Archive for January, 2012

January Tally Marks

January has been a busy month.  Besides the start of school, I have been trying to keep up on individual writing/reading/publishing goals. This past month, I think I’ve written five new poems.  I say think because I’m never really sure when I am finished with a poem.  I really like to let my poems breathe a bit before I send them out to find homes.  Once, I wrote this poem that I thought I really liked — I sent said poem out five or six times and got rejected.  I took another hard look at that poem and ended up breaking it apart and writing two poems — like when a worm breaks in half and both parts wiggle away.    The good news is that both poems got published!

I digress.  I wanted to send poems out to 10 journals per month this year, and this past month, I barely made that goal.  Do I not know enough journals?  Am I not simultaneously submitting enough?  Am I not writing enough poems to send out?  I’m not sure, but I promised myself that I would be more aggressive this year with submissions, so I need to work on this number.

Other number news?  Three acceptances and one rejection.  And many, many journals that still have my poems.  Plus, I did end up reading 10 poetry collections this past month (full length collections and chapbooks).  Like I mentioned before, it’s going to be a great year in poetry!

A final note for the month: for those who preordered my new chapbook, publishing schedule is on time, so Wearing Heels should be in your mailbox very soon!




January Poetry Pick: The Naming of Strays

I fell in love with Erin Elizabeth Smith’s poetry when I read her first book, The Fear of Being Found, two years ago, so I was thrilled when her second full length collection, The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake Press, 2011) was one of my Christmas presents!

Smith’s The Naming of Strays is divided into sections according to different definitions of the word “stray” .  What follows in each individual section are poems that loosely embrace those definitions.   For instance, in the last section, the definition is the following: “stray: an animal that has strayed or wandered away from its flock, home, or owner.”   With this meaning in mind, one might expect that a stray, perhaps an alley cat, may at least make an appearance, but instead, Smith chooses to adapt the idea of a “stray” to human narrators who seemingly have strayed from past lives, past homes and past loves.  For example, in “Closet Space” the narrator stares at her clothes, deciding that her closet is “plagiarized from other lives.”  In another poem, “On Learning to Be Okay” a speaker muses that she does not think “about spring/or how it feels/to be loved” but instead, chooses to find some solace in making “a thick pea soup” and listening “to the radiator/as it bangs/its way to life.”

Some readers of Smith’s book may consider her poems a bit quirky — and certainly, with poems like “Winter” she is approaching old subjects with a fresh voice. In this particular poem, she personifies the season of winter as “a pony-tailed redhead/displeased with the undoing of her work.”  Winter, in this work, is hard and gritty:  “She lights a cigarette, taps the ashes on the floor.”  Even when she speaks, she is all sass, saying, “Spring is my bitch.  She’ll come/but only when I tell her to.”

 But what I admire most about Smith is the way that she equates a physical place with abstract emotions.  She travels from the Midwest, to eastern New York, to Mississippi — one may think that this book is a collection of journeys, and indeed it’s easy to see the wandering of both emotion and physical meanderings.   For instance, in “On Being Erroneously Called a New Yorker Again” the speaker struggles with the meaning of the relationship between physical place and personal identity.  In another poem, “Index of the Midwest” the speaker muses about the idea of escape when she says “If only there had been an escape hatch/in August’s shorn field.  One that falls/forever into this flat/and desperate black.”   And in still another poem, “Driving Next to Two Men I’ve Slept With” the narrator muses about personal pasts and tension in a single road trip.

I’ve been reading a lot of “first books” the past few months, so it’s great that I finally got to read a “second” book — and of course, with Erin Elizabeth Smith’s work, I will look forward to the third, and fourth, and fifth….

Erin Elizabeth Smith is the founder and managing editor of Sundress Publications.   More information can be found about Gold Wake Press here.

Wednesday Poetry Break

I’m in the middle of yet another crazy week, but I couldn’t resist taking a quick break to link to Traci Brimhall’s poem “What They Found in the Diving Bell” over at The Academy of American Poets.  I reviewed Brimhall’s first book here, and she has a new book coming out this spring.  I can’t wait!

Conte for the Weekend

A few weeks ago, I was super excited to find out that my poem, “My Summer as Syphoned Gas” had been accepted by Conte, one of my favorite journals.  I’m even more excited this morning to find out that the issue is now live, and my work has joined work from some of my favorite poets including Gary L. McDowell and Sandy Longhorn!  Stop by and read the entire issue!


I always find the first week of classes exhausting — not because I enter new classes underprepared, but because of the number of new faces I see and the number of new people I meet.  This past week, I probably met over 200 people (between classes and advising).  I can understand why new students often look a bit dazed at the end of their first week.

Still, I’m looking forward to finding the semester’s routine again.  Somehow, this week, I managed to revise three poems and write a brand new poem! I’m trying to keep a target goal of submitting to at least ten journals a month, and so far, I have only submitted to five, so I know I have a lot of work to do before the end of January.

Mid-January Break

So far, 2012 has brought me two acceptances (yay!) and one rejection (not so yay — but that is one towards my 100 rejection goal!).  This past week, I read through the proofs for my new chapbook and also managed to prep for the start of school.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about a recent blog post by poet Amanda Auchter.  In her post, Amanda talks about the motto of her MFA program which asked its students to “Read 100 Books. Write One.”  I think the program wants its students to read 100 books in the course of their studies — which would be a bit difficult.  When I was in grad school, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t read 100 books per year or even in the two years I was in the program. 

However, now I easily read 100 books per year.  In fact, last year, I read over 200 books.  How many of these books are poetry books, you may ask?  I looked at my list (I keep track of titles) and it appears that I read 90 poetry books (including chapbooks and anthologies) last year — about 40 of them were published in 2011.  I would love to set a new goal for myself and read 100 poetry books in 2012 — but that would be difficult, especially since in January (so far) I have only read four! Still, even though I said that I don’t want to make too many resolutions this year, I would like to have the overall goal to write at least one poetry book review per month and post this review here. 

Look for January’s review in the next week or so!

Friday the 13th & Superstition

I wanted to find a really good Friday the 13th poem to link here, but I had no luck (there’s irony in that last statement!) — however, I did find a great mini-essay about superstition and how to incorporate superstitious beliefs and ideas  into your own writing.  Click here to read poet Aimee Nezhukumatahil’s essay, “The Poetry of Superstition and Supposition.”  Then, before facing the weekend, try one of her writing prompts she lists at the end of her piece.

The Final Days…

Nope. This is not a post about the upcoming Apocalypse.  Instead, I want to write a reminder about the last chance to preorder (at a great discount) my second chapbook, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, winner of the 2011 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest.  You have until Tuesday, January 17, to preorder a copy at the bargain price of $6 plus shipping and handling. The collection is scheduled for shipment at the end of the month!  I know that many of you have already preordered copies and many of you have emailed me requesting signed copies (when I get my chapbooks), so I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, for all your support!

Four Books for the New School Year

This Wednesday, I’m back on campus, and classes start next week.  After a year reprieve, I’m teaching creative writing again, but this semester, I’m also teaching an introductory writing about literature class (a class I have not taught in about five years), so I’m busy revising syllabi and reviewing new material and ideas for both courses as well as my developmental writing course.

Outside of the required textbooks, I have four books I am using for ideas.  If you teach high school or the first two years of college, you may want to consider the following titles:

Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom by John Golden (NCTE Books)  I’m actually revisiting this book — for years I have used Golden’s strategies of watching certain clips of movies in the classroom to help teach aspects of writing.  My favorite?  Using the first five minutes or so of ET to help teach point of view. 

Reading in the Reel World: Teaching Documentaries and Other Nonfiction Texts by John Golden (NCTE Books)  In this follow-up to his first book, Golden discusses a number of documentaries or “nonfiction” films in order to help students learn to read nonfiction texts.  I’m especially interested in his exercises on writing for my developmental students.  Plus, his book introduces a lot of documentaries — many I have never seen.  So far, I have decided to use Born Into Brothels, Spellbound, and Mad Hot Ballroom (sections, not the whole films) in my class.

Poetry of Place: Helping Students Write Their Worlds by Terry Hermsen (NCTE Books)  I purchased this book because I’m extremely interested in the idea of place in poetry.  Also, because I teach in a rural community college, I like to emphasize to my students how important their place is (They don’t always want to believe me).  Hermsen’s discussion about place extends far beyond physical landscape.  Furthermore, he offers many exercises (and examples from students) that may help jumpstart poems for your students.

The Working Poet: 75 Writing Exercises and a Poetry Anthology by Scott Minar (Autumn House Press)  I purchased this book for two reasons.  First, I love Autumn House Press and second, I wanted prompts to help with my own writing.  Then, I discovered that the book could be a useful tool in the classroom.  The Working Poet features pages and pages of writing prompts exploring various themes, styles, and forms.  So many books that offer writing prompts contain broad assignments like, “Write a poem that makes you happy.”  (Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but not much).  However, what I liked most about this book was how specific and concrete the prompts were — perfect for my classroom.  My favorite prompts are from Jan Beatty, who talks about writing a narrative with the help of a globe and a little imagination; Charles Harper Webb who encourages the trading of secrets, real or imaginary, to help jumpstart a poem; and Diane Lockward, who discusses using “the exploited metaphor” to connect concrete items with abstract words.

Writing Prompt Friday

How is your writing going?  So far, in 2012, I have written two brand new poems and revised six.  I am not boasting — I know when school starts the productivity level will fall. 

No matter how your writing is going, you may want to take a look at Anjie Kokan’s Creative Writing Prompts for Writers where I am guest blogger today offering a prompt for the weekend.  Then, you may want to try this prompt, or submit a writing prompt of your own!

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