Friday, May 14, 2021

Buying Books

When I retired from the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc, I became ineligible to use the statewide UW libraries' resource-sharing service. I like poetry, memoirs, and sometimes essays and novels. My kind of literature is published by small presses, or with a small press run, something out-of-print but not out of copyright, something that has too low of expected usage for a public library to buy or keep. The kind of books that many academic libraries collect and preserve.

Since there's still a silo between academic and public library interlibrary loan services, I have made my peace with buying the books I want. I can personalize them, underline passages, reread them whenever I like. They pile up on a counter, never needing to be returned. It feels extravagant.

Marina Tsvetaeva

I just ordered Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries 1917-1922, after reading Dark Elderberry Branch by Marina Tsvetaeva, tr. by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine. I remember finding one of Tsvetaeva's diary entries published in a lit journal (which?) in (when?) sitting (where?) and reading how, during the revolutionary years, she lived in a house where the former occupants had chopped up the staircase for fuel. She had to climb a rope each night to get upstairs to sleep.

While I read, my Self faded away. What remained was the image, the emotion, the ability to imagine another person's life and to cross the limits of time and place to do so.

I agree with the gist of Luke 12:34: Where your treasure is, so is your heart. Literature is not the only treasure I have, but it certainly is a treasure.

Image: Марина Ивановна Цветаева (w:Marina Tsvetayeva), 1925 Photograph by Pyotr Ivanovich Shumov (1872-1936). This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or fewer.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Diary vs. Blog

                     August Müller (1836–1885),
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
I'm not much for blogging. The diary wins this competition. First thing in the morning I sit on a couch that faces east while my hand moves across the page.

Blogging is "better," in the sense that it's more career-oriented and meant for public consumption; it's literary. There's a shape to it, a structure, a theme. It's practice for serious writing. It's ambitious, it assumes an audience. It's real estate, an advertisement, a room of one's own on the world wide web. 

A diary is a consolation, a secret, an intimate friend. My cartridge pen is orange. The cover of my journal is shocking pink. The ink flows over the paper like a sloop over Lake Michigan on a windy day. In it, I record the dreams I remember, a list of what I hope to achieve that day, observations about the wildlife outside my window, memories, emotions.

A diary is a womb to re-enter. To hide inside.

A blog is a megaphone, a soapbox. Something polished to offer others.

During the pandemic, I have been increasingly drawn inward. But since todo cambia, it won't hurt to stick my neck out a bit. I'll blog in the hope of a more social future.   


Friday, April 2, 2021



Yes, it's April. 

NaPoWriMo poem-a-day challenges are great for priming the creativity pump. Eventually, poems flow through your mind and all you have to do is record them.

Sometimes it works that way.

I'm taking it easy this year. I'm paying more attention to reading poems than writing them. This year I've been seeing things I never used to notice. Poetic devices, in particular, thanks to the class and workshop teachers I've had this year: Tom Montag, John Sibley Williams, Maggie Smith, Ilya Kaminsky, and Jude Nutter. (Does it seem like I'm bragging when I list such eminent names? All right, I brag.) 

My most recent issue of 32 Poems is so marked up I wonder if I'll be able to read anything from it in the future. 

The only reason I allowed myself to scribble in it is because periodicals are consumable products, according to the State of Wisconsin (as a librarian, I always worked for public universities and had to think of things like that). And because the subscription is mine, not a library's, in case you wondered.

Speaking of periodicals, I recommend this one:  Terminus Magazine Belarus Edition. It features poems and translations by poets from the U.S.A. and Belarus. It was my first introduction to Belarusian literature and now I am haunted. This issue and the Atlanta Poetry Translation Festival made me realize how reading poetry from other countries makes your brain feel different: bigger, wider, with new networks forming. 

On another note, we found yellow crocuses in our front yard today. 💛 

Image by Walter Frehner from Pixabay

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reflecting on My Literary 2020


2020 felt like a string of long days that passed too quickly in which I accomplished very little. But that doesn't mean I didn't devote hours in the day to poetry and literature. 

After writing this list of pursuits, I realized that I am actually living out my long-time dream of becoming immersed in literature, of living the life of a writer, a poet, a reader, someone who values the word, the book. This is the way I have always wanted to live my life.  

  1. I published a chapbook! In July, my book, The Joy of Their Holiness, was released by Kelsay Press.  Normally I would have been busy trying to find outlets for public readings, but that was complicated by the 2020 pandemic. 
  2. A few days before my book came out, I gave a reading for the Lakeshore Unitarian Universalist Fellowship over Zoom, which I enjoyed very much. The presentation went by smoothly and those who attended were warm and encouraging. However,
  3.  I grew to hate Zoom. Something about its intensity wore me out. I also find it hard to focus visually on the screen. Not sure why it would differ from other uses of my laptop. 
  4. In late spring and summer, I experienced a few Zoom events that I loved: 
    1. Readings with Abayomi Animashaun, Kimberly Blaeser, and Linda Hogan. 
    2. Webinars sponsored by the Thunder Bay Museum, where I learned about Radisson the explorer, archival storage of munitions and other dangerous items, and queer Canadian history and literature by First Nations writers.
    3. FestivALL Charleston (W.V.) Poets Roundtable. The moderator, Marc Harshmann, elicited insightful and interesting thoughts from four poets with loose connections to the state.    
  5. I was lucky enough to take classes and workshops on Zoom that otherwise would have been face-to-face and inaccessible to me.
    1. Time and Distance Overcome: Research in Poetry by Erin Malone. This four-week class was sponsored by Hugo House and I loved it. We read and discussed poetry by Linda Beards, Natasha Trethewey, Laura Da', Kathleen Flenniken, and Layli Long Soldier. The theme was on how to incorporate research into poetry and the examples given included both personal and documentary history. One of the poems I wrote for the class won an Honorable Mention from Wilda Morris's Poetry Challenge.
    2. First Vision Then Revision by Halee Kirkwood at The Loft. This was a one-day workshop. Halee brought the class some innovative, creative ways of looking at drafts of poems. I created two publishable poems out of the draft I brought. One is still pending; the other was published by the online lit magazine As It Ought To Be
    3. Lessons Seven Poets Can Teach Us by Tom Montag at The Mill. I've been taking classes from Tom since Fall 2017 and each has challenged me and brought forth poems I am proud of. In this class, we studied legacy poets including James Wright, Jane Kenyon, Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, Ruth Stone, William Stafford, and Mary Oliver. My best poem came from the William Stafford week. 
    4. Tarot Tells the Story by Phoebe Tsang at The Loft. Workshop. A different way to look at poetry. The cards don't speak to me often, but as so many people I know find them a useful means of guidance and inspiration, I wanted to learn more.
    5. Mastering Magazine Submissions by John Sibley Williams at The Pottery Barn. Even though I consider myself an adequate submitter, I learned techniques in this independent study that have streamlined the process for me 
    6. Wait, Wait, Let Me Rephrase That! by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina. Workshop. Our handout was titled, A Twelve Step Program to Look at a Poem. I learned how to focus on craft when reading poems. 
    7. Recharge Your Revision Practice by Dilruba Ahmed at Hugo House. Workshop. Ruba covered more than craft. She also had us expand outward and look at how society affects a poem.  
    8. Reading and Writing the Poetic Line by S. Yarberry at The Loft. Six-week class taught via an online classroom. The class ran from March to April, right at the beginning of the pandemic and its concomitant tensions. Full of theory about poetic lines, new poetic vocabulary (like the monostich), and a celebration of lines I had no previous knowledge of.  
    9. Friday Free-Writes from the International Women Writers Guild. My favorite was by Lisa Freedman, who taught meditation as a writing tool.
    10. Poemunize by Marj Hahn. I loved the 30 days of 30-minute workshops that introduced me to some beautiful poetry and gave every attendee a creative boost during a difficult period.
    11. Hitting the Sweet Spot: Where Lyric and Narrative Connect by Donna Hilbert at Writer On, Door County. Donna is one of the most generous and friendly poets I've ever taken a class from. I was sorry that the pandemic prevented us from meeting face-to-face as I would have loved to have seen her again. 
    12. Nurture Your Writing: 10 Tips by Laura Winkelspecht at The Mill. Just what I needed to break through some of my resistance to writing.  
    13. Experiencing the Shamanic Journey by Sandra Ingerman at SoundsTrue. If I ever thought I was simply a logical sequential thinker, this course taught me that it's not hard to tap into a deeper level, the level where creativity waits.  
    14. I'm still processing what I learned in some of these classes. If I were more disciplined, I would spend every day poring over handouts and writing new poems from what I learned. That is still a possible goal, though I can't see the everyday thing. As a slow writer and slower reviser, I'm considering trying a poem a week.
  6. In July, I created my own Wednesday Workshops to study Irene McKinney's poetry as well as some other West Virginia poets, like Pauletta Hansel. I gathered videos, interviews, critiques, and reviews and tried to work through a series of teacher-like questions I had written up ahead of time. I think this process would benefit from the knowledge I gained in some of the classes I took. Worth continuing in 2021, perhaps for generating new poems. 
  7. 2021 PoPo (Postcard Poetry). In August I sent out a postcard a day to other poets around the country and around the world. I'm now culling through poems I wrote for each. My first publication in 2020 was one of the 2019 PoPos I wrote. 
  8. I became a Contributing Poet for Mad Swirl magazine! The requirements are that I am to have at least one poem a year published at their site. 
  9. Participated in the #100 Rejections Challenge on Submittable. It helped desensitize me to rejections by thinking of them positively. It also forced me to submit to a few dream journals. I loved the honesty in that group, each of us sharing our failures and coming to realize that our successes were just the tip of the mountain of work we did. 
  10. Read every chapbook and book nominated for the Elgin Awards sponsored by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. Read every poem nominated for the Dwarf Star Award. SciFi poetry is not a particular interest of mine, but I admire much of the work I read and keep hoping I can find a way to incorporate science into my own work. 
  11. Participated in A Public Space group readings. These brought me to quirky, classic works I might not otherwise have read. Discussions took place on Twitter, each led by a different eminence in the literary world, like Ilya Kaminsky and Claire Messud. 
  12. Submitted 112 poems. Had 85 rejections, 18 acceptances, and 6 withdrawals/no responses. 
  13. A poem of mine was nominated by Roderick Bates of Rat's Ass Review for selection in Best New American Poets. Two poems of mine were put on the "50 most popular" list created by Chase Dimock of As It Ought To Be.  
  14. I read at least 90 books in 2020, as per my Goodreads list. 
  15. Successfully worked through The Artist's Way program by Julia Cameron (and am going back to those morning pages). 

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I began writing and publishing poetry after retiring from my career as an academic librarian.