Friday, March 25, 2011

Please Visit

I finally have found the most graceful way to record my publication credits for the merely curious or the truly interested. On the page which is linked next to HOME, I've filled in my publication history as best I could, given the great age of some poems and short fiction. I am grateful to the editors over the years who have generously given my work their attention and space in their pages. Keeping records such as this list is part of publishing; records prevent the embarrassment of sending a piece of writing to an editor who has previously seen and dismissed it, and allows me to give credit where it belongs when the story or poem (or novel?) finds a home and a readership. Publishing means subjecting our work to critique, pleasant or ugly, but that's where courage comes in.

Without readers, the writing is never complete.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Practice, practice, practice

"What you write need not be perfect. It need only add some small observation about your world." Atul Gawande

For a long time I ran this quote as part of my email signature because I believe it. I do, though, have trouble not striving for perfection. When I relax into my journal, sometimes I can put a few words together that please me, even without their being perfect. Here's yesterday's journal entry.

In a world full of news about disasters in which people lose all their possessions, I'm fortunate to have mine. For instance, I'm writing in my favorite chair. This chair is well padded, like me. It's deep enough to cradle me if I put a small pillow at my back. The arms are partly padded, partly scrolled wood, painted with a crackle finish. The upholstery fabric is a large floral pattern in sage, beige and wine. The throw pillows are wine with beaded edges. I take my chair for granted. It's always right where I left it, between the floor lamp to my left and the end table to my right. The chair is too heavy to move easily, as I am reminded whenever Duncan the Dog rolls his ball under it and I have to get down on cranky knees to help him retrieve his toy.

The chair cost very little in the consignment shop where I found it. The cushions are detached, so I can turn them and make them wear evenly. In short, this chair suits me. I hope it lasts as long as I do. It's like Robert Frost's definition of home: when I sit there, it has to hold me. The chair is not a critic of me or my work, offers not a creak or a groan. It marks my place in the world. Who owns this chair, owns her life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Learning from a Master

Last Saturday I spent the afternoon at the Boulder Public Library listening to Pulitzer Prize winner and former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser (2004-2006). The first part of the program was a discussion circle in which Kooser answered questions and talked about his work. After a short break, he was introduced by poet Jack Collom and read poetry in the library theater. Here are some highlights:
  • Kooser's book Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon, 2004), which won the Pulitzer, has sold over 100,000 copies! This is amazing and encouraging. He's clearly reaching an audience beyond the poets and students who traditionally buy poetry books.
  • We give our poems to the world; thus we should be considerate of a wide audience in choosing our language.
  • Ideas are fatal to the creation of poetry. Shared experience makes the best of his work.
  • White space at the end of a line is powerful; ending a line with an active verb turns the corner forcefully.
  • He "fails" 28 times out of 30 when he writes; he's happy to get 8 good poems a year; daily writing constitutes good practice. He told us about a champion horseshoe player who said he threw a hundred shoes a day to maintain his accuracy. (Maybe then, writing a hundred words a day isn't unreasonable.)
  • Kooser is aware of accentual and syllabic structure even though he writes "free" verse.
  • Yes, he learns from other writers, and shares his work with Bob King, Dan Gerber and Jim Harrison.
  • He paints.
  • It's good to write to poets whose work you admire.
  • His students are asked to read 100 poems by other people for every one they themselves write.
  • He read 20 poems that afternoon, with a bit of banter and explanation between poems. His voice is clear, not melodramatic, not coy or self-conscious.
  • One of his favorite poems is by Tomas Transtromer, "The Couple."
  • Kooser describes himself as an introvert who was so stunned by the cold call from the Library of Congress asking him to be Poet Laureate that he could not respond, decided to go for a drive to clear his head and return some videos. In backing the car out of the garage, he tore off a side mirror and forgot to drop off the videos.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Branding Poems

As a kid I loved westerns--in print or on television. (We couldn't afford movies.) Every Sunday evening at my grandparents' house Aunt Dot, Uncle Bob and cousins Ralph and Margie would join us for ice cream while we watched a handsome guy on a horse round up the bad guys. Often enough, he also rounded up cows, and we saw the calves cut from the herd, roped, thrown to the ground and bawling as a red-hot branding iron marked them for their owner. In the days of open pasturage, the brand assured--more or less--that come fall roundup the owner and the hands brought in the right critters. Rustlers were hanged for having in their possession cattle with the tell-tale brand of a wronged rancher.

Branding poems is less dusty, I don't need a horse or rope, and so far no one has been hanged for corralling another poet's dogie. Poets and writers are now urged to market their work by branding it. This means  using a consistent head shot, creating a company name, and publicizing the work through readings--where the audience learns pretty quickly what to expect from a poet. One needs a "presence" on line. No longer is it enough to write well and throw the pages into the air with the hope that someone will catch them. Independent bookstores like Shakespeare & Company, which championed James Joyce when no other vendor would touch him, are few, and even the mega-stores, e. g. Borders, struggle against the tide of online opportunity for books and writers to garner attention. Well, I fought with this idea because it felt like bragging, but finally it has taken hold. So here I am brandishing a red-hot iron with my initials on it, stamping every poem as it lies with my mark. Rustlers beware!