of Halloween, The Clash & cold feet

Somehow it’s already October & as I watch deadlines fly by somewhat akin to the leaves blowing off trees, I realize it’s been weeks (months?) since I’ve written a blog post. I could blame the volume of reading I have to do for Grad School “comps” or the hundred manuscripts I have to read or the heavier workload at my “day job” this semester, but really, it’s this “non-writing” thing that’s been happening since August. I’ve gone from writing a “poem-a-day” to maybe one every couple of weeks. I haven’t written a word of fiction since August & the only non-fiction I’m writing is of the academic variety: dry and focused on exposition and argument, not image/character/plot/rhythm. For a while in September, I was creating “erasure” poems from various texts and that was fun but it didn’t stimulate my writing the way I’d hoped it would. Much of my energy these days is focused on keeping up with the workload(s) and getting my body moving again post-surgery. I’ve done a couple of hikes & I’m walking to/from work again most days (about 1.5 miles each way). A walk that can be both freeing and irritating (cars blasting through crosswalks, bicycles on sidewalks/blocking crosswalks/ignoring red lights, tourists, people glued to phones). My commute takes me from the West Village to the East Village and this time of year, everything is decorated for Halloween except the banks & that hideous IBM tower in the midst of Astor Place. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday & this year is no exception. I’ll be celebrating in various ways: a séance at the Merchant’s House Museum, two episodes of Radio Theatre NYC’s HP Lovecraft Festival, and maybe a spooky movie or two. I may even go see The Damned. Every few years I attend the Village Halloween Parade but last year it was such a crowded mess, I’ll likely skip it. There’s something about the season that brings on a certain post-Goth nostalgic-melancholy that is both uncomfortable and oddly pleasurable. I miss dressing up. I miss going to see “scary” bands with my scary Goth friends. But seeing the new Clash-inspired film London Town last night I was reminded of just how dirty, cold, and brutal London was under Thatcher. I lived there at the height of the London Goth scene and while it was a formative year for my very young self & rife with positive new experiences (Joyce’s Ulysses, punk rock/Goth boyfriends, Sisters of Mercy/Virgin Prunes/Nick Cave-Bad Seeds/Neubaten) I also have a strong memory of ALWAYS being cold. Freezing in fact. London was damp and everywhere I lived suffered from poor heating and terrible water pressure (when there was running water). It’s not much different in NYC.  Although I have a door that locks, a toilet that (mostly) flushes & a shower that (nearly always) has hot water, and at least an expectation of heat at home and work, I’m still cold. And maybe that’s a lesson I learned all those years ago living in my own version of Halloween Town, all the beautiful words & books & all the loud music in the world won’t keep me warm. Sometimes writing eases that deep, dark cold inside but sometimes it serves only to open another door into that well of nostalgia and melancholy from which much bad poetry emanates. Still, I’ll celebrate the best holiday of the year & maybe I’ll even write a line or two in celebration.


AWP or an ocean of words and no water

I just got back to NYC from AWP 2015 in lovely Minneapolis, MN. It was a great experience aside from the total lack of drinking water (the only options – the yellow water coming out of the drinking fountains or $3.50 small plastic bottles of water available if you had time to stand in a LONG line), the lack of decent food options (I ate a LOT of bananas and Cliff bars), the lack of reliable wireless either in the Book Fair or in the panel presentation rooms, and then of course, there were the immense lines for mediocre coffee. But all of these negatives are the fault of AWP and the Convention Center and not the attendees.  The hundreds of small journals and big magazines, small presses and big University presses, the many, many poets, writers, and editors all made it worthwhile. I attended both as an editor for Black Lawrence Press and Sapling and as a panelist.  My panel was Echoes of Displacement: Sound in Poetries of Diaspora. My fellow panelists presented on a diverse range of topics and most read their own work. Chris Santiago was the moderator and spoke about his own dissertation work on sound and the poetics of diaspora (it’s much more complex than that of course!); Shane McCrae (one of my favorite BLP poets) spoke about his own work and its evolution; Abdi Phenomenal Farah gave a gut-wrenching spoken word performance focused on his journey from the violence of Somalia to the U.S. And  I talked about the Irish Diaspora, the “government of the tongue” and the sound of Irish poetry (both in Irish and English).  I ended with an uncharacteristically (?) political poem about language loss and issues of identity.

BLP had a great off-site reading and party at Kieran’s Irish Pub where I was introduced to Two Gingers (yum!). Highlights for me were B.C. (Carter) Edwards, Bettina Judd, Shane McCrae, and Mark McKee. Of course, so many of the BLP writers and poets are wonderful that every one of the readings was stunningly good.

Overall, it was a great AWP and although I did miss seeing the sky and breathing outside air, Minneapolis has lots of intriguing skyways and some great Irish pubs.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Happy National Poetry Month everybody! Another April means, I have another poetry chapbook out featuring poems written by myself and my poet friend Mary Ellen Sanger.  You can get it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1511434120/ref=tsm_1_fb_lk

If you want a signed copy, come see me at AWP in Minneapolis next week or hit me up via Facebook and we’ll figure it out.

Meanwhile, spring is finally here, everyone’s running around naked (despite the wind chill) and I am already once again considering moving North or Northwest.

My writing process blog tour [or: how I failed at this “chain letter” thing]

Last week a friend (Mary Ellen Sanger) sent me an email inviting me to be part of writers’ blog “tour.” I followed the instructions, sent out requests to all the writers I thought might be interested & hey, guess what – had no takers. Most everyone responded with, “I’m out of town,” or “I’m on deadline,” and some with “I don’t have a blog” … I was happy to see that instead of just talking or writing about writing, most of my writer friends are actually writing (!!) Anyway, I’ll answer the questions since I said I would and then at least this part of the blog tour will be over. (Sorry Mary Ellen).  Onwards…

Acknowledge the person who invited you and that the post is part of the MY WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR.

Step Two: In your blog post answer the following four questions about your writing process:

1) What are you working on? 

I’m always working on lots of different projects. I just sent out a short story last night that I wrote in one sitting during a crazy thunderstorm this past June. I sat down and did some brutal edits this past weekend and yesterday, it went out into the world. I’m also continuing to do the poem-a-day project wherein I write one poem every day during my lunch hour at work. And I continue to edit a novel that’s going to be going the rounds (again) this fall.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

It’s mine and therefore, different. But I don’t write in only one “genre” (and hate that word) – I write literary fiction, I write horror, I write poetry, I write prose-poems, I write flash fiction. Writing is like exercise in the way that I could never just do treadmill or abs or upper body – I need to exercise all the different ways I write or I get bored and bogged down. I also do a LOT of academic writing and sometimes book reviews.

3) Why do you write what you do?

First, the editor in me needs to say that this question needs some work. Why do I write? or why do I write in the above-stated genres? I write because I’ve always written. I write because it’s part of being alive. I write because it’s harder than anything else I do & I love a challenge. I write because if I didn’t write, I’d likely lose my mind.

4) How does your writing process work? 

It really depends (sadly) on the rest of my schedule. I work full-time (M-F) and part-time (Black Lawrence Press) and go to school (starting a Ph.D. this fall).  I’m currently committed to writing a poem-a-day and have done this for the past four (?) years. I write these poems during my lunch hour at my day job. It’s become so much a part of my daily routine that it just happens. And when I miss a day, I have to write two poems to make up for missing that day.  I also put aside that internal editor whenever I’m writing first drafts of anything – poetry or fiction or non-fiction. Otherwise, I’d never get anything done. I don’t understand writers who take days to write a single sentence. Yes, I understand the attention to craft and detail and the passion for perfection. With my fiction, I go back and edit the f**k out of everything I write. My training as an editor (non-fiction and fiction) serves me well as does the rigorous work I did in the MFA program (New School).  Usually, I can trust what I think of as my internal “ear” that lets me just write and somehow simultaneously keeps track of making the words “sound” right. If I’m writing a story, I always read it out loud after I’ve finished it. This helps catch any “wrong” sounding words or repetitive phrasing. And of course, when I’m selecting poems for the chapbooks I do with Mary Ellen, I read the “finalists” out loud to catch any weaknesses. I haven’t been sending out my poetry lately but that will probably change this fall.

Novels are a different animal. I currently have three full-draft novels (I do the National Novel Writing Month thing nearly every year).  These I wrote all the way through until they felt “done.”  That part of the writing is a little like being possessed.         Then I let them sit until it’s time to dive in and edit. Right now, I’ve chosen one novel to do heavy structural editing and language work (line edits, word edits).  I tend to use a similar outlining process that I use for academic papers to help straighten out plot issues but often, I have to do this AFTER I’ve written the first full draft otherwise I get bored and feel like it kills the story. I also read the whole thing out loud to catch any repetitive or clunky language.  Once all of that is done, it’s going back out into the awful world of agents and editors in hopes of finding a home. I won’t self-publish my novels simply because a) it’s not what I want to do, b) that will do me no good on my CV, c) there’s a part of me that feels like that’s a really lame thing to do with my fiction.  It just feels very different to me than the poetry chapbooks.

And finally, my academic writing process is entirely different since everything has to be fully cited and rigorously researched and of course, is for a very different audience.

Step Three: Announce the three authors to follow, including short bios and blog/website links.

Would love to but no one responded in the positive so instead, here are some authors I know and like who have blogs you might enjoy reading. I’m posting their info simply out of respect for their work (and friendship) and NOT because they’re going to continue this writer-blog-chain-letter thing.

Monica Drake. blog

Monica has an MFA from the University of Arizona and teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her debut novel, Clown Girl, was published by Hawthorne Books and won an Eric Hoffer Award as well as an IPPY. It’s been translated into Italian, and recently optioned for film by the brilliant Kristen Wiig (SNL, Bridesmaids). Her most recent novel, The Stud Book, is now out (Hogarth Books, April 2013) and doing great.

How I know her: I met her at Tin House in a writing workshop lead by Anthony Swofford. She’s awesome and a great writer.

Casey Haymes. here’s his Twitter.
And something he wrote.   And his blog

Casey Haymes wrote of the funniest stories I’ve ever read. It’s about Jimmy (James) Stewart and a “glory hole.”

How I know him: I met Casey at Tin House in a writing workshop lead by Anthony Swofford. He’s awesome and a great writer.

Anya Martin. website.

ANYA MARTIN is a fiction writer based in Atlanta. Her Womanthlogy: Heroic (IDW) dark comics fable with up-and-coming Spanish artist Mado Peña has received praise in multiple reviews. A long-time journalist, Anya is the founder, publisher and blogger-in-chief of ATLRetro.com, a comprehensive guide to Atlanta’s vibrant grassroots independent musicians, artists, writers, burlesque performers and roller derby queens of the thriving Retro revival. She also writes about retirement, real estate, health care, travel and other business topics for the Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch.com.

How I know her: I met Anya in the Smith College Bookstore my first semester Freshman year. She was wearing a PiL button. At the time I was wildly homesick & didn’t know anyone else East of the Rocky Mountains who knew who John Lyndon was.