mimsy and outgrabe //

a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making


Good News: I'm Still Here! Oh, and Publication News too ...

Yesterday I received a phone call from my one and only C.C., and she reminded me that I'm disappearing into work again and forgetting about other important facets of my life. (Oddly enough, though, yesterday morning -- well before the phone call -- I worked on a poem, and that was something I hadn't done for weeks. Yesterday something in the stars must have shifted and the universe was shouting, "Hey stupid! Wake up and do something else with your time!)
Thanks, Fjords Review!

I mean, I *have* been doing something else with my time, but it's mainly involved the kiddies. Now that school is back in session for them, too, we're all sorts of busy as a family. There's a lot of negotiating between different activities and attempts to get small people to places without losing one of them or what's left of my mind. It hasn't been a bad couple of weeks, just very very active.

I'm trying to stay on top of things, and remember that most of the time I'm trying to squeeze a 40+ hour work week into about 30 hours of office time. That means I have to try to get the other 10+ hours in where I can, and sometimes that means elbowing my writing time out of the way. 

I don't like ignoring my writing, but I think I'm beginning to learn it's sometimes necessary for my sanity. I have to compartmentalize and use these morning hours for grading or prep or emails if I can't get that shit done later in the day . . . and I suspect I'll get my writing time back in October, when a lot of my duties for the union will be slowing down/coming to an end, and I can use office time for grading/class prep/email.

Anyway, not to bore you all with the minutiae of my workweek. Instead, I'll leave you with a link to Fjord's online Women's Edition. The guest editors chose one of my fairy tale poems (it's actually two poems from my manuscript under one title that gives both context) and one of my myth poems. I'm pretty pleased, even though there was a snafu on their part and I'd actually withdrawn those fairy tale poems because Menacing Hedge wanted to publish them. (It worked out, because the editor of Menacing Hedge is wonderful and understands this stuff happens and will still publish them, with Chapters 1-5 of the fairy tale, in their fall edition.) (Oh, more than one snafu -- they also published my name as "Sarah Gutowski" and not "Sarah Kain Gutowski" -- which shouldn't be that big a deal, but c'mon, people -- I'm trying to keep my maiden name alive, peeps. Throw a girl a bone.)
Anyway, stuff like this makes it look like I'm still writing, but the truth is that this material was written almost five years ago. Ultimately, I am looking forward to elbowing the committee work out of the way and getting back to writing poems . . . if the muse hasn't left me entirely by the time I'm ready to sit down and get to business.


Mad Preparation for Fallpocalypse (Teaching in the New Semester)

This past week has been devoted almost entirely to preparation for the new semester of classes and committee work, with little writing. But SOME writing. Just not enough. And then some (maybe too much) following on Facebook and Twitter this insane shit-storm surrounding AWP and its conference proposal selection processes. And I'm lurking where that's concerned, listening, not participating, but it's still kind of exhausting.

I'm looking forward to finishing the prep for classes, which I've been doing with a kind of head-down, stubborn relentlessness. I've been trying to put all of my prompts for in-class writing, and quizzes, and essays up on the Blackboard course spaces so that I can, more or less, be ultra-prepared in the classroom instead of -- as happens quite frequently -- arriving at the classroom only to realize the quiz or the handout I wanted to distribute is back in my office. Also, there have been semesters where I've begun teaching a class without schedules of assignments already determined and those semesters are usually the worst. I end up confused and angry at myself and frustrated . . . and, well, I'd kind of like to avoid that if possible.

I realize that these kinds of admissions make teaching, even at the college level, sound horribly formulaic with little room for improvisation. Also, all of the summer fun and freedom that I experienced with my family -- going to the beach, staying up too late to read, watching movies -- appears to have disappeared! But I find that I'm quite comfortable ditching the formula and doing spontaneous things in the classroom if I have the safety net of the well-laid plan beneath me, and my hope is that I can spend less time prepping in the office this semester and more time grading in the office, which in turn will give me more time to write when I'm at home (not to mention keeping up with normal life things, like kids and laundry and dishes). (Wow, my life sounds SUPER AWESOME the more I write this post!)

Also, I've been putting in half-days in August, using mornings to work on course prep and this online class about online teaching (yes, that's a thing) and getting a jump on this semester's committee tasks, and then hanging out with the kiddos and returning to Project Fix the Fucking House in the afternoons. It hasn't been filled with the trips to the beach or the marathon reading sessions that we did in July, which makes me really miss July, but I'm hoping that this pragmatic approach to beginning the new semester will pay off. I recognize that it's some of the same-old same-old, the "this year will be different!" mantra most academics whisper under their breath as they plan out their classes -- but I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that these changes and preparations are truly holistic and meaningful and not just Band-Aids covering bigger, deeper problems in my methods and practices.

HA! The idea of me even HAVING methods and practices is kinda amusing. I feel like so much of my teaching career has been flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. Probably because I never really thought I'd be a teacher.

I DID always think I'd be a writer, though. And so I guess this month's preparations, and this post, is about getting all of the professor-related tasks and nonsense as streamlined and cookie-cutter as possible so that I can spend real, substantial time being a writer this fall -- instead of leaving it to a couple of months every year that may or may not be fruitful. (And this summer was not as fruitful as I'd hoped it would be. But that will have to wait for another post . . . Stay tuned, dear readers! More whining will be coming your way! *facepalm*)


Progress Report: The Video Poem and The Verse Play

Before The Boy became bored and stopped cooperating.
Toward the end of July, P.T. (pictured to the left, doing his tech thing) and I began work on our poetry video collaboration. We recorded the audio, then discussed various images and the sequence in the video, looked at some stock footage, brainstormed, etc. Last week, we met on campus with my little helpers, Miss Talkalot and The Boy, and we managed to film a couple of shots of them as the characters from my fairy tale poem, and then also some shots of the surrounding pine barrens, which are lovely. 

This exercise is fun but strange and confusing. I have this idea of the poetry video as a piece of art unto itself, separate and distinct from a printed poem, but as we're creating this piece I feel like we're making a poetry video like people make music videos -- which can be an art unto itself but is also just as often a simplified representation, with visuals, of what happens in the narrative of a song. I'm really hoping to avoid the latter, but I'm not sure if we're going to get there, to that place where the video poem is lyric and metaphorical and something beyond illustration.
Ultimately, I'm looking to Bianca Stone's work with Because You Love You Come Apart for guidance, which began as a poem she illustrated (she's a graphic artist as well as a poet), and then morphed into the video. We're two very different poets and I have a feeling that she created her video entirely on her own, without collaboration, so her video is going to be extremely different from mine for those two reasons alone (let alone the myriad other reasons). However, I also get this sense that she totally knows what she's doing -- there's a vision here. The video isn't just an illustration of her language. Rather, language and visuals combine to create a new message, new meaning.

I'm   . . .  not sure that's going to happen with this, my first attempt at a poetry video. I don't even know if there will be a second! But I wanted to try it. 

For now, P.T. has the footage in his office and he's going to work on arranging the shots like we discussed and then we'll see how it all turns out. If it's good, I'll link to it here and share it a little on the internet. If it's not that great, I'll show it at the college (which I need to do as part of my professional development) and then either try something new or just put this poetry video venture behind me. After all, it's not like I don't have other things to work on!

Speaking of those other things, I spent most of last week's writing group time working on the verse play, which felt really really good. Then, this week, I read over last week's chicken scratch in my notebook and I'm not sure that any of it is worth keeping. I don't know if that three hours was time necessary, like I had to get that nonsense out of my system, or if it was just a futile attempt and a big waste of time. Either way, I'm not getting those hours back, and as the first day of the fall semester approaches, I feel more and more like each hour spent on my own writing -- and not writing dictated/required/asked for by other people -- is precious.

Also, it's taken me almost three hours to write this stupid entry because Vampire Toddler woke up early and Writing With Kids Around is nearly freakin' impossible. Particularly when Vampire Toddler is one of those kids. Oy.


What I Read When I Should Be Doing Other Things

Still not much to say. Juggling many different projects, and not well. I think I should just accept that I am a writer like I am a reader of books; one at a time, and slowly.

I'm really good at reading essays and poems on the internet, though. How much of my life has been spent falling down rabbit holes, I wonder? Anyway, here are two of the latest:

1) The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project: I just discovered Mezzo Cammin, the online journal of formalist poetry by women, and then I tripped onto their Timeline Project, where they archive lovely little essays/introductions to poets like A.E. Stallings.

2) On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, experimental and not linked to form, is this "thin narrative in fragments." Lisa Ciccarello and Emma Trithart, the poet and artist respectively, call these ".gif poems." I'm in love with how this is so playful and yet so dark at the same time. The project is different and risk-taking and Number 10 is my favorite.

Speaking of experimental, I finally began work on the video poem I'm making with my colleague at Stuffolk (which I don't think is going to be very experimental after all, because I'm just not that kind of poet). We recorded the audio the other day, and tomorrow I'm bringing Little Miss Talkalot and The Boy with me to school, where we're going to hike into the neighboring pine barrens and take footage of them in the knee-high drifts of decaying leaves. They'll probably come home covered in ticks and other creepy crawlies . . . but for now, they're excited about the idea of being in the video.

Today is a writing group day, however; either work on my play or the review I still haven't finished. Next week I begin going back into the office part-time, to prep for the new semester. Le sigh. Summer has ended too quickly.

(I guess I did have something to say, after all. Coffee must have kicked in...)


Summer Reclusiveness

Sunrise as viewed from my deck. Not bad!

I took a break from the blog when I traveled with the kiddies down to Virginia at the end of June, and then never quite returned to it after we came back. Part of this is because I've been busy with making/going to doctor's appointments that SHOULD have taken place during the school year, chipping away at the clutter in my house and attempting to right all the wrongs in my housekeeping habits, and sometimes actually working on those writing projects I mentioned a month ago. 

But also: I just haven't had as much to say.

I'm feeling a little quieter. I kinda want to curl up and disappear from the world. And by world I really mean people. I'm rethinking/revising not only the way I write but the way I approach the different facets of my life all the time, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed, as if talking about those changes will put them all in jeopardy. It's a crazy-person kind of paranoia, really. I mean, sometimes it really helps to talk about them, whether to a paid professional or the internet via this blog, but at other times it really doesn't help at all, it just leaves me feeling exposed.

So, you know, I write about it here in this really public forum! Ha!

Also, logistics play a part in blogging. I simply haven't had a lot of alone time, and part of this is because I've been really relaxed with my normal wake-up-early-and-write schedule. I said to myself, fuck it, it's summer, and so I've been reading Harry Potter books with Little Miss Talkalot until, like, 10:30 or 11 at night and so not waking up until 6 or so when A. has to go to work. And then there are dogs to contend with (they need a thorough good morning face-mushing and butt-scratching, and with two wriggling labradors this is EXHAUSTING but also very necessary). And there's coffee to make, otherwise my mind wouldn't work, and so by the time my Olympic Dog Petting session is over and I'm into my first cup of caffeine, I don't really have much time to write before Vampire Toddler wakes up and demands, well, anything (her whims change daily by the second).
My very noisy writing partner, Vampire Toddler.

It's SO NICE, however, to wake up and go out onto the deck and attempt to write in the mornings, even with Vampire Toddler chatting away to herself or her food beside me (the other day I heard, in the midst of scribbling away in my journal, "Nice to meet you, orange..." -- it kinda threw me off my train of thought, but made me laugh). Summers out here are so lovely. There are a lot of fucked up things about Long Island, and sometimes I really loathe living here, but I rarely feel disgruntled during the summer, when I can smell salt in the air from the bay and know that the Atlantic is a short drive away. Of course, visiting the ocean with three children is another kind of near-Olympian feat in and of itself, but it's totally worth it.

For the record -- because why else blog unless to record these things? -- here's what I'm working on right now:
  • New poems: These may not be very good -- I feel like I'm rusty and clunky and need some time to get back into things. But hell, it's nice to be writing poems again. (Individual ones, not be project pieces, like . . . see my next bullet point)
  • Revising Act One of the verse play: I'm inserting new scenes into the act that further develop the characters, and beginning to wonder if maybe what I'm working on, this act, is really a full-length play in and of itself, and if my original idea for one play with three acts is really supposed to be three individual plays linked by subject matter and theme. Which will entail a lifetime's work, at this rate. Still . . . what else am I going to do with my time? If it's worth it, it's worth it. And if it happens, it happens. I'm not going to force it, but I'm not going to fight it, either.
  • Writing a review of a chapbook for the Hyacinth Girl Press web site, one of their new projects.
  • Reading a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything, apparently. Nothing substantial yet, anyway.
Here's what I NEED to do (without feeling too stressed out about it, at the moment) before the end of August:

  • Poetry video: My schedule in June did not coincide with my colleague's, so I need to see if I can make this happen before the end of the summer (when both of us will have far less free time for collaborative projects like this)
  • Finish revising the one act
  • Finish writing the review (I said I'd have it finished at the beginning of this month -- oops!)
  • Attempt to write an essay (like, say, that Poetry of Witness monster I've ALSO been talking about for, say, five years?)
Anyway. PLANS. 


Five Poems, Five Days: Part V

The Quest

by James Wright

In pasture where the leaf and wood
Were lorn of all delicious apple
And underfoot a long and supple
Bough leaned down to dip in mud,
I came before the dark to stare
At a gray nest blown in a swirl,
As in the arm of a dead girl
Crippled and torn and laid out bare.

On a hill I came to a bare house
And crept beside its bleary windows,
But no one lived in those gray hollows,
And rabbits ate the dying grass.
I stood upright, and beat the door,
Alone, indifferent, and aloof
To pebbles rolling down the roof
And dust that filmed the deadened air.

High and behind, where twilight chewed
Severer planes of hills away,
And the bonehouse of a rabbit lay
Dissolving by the darkening road,
I came, and rose to meet the sky,
And reached my fingers to a nest
Of stars laid upwards in the west;
They hung too high; my hands fell empty.

So as you sleep, I seek your bed
And lay my careful, quiet ear
Among the nestings of your hair,
Against your tenuous, fragile head,
And hear the birds beneath your eyes
Stirring for birth, and know the world
Immeasurably alive and good,
Though bare as rifted paradise.

from Above the River: The Complete Poems, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux


Five Poems, Five Days, Part IV ( and photos from the Pittsburgh reading)

The Armadillo

by Elizabeth Bishop

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars --
planets, that is -- the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! -- a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

from Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters, published by The Library of America


Also: Pictures from this weekend's Hyacinth Girl Press and Gigantic Sequins poetry reading at the Modern Formations Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA.

Rachel Mennies, author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backward

Kimberly Ann Schwartz, editor of the magazine Gigantic Sequins and the author of HGP's forthcoming chapbook, efs and vees

Essayist Caitlyn Luce Christensen

Margaret Bashaar, editor of Hyacinth Girl Press, and Kimberly Ann Schwartz, the lovely organizers of the event.