Showing posts from 2011

What I Read When I Avoid Wrapping Christmas Presents

Cynthia Marie Hoffman's book, Sightseer , won the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry in 2010. She speaks about the experience of creating a book of poems in this interview. She's also spoken to (emailed? typed with?) Brian Brodeur about the creation of a single poem on his blog, How A Poem Happens. I haven't managed to get any writing done over the past few days. The closest I came was yesterday, when I sent out a bunch of emails to different publishers withdrawing a manuscript from their consideration. This was, by far, one of the strangest-feeling tasks I've ever completed. I find it bizarre requesting that someone not read and consider my work for their publication/contest. I've spent so many years doing just the opposite that the composition of those emails felt like driving a manual transmission car down the wrong opposite side of the road with the stick and the steering wheel on the opposite side of the vehicle ( opposite meaning the side you'

Zombie Children

I'm up late. But at least I'm up late because I've been writing, and not because I've been skulking aimlessly on the interwebs, which I have a tendency to do when I'm tired and mush-brained. (Hopefully the tired-and-mush-brained-ness didn't result in tired and mushy poetry. We'll see tomorrow, when I wake up and reread tonight's work.) I haven't had a chance to write much this week -- both of my children have had colds, probably some distant cousin of the plague I had earlier in the month. The youngest (the boy) insisted that he was too ill to go to school on Monday, and so I let him stay home and I did what I could in between multiple trips to the kitchen for snacks (apparently the plague didn't affect his appetite) and playing puzzles and turning on the TV for 10 minute intervals of Wonder Pets or Jake and the Neverland Pirates or whatever nonsense attracted his attention before he decided he was hungry again. Then Tuesday morning the g

My Morning Reading, Continued (with NYU Lovefest Addendum)

1. One of my friends posted this story by H.M. Patterson to Facebook. It's lovely. 2. Trolling the Poetry Foundation's site again. Found this poem by Kathleen Graber. 3. Also on the Poetry Foundation site, this poem by Anthony Hecht. Love, love, love. Perhaps I shall write now, yes? Addendum: Trolling the Painted Bride Quarterly 's site, and I found work by a slew of fellow female alumni: It’s Like Riding on a Train by Nellie Bridge. Nellie's poems are quiet but powerful. She's also a really beautiful person. I'm so happy to see her work being published. Tiny Elijah by Sarah Heller. I love this poem and I *heart* Sarah Heller. She is one of the nicest people I know. Morning Reading by Amy Hosig. I didn't hang out with Amy as much as I did with Nellie (or have that many classes with her), but I remember her talent and her open, friendly nature and I'm happy to see her being published, too. Envy by Andrea Luttrell. Andrea and I sh

Dedication, Focus, Elbow Grease, and the Conspicuous Absence of Shiny and Blue Things

After several years of writing, it's comforting to know that you can change and be changed by your writing processes. It's affirmation, I guess, that some parts of you are still growing, and changing without shutting down -- unlike other parts of your being, like your skin and your hair. (Hi sunspots! Hey grey hairs! I'm old!) Yesterday, after having a fairly successful day of writing, I was thinking about how very different my habits have become since I was given this time to write. For years -- years -- I felt an impediment that I called "writer's block" but was probably just good ol' fashioned mania. I never really slowed down long enough -- or separated myself from work, family, and outside noise for long enough -- to focus earnestly on my writing. To be honest, I'm not even sure I did that during grad school -- the one (or most likely) time in your life you're given explicit permission by family, society, and your checkbook to focus entir

Countdown to 2018 / What I Read When I Should Be Writing

It's probably not healthy or wise to think about this, but lately I've been overly concerned with the thought that the next time I get to be a full-time writer will be at the butt-end of this decade. As my colleagues post end-of-semester raves and rants on Facebook, I'm forced to acknowledge that this rare moment is almost over. I am a wee-bit depressed, to say the least. This is a completely ungrateful and sorry-for-myself attitude to have, I realize. I know that I'm ridiculously lucky to have had this opportunity at all. I'm just wallowing in a little bit of post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas, pre-final-weeks-of-sabbatical depression, methinks. It's probably time to lay off the caffeine and get back into exercise. I don't have a lot of time left to wallow, after all. Just a few more sweet weeks of writing until I return to teaching. (And really, the teaching I kinda look forward to -- it's the committee meetings and grading that I would rather not deal

Squidginess and Brain Fog

This week started promisingly enough with revision and a submission. On Monday, I revised some of the myth poems according to feedback I received from A.P. on Friday. Also, I put together a group of poems for a submission to a lit mag. Yay me, right? Wrong. Things slowed down drastically after that. On Tuesday, I woke up with the plague . . . not in my eye this time , but in my head. A cold -- and not one of those little sniffly things, but one of those viruses that slowly pulls you down into the depths of misery over the course of the day, to the point where you can't quite remember your name or why you're wearing pajamas at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Of course, I wasn't IN my pajamas at that point, because I attended a funeral for my friend's father in the morning, and I holed up in the library until it was time to pick up the boy, so it wasn't until about 7 p.m. that I could change into sweatpants and wallow in my misery. But any writing I did in the library (I

Two More Months!

I'm due for my beginning-of-the-month Survey of Completed Sabbatical Work, which more often than not tends to be part of my Continued Sabbatical Freakout. So here I am, ready to take stock of what I accomplished in November -- but surprisingly, even though this precious writing time is dwindling away, I'm significantly less freaked out than I was a month ago. I'm not finished with my Fairytale Poem -- but I've made good progress. I feel so much more sure of myself since I returned to the original storyline and began working revisions of those original lyric poems into the narrative. I realize that last sentence kinda sounds like a recipe for disaster, and I suppose it's very possible that the project could, indeed, turn out to be a disaster, but I'm confident that it won't. For now I'm confident, at least. I finished reading Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use by Robert B. Shaw yesterday, and I would like to go on record as saying that Robe

Racing to the Random Deadline, Or, Slowpoke Poetry

Today was good! I managed to turn in the freelance reading group guide I was a business-day behind on (if I'm not careful, they're not gonna use me anymore), AND finish my latest myth poem, AND get the oil changed in my car before our trip to Virginia tomorrow. I felt so productive I'm taking a little time-out, although this could be a bad move because there's a pile of clean laundry downstairs that's about 4 feet deep and needs to be folded. How DOES one household generate so much laundry? Oh, AND, I'm writing in my blog while the boy takes a late-in-the-day nap and the girl does . . . wait, what is that child doing? Why is it so quiet in here? *Pause for investigation* She's playing Angry Birds while her brother naps. Phew. So anyway, where was I? Writing about writing in my blog. Oh yeah -- THERE'S another accomplishment. (To tell you the truth, I'm feeling a little guilty about letting her play video games, and then admitting it online, but

My Morning Reading: Now Featuring Dead Mice!

I've been really unfocused this week with my writing. I bounce between continuing the fairytale and revisions of my first myth poems, which I'd like to send out to a journal soon, and an idea for a brand new myth poem that's about 3 lines old and needs nearly 30 more. Hopefully I'll get in good work today -- yesterday I worked but it was through a fog of sleepiness (the boy was up, on and off, most of the previous night) and then I battled a period of mania due to coffee overload. (Which means that I struggled with the final two lines of a stanza for about two hours, trying to find the perfect near-rhyme. I didn't find the perfect near-rhyme, or even a half-way decent near rhyme. These are the times I need someone to slap me and say, "Walk away, Kain. Walk away." I would have been better off taking my butt and my dog out for a much-needed walk.) Anyhoo, this morning, some reading: 1. From How A Poem Happens , this entry from Sarah Arvio, about her

Process Recap (and a Prayer for the Poetry Gods)

This has been a good, good writing week. (And yes, it feels even better to acknowledge that.) And I did manage to avoid the temptation of a Deadwood marathon, so I was able to get a lot of work done before my husband came home, and thankfully he did return, on Monday. So, I followed through on my decision to return to my original plot for the fairytale poem. This is what the process of writing the fairytale has been like so far: (Yay, recap!) 1. Original idea sparked in Fall 2010. First poem written; narrative in nature. I wondered if maybe that was it -- the end. Then another poem followed about the character, and then another. Soon I had about ten lyric poems written sequentially, or at the very least, begun. Then teaching and festival planning and committee nonsense happened. Writing stopped. 2. Having put to rest the Sow Poems, I turned again to the fairytale at the end of July 2011. Based on a conversation I'd had with A.P. in the spring, I'd decided to restru

What I Read When I Should Be Going to Bed

1. This blog piece by Erika Meitner is interesting (and somewhat humbling, I imagine, for anyone who has written a book that falls somewhere in her "taxonomy" of unpublished poetry manuscripts). 2. This interview with Pedro Almodovar in BOMB magazine. I love BOMB. 3. This interview with Tobias Wolff. Have I mentioned that I love BOMB?

Fabulous by Association

A.P. was nominated for this because of me. Because he's friends with someone so awesome. Just sayin'.

Laser Beams and Hot Oil. That's Right.

I begin the weekend with a rare feeling of enthusiasm and optimism about my work. It's not that I usually start my weekends feeling pessimistic and ambivalent -- about life in general OR about my writing. It's just that I have absolutely nothing going on this weekend but hanging out with my kids. Since my husband's out of town, I'm going to attempt productivity in the downtime I have (early morning, nap time, those odd moments when they're playing with one another peacefully, and after they're in bed.) After writing for the past two days, I believe I've found the happy middle ground with my accursed fairytale poem that I've been searching for, in earnest, since August. It's not time to rest on my laurels can, either. (I don't have laurels. I do, however, have a can. A can in desperate need of some treadmill time, too.) I am all too aware that I made a pledge in my last post to be finished with this manuscript by the end of the month. Of cours

I'm Learnding!

Today brings me one poem closer to manuscript completion, which is, you know, a good thing. A couple of items of interest/concern, however: 1. Today I wrote some lines that actually scared me. A little. I don't want to be too dramatic about it, so maybe, instead, let's say that I was exceedingly uncomfortable with those lines. Now, I've been in enough writing classes to know that those kinds of lines are usually the ones where you're taking risks, and usually risk = good & praiseworthy & character-building if nothing else. Well, I'm not so sure that applies to me here -- in fact, I'm sure it doesn't. These lines could turn out to be perfect crap by the time I reread them tomorrow (or this evening, more likely, 'cause I'm kinda obsessive like that). And there's a good chance they are crap -- they won't just magically turn into it! Anyway, my concern, or interest, is in the fear/uneasiness. I think that I was uneasy with what I wa

Another Victory Over Ye Olde Mighty Slushpile

Three of my poems have been accepted for publication in the Spring 2012 issue of The Southern Review . I am over-the-moon-giddy-happy-happy happy. My husband thought I'd set the house on fire from the way I came running down the stairs to tell him the news. So please excuse this little bit of celebratory nonsense -- I don't mean to brag. I realize that this is my second acceptance since I began this blog, but this year ended an eleven-year dry spell where publication was concerned . . . so, you know, I'm kinda excited. And, just by way of a disclaimer, I've also received ten rejections since I began writing this blog (in July). I accrued many many many many many rejections in that aforementioned dry spell, and I have a slew of submissions out there that will probably be returned with similar, small, impersonal rejection slips. I guess that's my way of asking that you not hate me for indulging in a little interweb gloat. (Woohoo!)

My Morning Reading

1. Dare to Love by Eliana Osborn. This has a lousy title (it reminds me of an eighties rock ballad album), and I think that some of the writing feels . . . distrustful? . . . (the short, staccato sentences, namely, that infuse the writing with drama when the situation really doesn't need to be infused with drama). So why would I suggest you read it? There are also some beautiful, devastating, brave moments in this essay -- both in subject matter and in craft. 2. A Soft Wife by Ruvanee Pietersz Vilhauer. I'm totally jealous of people who are talented at both writing and some other completely different field, like quantum physics. Vilhauer is not a quantum physicist, but she's a mother and a wife who teaches psychology at a small college in New Jersey, so she still earns my envy, because she can write a story like this while doing all of that. 3. What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison By Camille T. Dungy. Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation's Poem

The Necessity of Feedback

On Friday I finally met with A.P., after what seemed like an eternity, to discuss poetry, and more specifically, our poems. Really, I should say that we met to discuss our poems, and that a more general discussion of poetry developed from our responses to those poems. I have other friends who write poetry who, in turn, have other friends who write poetry also and with whom they conduct weekly or bi-weekly or monthly or yearly workshops. There was an article in Poets & Writers (this month's issue) about the importance of writing groups, but I'm sure most people missed it because this was also the issue in which they posted the oh-so-controversial MFA Program rankings . (By the way, the editorial in Slate that I've just linked to is about as bogus as the rankings themselves -- enjoy!) Anyway, W(here)TF was I? Ah, yes. The column in Poets and Writers by Ann Napolitano was a nice account of how the novelist has continued to maintain her friendship and writing relat

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Fact-Checking

So I'd intended for my next post to be a little mini-essay about workshopping and having writerly friends who help you do writerly things, but I've been having a good poetry-writing day that I didn't want to interrupt, save to share with you this little gem: Because my fairytale poem features a blacksmith, I ran to Google and attempted to do a little fact-checking. This is what I found: I think I might have to bypass Google and go to the college library's collection of online databases if I hope to accomplish anything other than winning a video game today, or winning at D&D, or whatever the f**k these people are doing that so wonderfully and ridiculously clutters up the interwebs. Love, Sarah


The week will end on a stronger note than it began. I've managed to finish one revision of an old poem that actually has a place in the new manuscript -- in the myth section -- and this morning I found a scrap in my old journal that made its way into being an actual poem for the fable (pig poems!) section. Of course, time will be the real test and may prove that these pieces don't belong anywhere near the MS -- the sow poem in particular, since I'd considered that section pretty much finished. But right now I'm optimistic, which is nice change from the beginning of the week and my last post, eh? The 27th of October is mid-semester at the college, ( and my sister's birthday!) which will mean that my sabbatical will be halfway over at the beginning of November. If I'd kept to the original schedule I set out for myself, the MS would have been complete in September and I'd be immersed in writing my play right now. I can't tell if my efforts to write par

A Morning Filled with Doubt

This is not a good way to begin the week, I suspect. Last week was a major hiccup in the writing/sabbatical process. The Doodle became sick with a fever around Monday evening -- and so he was home from school until Thursday, and I didn't get much accomplished on Tuesday and Wednesday. I struggled with revisions of old poems in between playing with Legos and completing puzzles with the boy, so there was some writing done, although honestly I don't know how productive it was. My major accomplishments ended up being 1) lit-mag research -- I found some really interesting new magazines (more on them later) 2) submissions and 3) the organization and "clean up" of my computer files (I had multiple drafts of poems saved between my laptop and my zip drive, and this clutter was a source of major confusion lately). I had about one day of good writing -- Thursday -- and, true to form (no pun intended), I spent the entire day focused on working out a stanza to one of the "

This Needed a Title, So Here it Is: Interweb Show and Tell

I hate to be a Debbie Downer so early on a Monday morning, but this article by Ann Larson on contingent faculty and the money machine of academia is really fantastic, albeit grim. So . . . no writing done during "quiet time" this morning, but there's still the rest of the day left . . . although I do have a committee meeting this morning. (It's for the committee that's charged with developing and overseeing the creative writing curriculum and emphasis, so it's probably in my best interest to be there, if I want for the college to regard my field seriously and with some modicum of respect.)

Writing in Sickness and in Health

This week's writing challenge: The plague. In my eye. Monday was productive because I spent my morning writing and then the rest of it catching up with committee work that I actually care about . . . namely, plans for the Creative Writing Festival (CWF) our college holds every year in the spring. We're going to add some nice little incentives for our panelists and workshop leaders, and the idea is that we'll attract more attention that way. Additionally, we made plans to streamline our operations (again). Every year this monster runs a little more smoothly -- and I'm hopeful that having a little more time and flexibility in my schedule this fall will allow us to really run this year without any of the headaches that usually afflict us. Tuesday was good because in addition to a little more CWF planning, I managed to write for another full five hours. I took a step away from the fairytale and worked on two new poems for the myth section of the manuscript, and began a

Literary Mama

I'm a little late to the table, I think, but I've just discovered the site "Literary Mama", and in particular, this book review , which in itself is a really lovely meditation on the difficulty of balancing work and raising children.

SimPATico . . . it's just fun to say

This was a good writing AND reading week. It didn't begin that way, but I persevered. Persistence (i.e. bull-headness) = winning! (Shut up, Charlie Sheen.) I've managed to "complete" (yes, I'm using the quotation marks again, deal with it) another poem for the third section of the manuscript, and I made some more headway with the second strophe of the fairy tale poem. I submitted my chapbook MS to one publisher and I have plans to complete another submission this afternoon. Also, I've now read almost half of the Blank Verse book by Shaw (which really isn't difficult, it's just that I wrote more than I read this week) and continued reading David Yezzi's excellent collection of formal poetry, Azores , on the treadmill. (Yes, on the treadmill. I am nothing if not a consummate multi-tasker . . . which, I agree, isn't really ideal for an art form that requires tranquility and peaceful moments of reflection, but when you're a working mother of

Changing Direction Mid-Creation (or: Why Writing Long Poems is a Terrible, Terrible Idea)

This morning I managed to finish another stanza. Yippee! At this rate, I'll be finished with the poem in the year that I retire. Part of my sluggishness over the past few days is a direct result of changing a major plot element of the poem. Perhaps I should explain first that I had, more or less, mapped out the course of the poem/fairytale according to 1) fits of inspiration and 2) guidance from the last few pages of a text titled The Classic Fairytales , edited by Maria Tatar. The last entry in this anthology is taken from Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale . This essay is, crudely but very admiringly put, The Shit. Propp analyzed 100 Russian fairy tales and managed to come up with a list of 31 "functions" -- or events/details/characteristics -- that fairy tales possess. "Propp's Thirty-One Functions" was extremely useful in helping me shape the plot line of my own fairytale. Most important was the following: 3. The sequence of functions is

More Good News

I discovered this morning that Fabulous Beast , my chapbook MS/the first section of the full-length MS I'm working on currently, was a semi-finalist in the Black Lawrence Review's Black River Chapbook Competition. Semi-finalists were announced on August 11 on their blog , and while I've been reading their blog periodically, I sure missed that one. Russell Swenson won the competition for his chapbook Santa Ana , which is described as a "compelling and enigmatic narrative". I'm looking forward to reading it, because, as you may have guessed, I dig on some narrative poetry, and even more especially, narratives told through lyric poetry. So! I shall exit the interwebs now and use this wonderful quiet time to work on that second part of the MS. (Little J has not surfaced from his bedroom yet. I think his Birthday Weekend Extravaganza wore him out.)

High Fiving A Million Angels!

I've had a good writing day. I managed to write for five nearly-solid hours (give or take an interruption or two) -- and I "finished" three stanzas of the fairytale poem. (I feel like the word "finished" should always be in quotation marks when used to talk about the state of one's writing.) Compared to my work over the month of August, that's like fitting three days into one! It's nice to be able to finally appreciate the sabbatical. Days like this would not occur without a semester off from teaching. Or they might occur, but there would be only one -- maybe two -- of these days that actually happened over the course of three or four months. That makes me sad, briefly, and then I shake off the sadness, force myself to remember that the spring semester and my eventual return to teaching is a long way off, and that perhaps my writing life will look somewhat different after having experienced this grace period. Today, that's what the sabbatic


It's kind of amazing how a couple of hours, or a stretch of them, can change one's perspective. This is probably a good concept to remember in my everyday interactions with people, and particularly when I'm having a bad day, but most especially when I'm writing. I was having a bad writing day on Friday. I ended my morning writing session in a funk because I spent the bulk of the time revising my fairytale poem -- the one paltry strophe of it. I wish I could recognize my uphill battles when I'm engaged in them -- while the three lines I finally settled on are keepers (for now), the rest of my scribbling felt less necessary and more like a waste of time. But then on Monday I tried again -- and purposely ignored the "finished" strophe. I went immediately to the second strophe and tried to remember that, at this point, I just have to tell the story. I have to get this out. The goal of this sabbatical is to produce work. I can't spend days agonizing ove

Obstacles and Inconveniences

"I really am your gift. I am not just a little person who needs to be "raised" and taught, and taken to activities....I came to the people in my life to bring a message: slow down. Feel. Be. Over and over again. When you do, you will notice immediately, that I am not an obstacle to your work, or inconvenience to your daily life. Instead, you will come to appreciate my honesty, humor, presence and love."-- Bruce Scott A "Facebook Friend"/acquaintance posted this the other day. It's one of those daily affirmation kind of posts that makes my blood curdle, but I read it anyway . . . mostly because the woman who posted it is a woman who is homeschooling her children and definitely following the beat of her own drummer, which I admire. Also, I have a lot of (hopefully polite) curiosity about her life, which is so different from my own. I may not always agree with the parenting techniques she espouses, but I respect her interest and concern and her intelle

The Anxiety of Planning

Yesterday I worked myself into a frenetic, worried mess. I spent my writing hour(s) doing more reading than writing, which in itself was okay -- I was reading critical essays about fairytales, and taking notes and thinking about how my own fairytale poem should be shaped. But then, after the quiet period of the morning was up -- the boy and the girl having decided between themselves at some point that this would be The Day of Fighting and Not Listening -- I attempted to write out a schedule for my sabbatical. The results were rather disastrous. That is, to my apparently fragile psyche they were disastrous. If you look at it from the standpoint of my house and the kitchen cabinets I gutted and cleaned throughout the entire afternoon, the results were fabulous! (More overwhelming stress, please! I'll have this house whipped into shape in no time!) I went kind of bat-shit crazy on the inside. This sabbatical scares me. I think I've voiced that as a joke before, but I'm jus