December 31, 2011

New Year's

Resolution season. There's the typical: weight (to gain it, in my case), exercise (ha!), read more, write more, work harder, like more people, drink more tea and less coffee, more time outside and less internet, more patience and less cynicism.

Looking back at 2011, I had a really good year. I read more translated poetry, saw more of the country, made more friends, began learning an instrument, and started this here blog.


New Year's Eve always makes me a little sad.


New issue of Devil's Lake is live! I'm particularly proud of this one. Some of my last editorial decisions as its poetry editor, a lot of work done from the editor-in-chief side of things. It's been awesome watching this journal grow over the last two years.


Poet Lore asked me to write a blog post about "Shank," my poem they nominated for a Pushcart. Here's the link.

December 8, 2011

Poetry Is Hard

Poetry's been hard lately. I'm sure that has something to do with the end of the semester, but it's no excuse. When I am able to write a poem, I feel good about the work, but my productivity is slowing down quite a bit, which feels like a standstill coming off poem-a-day October. Perhaps my creative well is waiting for rain.


I finished grading my students' long poem. No one told me that by assigning a 10-page poem to 13 students that I'd have to read and comment on 130 pages of poetry in a week. But it hardly felt like work; my students this semester are so talented.


There's been a call for submissions to send "G-rated" poems to an Eat Local, Read Local festival in Milwaukee. My students have asked me to read a poem of mine at the class reading which we'll have on our final day together. All this has brought to my attention that my poems which make some reference to sperm much outnumber the poems which do not make some reference to sperm.


I found out that Poet Lore has nominated my poem "Shank" for a Pushcart Prize. I'm very humbled and honored. They have also asked me to write a post about the poem for their blog, which I'll link here when it goes live.


Dear Blog, have I told you I decided not to apply for PhD programs this year? I have decided not to apply for PhD programs this year. My heart just wasn't in it. I'm not completely ruling it out in the future, but I know what sort of steam it takes to roll through a doctorate program, and I think I just need to want it more than I do right now. I sent off some fellowship applications, but in all likelihood, I'll be moving to Georgia, finding some work there, hopefully still writing poems on the side, living with Brandon, and petting his three cats, and that all sounds great to me.


Also, Brandon and I celebrated our two year anniversary this past Thanksgiving. I'm a very lucky guy. The luckiest, I reckon.

November 11, 2011


I've been revising a lot of poems from the October poem-a-day challenge and am starting to think about which ones to send out. It's been awhile since I've sat on this much new work. The other time was after I took Quan Barry's boot camp workshop. Looking back, those poems became the framework of the manuscript draft I've been sending out, so I'm hoping that this batch will prove to be the foundation of the next thing. After some revision, I like the new poems more than anything else I've written, and I think that's a positive trajectory.


I've been sick all week. This coincided with the week of non-stop readings (I think there were a total of five this week) as well as twelve conferences in one day. Whatever I have is breaking but I feel so winded.


Many thanks to the editors of New England Review and Colorado Review for taking a handful of poems. It was very humbling to get notes from C. Dale Young and Donald Revell, two poets I've admired for some time.


Am preparing and sending out job and fellowship applications. Didn't I just do this? Not that long ago?


Recall signature collecting begins in four days. Walker, start taking pictures of your office. You may want to remember what it was like to be the kingpin.

October 31, 2011

On Quitting & Pillow Cases

This past October, some poet friends (and friends of friends) and I have been partaking in a poem-a-day challenge. I just sent off my 31st poem! I've tried doing the April challenge a couple of times and I usually end up quitting just over the halfway point, so I'm glad I stuck with it. It was a good exercise, and although half of what I wrote was utter crap, the other half is pliable and something I can keep working with. Some of the better poems I wrote this past month were on the days I wanted to quit, and would've quit if I hadn't felt the responsibility to write something down, and that's a good lesson for me.


Recently had some poems taken by the editors of Cream City Review and West Branch. Many thanks to them!


Halloween is here, and it's one of my favorite holidays and it comes in one of my favorite months. I've always loved costume parties, and I've always geeked out by dressing  as superheroes. This year I wanted to go as Robin (as in Batman's sidekick), and I wanted to sew most of my costume myself. Here's a roundup of some superheroes I've been in the past, and this year's final product:

Batman, 2005. Made from heavy-duty trashbags and a mask found at Reny's

Superman, 2006. Made from clothes I already had

Robin, 2011. Made from compression cloth, spandex, pillow cases, dish washing gloves, and American Eagle underpants


Brandon will be back in Madison in just over two weeks, and I couldn't be more excited.

September 22, 2011

Coming Out

Below is a video of a gay man coming out to his dad over the phone:

I wish everyone who came out could have an experience like this one. Mine wasn't. It was Thanksgiving, 2008. I told my dad I was dating someone and that his name was Ryan. My dad moved to the other side of the couch and turned the television's volume up. Later that afternoon, when my baby cousin spit up over her mom, my dad nudged me and told me that I never did that because I was a swallower. I nudged him back and told him I still was.

Jokes aside, it was a solid two years before my relationship with my parents returned anywhere near a stable place. Since then, coming out has become easier, and is something I do all the time. Whenever I meet someone new, I feel the need to drop the word "boyfriend," to make a joke about being as queer as pink peanut butter, or to act more flamboyantly than what I'm predisposed to, just to signify to that new person who I am. 

In poetry, I find the need to come out constantly, too. Like the Beatles who claimed every song they wrote was a political song, I feel every poem I wrote is a queer poem. For a reader who didn't know me to assume that my work wasn't queer (as our culture teaches us to do) would be to bypass the reason that poem exists. A queer perspective is the center of every poem I write, whether or not that poem confronts love and sex. If I write about a house, it's queer because the domestic sphere is different in a queer poem. If I write about death, it's queer because community and religious rites associated with death are different.

I think poets face coming out often, and not just the queer ones. Most poets stay in the closet (when asked what they do, they answer, "I teach"). We squirrel away in our little communities, and for the most part are ignored by the rest of the world. It was awhile before I could adopt the word "poet" as an identity. Even now it sounds a bit pretentious, a bit turtle-necked and forty-year-old Merlot to me, but coming out as a poet is another thing I'm getting used to. 

September 15, 2011

Crush, Hack, Calendar, Frost

Another semester, and my ducklings seem particularly lovely and smart. I'm having them read Richard Siken's Crush this week as their first adventure into the long poem (which my class is themed around). As I teach them about the long poem, I find my own poems are growing smaller and sparser and quieter. I've been reading a lot of Octavio Paz and now I can't seem to stop writing about abandoned houses.


Hacked the manuscript up one more time. I'm making October 1st a hard deadline for sending it out. I have a list of ten or so open reading periods and competitions for this year, and I'm starting to have second thoughts. The more I read other first books (mainly, the more I reread Crush), the more I think maybe it's not ready yet.


Since everyone keeps on asking for my opinion on the MFA rankings (read sarcasm here), here it is: I found Seth Abramson's rankings on his blog to be invaluable when I began to think about MFA programs. Not the rankings or the vote system themselves per se (I didn't even apply to the Iowa workshop, which is the top ranked school), but just how much information (stipend, teaching load, size, etc) was compiled into one place made a huge impact on my decision. Calling the methodology into question isn't an unhealthy practice, but the attacks directed toward Seth and the staff of Poets & Writers I find to be troublesome and childish. Laura Eve Engel writes more elegantly and in-depth on this topic here, and I find her post to be one of the best I've read on the matter.


Some friends and I got to discussing who we'd want to be included in a poet bathing suit calendar. I'm making my wishlist.


The weather has dropped, and now's the season for many late night walks. There are herbs (dill, rosemary, thyme) drying over our windows, and pickles pickling in a crock. The forecast mentions frost and an alleviation of migraines. Everything, it seems, is preparing for winter.

August 24, 2011

Escaping the Pen

It's been nearly 3 weeks since my last entry! I'm headed down a slippery slope.


After a stint in Maine and a stint in Georgia, I'm back in Madison for awhile and have been working on my syllabus and manuscript pretty non-stop. I feel like there's a 2-3 poem gap in my current draft of my MSS (which is now well past its 20th and best rendition), and so I'm hoping to write toward these. The way it usually goes is I'll write 6 poems and half of them won't be any good and the other half might make it in. We'll see.

I met with some brilliant friends and we swapped manuscripts and gave each other feedback. They advised me to cut a few poems that I've known for awhile needed to go. I've been hesitant because just over a year ago I thought one of them was the best poem I had written to date. It seems strange to drop it from the book when other poems are staying that feel weaker to me but are more thematically aligned. Oh these tough decisions! My hope is that Andrew the Llama will be escaping his pen in a future poetry project, if not this one.


I reviewed Melissa Stein's Rough Honey over at Devil's Lake.


Lately I've been feeling this very intense urge to go on a trip of some kind, to see more of the country. I feel like I'm getting to that age where one starts to become too bogged down by responsibilities to just go. Twenty four, and I already feel trapped by adulthood. So I've started planning a tenting / road trip for the end of the school year when I move from Madison to Athens. Via the west coast. Stops include but are not limited to: the Tetons, Yellowstone, Cathedral Arch, Zion, Big Basin, hot springs, Spider Rock + Canyon de Chelley, and Big Burgess. 


In an hour, my friend Liam will be in Madison for a visit! We've been friends since I was a freshmen at UMaine-Farmington. Here's a picture of us cleaning our bathroom back in carefree days:

August 2, 2011

The Waiting

Earlier this year, I planned on spending the summer working on a new writing project, as summer begins to wind down, I ended up writing more poems for the first MSS and trying to get back into that headspace. It's been good. I've been adding new poems to the middle section, the one that to me feels the most lost. These poems don't "fit" thematically as cleanly as I would have allowed myself in earlier drafts. I'm hoping these poems will reach further, or take the reader to more unpredictable places, or mature the book as a whole (cue Jackie Wilson's "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher"). Who knows. It'll all be different in another few months. I'm trading manuscripts with some brilliant friends in a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to hearing what they think (but not as much as I'm looking forward to reading their manuscripts).

I'm also looking forward to the fall when all the journals and book competitions and reading periods open. And then the waiting, the dreaded waiting.


Brandon left for Georgia, and since, I've been trying to fill that part of the day I usually spent with him. I can usually keep myself busy to about 6pm, and then after that I start pacing or bugging my roommates to watch even more reruns of RuPaul's Drag Race or Arrested Development. I don't usually like watching TV but it makes the time go by faster. Part of me is excited to reconnect with people I haven't seen as much as I would've liked. And I'm hoping I'll read and write more and be even more productive (because reading and writing for 8 hours a day was child's play). Still, despite all this, I'll be glad when June comes and all of this separateness is over.


July 4, 2011

A Scattering of Flashcards

After deciding against it, I've changed my mind about applying to Ph.D. programs in the fall. I was discouraged, initially, to learn that one of the programs I hoped to apply to (the same school where Brandon will be attending) wants a 95 percentile on the GRE, which felt very much beyond my reach. I did very average the last time I took the GRE. I don't test well at all, and despite being a poet, my vocabulary is pretty conventional. Like Frost, I prefer the common language, the every man's speech. 

But I was elated to discover that the GRE has been revamped, and starting this fall, will no longer (among other things) have analogies and other out-of-context vocabulary, which will help substantially. So I've been spending the last few weeks studying vocab. I've got various stacks of flashcards littering my room. I also re-read D.A. Powell's Cocktails, which is one of my favorites. Here's a sample of the list of words I made from its final section:  Pyx. Dhisced. Tonsure. Cowls. Spurtle. Anaphylaxis. Exuviae. Heparin. Sigmoidoscope. Intubation. Viaticum. Orval. Exsiccated. Berm. Mammillated. Carbuncled. Byssus. The list goes on and on, and even though not all these words are ETS GRE - type words, it's been fun to push myself in that way.

I've been so comfortable using such pedestrian language in my poems, and reading a book as great as Cocktails presents me with the challenge of using these more dazzling, specific words. Additionally, I've started a six month challenge to read a book from an international poet a week. I've read so little of the poetry canon, and most of what I've read has been published in American post-1980. I've read the anthologized work of earlier poets, and all of Whitman, and a scattering of modernists, but when it comes to international poets, I fall flat after Lorca and Neruda. Week One,  I read Mahmoud Darwish's Eleven Plants, translated by Fady Joudah (whose Earth in the Attic I loved). Initially, I struggled with how little narrative elements there were (no characters, no setting), but I grew to love it. I'm too drawn to the narrative sphere of poetry. Sometimes I need to let poetry be poetry, to make strange leaps, to make more sonic sense than linear and comprehensive sense, to deal more with the heart than the head. Here's a great sample from the third section of Darwish's poem "The 'Red Indian's' Penultimate Speech to the White Man" that does just that:
                                                         ...You will lack the lily of longing, you will lack, white ones, a memory that tames the horses of madness and a heart that scratches the rock to burnish itself on the violin's will lack the confusion of the gun: if murder is imperative, then do not kill the animals that have befriended us, and do not kiss our yesterday you will lack a truce with our ghosts in the barren winter nights and you will lack a dim sun, a gibbous moon, for the crime to appear less festive on the movie screen, so take your time to kill God"

The restaurant out of which I catered for burned down this past week, and so once again I'm unemployed. I have a tutoring gig lined up for August, and since I'm headed to Maine and Georgia for most of July, I think I will enjoy the time to learn new words, read new poets, and write better poems.


In other news, I had a birthday, which I celebrated with good people, champagne, and shortcake. Last night, I went on a sunset bike ride (on my new peugeot!) around the shore of Lake Mendota, and onto a peninsula which is a breeding ground for lightning bugs. This week, many of my housemates leave, and the cats continue to bring them parting gifts of rabbit hearts, livers, and heads.

June 22, 2011

Summer of Weddings

I'm sure I've been to more weddings in the past month than I have in my entire life. I started a gig catering weddings out of a nearby restaurant. The  pay's good, and I really like spying on all these weddings. That's what it feels like, too, spying. I get the same thrill as one gets out of driving by houses at night and seeing how stranger's laid out their kitchens.

It looks like the only weekends where I won't be catering are the weekends where I'll be attending weddings. Going to so many weddings has transformed me into a middle-schooler who can only think about what I'd want my wedding to look like. Cupcakes instead of wedding cake. Whitman instead of the Bible. But oh wait. I can't get married. Maybe I'll have an Alice in Wonderland "Un-birthday" theme, except it'll be an "Un-married" party, and we'll serve unwedding cake.

It's looking more and more like New York will pass gay marriage in the coming weeks, which will be good--if nothing else--as a morale booster in gay politics. It seems that ever since we lost the gay marriage battle in Maine in 2009, it's been one disappointment after another across the country.

During the month of June, Beloit Poetry Journal is hosting a symposium and discussion on gay poetry and aesthetics on their blog. I've been trying to formulate some thoughts on this, as it's something I think about a lot, but I haven't been able to articulate much yet. Mostly because what I have to say seems either overtly apparent, or concerns my own personal experience, in which case this blog would be better suited. Or my diary, for that matter.

Books by Friends

In the last few weeks, two friends of mine recently had their books published, and my god, these books are gorgeous: both the poems themselves and the production of the book. I highly highly recommend these.

Northerners, winner of the Green Rose Prize, by Seth Abramson, New Issues Press

The Lifting Dress, winner of a National Poetry Series award, by Lauren Berry, Penguin Books.

As always, I'm lucky to know such talent.

June 9, 2011

A Bit of a Rant

Since ending my last job, I've been working a lot on generating new material, which has been going fine. Good news is that I've been writing drafts of new poems nearly every day. But these poems are lifeless. It's a strange experience to spend all this time writing and know that at the end of several hours of work, these poems will never go anywhere except into a folder. I know it's good; I know it's all an exercise and that I'll probably collapse several of these 'meh' poems into better ones in the future; that like any art, it's practice, but it also sucks. It's been months since I've hit one out of the park.

Joint Finance Committee (JFC) hearings have been going on at the Capitol this past week, and in response, progressives have erected a tent city called "Walkerville" around the Capitol. So far, the JFC has made decisions such as ending the early release program for nonviolent offenders (which will end up costing the state more) and cutting back meals for prisoners from 3 to 2 a day (which also won't save money when they become malnourished). Decisions of this ilk are becoming commonplace here in Wisconsin, and it's becoming increasingly difficult not to be desensitized by all of this because everyday seems to bring more and more and more depressing and soul-crushing news. All the work I did for canvasing was for (almost) nothing, and realistically the best we can hope for is to can some of these politicians, elect better ones, and maybe some of these things will be untangled, but that will take years. And this bill is so infuriating. I like to see the complications in such hotly contested issues, but this isn't complicated. It's evil, and it has an agenda. The idea that by giving tax cuts to big corporations such as Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart will in turn offer more minimal-wage, no heath-care job openings, but in order to this, we've got to fire 5,000 teachers (and even more state workers) so that they can get a job at Wal-Mart, which will drastically lower the quality of public education in Wisconsin, so that our students can also work at Wal-Mart.

I worked at Wal-Mart for a brief stint (very brief, as in less than 3 weeks), and before I started, I had to sign a waiver that if I was hurt on the job, I would not hold Wal-Mart accountable legally. Near the end of my time there, I did get hurt on the job. I smashed my thumb into a sliding meat case, breaking open  my thumbnail, so that blood filled the thumb of my latex glove. I thought I was going to pass out, so I stumbled out into the backroom and  held my head between my legs. My supervisor came over, grabbed my swipe card from my pocket, punched me out, and then asked me if I was okay. Because this was store policy. Because Wal-Mart could later argue that I didn't get hurt on the clock. And this is how our fired educators will be treated.

I'm so angry I'm numb.

May 31, 2011

Quick Updates

  • I graduated! I am now a Master of Fine Arts. Which is more impressive than being a Master of Ordinary Arts, let me tell you.

  • My parents came up for a visit. After trying to entertain them with all the wonders Madison has to offer, it turned out all they wanted to do was go to the public garden. So that's what we did. Every day.

  • I got a job with Advancing Wisconsin, canvasing all over this great state and talking to folks about the Governor Walker's Budget Bill and all its evils. I've really loved doing it, but it's nearly 60 hours a week and most aspects of my life have been on hold until this campaign is over, which is this Friday. But I've still been able to write some, which is comforting to me.

  • As of Friday, I'll be unemployed all over again. This three week campaign did give me a boost, so some of the pressure is off. I just need to find a way to get me through September. As much as unemployment causes me slight panic (to someone who's already predisposed to panic), I'm looking forward to catching up on some phone calls, reading more, writing more, and cooking again as opposed to stuffing burritos in my mouth while falling asleep.

  • I did have a day off yesterday, which was really nice. Made brats (albeit vegan) on a charcoal grill, went dancing, rode my bike halfway round the lake, ate strawberry shortcake, watched Kill Bill, picnic'd, napped more than once, etc.

  • Brandon and I celebrated our 18 month anniversary with lilacs, our favorite local wine, and ume plum maki rolls.

  • It looks like rain today. You'd think that would mean Wisconsinites would be more sympathetic to my walking around outside, but instead it means they'll only speak to me through their screened-in windows while their gutters drench me and my postcards even further.

May 9, 2011

Ducklings, Poems

Last Friday, I taught my students for the last time this semester. It was a bit difficult to gauge my rapport with this hatch of ducklings than it has been in previous semesters, but after I gave them their evaluations, they all thanked me in unison and clapped as I left the class room, and any bitterness I possibly had from this semester melted away. 

Two of my ducklings from the fall won awards for best freshman composition essays (2 out of the 3 awards given  for over 2,000 fresh comp students!). I was really proud of them and all their hard work and not surprised at all that they won. One of the ducklings told me that after taking my class she switched from Zoology to English. I told her I was sorry I ruined her life.

Furthermore, at the end of the year reading where our last fellows Rebecca Hazelton and Andrew Mortazavi read and the Institute gives out a bunch of awards, I received the Freshman Composition teaching award. It really meant a lot to me. I've really enjoyed teaching these last two years, and I feel really lucky that I'll be able to keep teaching next year. 


As a final bit of good news, I have poems forthcoming in Third Coast, American Literary Review, and Natural Bridge. All good journals and all poems I hoped would find good homes.

Currently, I'm reading Ada Limón's Sharks in the Rivers and am loving it. Here's a great poem from it:

Flood Coming

The pulled-apart world scatters
its bad news like brush fire,
the ink bleeds out the day's undoing
and here we are again: alive.

The tributary of this riverine dark
widens into the mind's brief break.
Let the floor come, the rowdy water
beasts are knocking now and now.

What's left of the woods is closing in.
Don't run. Open your mouth big
to the rising and hope to your god
your good heart knows how to swim.

(Sharks in the Rivers, Milkweed, 2010)

May 1, 2011

Beltane Cleansing

Last night, my household celebrated Beltane, the pagan holiday that celebrates the first of May and includes a cleansing ritual, fire, wine, and human sacrifices. With no spare humans to sacrifice, one of my housemates decided to burn drafts of her thesis and I decided to burn all my rejection letters.

I don't know why I kept onto my rejection letters for so long, but ever since I started getting them, I've saved them. I suppose that I was attempting to humble myself, or keep a log of nice notes, or have some physical record of failure, but mostly, I kept them because I always have. Now that most of my rejection letters come via e-mail, the pile has lost most of its sentimentality. So at this point, I just wanted to get rid of the damn things. The Beltane fire offered a rather dramatic way to do it. The drama was only heightened by a fire dancer who came over and did her thing, which looked a lot like magic.


The semester is nearly over, and so is my MFA. I turn in my thesis this week, and after not touching it for the last month or so, now I have all these ideas as to how to change it. I came to the conclusion that many of the new poems may actually still belong in the first manuscript, so now I want to break it open, add the new ones, take out some others, and reorder it all again for something like the 12th time.

National Poetry Month has come to a close, and the first half of the month was much more productive than the second half. All said and done, I missed eight days, but it's more optimistic to say I got 22 poems out of it,  which is great, even if most of them are pretty early drafts.


I really love the way Theodore Roethke's poem "The Lost Son" opens:

1. The Flight

At Woodlawn I heard the dead cry:
I was lulled by the slamming of iron,
A slow drip over stones,
Toads brooding wells.
All the leaves stuck out their tongues;
I shook the softening chalk of my bones,
Snail, snail, glister me forward,
Bird, soft-sigh me home,
Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time. 

April 19, 2011

Happy News

After two close calls with the Stadler Fellowship and the Colgate Olive B. O'Connor fellowship, I'm thrilled to announce that outside judge Max Garland (poet and fiction writer) has selected me to be the 2011-2012 Halls Emerging Artist Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Next year, I'll be teaching a creative writing class each semester at UW-Madison, writing new poems for the next book (and probably more for the first), and hopefully paying off a bunch of student debt. I'm overjoyed and humbled, but my heart is a little heavy at the thought of being so far away from Brandon, who begins his PhD at the University of Georgia. I plan to visit as often as I can, particularly the winter months, and write many romantic postcards.

Some Thoughts in April

It's April 19th (my father's birthday, in fact) and I woke up to freezing rain and a layer of snow. Apparently, spring will never arrive.

After 15 days of participating in the poem-a-day challenge without fail, I've hit a minor wall, which is due to two things: 
  1. My teaching responsibilities suddenly spiked at the same time my short story was due for fiction workshop, and
  2. I wrote a beast of a poem (1300+ word, three-page draft) on Saturday that I'm excited about and all I want to do is chisel at it and revise and not draft new work. So I don't feel too badly about the challenge. It's not as if I'm watching youtube videos all day long instead (although, I am fond if this one). Since Saturday, I've winnowed the poem down by almost 200 words. I worldled ( this newest poem and the three words that appeared the most often were: doe, father, God. Sounds about right. 

Kay Ryan wins the Pulitzer, as did one my favorites, Jennifer Egan. Also, last night Billy Collins came to Madison to read and I am endlessly charmed by him. 

Things I'm looking forward to: 50 degree weather; farmer's market; books by Lauren Berry, Seth Abramson, and Tracy K. Smith to drop soon; student presentations; and collecting signatures to recall Scott Walker this fall. 

A tremendous number of people also write poetry. If you want to determine how many, simply let the person sitting next to you on an airplane know that you write poetry. If you make them feel comfortable enough, you can bet they'll regale you with some of their own verse. Of course, these poets are "untrained," so they're probably not worth listening to--which might be an attitude you'd find inside the academy, where training is the necessary credential for access. Outside the academy, nobody cares. Those people aren't writing for audiences and adulation; they're writing for themselves, maybe their families, maybe some friends. And that is awesome.
--Charles Jensen, "The Lost Poets," Dream of the Unified Media
Can I hear an Amen?

April 15, 2011

April 13, 2011

National Poetry Month

We're knee-deep in National Poetry Month, and I've been chugging away at the NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) Poem-A-Day challenge. I've decided against using the website's prompts because I found that the end product wasn't anything I was excited about working on.

The poems, by and large, have been quite rough, but I've mostly been able to get to a point where I think there might be something there in each of them, something worth chiseling out at a later date. Maybe May will be National Poetry Revision Month.

As per Bri Cavallaro and Rebecca Hazelton, I'm making a list of the poem titles from this challenge. The dash indicates those lucky days when I was able to get two. This is so that you, dear reader, can use this as guilt ammunition.

  1. Thaw
  2. Old Men Truly Older Now
  3. A Duck's Head Is Hard to Explain
  4. Husband 
  5. Black Horse
  6. Radio
  7. What I Couldn't Say: Nor'easter
  8. The Weary Body Breathes as One / Speak Low, the Spirit is With Us
  9. We the Corporeal Dozen
  10. Whitetail Country 
  11. You Too Have Been This Divided
  12. Carrion in the Fly Dawn
  13. Two Hundred Degrees / Go North, Old Man, and Die

April 7, 2011

DEVIL'S LAKE's Third Issue is Live!

The third issue of DEVIL'S LAKE is live!

Fiction by Meagan Cass and Josh Parish; nonfiction by Emily Conner; poetry by Mary Biddinger, Molly Brodak, Brett DeFries, Tim Kahl, Alex Lemon, Adam Tavel, Casey Thayer, and Greg Wrenn; and comics by Minty Lewis and Melissa Mendes.

Click the image below to read

Devil's Lake

April 2, 2011

Dreaming of Commas

Happy National Poetry Month! Like many, I'm writing a poem a day, no matter how bad they may (will) be. I used to do this religiously when I first started my MFA but at some point I stopped. A good quarter of my book came from that time, and I'm hoping this month I'll generate a lot of new work for the next project so that I can stop obsessing about the little things in my current one.

Last night I had a dream that if I were to swap the order of two clauses (just two!) in one of my poems, my book would suddenly work and then it would be done. The dream was so vivid that when I woke up, I knew exactly which poem and which two clauses I had dreamed about. And sure enough after I switched them, the poem was better for it. There's nothing more I love about writing poems than the tinkering and trimming, and I very much believe knowing exactly where to drop a comma (or where to take one out) can make a poem more or less successful. But I also think that if I can edit poems in my sleep, then it might be time to start sending it out.

Which is what I did! I sent out the book (the thesis, the pile, the stack of poems--whatever you want to call it) to its first contest. And so begins what I suspect will be a very long road paved by rejection slips and self-doubt and a jackpot of contest fees, but I'm okay with that. I've been talking to a lot of people who've been through the process to gear myself up for it.

It's a beautiful day in Madison. Some measure spring by when the birds first return, but I measure spring by the return of shirtless joggers, and I can say with full confidence, "Yes, Wisconsin: spring is here!" It's hard to believe that just yesterday we had a wet onslaught of snow. But the sun's out, people are sweeping their sidewalks, the garlic has sprouted, and the ice on lake Manona has broken. The last snowpile in Madison lives next door to me in Olin Park, and it will be my great pleasure to watch it die a slow and agonizing death over the next few days.

March 18, 2011

When It Rains

I submit a lot. I keep track of all those poems going out and back in a color-coded, detailed, obsessive compulsive playground of an excel sheet. My motto has always been to send much and expect nothing, and to treat the few lucky strikes I've had as merely bonuses. Whenever I get a rejection letter, all it means is that I get to log it into said excel sheet. Although never as much as I do now, I've been sending work out since I was fifteen (a short murder mystery out to the Alfred Hitchcock Award; never heard back from them).

But in all my days of sending work out and having all but a handful of it come back, I've never had so much work rejected in a single 24-hour period.  Starting at around six in the evening and ending with the post woman's arrival around four in the afternoon the next day, I got six rejection letters. It's as if the editors of the world got together and decided to clean out their managers on March 17th. If Saint Patrick can clear Ireland of all its snakes, then by golly so could they.

It may sound like I'm whining, but really, I think it's hilarious. In fact, I was hoping for more. I did get some good news from Washington Square to break up the monotony, which is great because it's a journal I really like and it's a poem that I'm fond of.


In non-poetry news, Brandon & I just got back from a Spring Break trip to Asheville, NC. What a great town! We got to do some hiking, a bit of day-time drinking (don't get me wrong: we drank at night, too), ate lots of vegan food, and spend some time with one of my greatest friends whom I hadn't seen in eighteen months. A nice trip indeed.

March 10, 2011

Shame! Shame! Shame!

The Wisconsin tragedy continues. I'm sure you've all read the news stories, seen Rachel Maddow, and are well-educated on what happened last night. What many from afar may never get the chance to experience is what it feels like to be inside the rotunda when ten thousand people are screaming "Shame! Shame! Shame!" in unison. It's a godly force onto itself, and it makes me think that, despite the money funneling into the Wisconsin Republicans right now from the Koch brothers, despite the squirmy tactics and the overwhelming Republican majority in both the senate and the house, we will win in the end. A flood stops for no one.

I'm trying to gather some thoughts about protest poetry. I'd love to make a handmade chapbook or zine to pass out to the fellow protesters at the Wisconsin Capitol. If you have any favorite protest poems, let me know in the comments box!

In other news, Bobby C. Roger has the poem of the day at Poetry Daily. I just finished reading his book Paper Anniversary (one of my AWP grabs) this week, and it's very, very good. I like how long his lines are, and how he lets his poems marinate and develop slowly. It's not something we see much of anymore. More often, poems seem to be growing shorter, with each line making its own unexpected turn. Roger's work is also surprising, but in a more subtle and perhaps a more skilled way. It's refreshing. 

Headed to Asheville, NC, tomorrow for Spring Break and some much needed sunshine (Wisconsin just got another 5"), although it feels weird to leave the capitol behind for all of six days. I trust the people here won't let democracy die in my absence. 

March 8, 2011

Blogs about Poetry

Since I like reading blogs by poets, I decided I should start my own. If gathering a readership for poetry is difficult enough, then gathering one for a blog about poetry must be fruitless. Alas. At AWP this year, I noted about a dozen poetry collections that had "American" as an adjective in its title, and so I'm no longer titling my manuscript American Shrapnel. But since it won't be my book title, then the least it can be is the title of my blog.

Speaking of the manuscript, I met with my advisor yesterday (Ron Wallace--do you know him? Contender for Sweetest Man Alive award) and I'm at a place with the manuscript where I feel I can start sending it out to a few contests and reading periods later this month. This makes me a little apprehensive, but mostly liberated. I'm sure I'll look at it in six months and ask myself how I ever could be so vain as to think it was ready.

I've been working on some new poems about my childhood speech impediment and dyslexia as well as a series about coal mine disasters. They certainly don't go together (at least not yet) and it might not lead anywhere, but it's nice to be writing about whatever strikes my fancy and not fretting about if it fits my  "project."

Speaking of poems, a few have start to pop up in magazines. For a few months, it seemed all I did was rack up a handful of acceptances that never materialized,  those poems fading away into limbo. But now they're starting to coming out, seemingly all at once. Two of these are online at Drunken Boat and Guernica.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Even though I don't identify as Catholic anymore (though I wear its guilt like a king's robe), I still love the idea of lent and all its moodiness. I've been toying with the idea of going to Mass tomorrow for fun. Do you believe that? I don't either.