Poetry Stuff and Publishing Stuff

I came across a great title for a poem this week:

When the Power Failed We Went Swimming in the Dark.

I know! Brilliant! If I just had a poem to go with the title – it would be perfect.  One of the many things we discussed at the workshop was how to come up with things to write about.  Its a common problem for writers – where to start.  The title above is a rewrite of a Facebook friend’s post.  She had posted that their power was out, it was hot and family just went for a swim in their pool after dark.  Often, ordinary things can lead somewhere.

Swimming in the dark is an interesting metaphor and could lead any number of places.  Perhaps a poem about teens at a party, a world falling apart, or two lovers in the pool.  Maybe it’s a war and the people in the poem are escaping by swimming over a river.

Another exercise is to do a bit of free writing and then look for interesting lines you’ve just written.  Sometimes you need a prompt to get going.

Our workshop teacher gave us one, “I’ve never told anyone that …”  Start with that phrase and add to it (and no you don’t have to let out your deepest, darkest secrets, just stuff you don’t think about much). Here was my first attempt at that exercise:

I’ve never told anyone that I like lithium iron phosphate batteries.

II’ve never told anyone that I had an ingrown toenail that had to be removed.

I’ve never told anyone that the burn mark on my hand was from a burning plastic rope.

I’ve never told anyone that I once kicked a door open and chased the kids away from a warehouse.

I’ve never told anyone that it was me who called 911.

I’ve never told anyone that I was disappointed there wasn’t a nuclear war.

I’ve never told anyone that the dent in my bumper was me backing into a chainlink fence.

I’ve never told anyone that I deleted the file.

I’ve never told anyone that I’d really like to be published in a lit journal.

I’ve never told anyone that when I took my brother to the emergency room all I could think of was my father dying alone in the VA hospital.

I’ve never told anyone that I let father eat cheese after his heart attack.

I’ve never told anyone that I didn’t want to scatter my father’s ashes at sea.

I’ve never told anyone that I wish I could visit his grave.

From that exercise came my yet unpublished poem, Grilled Cheese.

These are the starters for a poem, the spark of imagination that leads the poet on.  Then comes the difficult work of filling in the rest of the poem and editing it until the poem becomes what the poem wants – needs to be.  At some point in the process the poet stops working on the poem and releases it to the world.

Some might call this publication and the question is why publish poetry?

It’s not to make money.  Poetry has always been art and except for a rare few poets and song writers, money is not part of the equation.  There are other motivations such as wanting others to hear our words, hoping to inspire, inform, disturb or motivate others.  There is a bit of ego here as the poet assumes that poem is important or deserving of an audience.

It’s complicated, but some of it also has to do with the question, “Is this any good?” or “Is it just crap?”  If a publisher accepted your poem for their magazine, then you’d know that your poem was good, so validation is another strong motive.

There are many ways to publish.  I’ve self-published a poetry collection and sold a few copies.  I’ve published some poems here on this blog and received generally good feedback.

But …

At workshops I’ve attended, poets I respect, have encouraged me to submit my poems to literary magazines, journals, etc. 

It’s a daunting prospect.  Even the editors will admit that the process is part luck.  Did your poem arrive on the day they were looking for a poem just like that?  Nearly all poetry publishers will tell you that they receive far more poems than they could ever publish and often turn down very good work simply because they only have room for ten poems this quarter.

This last week I started the process of researching places I might send stuff.  I checked out the database on the Poets and Writes Magazine web site and wow – the list is long. Thousands of places.  Some better than others and way too many to sort through so I’ve decided on a bit of a cheat.  I have a list of current poets I like and have styles similar to mine.  A little checking of their books and a few web searches and I now have a list of 20 publications where I might do a little submitting.

Next week it’s writing a short bio, simple cover letters and continually telling myself, “It’s not crap, send it.”

Andrew

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Friday question: Bank Drive through

Why do they put Braille on the drive-through bank machines?

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Writer’s Conference

This last week I was at the Catamaran Writer’s Conference.  I find these conferences a challenge.  On one extreme, the being with gifted writers and learning about the art and craft of writing a poem.  Then there is the introverted, insecure side of me that struggles to interact with others and not just hide in a conner – that part of me that constantly wants to say, “you don’t belong here.”

That second voice is hard to stop.  I know – folks have all kinds of answers and advice.  I get it, but in that moment, you listen to a powerful poem and then are called to read your poem about cheese that you wrote at breakfast – well it can be humbling.

I heard a lot of great poetry this week.  Some from teachers, some from participants, and once or twice I read some of my poetry thinking, “not bad.”

Each day had a general pattern:

  • Workshop where there were craft talks, writing prompts and we critiqued each other’s work.
  • Afternoons were for optional lectures, free time, tours, or writing.
  • Evening reception (with wine) and a featured reader.

They also had tours of local places of literary interest.  I did the tour of Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House, www.torhouse.org in Carmel.  The place was smaller than I imaged, but it was nice to see and to hear some of Jeffers poems read where he lived.

I attended a few interesting lectures.  The two I liked the best were writers discussing their paths to being published.  The lesson here was that it’s difficult to get things published these days.  One of the the writers mentioned that she contacted 120 agents before getting her mystery novel published.  Fewer books are published these days so it requires a lot to get published.

I was asked a number of times if I had published anything or if I was submitting my poems.  The answer was no, I’ve not been doing that.  Honestly, I’ve not felt my current body of work is good enough for the literary journals.  Then there’s the amount of effort you have to put into the process.  It’s been much easier to just put it here on my blog and move on.

In our poetry workshop we were asked to bring five poems to the workshop and that’s where I got the most out of this conference.  After working with the group, I’ve come away with better poems and a lot of things to look for in my writing that can be improved.  I was also surprised (and slightly pleased) to have our teacher say, “Andrew, this fits your style.”  Wow, I’ve got a poetry style.  That made me feel good and hope that perhaps I’m starting to figure this poetry thing out.

Well, as much as you can understand an art form that is.  Poetry is art.  Until now I’ve done it mostly by instinct and intuition – that’s not a bad way to go, but having a deeper understanding of how words, images and metaphors work just widen the pallet a poet can use to create art. 

Of the five poems I brought, four are improved, one is still a problem, and yes, I did write a poem about my Father and cheese that’s not bad.

Sadly, I won’t be posting them here.  These days publishing a poem to a public blog is considered publication and most of the journals I’m thinking of sending these to won’t consider them if I’ve posted them here.  That’s one annoying thing I learned at the lectures.

It was a productive week for me and I did bring home bag of books to read and a brain full of ideas to work on.

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Wednesday Workshop at the Conference

I’m not sure when I’ll post again, but just a quick update: I’m at the writer’s conference doing a workshop on poetry.  It’s the process of taking my best poems and making them better (or proving I’m not as good as I thought).

Yesterday we had a craft talk on parataxis and hypotaxis.

Click the link to find out what that is.

Oh, if you do figure it out – let me know what the heck that is all about.

Well, got to go.  There’s a lecture on something.  And there was good news, wine will be served before tonight’s open mic readings.

Peace, love and lemon drops,

Andrew

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