A Poem for Solstice


O Soul

I always find Solstice oddly bittersweet. I rest into the dark, have myself

a long and shadowy dream time, and when the light begins to call with news of

pending industriousness? I can’t help but look back. No one expresses this better than

Rilke, of course.

Happy or otherwise thoughtful Solstice to you.

You, Darkness

You, darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! –
powers and people –
and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.
I have faith in nights.
                                 ― Rainer Maria Rilke

Thank you to Kimberly Mayer for the Rilke reminder.

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Meto-News Addendum


Isn’t that always the way? Post news, get news.

So, three things:

1. Recently, I enjoyed the opportunity to interview a wonderful writer (and all around friendly person), Julia Strayer, for Smokelong Quarterly, a fabulous online journal with great taste in material and a healthy appreciation for writers (they interview every writer of every story…wow…). Check out Julia Strayer’s story (here) and my interview with Julia (here). The whole thing is brain-nommy, time-bendy, perspective-twirly good. Here is the thing, if I have the chance to spend time talking to a writer about writing, I’m all in.

salon 2011

That’s me on the floor, talking to writers about writing, feeling incredibly happy about it.

2. The crazy wonder that is theNewerYork not only hit their kickstarter goal, but made some extra cash. I’ll post all day long when the goodies arrive, which will include Book IV.

3. I’m currently taking an online workshop, a winter present from my poet partner, meant to keep the word-juices flowing through the holiday slash and burn. This experience will be highly discussable, afterward. For now, I’m remembering how cranky I get in workshops. The system of prompts followed by feedback to prompt-driven pieces is tedious at this point, as in, the thrill of being told what to write is sort of long gone, long buried, eaten by worms, pooped out again as soil, currently growing potatoes somewhere in Idaho. But…I am writing daily despite the million other jobs waiting to be done.  And naturally, the increased time on task results in an exponential boost to output. Funny that: write to write.

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Meto-News for 12-14: Good Stuff to Click


So here’s a rundown of cool stuff, linked and highly clickable:

Volume XXVII.2 of The Concho River Review has arrived. I’m particularly proud of this piece appearing in this journal. Angelo State University, Concho River’s sponsoring institution, is kind of in my original neck of the boonies. The issue is crammed with literary swag. It was a great read, and I felt all blushy in such company.  And it’s huge—so much to love. Let me just say one more important thing about Concho River Review: having fondled my contributor’s copy quite a lot, I’m here to tell you, the cover is like butter.

concho page

I’ve also enjoyed reading Extracts lately, probably because they’ve recently featured poetry by my significant other, David L. White. I can recommend this publication with a degree of gusto.

And finally, theNewerYork is in the final hours of a critical kickstarter campaign. Watching the dollar amount accrue has been thrilling, nerve wracking. I imagine this is what it’s like if you care about sports and your team is down—but not by much!—late in the fourth quarter, ninth inning, final seconds of some huge playoff game. Go, art, go!

This alone, by August Smith, is worth having these guys fully funded on the side of goodness and light:

Meanwhile, plans are percolating for a very wordy summer with more publications and news in the works.

Update: Great news: theNewerYork hit their funding goal. Why am I so stoked?My story, “The Hummingbird Murder”, featured on their site last summer, will be coming to print. And I’ve seen the galleys. The book is outrageous, stuffed with art and wildness.

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Art, a Verb for Hard Times


book on gold meme

During the last few weeks of what has—inaccurately—felt like unprecedented social, political, and moral turmoil on a global scale, I have found it difficult to stay focused on writing or writing about creative interests of any kind.

While everyone watched unfolding disasters in Gaza, Ferguson, and West Africa, I felt compelled to put away personal thoughts and pursuits. I began to comb through news outlets I usually avoid, monitor live web feeds, and doggedly follow each morning’s round of commentary.  But anything I had to say about it all was also just commentary, hardly in the creative vein. And I began to feel terrible about my creative silence.

While I was in grad school, there was an emphasis on the artist’s responsibility toward raising social awareness by taking up the banner of humanitarian activism.  I heard that call, but have never been sure how to answer it.

Although I have clearly defined views about various issues that plague the world, unlike many of the writers, musicians, and artists I have admired for taking public stands for love and compassion, I have never found my compositional-political voice.

In personal venues, I have no difficulty engaging with others and sharing my views. I’ve had enough face-to-face-offs and online troll fights to clarify my perspective, and in doing so I’ve weeded out “friends” who seem to think that hate speech is something to have a conversation about, as if there could be a give-and-take discourse about whom it’s okay to lock out of hope (nope, I won’t take that). So I know I can confidently express myself.

But artistically, I have never known what the hell I have to offer in that way. My attempts at social commentary have seemed ineffective, self-conscious, preachy, clumsy…I’m not a political artist and that has always made me feel a little sad, even guilty, especially during times of seemingly heightened conflict and tragedy.

I say seemingly heightened in order to acknowledge the inaccuracy of that panicky feeling, the one insisting that the world has never ever been this bad. In reality (not suggesting this makes anything that’s happened recently or that will happen in the coming days and weeks any better in any sense) lots of bad things have always happened, often lots of terrible things have happened at one time, and those who can stand up and illume with their art are always needed. Always.

So I have been thinking about the ongoing nature of unrest and how necessary art activism is in a world that forgets to preserve its own life force. And I’ve been looking for my role in all that.

But I think I must have gotten so wrapped up in roles and in the pain of witnessing the moment, I forgot that I already knew the answer to this personal and professional puzzle: Art is by its very nature a radical act.

Art pushes back against the bleakness, the corruptness of inertia. It unseats unwelcome dominion over the spirit. Art is radical reclamation of energy. If we create, write, paint, whatever, we’re creating a light source. It will have all the properties light always has, to warm, to vitalize, to reveal the hidden.

Whatever I write about and whatever I paint is the only activism I have, and it’s enough no matter what it is. We are bombarded by the attitude that art is superfluous, even silly, a self-indulgent waste of time in a world of hurt. I am saying that’s a lie. Creating your art in a time of adversity is a rebellious act of beauty. Of course the pain hates to give an inch, as if it were conscious—doesn’t it seem so? But that’s precisely the time to lash out in a wave of creative purpose, no matter—not a single matter—whether your art is an event statement or simply a lyrical movement along the subtle body of your work.

When times get hard, when it’s all falling apart, I have to try to remember, though I am not a political artist, art is medicine to treat the locked jaw of the crisis mind. Art can mock or proclaim, but it can also just as effectively syphon strength from the ideological machinery of misery. Art rises. So, artists, you don’t have to be working on a statement piece. Please just get out of bed every day and art. You will have reclaimed that drop of creation for the whole good. That’s activism, baby.

 

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Rejection Therapy


journals3

Recently, my poetry-writing husband, David White, (check him out in the latest edition of PRISM International and coming soon in Southwestern American Literature), received a rejection from a desirable publication. Now, rejections are like boiled eggs, they stink, but they exist aplenty and some people even claim to like them or be somehow nourished by them…each to her or his own (“Rejections just make me more determined!” Okay…). But this rejection was not the standard form letter.

To synopsize, because the email was three paragraphs long, the editors mentioned their “extreme reluctance” to release the piece back to him and wanted to be certain the poet understood that after some relatively heated editorial exchanges, the decision was made that this piece would not fit in the current edition. But they weren’t happy about it. And they wanted him to know that.

Should this be good news, a salve of sorts to make the rejection feel fluffier, or should it make this particular turndown more bittersweet? There are so many reactive choices.

As an editor at an online journal, I understand that editorial staff may not always agree about a piece, but consensus is generally reached by looking at the needs of a given issue. We may end up rejecting an otherwise acceptable piece of writing because the issue is balanced in a different direction, or—conversely—because the poems and stories accepted in a period already treat this subject; one more will either kedge or mire, and the CE says, “Mire.” So a good piece goes, but the issue will feel right. The rejection, then, is never intended—ever—as an insult to the artist (unless you’ve submitted to a journal run by assholes, and let’s be honest and say that can happen). A decline is simply a reflection of how well the artist has guessed at what a journal needs for its next issue. So, while a rejection isn’t good news, it also doesn’t have any particular value attached to it, up or down the scale of how you should evaluate your writing.

But only in the arts is an almost-love letter considered a positive. Try calling up your landlord on the first and explaining that it’s okay about the late rent because you went on a job interview and were very nearly hired. It was a close decision. Like paying the rent. See, that just doesn’t quite seem jolly.

Why do editors send those letters, signed most earnestly, oozing regret? I got one once that said, “We’ll probably kick ourselves for passing.” What can a working writer take away from that? Do you feel better or worse when you get one of these?

How you feel probably depends on how you manage your ego and why you write. I would advocate for a neutral approach, emotion-free.

For starters, if you feel defeated when you receive a rejection—a kissy one or a straight up, cold “nope”—or if you think thoughts like, “They think I can’t write…maybe I can’t…”, then you probably can’t. Not because you aren’t good at it, but because you won’t be able to put yourself through the Waring Blender that is the submission process if every rejection rips at your vitals.

And what about editors who kick themselves and want you to know they pulled for you? Other than suggesting you might want to give them a try after a resting period (three months or one submission or reading cycle is pretty standard unless you’ve been specifically invited to try again immediately), it’s pragmatically meaningless. I mean, it’s nice of them, but it won’t help you in any way.

Remember that most editors are writers, too, and so they may over-emote in print. A miss is as good as a mile, isn’t that the old line? It holds here. Just file it for whatever useful information there is and keep going.

What, then, should you do about rejections?

  • Get your stuff proofread by a fresh pair of eyes. A misspelling can be problematic. I tend to forgive the occasional type-o, but not everyone is as chill.
  • Read guidelines and follow them to the letter. If you put your name on a document and submit it to a journal that takes blind submissions only, it’s over before it starts. Sounds very basic, but I see experienced writers do this all the damn time.
  • Read sample work from journals you want to submit to and choose from your body of work something that seems to fit, or to compliment, their body of publications in some way. If you like a journal but samples aren’t available online, you can’t find the title at the library, and you don’t have an extra 500 bucks a year for random subscriptions, see if any writer friends want to start a journal share. Or just submit to the ones offering samples online. They’re thinking like writers: free reads are good. And how do you know you like it if you can’t read a copy? Let’s move from business back to love as a metaphor. What if you met a gorgeous man, let’s say Viggo Mortensen (or fill in a reverse-gender example if that helps you), and what if he had bad breath and acted like a wank? Names can’t convey much beyond some suggestion of market value, which really has nothing to do with sex. Oh yeah, that’s right, words and venues get it on, the analogy sticks. And while I’m sure Viggo Mortensen is lovely, you can’t really know, can you? Read it or forget it. That’s my heartfelt advice, and rather businesslike once again, when all is said and done.
  • Keep writing and revising, even work you’ve already submitted. Have it ready for next time. Just in case.
  • Keep your cover letter simple and businesslike. Most editors will never see it anyway.
  • Submit to rawboned. Just thought I’d throw that in.
  • Use an Excel spread sheet, use duotrope, use a sharpie and a spiral notebook, but make an ever-updating list of places to submit, keep track of your active submissions, and keep track of your rejections no matter if they were sweet or not. You can resubmit in either case. In fact, you should. One issue is not like another, one staff configuration is not like another. Forward and back, forward and back. It’s a tide, so bring floaties.

So, once more, what of long winded, lovey-dovey rejections? Well, just so, what of them? Meh. You’re too busy working on the next submission to care much. You’re too busy writing to worry about editors. Editors, meanwhile, are out there, dying to fall in love with your work. I’m one of them. Come find me.

journals4

Posted in Advice, creative writing, online journals, Publications, rawboned, self-doubt, submitting, Uncategorized, writers, writing, writing community | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flash Fiction Love Goes On


 

In a flash: Brush fire on I-10 and the lightening storm that started it.

In a flash: Brush fire on I-10 and the lightning storm that started it.

What a wonderful week of talking to people about flash fiction. While I percolate various–varied–expressive feedback in praise, love, ambivalence, or contempt for the form, I thought it would be nice to offer up a beautiful Russell Banks quote. Of short-short fiction, Banks once said:

It’s its own self, and it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way. The source, the need, for the form seems to me to be the same need that created Norse kennings, Zen koans, Sufi tales, where language and metaphysics grapple for holds like Greek wrestlers, and not the need that created the novel or the short story, even, where language and the social sciences sleep peacefully inside one another like bourgeois spoons.

I write both short stories and ultra shorts. These are their own selves, two different forms requiring two different muscles in the mind to make, two different mouths in the heart to take.

I have been asked, “Don’t you think the proliferation of flash fiction has something to do with media and short attention spans?”

Basho–father of brevity–said, “Seek not to follow in the old footsteps; seek what was sought.”

It’s not the length of the arrow, but its precision in showing the way, right? (please don’t try to apply Freud to that–it might work on some level, but it’s just not relevant)

I don’t write or read flash fiction or nonfiction because I’m in a hurry or because I’m feeling restless. I read flash because sometimes I like a good, swift punch to the meta-physique. I write it because sometimes I feel like making a fist.

Who are your favorite writers of short-shorts? High on my list would be Lydia Davis, whose works may only be a few words or sentences, and Donald Barthelme, whose shortest pieces tend to be around 1500 words. Check them out and let me know what you think.

 flash

Posted in Basho, creative writing, Donald Barthelme, fiction, flash fiction, Lydia Davis, opinions, Russell Banks, short stories, Uncategorized, writers, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Meto-news and Online Journal Love


theNewerYork pairs gorgeous art with each piece.

theNewerYork pairs gorgeous art with each piece.

Spoke too soon! Another of my stories, “The Hummingbird Murder”, is currently live at theNewerYork. For the longest time I had been hanging around their venue, enjoying their unusual format and the way work is presented there. Only recently did it occur to me I could submit there. Why the lag between admiration and participation? I have no idea.

I love online journals and frequent many. The options available in terms of formatting and presentation, the risks online journals can take to interact with readers, to link visual and written forms of expression, to make connections between artists and audiences are all wish list asterisks best met—best embodied as methodology and substance —by online journals, at least in potential. I edit fiction for a fantastic online journal, rawboned. I know how hard we, (Trisha Winn–beloved Boss, Ginna Luck, myself, and the magic that is bevin) work to turn out a product that is consistent with a demand for quality and a kinship with readers and writers (and artists and filmmakers).

And I am in love, as well, with the short form. I spend so much freaking time on small pieces—it’s an investment requiring just as much time per thematic thread, per line, per word, as any other piece, maybe more per jot because you cannot get away with a stray phrase in an ultra-short form. Flash and Micro are the naked selfies of writing. But writers like to poo on themselves, I’ve noticed. I hear us belittling our efforts as often as inflating our merits. “It’s just a short-short.” What does that mean? You could ask Lydia Davis, but that would just make you look silly.

I know some people object to the not infrequent submission fees of online journals, especially the smaller ones (theNewerYork does not charge, rawboned must). I don’t mind a fee under ten dollars, or higher if I have it, because I realize how much it costs to maintain a dedicated website and submission portal. Submitting my work is worth it, so that’s not an issue. Online is on. Why, for the price of a pint—not even a craft pint—would a writer turn down a blazing hot mic?

Go on over and take a look at my story, and please, comment, share, and compliment the artist whose work the editors have paired with my story, Lori Nelson. Wow. I am an instant fan. And then take a look around theNewerYork—it’s a fascinating place. Once you’ve done that, hop over to rawboned and check out another of the fresh faces in literary opportunities.

Then, come on back and tell me what you think of the last line of “Hummingbird”…interesting story, that line. That is actually not my line, as in, I didn’t write it, so I am somewhat curious about its impression and have some editorially complicated thoughts…but that’s another post.

Posted in artist, creative writing, fiction, flash fiction, online journals, Publications, rawboned, short stories, stories, submitting, theNewerYork, writers, writing, writing community | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments