notions of self-care and how necessary it is to take care of ourselves so that we can care for others.

Your Spirit knows a larger Spirit; it’s good to know that Spirit too.

I've been impressed with Oprah's willingness to talk about spiritual issues, and I've been grateful for her ecumenical spirit.

It’s worthy to search for an authentic life.

I love that Oprah is willing to let us each define what authentic means for us.  I love the guides she's given us.

You can reinvent yourself as many times as you need to.

It's been fascinating watching the various incarnations of Oprah.  I love the idea that the adult self doesn't have to be static.

You may need to try, try again, when it comes to reinventing yourself.  The road is a spiral, not a straight line.

As a woman who has struggled with weight issues for my whole life, watching Oprah's struggles with weight have inspired me.  I'm especially grateful for her honesty about her feelings of shame when it comes to regaining weight.  There are days I castigate myself:  "I've earned a Ph.D., I've accomplished this and that, so how can weight management be so hard for me???"  Hey, if one of the most powerful women in the world can have weight management trouble, maybe it's not just a personal defect in me.

It’s good to let people talk about their problems.

She's done an amazing job of shining light into the darkness that's out there.  She's done wonders when it comes to healing people.

You may need to stop letting people talk about their problems.

I also like that she doesn't wallow too deeply in the darkness.  I like the Dr. Phils of her show who call people on their destructive behavior and their blindness to the chaos they're causing.

You can bring your friends along.

We should all have a friend like Gayle!

Not everyone will be grateful and/or gracious.

I'm thinking of Jonathan Franzen, whom I blame for the premature death of Oprah's Book Club.  When that happened, I swore an oath to the universe that should I ever have a novel out there and should someone with Oprah's clout want to adopt it, I would smile and be grateful and not turn up my nose at additional readers.

Careful viewers can probably come up with a comprehensive list.  I'll just leave it there.

You can have luxury and social justice too.

I've been impressed with Oprah's quest to do good in the world, whether it's by building schools in South Africa, awarding money to those who are leading good programs, bringing social justice crusaders to the show, reminding us all of our power and privilege and responsibility to do good in the world.

I'd have found her lavish lifestyle and endorsement of high end products much more difficult to take if she hadn't also been relentless in quest for social justice.

The death of books may be prematurely reported.

As a writer, I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate her visibility as a voracious reader and her generosity to writers.

With fame, comes responsibility.  You can't just endorse everything just because it sounds good to you.

Frankly, the problem I most had with Oprah, especially in later years, was her gullibility.  That whole fiasco with Suzanne Somers and bioidentical hormones--spare me!  Does no one on the show do the most basic research?  I was willing to forgive The Secret, because I understood the appeal, and it seemed to do no real harm to encourage us all to think positively so that we attract what we want in our lives, but when it comes to medical issues, I did wish she would be more careful.  Happily, the presence of Dr. Oz was often enough to counteract misinformation, and so, I was willing to forgive her for her more egregious errors.

So, farewell Oprah, even though you're not really going far.  Good luck on all your future projects!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Poetry Contest Judging and the Lessons Learned

One of the other things I did this Spring:  I judged a poetry contest that a local writing group far from S. Florida holds every year.

I felt a bit nervous about it--after all, I'm nobody famous.  But here's the beautiful thing about not being famous:  I fit within the budget.  If I was famous, I wouldn't be asked because my fees would be so high.

I didn't feel nervous about my ability to judge.  I've been teaching over 20 years; I'm quite skilled at judging writing.  I was to choose a first, second, and third place, and up to 3 honorable mentions.

I thought that the process would be more like getting a batch of essays.  I expected that I would get one or two spectacularly good entries, one or two spectacularly bad entries, and the rest, in the middle.  It was not like that at all. 

I was surprised by the variety of poems, and within that variety, the relative lack of poems written in form and/or meter.  The subject matter also varied.  I was impressed with the ways that poets handled difficult subject matter.

What separated the winners from everyone else?  Every poem had something to recommend it--let me begin by saying that.  I know, because I went back and wrote a positive comment on each poem, once I learned that some of them would be going back to entrants who sent self-addressed, stamped envelopes.  I thought that the least I could do was to give them some encouragement.

My spouse said, "Aren't you worried that they'll figure out your address and write to argue with you?"

I said, "No.  I doubt anyone will write to tell me that I was wrong about what I liked about their poem."

What I want in a poem may not be what other people want.  I want a poem that leaves me seeing the world differently.  I want a poem that makes me say, "Cool.  I never thought about it that way."  I want a poem that will leave me unable to see it any other way, whatever it may be.

Some poems had interesting images, but I wasn't exactly sure what they meant or how they went together.  Some poems started with an interesting idea that fell apart somewhere along the way.  Some poems made comparisons or created symbols that I couldn't quite make work or that felt flawed in some way.  Some poems didn't seem to come to an end--they read as if the poet just got tired and stopped.  Some poems took awhile to warm up.  Some poems could have used a careful pruning.  Some poems could have used some development.

On second thought, maybe judging a poetry contest is more like grading Composition essays than I first thought.

The poems that ultimately made it to the final round were the ones that took risks and pulled them off.  The poems that ultimately made it to the final round were the ones that were unified in their effects or in their figurative language or in their themes: all those things you likely learned in middle school or high school hold true here.

Of course, I should offer one caveat.  I'm one woman with my own reading tastes, tastes formed through years of completing graduate work in British literature, through years of reading (both primary and secondary sources), through years of teaching, through years of conversation/argument with other writers and artists.  Someone else might have come away with a completely different set of winners.  That's the risk you take when you enter a contest.

Happily, I was the lone judge.  I would have hesitated if the deal had included being part of a panel of judges--but ultimately, I probably would have said yes, because it would have been a new experience, and I'd have been interested in it.

One of the happiest effects of judging this poetry contest was that I came away hopeful for the future of literature and the arts in our country.  There are all sorts of people out there writing poems that are every bit as good as the professionals who are writing poetry (and as good as some of the masters of the form from centuries past).  The world is not ending because of the Internet (or television or fractured attention spans or global warming or whatever else you want to blame)--at least not right now.  There are people out there who believe in their work so much that they will enter a contest--and in fact, they are right to believe in their work.  It's quality work.

Poets may not make the kind of noisy splashes that the Oprahs of the world make, that sports heroes make, that politicians make.  But we are there, working steadily, polishing our poems, brightening the days for our readers.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Writing Prayers, Writing Poetry

It's been an interesting spring, in terms of writing tasks.  I've done some writing and writing-related activities that I've never done before and gotten money for some of them!  It's been the kind of season where I feel like I'm getting affirmation that writing is indeed one of my skills and talents, where the universe smiles and says, "Yes, dear, this life is the one you've been waiting for."

One of the things I did this past season was to write a month's worth of prayers.  Careful readers of my blog might remember that I wrote about getting the assignment here.  These prayers will appear in Bread for the Day, a book that has a Bible reading for each day, a hymn, a prayer, and some special seasonal additions.  I wrote the prayers for August. 

Because this is my creativity blog, and because the writing process might be useful to some of my readers, I've decided to write about this experience further.  For those of you who are instantly turned off by any mention of spirituality (well, you've probably stopped reading my blog by now), you might want to come back tomorrow.

From the editor, I got the Bible reading that appears in the book, one for each day excluding Sundays (unless there was a special day).  Here's an example (which I'll put in blue):

Saturday, August 18, 2012
Time after Pentecost

Job 13:1-19
When silence is wisdom

John 4:7-26
Christ, the living water

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:11-15)

Psalm 34:9-14
Seeking God

I was to write a prayer based on the Bible passage given.  Here's what I wrote for the above day:

August 18

Creator God, we live in a time of drought. Our circumstances leave us parched and thirsty. You have promised us a spring of living water. Replenish our depleted wells. Leave them overflowing with wet promise.

Here's what made the assignment interesting:  I was limited to 35-40 words.  It sounds easier than it is.  Some of my prayers were too short.  More of them were too long. 

But I think that my poetry training served me well.  I'm used to examining words and making sure that every word counts.  I don't always do it well, but I'm convinced of the importance.

Likewise, the teaching of countless sections of Composition served me well.  Year after year of talking about the best verbs (and as much as possible avoiding the verb to be) meant that I was five steps ahead.

I felt a bit of trepidation as I started, although I'm not sure why.  I'm not unfamiliar with the genre of prayer, after all.  I've been praying all my life.  I've been part of groups (primarily Lutheran) who use prayers of all sorts.  But I haven't written down my prayers, at least not very often (my theology blog contains a few, but that process didn't really prepare me much for this assignment).

And I'm familiar with this devotional resource, and that spooked me a bit at first.  I thought about people like my grandmother, who would pick up this book every morning after breakfast.  I didn't want to let those readers down.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the daily lectionary, but the additional challenge was to avoid being repetitive.  August is one of the tougher months:  reading after reading about bread, for example.

In the end, I decided to follow the best writing advice of all:  just get something down on paper.  Anne Lamott more famously advised us to write shitty first drafts. 

Once I did one or two prayers, I got into a rhythm, and it wasn't really hard.  I felt like I almost entered a meditative state.  Some of my more religious compatriots might say that was God taking hold.  But it felt more like that state of flow, where time suspends and my writing ligaments are warm and flexible.  Before I had such a digital life, I entered into that state more frequently--but that's a topic for a different blog post, once I get through reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows.

In the end, I enjoyed the whole process very much.  It's too early to tell whether or not my poetry (or other writing) has improved because of it.  But that wasn't really the point.  I'm looking forward to seeing the prayers in book form, when I get my contributor copies.  Another bonus: I got paid in real dollars.  As a poet, that doesn't happen often (as an essayist and blogger, more so).

It would be great to have more of these opportunities.  And I'd like to see more poets writing prayers.  It's tough being a teacher/writer in the world, because I'm keenly aware of how much bad writing surrounds us.  It's especially painful to find poorly written prayers, which should be simple and beautiful and economical in word use.  I'm happy to have tried my hand at it, and my hope is that I've launched some elegant prayers into the world.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Day After Rapture, with Provocative Questions and Puns

Cue music:  REM comes immediately to mind.  Yes indeed, it is the end of the world as we know it, and I do feel fine.

I will refrain from mocking everyone who believed that the world would end yesterday.  I will also refrain from mocking those who put faith in the Mayans and who believe the world will end next year--although I did write a poem about the last Mayan calendar creator who stopped creating the calendar not because the world would end but because other creating called (as I recall, tapestries).

Yesterday, I spent what might have been Rapture day at a bon voyage party for a friend who is spending the next 5 weeks in Europe.  We kept our eye on the time, and at the time that the rapture would have come to our time zone, we were in the pool, after having dined on the first mangoes of the season, after fine wines, after treats of all kinds.  If we were going out, we would go out in style!

Of course, none of us were people who could be expected to be raptured.  Only two of us are practicing Christians, and one of the Christians isn't sure he really believes in an afterlife, and he certainly doesn't believe in the Rapture.  The other Christian (me) knows that the whole idea of a Rapture only came to Christianity in the the past few centuries (but finding its fullest development during the 19th century during revivals) and has done enough reading and research to understand a bit more fully the apocalyptic texts of the Bible, which are using that apocalyptic language to talk about current events, not the future.

Who else was there?  My Hindu friend, my hardcore atheist friend, my biochemist friend who doesn't believe anything that can't be proven scientifically, my Marxist friend who's probably more agnostic than atheist, and a friend who's fairly new to me, so I don't know his religious beliefs fully.

Nope, we weren't going to be raptured.

That didn't stop us from monitoring the potential.  And as my friends said, "Hey, we didn't get raptured," I said, "Maybe we did, and this is heaven."

A tropical evening, a pool, mangoes--sounds like Heaven to me.

And I proposed, "Let's pretend that we did get raptured.  Let's spend the next week acting as if we're in Heaven."

It's not an idea that's unfamiliar to me.  I fully believe that Jesus did not come to get us all into Heaven, although that might be a nice side benefit.  No, I believe that Jesus came to show us the best way to live in the here and now.  It's a concept that theologians describe as the "now and the not yet."  The fulfillment of God's promise is both breaking through now, but not yet ready.

For those of you who say, "Whoa, there she goes, hauling us into theology again, and we're here to think about creativity and poetry."

So, let's spend the day thinking about Keats and his vision of Heaven.  In one of his letters, he describes Heaven as being a finer sensation of all the things we've experienced on Earth.  So, if we deny ourselves on Earth in this life, we're setting ourselves up for an impoverished afterlife.

May we all have a post-Rapture day today, full of the treats we like best.  We might also spend some time thinking about this question: if this life is as close to Paradise as we're going to get, what needs to change?

And for those of you who need a giggle, here's a joke my spouse made up yesterday:

What do you call it when the Rapture happens really quickly?


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday to the Red Cross and a Thank You to Clara Barton

Today is the birthday of the U.S. branch of the Red Cross (on this day in 1881, the Red Cross was officially incorporated).  Today is a good day to stop and say a thank you to Clara Barton, the woman who brought the Red Cross to the U.S.

When I was growing up, Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale got credit as being the first nurses.  In some ways, I'm surprised I didn't go into nursing.  I remember devouring books about Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale and feeling inspired.

Of course, I read about all sorts of people, and I didn't go on to adopt their careers.  I loved reading biographies as a child.  I've mentioned before the series that my school library had, a whole bookcase of biographies bound in orange covers.  I must have read one or two a week.  And I loved reading about women best.  From an early age, I knew that I had advantages that earlier generations of women never would have had.  From an early age, I admired those people in the past who didn't let obstacles stand in their way.

Clara Barton was one of those women who saw inadequacies and rushed in to fix them.  The Writer's Almanac site post for today tells us:  "During one of the first major engagements of the war, the Battle of Bull Run, the Union suffered a staggering defeat and as Clara read reports of the battle she realized that the Union Army had not seriously considered or provided for wounded soldiers. She began to ride along in ambulances, providing supplies and comfort to wounded soldiers on the frontlines."

After the Civil War, she went to Europe, where she first learned about the Red Cross, but she faced resistance when she proposed bringing a branch to the U.S., because people couldn't believe there would ever be a war as awful again.  But she persisted:  The Writer's Almanac site tells us that she proposed that the organization be used for other types of disasters. 

Today, the Red Cross serves many of us, whether we need a blood transfusion or shelter after a disaster or training in first aid and/or CPR or a team to go to places most of us cannot go to offer humanitarian relief.  So thank you, Clara Barton.  Thank you for ministering to the Civil War soldiers and showing the world that women can survive harsh conditions, which would open all sorts of doors to all sorts of opportunities for women.  Thank you for your vision for the Red Cross.  Thank you for tackling projects which would have defeated most of us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Recipes for Busy Poets and Other People Who Want Good Food Fast

Today is the day when poets will post their favorite recipes that are quick and cheap in response idea on the 32 Poems blog (original call for recipes here; updated list of participants here).  Here's one of my all-time favorites, loved by kids and adults alike, by Mexican food lovers and those who would never eat Mexican food.  It needs a better name . . . hmm. 

Bean Casserole

I always make a 9 x13 inch size pan because we eat so much of it and it's cheap. You could always do less. And almost all these ingredients keep for a long time, so you can keep them in your pantry, and you're always prepared when you need a quick meal. Makes a great party dip too (in fact, it's a variation of that old 7 layer dip).

Grease the pan (or spray with Pam).

Spread 2 cans of refried beans (make sure they're fat free if you're watching your fat intake--or experiment with different flavors if you want) across the bottom.

You could cook up some hamburger meat and spread layer of hamburger meat--but it's fine without it.  I suspect that cooked chicken would also work well.  If you use meat of any kind, you could spice it up however your family likes:  chili powder and/or cumin are 2 that come to mind.  Or go unspicy.

Spread a layer of salsa on top (I use the kind that I get in the deli--it comes in a 16 oz. container, and I think it tastes fresher. You could also use a jar or go to the canned veggies section and get a can of diced tomatoes--the kind with Mexican flavorings might be good).

Spread a layer of grated cheese over top of that (I like cheddar--the Kraft grated 2% cheddar has less fat and melts well--I often mix it with full fat grated cheddar). Use a half cup or 1 cup--or live it up and add more!

Pop the pan in a 350 oven for 15-45 minutes--you want the cheese to be bubbly and melty and the beans to warm through. I can program my oven to come on when I'm not there, and I often have this for dinner on Friday nights--I make the meatless version of the casserole in advance, leave it in the oven, and anticipate it all day long. If I run a tad late, the stuff can handle overcooking.

When the pan comes out of the oven, you could top with sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips for scooping or serve on top of a salad to boost your veggie content.

Eat until you're full. If you make this without the hamburger, the leftovers will keep 1-2 weeks in the fridge.



And because everyone has the kind of day when they just need some good soup, here's one of my favorites.  It's a great way to get both veggies and the comfort of melted cheese.  I've never met an adult who didn't love this soup. 

Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup

Take a bunch of broccoli and chop it into pieces that you’ll later put in the blender or food processor. If you want, you can save some florets, steam them, and add them to the soup later—it gives the soup texture. But if time is short, don’t worry about it. Frozen broccoli would likely work just fine.

Put the broccoli pieces in your soup pot and chop up 3-6 potatoes into chunks. Add these to the pot. By now, you should have about half your pot full. You can also add 3-6 carrots (chopped into chunks), for a nice touch.

Add some fresh (chopped into chunks) or dried onion. Here are other spices that are nice: a few cloves of garlic (or garlic salt), basil, and oregano.

Put enough water in the pot to cover the vegetables. Boil until everything is mushy. Whir it all together in a blender or food processor. It will probably take several batches.

Return the soup to the pot. Add 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese. Taste to see if you want more. I usually use half a pound of grated cheese. Heat gently to melt cheese.

If you want thinner soup, add milk (of any fat level: skim to whole) or cream and heat gently.

You can create any kind of variation. Use a different main vegetable, like cauliflower. Use a different cheese. Use Mexican spices (chili powder and/or cumin) instead of the Italian above.

This soup is a variation of the soups that appear in Molly Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook and The Moosewood Cookbook.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coracles and Modern Communication

I'm usually a morning person.  I spring from sleep during what most of the rest of the world would consider the middle of the night, and I'm refreshed and creative and ready to greet the morning, once it catches up with me. 

For about a week, I've been waking up feeling a bit run over, sluggish, grouchy, and with the added annoyance of not being able to fall back asleep, but not being able to get work of any kind done either.

Happily, this morning I seem to be back to my old self.  I woke up and thought about going for a walk, but decided to write a poem first.  Hours later, I've decided that a good morning writing is better than a walk of any kind.

I found myself captivated by this post of Dave Bonta's about his experience with coracles on his recent trip to Wales.  He reminded us of the ancient Celtic monks, some of whom set off without even an oar.  Somehow, my brain made some connections to the modern workplace, and I was off, composing a poem.

Then, unable to let go of these images, I turned to writing my blog post for my theology blog, where I was inspired by coracles in a whole different direction.

I'm thinking about my writing process this morning.  I started noodling around on the Internet because I couldn't remember any of the ideas I'd had for poems, and I sometimes get inspired by reading over my old blog posts--often because I've written down my ideas for poems there.  From there, I navigated to Dave's post, and that was that.  The poem flowed right out of me, and even though I wasn't sure how to end it, I started typing it into the Microsoft Word document, and it came to me.

It could have been longer--there are many other connections I could make.  But I'll save those for another day, when I've had more time to ponder.

I've worried a bit about my interest in spiritual topics seeping in to all of my poems.  In my younger years, I tried to keep everything compartmentalized.  I've had a lot of atheist friends, and just as many friends who, although not atheists, are turned off by any whiff of spiritual stuff.  So, for a long time, I didn't even send out my poems that wandered into those spiritual topics.

I've wondered if society is changing, or just the people I meet.  My poem, "Heaven on Earth," is one of the most popular of any I've ever written, and when I first wrote it, I resisted it, because it felt slightly heretical to me (Jesus smoking!), and it took me even longer to send it out.

Now I'm wondering if I might not have been on the cutting edge of something.  Is a poetry of spiritual questions the next big thing?  These two posts (here and here) have made me wonder.

Me?  The cutting edge of fashion?  Surely not.

In the meantime, here's my poem.  You can tell me if the spiritual stuff works or if it's just offputting (and if the offputting is so disruptive that it needs to go or if it's the kind that you're still thinking about at 2 in the morning as you dream of rafts and oars).

Coracle of Prayer

As my computer dings
its constant reminders
of meetings and appointments,
I think of those ancient
Celtic monks and their coracles,
their faith in fragile canoes and currents
and a God who will steer
them where they need to go.

Having given over my free will
to Microsoft Office, I allow
the calendar to steer
me. I rely on my e-mails as a rudder,
although I often feel adrift
on this sea of constant communication.

Perhaps it is time to ransom my soul
which has been sold to this empire
of the modern workplace.
I look to the monks
and their rigorous schedule of prayer.
Feeling like a true subversive,
I insert appointments for my spirit
into the calendar. I code
them in a secret language
so my boss won’t know I’m speaking
in a different tongue. I launch
my coracle of prayer
into this unknown ocean,
the shore unseen, my hopes
rising like incense across a chapel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Of Disasters, both Natural and Man Made

Today is the anniversary of the explosion of Mt. St. Helen's.  Perhaps you thought I would write about that.  But since I wrote about that event in this post a year ago, I'll not repeat myself. 

It's interesting to reread that post and to realize that a year ago, we were watching the progress of the huge oil spill.  And this year, we're watching the progress of the swollen Mississippi River.   Just a few short weeks ago, it was horrific tornadoes.  Several nights in the past week, I've dreamed of floods.  I woke up Sunday morning with sore arms because I had been dreaming that I was trying to pilot a raft (a la Huck Finn) down the Mississippi floodway.

Still, I'd rather focus on the natural disasters than the man made ones--and yes, I'm using non-neutral gender language on purpose.  What is it with these predatory men and the hired help they take advantage of?

Yes, I'm talking about Arnold and the French head (soon to be former, one hopes) of the IMF.  It seems to be all that anyone can talk about.

Of course, I seem to be the one of the few in my office who looks at it through the lens of the imbalance of power.  Maybe I'm just a passionless stick, but I've never been at a hotel and said, "Damn, the hired help is really hot here.  Let me behave in a way that will get me thrown in jail, should my attentions not be reciprocated."

Or maybe I'm a person with some ethics.  People love to remind me of how the world has changed, that these are older men, and I can't expect them to behave differently.

Yes, I can.  Yes, I do.  And if they prey on women, I expect them to lose power. 

I realize I'm perhaps in a minority.  I have these issues on the brain, also, as the U.S. negotiates with the Taliban in Afghanistan to plan for when the U.S. troops leave.  And I know who will be the losers.  It will be the women left behind.

Some people tell me I can't expect the world to be different.

Yes, I can.  Yes, I do.  Yes, some day it will be. 

The world has already changed since I was in school.  Then, we just expected that females would have to fight off lecherous professors, or give in and get a better grade.  Now, that behavior gets people fired.

I've been reading about the Freedom Riders this week, and on Monday, I watched the PBS documentary.  Again, I'm inspired by a group of crazy kids who said, "Hey, why can't we eat lunch together?  Hey, why can't we take a 2 week bus trip through New Orleans?"

We can't control the weather, especially not now with all the climate changes already wrought and still to come.  But humans can control their behavior.  We can treat people with decency and respect, even if they're several socioeconomic rungs below us.

We can dream of a just society and say, "Why not?" instead of "It will never be."

We can dream of a world where women are safe, if not from the weather, at least from sexual predators.  Now that's a Homeland Security initiative I could support!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Mandolin Punk Band

Last week, my spouse woke up and the first thing he said was "What would happen if we both lost our jobs today?"

Now, there was really no reason to think that I would lose my job, although as he points out, a lot of people who have lost their jobs in the past few years probably never knew what hit them.  And although my spouse works as an independent consultant at his job, there's really no reason to think he'd lose his.  It's not like his employer has to pay benefits or the other things, like a high salary, that would motivate them to fire him.

It's interesting, though, when the first words in the morning are thoughts of job loss.  It shouldn't be surprising--those news stories are hard to escape.  I think of myself as the ultimate apocalypse girl, but I'm surrounded by people who torture themselves with thoughts of worst case scenarios.

I always have a plan A and a plan B, and a back-up to both, and a plan Z for what happens should things go really south (buy chickens and learn to make a lot of recipes with mangoes and loquats).  Part of my problem is that the alternate plans start to look really attractive.  Yes, I'll start a retreat center that blends Christian spirituality and creative practices!  I'll quilt for a living!  I'll open a tea room!  I'll go to seminary to become a hospice chaplain!  This week, I find myself thinking of being on the road with my mandolin punk band.

Sure, I'm a little old for a band, and I really can't play--but lack of musical ability doesn't have to be a problem in a punk band.  I can write tortured lyrics with the best of them.

Ah, yes, punk music, a time honored response to economic downturns.  Who knew I'd be such a traditionalist?

I'm sure this Alternate Life Kristin has surfaced because of the great interview I heard with Ben Harper on Sunday (go here to listen, here to read).  He talks about performing, and much of what he says could be applicable to those of us who read our poems too (perhaps less so for people who get up and read a short story or a chunk of novel).  He says a set, which for him is 2 or 2 1/2 hours, "represents 20 to 25 songs. So, if you have a 25-song set, half of those have to be what got you there. So, material from the past - that's 12 songs; five songs have to be just me and a guitar, 'cause there's plenty of people who only want to hear that too - so, that's 17 songs. So, that leaves me with exactly eight songs that can be covers and more up-to-date material."

Obviously, we'd have to adjust a bit as poets, since most of us won't capture an audience for much over an hour, if we're talking about traditional readings.  Still, it's an interesting ratio:  half the poems should be from your past, only a few can be experimental, which leaves you with a little over a third of your time left for new work.  Something to keep in mind.

He also talked about finishing an album, and while he doesn't feel this way with every album, there are times when he says,  " . . . boy, I may make more records but they won't be better than this."  He says he's felt this way after only 3 albums.

Maybe that should be something we ponder when we put together manuscripts, since most of us won't be able to publish as many volumes of poetry as our rock 'n' roll buddies.  Before we send a manuscript out, we should wait for that feeling that our future manuscripts won't be better than the one we hold in our hands.  Or maybe that would be too paralyzing.

I've been sorting through my poetry folder, looking for a poem for today.  Here's one that proves that I've had this musician fantasy for quite some time.  It's not a strong enough dream to force me to actually learn to play an instrument mind you.  Just one of those yearnings that bubbles up every so often.

New Roots Music

                          “You don’t have to wear a Stetson hat to play the blues.”
                                                                                 Chris Thomas King

I want to blend my original passions, punk
and folk, into a new kind of roots
music, mandolins attacked with the ferocity
of a generation with no economic future
and no better way to spend time than assaulting
stringed instruments and hacking their hair.

Carl will play that violin he’s carried across the continent.
It’s endured indignities greater than our mandolin
punk band, poor long-suffering violin, having to hear
itself played torturously by a boy who wanted to fiddle
like a Carter family member, but had to learn Classical techniques.

Russ can play the drums, Westernized, sanitized
versions of their wilder African cousins
with their skins stretched tight across gourds.

Shannon will play the banjo,
that instrument first brought over on slave ships.
Shannon will save it from its Deliverance debacle.

We will play the mandolins bought to honor a wedding
anniversary, back when we could still dream
of time and tireless energy required
to master a new set of strings.

Perhaps seventy years from now, our biographer
will speak of us with the breathless reverence reserved
for the great innovators. We could be the Carter
family of this new music, the Coltrane
of mandolin punk. We can save
our classics from countless car commercials,
remind everyone of the glory days, back when music consoled
and would collapse before it bowed to Capitalism.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Justin Evans Talks about His New Book "Town for Trees"

During National Poetry Month, I was lucky not only to be able to be one of the first to read Justin Evans' Town for Trees, but to also interview him via e-mail.  What follows is the second of a two part interview; the first part, which focuses on background and more general writing issues, is here.  This second part focuses more specifically about Town for Trees.  Be sure to go here to order your very own copy.  You can read my review here and Sandy Longhorn reviewed the book here.  Justin blogs here, where you can find all sorts of information and links.

I've put my questions in bold type. Justin's answers follow.

1. These poems have magnificent landscapes as backdrop and even as main characters, in a way. Did you purposefully write the landscape as a character? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition of poets who write about landscapes and nature?

Thank you for saying so. Yes, I wanted the town and the landscape to be as important as any other character in the book. It was important to me because I identify so much of who I am as a person, as a human being with Springville, Utah.

It was my dear friend and mentor, Dave Lee, who first made it clear that I was allowed to use landscape in such a way. His book, My Town, had just come out when I arrived at Southern Utah University. That book is narrative, and centered on people, but there are also some amazing connections to the landscape. Not being a narrative poet, I started writing lyric poems about the people I knew and also the places I knew.

I don't know how much of an established tradition there is for poets who write about landscape. First, there is a strong argument to be made that American poets are, for the most part rooted in place as a theme. Certainly you have Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams who are recognized as focusing on place, but I would be a fool to try and insinuate myself into their company. I prefer to name poets like Dave, William Kloefkorn, Ted Kooser, Gary Short, and others. And while I am not anywhere near them in talent, I feel much more comfortable aligning myself with them. Finally, I think there is a lot stronger tradition amongst prose writers who seem to decide on place as a theme. I think with this book, there is a part of me who is trying to respond in kind to the American tradition of identifying with a specific geographic location.

2. Do you think you'd have written the same poems if you had never left the area?

Absolutely not. There is no doubt in my head these poems would not have been written if had never left Springville. I think I would never have started to contextualize Springville in the elegiac tradition without having left it and felt some kind of yearning to return. In my absence, or more correctly Springville's absence from me, I began to idealize the town, the people, the surrounding landscape. Whenever I returned there was always something lacking, as is natural, and that reality began to seed in my mind. It was only a matter of time until the poems started to form from that dissatisfaction.

3. Are you describing a town that still exists? The poems had a sort of tone of elegy about them. I wondered if you were writing about what you see as lost.

Yes and no. The town of Springville, Utah, is quite real, and I am certain if a stranger was to arrive they would see a small town and think it to be quite charming. On the other hand, the town I wrote about is lost in the past, and you would have to have had some prior experience with Springville to be able to match the poems in my book to the real town.

Next, as I implied in my previous answer, you are correct. The book is an elegy of sorts. Structurally speaking, I take my lead from John Milton's "Lycidas," which is elegy and pastoral in nature. I think it only natural that on some level we look back, trying to recapture what has been lost, and failing that, accept there are some things beyond our control.

4. As I was reading your poems, I was thinking of the current younger generation and wondering what kind of poems they'd write in our modern age, when towns (in terms of buildings) are so homogenized--you can find a Super Wal-Mart even in small communities of 6,000 people.

I think the homogeny of suburbia and commercial architecture is mostly fashion and in the end, not something to really be worried about. In thirty years, Wal-Marts will look entirely different. I also think poets find a way to contextualize their surroundings, whether they be rural like mine were, or urban, or even ticky-tacky suburbs. I just hope their poems are good---the subject matter is of less importance to me.

5. I also thought of younger/future poets in our age of global climate upheaval (I was reading in the aftermath of the terrible tornadoes) and wondering if climate change will affect the landscape/nature poems they will write. Any comments? Has global climate change affected the poems that you've been writing as you've gotten older?

As environment becomes more important, there will of course be more poems about that. What is of greater importance is that the poems be genuine, honest. If anything is to be said on this matter, it should be that craft can be learned and honed, but it takes a lot more work to learn how to be honest with yourself and the reader, and a dishonest poem will always fail. By dishonest, I mean a poem which is written by a poet trying to figure out what somebody wants to hear as opposed to writing what needs to be written. I know because I have written far too many of them. No matter the subject, a poet's allegiance should always be to the poem.

As for my own poems, I doubt I will ever really write many poems about global warming. I tend to look back with my poems, trying to avoid current events. Still, I may in the future if I feel compelled enough.

6. On your blog, you've talked about the narrative arc of this book. Obviously, it's not a narrative arc like you'd find in a novel. Any comments about how you put the book together?

I will revert to my blog to answer some of this:

First, a narrative arc is more than a hook upon which to hang your poems. Poetry at its very center must remain, as my friend and mentor Dave Lee has said, a participation sport. It is not, as the Moderns would suggest, art for art’s sake. The audience is not superfluous. Poetry must be shared, and in that sharing, a story is the poet’s best bet.

There must be a reason all of these poems are in one place. To accomplish a successful narrative arc, I advocate the hidden narrative--- the story only the poet knows. Yes, I think the best way to use the narrative arc is to use it during the writing of poems for a manuscript and then destroy it, revealing only that information the poet deems absolutely necessary. My narrative is just for me.  I think this for several specific reasons.

--The reader wants a narrative, but if the poet gives too much information by exposing said narrative, the reader will be able to predict what is going to happen. Where is the surprise in a collection of poems if the reader knows what is coming? The poet should make the reader feel as if each poem was a natural fit after or during the reading, not reveal everything ahead of time.

--By obliquely attacking the subject of the book, we preserve the impact. Every poet knows the best way to kill a poem is to attack the issue head on. Billy Collins discusses this when talking about his poem, “The Death of the Hat,” which is a poem he wrote while trying to come to terms with the death of his father. If he would have written a straight forward elegy, he would risk making the poem come off as weird, overly sentimental. As it is, he was able to use the disappearance of the hat from popular male culture to discuss weightier issues such as the passing of an era, a simpler time, and at the same time, incorporate memories of his father.

--The poet needs to keep his/her options open. Nothing is worse than one poem saying one thing, and another saying something contradictory. By keeping the narrative hidden from the reader, you can move in and out of the boundaries which confine the short story, getting rid of suspension of disbelief while all the time giving the crowd what it wants---a really great story.

This manuscript started much larger than it ended up being because I believe in over-writing and I had written plenty of poems about Springville. I started cutting and re-arranging the poems and I kept going until I felt I had a pretty good manuscript which followed my beliefs. Then I sent it to another poet who told me to cut even more. Some were easy cuts and others were really frightening, but it's what the book needed. After I made about 90% of the cuts and edits which were suggested to me, the book was ready.

7. I love the cover photo. How did you decide on the cover? Did the press ask you to come up with a cover or did you approach them?

Michael Czarnecki at Foothills Publishing asked me to send any photos I had which I would be willing to have as cover art, and since the book had been accepted by another press and dropped, the cover was something I was already thinking about. I sent him several photographs, and he sent back several proof covers which varied the picture and color of cover stock and fonts. The one he bound as a proof copy was the one both me and my wife immediately liked best.

8. I notice lots of rivers, lots of drowning. I'm still puzzling over the meaning. Any comments?

Some, yes. Springville got its name from all of the springs. The original name of the town was Hobble Creek, and it was named that because the first settlers kept waking to find their horses down at the small creek, hobbles and all. Water is a big part of the town I knew as a child. As for the rest, I'd rather let you draw your own conclusions.

9.  The book isn't in sections, and I wondered what led you to that decision.

The book is a tricky thing. Not my book--just the book in general. I know a lot of poets swear by sections, but the truth is, just as the poet owes devotion to the poem, I owed it to the book to remain true to its character, and without a reason, an actual solid argument for sections, I said to myself the book needs to be presented as a single unit. That isn't to say I hold to that for everything. My second manuscript is broken into four sections---two shorter sections, one at each end, and then two longer sections in the middle. The wonderful thing about poetry books is no two should ever be alike

10. For readers who don't know, could you please talk about your process for finding a publisher for this book and the route from manuscript to book?

I submitted to several contests, but I wanted to actually only submit to presses where I thought me and my book would be a good fit. I think that's the really important thing. I researched presses and found those which fit, and sent my manuscript in and waited. There is a lot of waiting.

After a year and a half or so of submitting my manuscript in what was its final form, I submitted to a press I saw via Facebook, and just like that it was accepted. Unfortunately, money got in the way. The editor asked about an electronic book publishing, but I refused. A short while after that I submitted to Foothills Publishing and my book was picked up again.

11. Now you've published 3 chapbooks and one full-size book. What's your next project? Will the publisher of your current book be interested in it or are you starting from scratch?

I've completed another full length manuscript, based in part on the Telemachy, which is the first four books of Homer's Odyssey. The poems in this current new manuscript of mine are entirely different than what is in my book, Town for the Trees. They are so far out from my usual voice and scope I am still wondering if they are any good at all. I also want to write a book of narrative poems about Springville, telling man of the stories I heard as a child but also create narrative poems about the town being settled.

12. There aren't many books of poems that get published without a contest or a reading fee any more. Any comments on the current state of publishing?

It's difficult, for sure. With the economy the way it is, and trends in electronic and self publishing, there are fewer and fewer options for the poet to do things the way they were done even ten years ago. I am old fashioned. I wanted a real book in my hand, not a digital pdf file, and that's why I waited it out. I have seen a few poets self publish and make a success of it, but I am not that kind of poet. I am still a hold out for the traditional system of submit and fail, submit and fail, submit and fail, until you succeed.

There is good news, however. There are a lot more places publishing. There are a lot more micro presses willing to do what they love, and success may be simply a matter of finding the right fit. By the way, the real secret is editors have always published what they like.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Past and Future Scholars and a Plan for Summer

How strange to be unable to log into Blogger yesterday morning.  I tend to be a big believer in cloud computing, in letting others store my files--but I'm also paranoid, and so I back up.  Actually, that statement isn't exactly true, because I also worry about all my files that I've saved to "the cloud" being hijacked somehow, so I haven't done as much file storage there as I'd like.  I'd like paper copies of all my blogs to go with my paper journals that go back to the ones I was keeping when I was 12--especially since the main journals I keep now are my blogs.  But that's a lot of work, and just as I haven't transferred my paper journals to electronic storage, I haven't transformed my blogs to paper.

I think of grad school, of the sources that some of us would spend our scholarly lives studying:  the complete letters, all the various manuscripts, the journals, all the possessions.  At that time, studying most of those things required a trip to a distant library, and possibly proving your credentials before you got there.

And now?  What will young scholars of the future be expected to master?  Could someone spend a summer examining my blogs?  One of my summer assistantships required me to look at 2 versions of a manuscript and to try to determine the intentions of the author.  It was one of those valuable summer jobs because it showed me what I DO NOT want to spend my life doing--just as in undergraduate school, I spent two summers doing social service work (one of them when there was no money), and I realized that my life plan needed an adjustment.

All of this to say, for those of you who came to the blog yesterday hoping for part 2 of my interview with Justin Evans, I'll post it Monday.  I don't get as much blog traffic on the week-end, and it deserves to be read.

And for those of you thinking, drat, I forgot to buy Kristin's book, I'm pretty sure that sales throughout the week-end count towards the final total which determines the press run.  Go here to order.

It's been quite a few months.  I've been trying to promote my book and pre-publication book sales.  In addition, I've had some writing deadlines that I didn't anticipate:  I wrote prayers for one Augsburg Fortress book, I wrote meditations for a different Augsburg Fortress publication, I wrote two articles for The Lutheran, I wrote several blog posts for the Living Lutheran site, and I was the judge for a poetry contest.  In addition, I coordinated the Create in Me retreat, made a presentation at the College English Association, and went to the AWP and Synod Assembly.  Plus, in April, along with Dave Bonta, I read one volume of poems a week, wrote a review, and participated in an interview.

So, future graduate student, when you wonder why I didn't write quite as many poems or why I didn't my submission strategy fell to pieces a bit, look to that previous paragraph.

Time to think about summer.  I'd like to get back to writing one poem a week.  Maybe I'll blog about the process.  It seems to work for Sandy Longhorn, and I love reading about her process.  Yes, that's what I'll do.  I'll make the summer submissions that I usually do.  I need to think about festivals and other places where I'd like to read.

It's time to think about book length submissions again.  I've slacked off on that a bit, since I've had a book coming out, and I think it's unrealistic to expect people to buy several books of poems in a year (not that most publishing companies have that kind of turn-around time, but still).  I have one manuscript that I whittled down to 64 pages or so for a contest that only allowed 70 pages.  Perhaps that will be the version that I send out.  Or do I want to think about my spiritual poems manuscript?  Or both?

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Poetry and Wine: A Classic Combination

First of all, if you haven't yet bought my book during the pre-publication order time period, tomorrow is the last day.  Go here to order.  Remember that poetry makes a great present.  The holidays will be upon us soon.  Plan now!

Careful readers might remember that I first developed the idea of a reading at a wine shop at this post.  Last night, that idea became reality.  It went beautifully, for the most part.

Before the poetry reading, I had the poets over for dinner.  What a great dinner!  Why don't I do this kind of having people over to dinner thing more often?  It didn't take a lot of planning:  meat to throw on the grill, a pasta salad for any vegetarians, steamed broccoli, a bottle of wine, iced tea for the non-drinkers, and we've got dinner.

I was worried that we might be late to our own poetry reading, but I needn't have worried.  We decided to start late anyway.  One thing I didn't anticipate:  of course everyone wanted to buy a glass of wine, but there was only one person working that counter, and so we decided to wait for everyone to get their drinks and get settled.

And then we did our reading, which went well.  We had about 25 people in the audience, all of them friends.  A few people wandered through the wine store, but unlike wanderers in a book store, they avoided our poetry reading.  That was fine, of course.  I had some delusions of winning new fans, but it was not to be.

One thing I didn't anticipate was how echoey the store was.  The acoustics weren't great, and I'm not sure that a microphone would have helped.  But our audience members could move up closer, so that was good.  I did get some video, but the audio is so dreadful that I likely won't post it.

We did get an invitation for another reading, but it wasn't from the wine store (although to be fair, I think the wine store would be happy to host us on any slow night).  A friend of one of my fellow poets runs a children's theatre, and she'd like us to do a witch-themed reading in October.  Since we all write poems inspired by fairy tales, we said, "No problem."  I love it when the arts nourish each other.  And as a former drama geek, I'm happy to go to a children's theatre troupe (which is really a teen theatre troupe).

Lots of people lingered, and it was a lovely evening.  I'm not sure what I was so worried about before the reading.  As usual, I fret for nothing.  Does that help me the next time?  No, I soothe myself by saying, "You always fret and it's always fine."  But the gnawing in my stomach doesn't go away.  I'd like to get to the point where I'm not just noticing my emotions, analyzing them, saying, "Ah, that's what's going on."  I'd like to get to the point where I'm not indulging in these unhelpful emotions, when I just circumvent them, when I've actually learned from the past.  A self-improvement project for the last half of my life, I guess.

So, for those of you who sent me good wishes, thank you!  It worked out!  I wish you all could have been here.  And of course, should you ever find yourself reading in the South Florida area, I'll be in the audience, enjoying your poetry and lifting a glass.  Miami Book Fair, anyone?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Poetry Reading at Hollywood Vine tonight!

If you're in the South Florida area, feel free to join us tonight at Hollywood Vine on Harrison Street in Hollywood.  The reading starts at 7 p.m., and you'll have the chance to hear not just me; I'll be joined by Shefali Choksi and Marissa Cohen.  The location is lovely, and you can buy wine and beer by the glass; you can buy bottles of wine and spirits to take home with you.  We'll also be selling books!

I feel a bit more nervous about this reading, and it's taken me some time to understand why.  I feel responsible for the venue, since I made the arrangements, and yet, the venue isn't really under my control.  When I've had a poetry reading at a church, I've known where the extra chairs are.  Tonight, if we have a surprisingly big crowd, I'm not sure what happens.  I've told my contact at the wine store that we're expecting 25-50, and he's said they've had events for 100-150 before, so everything should work.  Still, I feel a bit fretful.

It's also one of the first times I've done a reading at a place that's a commercial business where people may not be expecting poetry.  I've done readings at libraries, colleges, bookstores--all places frequented by people who wouldn't be hostile to poetry.  Not that I'm expecting wine lovers to be hostile, but it will be a change of pace.  We're the first poetry reading the store has had.

I expect it to go well, despite my fretfulness.  If lots of people show up, and it's standing room only--that's a good thing, right?  If we have some reluctant wine lovers listening, well, perhaps they'll enjoy themselves anyway.  If we end up needing amplification, I'll just have to live with days of my spouse saying, "I told you to think about this."

It's strange how this has taken me outside my comfort zone, from having to muster my courage to ask the store if we could do it all the way up to today, where I'm feeling all that last minute anxiety (what to wear?  how much change to have?  have I chosen the right poems?  what if no one likes them?  what if everyone wants to buy my books, and I don't have enough change?).  I'm telling myself that it's good to move outside my comfort zone, since my next move is to send out press releases about the book and to write to various festivals to see if I might be part of them.

So, come tonight to Hollywood Vine.  Or come back to the blog tomorrow, where I'll post a write-up and perhaps pictures and perhaps video.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Changing the World, a Bus Ride at a Time

For those of you interested in gender issues in language, particularly when it comes to our images of God, go to this blog post at my theology blog.  I was struck at Synod Assembly by how often we referred to God as Father.  I'm sensitized to this issue (some might say overly sensitized) as a feminist scholar, so perhaps it bothered me more than it bothered others.  My blog piece explains why we can't afford to let ourselves slip backwards in this area.

It's interesting to me to think about how much things have changed, about how much we haven't changed at all.  When I turned in this Living Lutheran blog post about rediscovering Biblical matriarchs and the female face of God, I wrote to my editor that I'd written a very different piece than I would have when I was an angry-about-the-patriarchy 19 year old. Of course, that 19 year old would be very disheartened that her 45 year old self is still having to write such articles.  She would despair.  She would say, "Why haven't we made more progress than this?"

I think of my late adolescent self frequently these days.  I would tell that woman to buck up, that the time is coming when more women than men get graduate degrees.  I would hope that she doesn't look up the ladder and see only older, white males.  I'm tired of deflecting her justified anger.

Change is coming, at a slow drip or a fast moving train.  I have these issues on the brain as we approach the 50 year anniversary of the freedom rides (first started on Mother's Day--now isn't that an interesting nugget?).   I wonder if those late adolescents of a different era realized how much they would be changing our landscape.  Maybe they shrugged and said, "Hey, it's just a bus ride.  Hey, we're just having a hamburger at a lunch counter.  We're making a point, but are we really bringing about lasting change?"

We just never know for sure, do we?  Those freedom rides (and sit ins and marches) could have gone nowhere, say, if they had happened 10 years earlier, before the television was so widespread.

There are days I feel despair over my life and wonder if I've accomplished one single thing, made inroads in any single way that will make the path easier for those who come after me.  Women like me got Ph.D.s, which must have convinced more women that it was possible to do, because we now see more of them getting advanced degrees.  Then I go on to think about how many students have come through my classrooms, thousands of them, who could have found English Composition to be the class that closed the doors of college to them--but instead, there I was, flinging the doors open, saying, "Here's how you do it."  

It's harder in these days when I'm an administrator.  Yet I remember during my graduate school days, my community college days, I didn't exactly feel like I was changing the world either.  As an administrator, I hope to make it easier for faculty to teach.  I hope to create programs/classes/events/initiatives that keep students in school.  I hope to be the friendly face that everyone needs to say when the daily going gets tough.

There are many ways to change the world, many bus rides that we might take.  We are like those medieval laborers who built the cathedrals.  Our task is not to build the whole cathedral.  Our task is to build our bit, to help the arc of history bend towards justice (as Martin Luther King would phrase it).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Justin Evans Talks about Teaching,Living in the U.S. Southwest, Writing, and More: Part 1

During National Poetry Month, I was lucky not only to be able to be one of the first to read Justin Evans' Town for Trees, but to also interview him via e-mail.  What follows is the first of a two part interview; this part focuses on Justin's unique background and on his approach to writing in general.  The second part will come to you on Friday, when he will talk more specifically about Town for Trees.  Between now and then, be sure to go here to order your very own copy.  You can read my review here and Sandy Longhorn just reviewed the book here.  Justin blogs here, where you can find all sorts of information and links. 

I've put my questions in bold type.  Justin's answers follow.

1. I'm interested in your military experience and how it's shaped you as a writer. While I know lots of writers and I know lots of military folks (like my Air Force dad), I don't know many writers with military experience.

I joined the army a year and a few months after I graduated from high school, when I was 19. I ended up training at Ft. Dix and Ft. Gordon, serving at Ft. Hood, in Germany, Desert Storm, and then Ft. Bragg. I had been trying to write poetry ever since I was fifteen or so, and I wasn't getting much better at it when I was in the army. However, what I was doing was starting to send out my work to editors. I got a lot of hate mail because I was pretentious and my poetry was simply terrible. A lot of people don't believe I got actual hate mail, because they don't want to believe editors do that sort of thing. I did get one friendly response, but for the most part, the feedback was very negative. You hear stories about how certain submission letters are placed in editorial offices to be made fun of by the staff, and I think I was simply too good a target to pass up.

I said all that to say this: The army made me disciplined, and it made me see through failure. Without that discipline, I would not have been able to stick to my goal of becoming a better poet. Without being able to see through failure, to know there is something on the other side of it, I think I would have given up on writing, or at the very least, given up on the idea that I should take seriously the act of writing and all that comes along with that assumption.

2. I know that you write poetry and that you blog. Do you write other genres? Have you ever?

Fiction eludes me. I would love to write a novel. I have the idea, the characters, basic plot, and I can even see the faces of the people in the story, but I cannot ever get past the first chapter, and the writing I do finish is flat and uninteresting. Because of all the education journals I have had to digest as part of my studies and profession, I enjoy writing the occasional satirical educational research paper, and I review books from time to time. However, for the most part, I am a one-trick pony.

3. Your graduate work was in Literacy Studies, another departure from most of the writing world, which gets an MFA or a PhD in literature. Tell us a bit about what literacy studies encompasses. Has your graduate work shaped your writing?

Literacy studies is all about the process of how people learn to read. All the way from phonemes and decoding to inference and critical thinking. I started my program because as a public school teacher, I need to perform professional development, and it also put me further along in the pay scale. It was not my first choice of study, but it was available, and it was inexpensive. I received my degree in 2004 from the University of Nevada, Reno, which is okay by me. I still snuck poetry into my Master's Project, which is what made a lot of it bearable.

My degree in Literacy studies was a different approach to writing, but it did help in tiny little insights. For example, the way native English speakers speak as toddlers is actually very similar to Anglo-Saxon, which suggests certain genetic elements of language are embedded or hard-wired into our brain. This helped me make a connection with what Richard Hugo said of his own writing in his book, The Triggering Town, on the subject of monosyllabic words and the difference of ending in consonant sounds and vowel sounds. It helped with how we form words as readers and speakers, which is always going to be of use to a writer.

4. You teach in the public school system. In what ways does this teaching enrich you? In what ways does it drain you? What would be your dream job, if you could have anything?

I'd love to give you some fancy answer for this question, but honestly, the greatest benefit for me teaching public school as a writer, is simply the fact that I get to talk about literature most every day. Other than that, it is actually a drain on my energy. Luckily for me I have plenty of other things going on which revitalize me.

5. You've published 3 chapbooks before Town for the Trees. How did your experiences with the chapbooks prepare you for this current publication?

My first chapbook was just that. I knew it was going to be a chapbook, so I made that my goal. My second book was a separate project. I wanted to do what I had done in my first book, but with the town of Springville as the central character. My third chapbook was an exercise in ars poetica. Each book had its challenges, but all three were exercises in the narrative arc. I am a huge believer in what I call the invisible narrative, a hidden story only the poet knows, which serves as the framework of the book. Constructing those books helped me to construct Town for the Trees (which is a marriage between my first two chapbooks) and my recently completed, but as of yet unaccepted second full length manuscript.

6. Have you always lived in the U.S. West? Do you want to continue to do so? Do you worry about dwindling water resources?

I have only been out of the West when I was in the military. I have no real desire to live anywhere else, but not out of any particular loyalty to the West, but because this is where my family is, where the terrain, both physical and emotional, is familiar to me.

I would say I am trying to be environmentally aware, but I am not in a part of the West where water is scarce. There is more water in the desert than people think, it's just not as easily seen as in other places.

7. What advice would you have for poets who are just beginning their careers?

First and foremost, do what I failed to do. Read every day, and by read, I mean do more than decode text. I mean actively engage with that text. Think about what you are reading. Read for at least an hour a day. If you read just one book on your own each month while you are in college, outside what your classes require, you will double your knowledge base. Read what you like. Read what you hear about. Read what someone says is good. 50 books doesn't sound like an appealing way to start, but it is the start you should be looking for. I neglected to read early on, and now I am paying for it in all sorts of ways. Read.

After you have read, read some more. You cannot be a good writer without reading. Read craft books and novels. Read comics, and read journals. Read what your friends write. Read the classics. There is a reason we still read Homer and the Pearl Poet.

8. What advice would you have for people interested in teaching?

Not very much That is a matter for which there is not much valid advice to be given at this time. It is a dangerous time to be an educator, and though I love it dearly, it is not a career to be entered into based solely upon the advice of others. The good news is that no career really is the kind to be entered into lightly.

9. Do you think today's adolescents are more self-centered than previous generations? Do they think too highly of themselves? When you look at the next generation of students whom you're teaching, what do you advice would you give the rest of us?

I just got back from an education conference, so my mind is swimming about this sort of thing right now. I think there are some unrealistic entitlement based expectations in our youth culture today, but I think they are based more in the ease of locating information. Nobody actually has to do any real research. They look it up, and instead of asking whether or not information is correct, those sites are taken at face value with no skepticism. That then translates into a certainty of knowledge. Coupled with the "My darling child is the absolute star of the universe" is unsettling to say the least. It's not universal by any means, but like any phenomenon, there are enough young people out there who are too certain in their knowledge and have no way of coping with failure when they encounter irrefutable evidence their pre-suppositions were wrong.

My advice? Help your child understand that failure is not always a bad thing. No, we do not want a generation of people who think failure is okay or the norm, or who give up, but we need to point out that failure is an essential part of growth, learning, and maturity. Being accountable has gone out of style, and I think it's time we bring sexy back.

10. If you're comfortable talking about your family, I'm sure we'd love to hear about them. Do you wrestle with work/family/creative life balance? Any secrets?

I am married and I have three boys, and I am fortunate that the more busy I am in my everyday life, the more productive I am in my creative life. That has not been absolutely true with my book being so close to coming out and now being released. My pattern is that I have to be completely finished with the various aspects of a project for me to move on and start something new. I wrote an entire manuscript at a point when I believed my current book was going nowhere. October 2008 through February 2010 was an amazingly productive time for me. It was huge.

As soon as I found a publisher for my book, my creativity went down the drain. I needed to finish that. When my book was dropped and then picked up again, my mind went into survival mode and devoted all of its energy into making the book happen. I think it will take me a couple more months of having my book out before I get back into the swing of writing again. I will begin writing new poems and getting my thoughts out there. If I am lucky enough to get my second book picked up, all of that will slow down and eventually stop until I have resolved all of the issues relating to the book.

I am lucky in that I am rarely a prolific poet, so going months at a time without writing any poetry doesn't get to me like it did when I was a younger poet, before I recognized and learned to live with my creative pattern.