Monday, May 30, 2011

I'd rather be raining

It's really hot today. I somehow managed to install my window AC without killing my downstairs neighbor while she gardened. Days like this tend to hamper my productivity. I woke up at 11am and I've gotten very little accomplished.

I think I'm taking things as they come. My school year at work is winding down. Field trips, wrapping up projects, taking down posters for the kids to take home. There is little to plan.

I don't have a job in California yet. For some reason this isn't stressing me out. Perhaps because I have a padding in terms of money, since I'll be paid through July. Perhaps I'm just not really sure how to transition into post-MFA job applications. I'm not used to my new badge of honor.

Weave submissions are rolling in. We are still open for two more months and we have almost as many submissions as the entire previous reading period. I'm so impressed with the quality of the work people send us. I'm really excited to see our latest issue, which is at the printer right now. Should be ready to mail out in a couple weeks.

My online class is going well. It's a multigenre workshop I'm using to count for a nonfiction workshop. It's fun to read a variety of genres. I almost feel like all workshops should be like this. Good writing is good writing. Poets can learn something from plot structures and characterization. Fiction writers can learn something from line edits, careful attention to word choice, lyricism. We can all learn from the honesty of well-crafted nonfiction. I'm grateful to have this class to ween me off of grad school. I will miss that community.

I graduated last weekend. Technically I won't get my diploma until August, but it was great to walk across the stage anyway. My parents were there. The night before we had a reading with all the graduates. I won an award for Best Poetry Thesis. It's pretty incredible. I am hoping it keeps me excited about my manuscript. For now though, I've been leaving it alone, focusing more on writing and editing my prose.

It is supposed to thunderstorm today. I wish it would now, relieve some of the humidity. I don't like hiding out in my bedroom. It lowers my tolerance for the heat in general. If I sit really still on my couch, I'm ok. I still wish it was raining though. I'd go outside and lie down in the flower garden and rain along.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Weekend Literary Roundup

My weekend was filled with lots of tension, but then bounced back yesterday when I finally cowgirled-up and got over some of my anxiety about job applications. I'm super grateful to Beth Adams, editor of qarrtsiluni and Bridgette Shade, friend and fiction editor of Weave: they were both so generous with their feedback of my writing this weekend. Also, a prof of mine came to my aid with getting me some contact info for a poet I want to solicit; much thanks to her. Lesson learned: I still have a community of writers and mentors, despite leaving graduate school, despite moving away. I feel so blessed.

(poetic side note: these birds outside my window every morning, sometimes they sound like a million coins falling onto my kitchen floor.)

In my online adventures, there were so many good reads to share. First up is the May issue of Sampsonia Way, the literary magazine of City of Asylum. The article about the Afghan Women's Writing Project is so powerful and humbling. Seriously folks, City of Asylum is so worthy of your dollars. Considering donating.

Next, I've wandered down the rabbit hole that is the fascinating interview at The Coachella Review with Nic Sebastian of Whale Sound fame. Goodness, this poet is doing so much and I admire people who are motivated to do so many projects. Please check out her many projects, including the fascinating Nanopress Publishing model and her book Forever Will End on a Thursday (available in just about every format, many of them for free). After that, go check out Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks (also free!)

Next up is this awesome article in the Pittsburgh City Paper about Fleeting Pages, in which I am quoted! I kind of rambled on and on in that interview, so I'm stoked she went with this quote in praise of Pittsburgh:

"Pittsburgh really has the right attitude," says Laura Davis, founder and editor of Pittsburgh-based Weave magazine, which will sponsor weekly readings, as well as workshops on poetry, how to get published and flash fiction. "Everybody here wants to pitch in and help."

Speaking of Weave, here is a bit about our workshop this week. I'm thinking of creating a scavenger hunt around Fleeting Pages. Oh I love this project so much! If you aren't in Pittsburgh, go buy some books on their ONLINE STORE. If you are in da' burgh, get your butt over to East Lib and buy some really great books.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review: The Pixar Story

I didn't plan on reviewing a movie on my blog, but I suppose it makes sense. I watch a lot of movies and while I don't frequently watch documentaries, The Pixar Story was really fascinating and bolstering for me as a writer and community-builder.

For the past two years, I've taught gifted education to students in grades 2-8. Each year we choose a theme and many of the lessons and units spring from this theme. This year I decided on "What is CREATIVITY?" All year we have done creative projects, some based on books, and students demonstrate their learning through individual and collaborative products such as posters, dioramas, skits, poems, models, reports, songs and more. The projects are always multidisciplinary in nature. We also talk about how we can look at the world with our "problem solving eyes" and try to find creative solutions that make the world a better place.

After watching The Pixar Story, I know I need to show my students this film. These are children who grew up watching Pixar movies. All my 10 year old students have cell phones. They have regular access to computers. Technology is so inherent to their life experiences, it is amazing to see the progress that has been made, technologically speaking, by pushing the boundaries of both art and computer science.

What I found to be most impressive and inspiring ends up being the key to Pixar's success. Time and time again, they make hit movies. For a while, Disney thought this success was because of the 3D animation, even (sadly) shutting down production for a while on 2D animated films. But really, when you boil it down, these are just good stories. Well-developed characters, inventive, imaginative worlds. New stories! Timeless themes like friendship, love, fear, growing up, change and hope.

The driving force behind the first few films, including the Toy Story movies, was Pixar animator and now Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter. I love watching someone who is passionate discuss their story. This is someone who loves animation, loves storytelling. His nature really infected the entire culture at Pixar, which is very open and creative, often encouraging unplanned creative collaborations. These collaborations prove to be the life-sustaining force for Pixar. Ideas stay fresh. They are always up for a new challenge. These people love what they do and love the stories they tell.

I love intersections. After dating a few people in computer science, I am aware of how creative the field can be, though I'm not sure if that is the public perception. The movie really demonstrates the intersections between math, art, computer science, and writing.

My one gripe is that the film mostly featured men. The first woman featured in the film was John Lasseter's assistant. The second is a producer and the third is Lasseter's wife. I also realized that none of Pixar's films have central female protagonist. Apparently they are working to remedy this with their 13th movie Brave. It was also be directed by Pixar's first female director, Brenda Chapman. However, I'm a little irked because the character is a princess. Really? Come on, Pixar. I would have expected more from you. Why couldn't you make a female character that was a motocross racer or a sloth with magical powers? Or (gasp!) just a regular kid! *sigh* Then again, does WALL-E really have a gender? I mean, clearly they try to gender the characters, especially EVE, but that is us assuming their genders based on their behavior, which isn't the same thing. Though, I can't fault Pixar too much because honestly Hollywood is about as misogynistic as you can get.

Gender bias aside, the documentary is entertaining and inspiring for creative people from a variety of fields. As a writer, it's great to know that even with this multimillion dollar medium, a good story is what prevails. I'll be interested to see how my students respond to the film. I've come up with some questions for them to answer as they watch and then we will work on some group projects, hopefully with Pixar's spirit of creative collaboration fresh in our minds.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What's happening out there?

It's Friday the 13th and Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes about poetry and superstition over at Poets dot Org.

Short and sweet interview with Roxane Gay over at Radioactive Moat.

I am leading another poetry writing workshop for Weave at Fleeting Pages next Wednesday, May 18th. 7-8:30pm.

Fleeting Pages has an online store!

Weave Fiction Editor Bridgette Shade is blogging over here. She's great. 

It seems Open Letter to Google about not honoring enough women with a Doodle may have had a positive effect. Martha Graham's Doodle was awesomely amazing.

Very accurate illustrations of the San Francisco Public Libraries, by Wendy Macnaughton.

This animated poem by Nicelle Davis is awesome. That is all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Poetry Agnosticism

I recently requested some advice from my fellow poets on Facebook about what to do with a poem that's survived 24 rejections. The responses were varied, but seemed to fall into a few camps. A handful said 24 was not that high and I should keep trying. Some said that I should consider revising it. One person suggested I hold onto the poem for a year before submitting it again. And a number of people suggested I stop being concerned with "numbers" or rejections, because they mean nothing; I should let the poem speak to me and tell me what to do.

This last category interested me, since it seemed (at first) like I was being shamed. They said "stop worrying" as if my use of spreadsheets and tracking were somehow causing me to lose focus on the really important stuff: my art. If my goal is merely publication, then well, I should really reevaluate my motivations and stop focusing so much on what others think. The goal, in their view, is to decide how important it is that my poem get out into the world and have people hear what I have to say. This was good advice. I know I worry a lot about what others think, so it was a good reminder.

But this advice did not totally ring true to me. If I really didn't ever worry what other people thought, why would I try to submit my poems for publication to begin with? Couldn't I just post them all on my blog instead? If getting poems out into the world is our only concern as professional poets/writers, then why aren't we all self-publishing?

Because there are standards, there is craft, there is style and technique. Yes, these standards are impossible to express or pin down because they change depending on the poet, the venue, the editor, the region. Yes, many of the qualities that make one poem great can make another one... not so great. So much of this process is subjective.

But we don't live in a vacuum. Feedback on my writing is important to me. It is part of the dialogue that comes with living like a writer. Oftentimes this dialogue isn't easy, like when I recently took some heat for publishing a poem that reveals a lot of personal information. Or like when I ask Facebook for advice and get shamed for being a bad artist and caring what others think.

There has to be balance.

Balance between what I think and what those around me think. If I have no regard for what others think, why would I read? Why get an MFA and listen to my professors? Why would I bother to workshop a poem? On the other hand, we can't let what others think always determine a course of action. Yet, it takes time to develop the skills of self-evaluation. When we try new things in our writing, these skills are tested and it becomes more difficult to decide whether we are successful in communicating something.

Clearly, I don't make all of my decisions about submissions based on rejections or acceptances. But this feedback can be useful in some ways. For me, it can be one of many voices of feedback that inform my writing process. How loud I let this voice speak is up to me.

My original question was based on my experiences. Up until now, a majority of my published poems were accepted by the 4th submission or sooner. Some were even published on the first round and never got a chance to be rejected. Therefore, to me, 24 seemed like a lot. So I asked my virtual community. This reminded me of when I first started submitting to only two or three places at once, and I would get rejected from them all and feel defeated. My advice for myself back then would be "Three is nothing! Keep trying!" Turns out, that same advice applies here, because it doesn't matter. It's all a crapshoot. Because I've only been submitting work for two years, so it is too soon to tell how long it takes for my work to get published. It's random. There is no pattern really.

I think what I learned most from all of this is that some writers approach their work with religious-like fervor. "The poem will tell you when it's ready," they said. Hence the shame I felt at first, though I don't think that's what they intended. But I do think that kind of advice comes from a place that is similar to religious belief. But my reject-twenty-four-times poem IS ready; that's why I was submitting it. Or at least, to me it was ready. But I had a moment of doubt, which I don't think is a bad thing always. Knowing that I can't always look at my work objectively helps me understand that sometimes I need to ask for help. Asking for help, for advice, for a kind, yet keen eye - that's a good thing. An important thing.

I have a new question now: what are some of the many ways we can approach our work as writers? The New York School of poets would preach the process of "organic poetry"by allowing the poem and the form to flow naturally from experience. Therefore, the poem and it's form is a document of the experience and should not be revised. New Formalists preach a different gospel, one that includes meter and rhyme schemes and constant, painstaking revision. Some poets feel that directness and clarity of meaning is king. Others pray the gods of music and language and song.

I think I fall somewhere in the poet-agnostic category. I am not a spiritual person, in fact, I am the opposite. I don't know the source of my creative impulses, but I do know whatever the source or sources, it is essential to my experience as a human. My creativity is tied to my humanity. My poems and the space in which I write and revise them - that is all part of my humanness. I can't explain it more than that. That's all I know.

So if sometimes I look at my medium - letters, words, punctuation, sounds - and I think, "Should I say this differently?" I'm really asking my community, "Can you help me share this part of my humanness?" Needing community, so important. Doubt is good too. Asking for help: good. It's what makes me human. It's what makes me a poet.

Martha Graham Doodle!

Finally Google Doodle is featuring another woman and bonus - she is a Pittsburgher! The amazing dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. Below is a static version of the final image. Definitely check out the Google homepage for the animated version. Since I wrote my open letter to the Google Doodle team about how they rarely honor women on the homepage, I've been waiting to see if things improve. Way to go Google for featuring this amazing person. You have educated me since I knew very little about her and I had no idea she was also from my hometown.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poetry, Spreadsheets and Giving Up

I have a rather extensive Excel spreadsheet that I use to track my submissions. I have developed this spreadsheet over time, adding new worksheets to track responses, resubmission requests, markets I might try, postal vs. online submissions, and how many poems I write each month.

Today I added a new worksheet that totals the number of times I've submitted a particular poem since 2009 (when I began submitting) and how many times it's been rejected. I currently have a poem called "How to Handle Bossy People" that I've submitted to 28 markets, four of which are current. The other 24 are rejections. This poem has the most rejections by a lot, the next being a persona poem called "Dies Irae" that's been rejected 14 times. After that, I have five more poems that have been rejected more than 10 times.

My spreadsheet, or evidence that I have far too much time on my hands.

I'm sure not everyone is as obsessed with tracking and numbers as I am. However, I can't help but wonder, how many times do I let a poem get rejected before I decide to stop submitting? Sometimes I just naturally stop submitting a poem because I grow tired of it, but I've also noticed that I've been too hard on some poems. A few have only gotten one or two rejections before I stopped submitting them. But I clearly believe in my "Bossy" poem, since I didn't notice until now. I think it deserves a home. But 24 noes seems like a lot.

Let's say I decide to stop sending this poem out for a while. Should I revise it? Or should I give up completely? What do you do when you notice a pattern of rejection for a particular poem? How many rejections equals giving up? If you revise, how do you approach it? What are your favorite drastic revision techniques?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fleeting Days

I spent the day with my mom yesterday. I had a Groupon that I got a while back for massages and facials, so we went to Shadyside and had lunch and were adequately pampered. It was a good day. Especially the part when I got my mom buzzed at 3 in the afternoon. That was highly amusing.

I'm going to miss her a lot when I move. We talk just about everyday. My mom is good at just hanging out. We watch TV or putter around the house. Chat. It will be tough to talk daily with the time difference. I will miss that.

Here is a poem I wrote inspired by the little nuggets of wisdom my mom spouts at random.

This week I have a workshop at Fleeting Pages! I'm super exited about it. I've decided to make the focus about producing new work, rather than getting feedback on old work. I think I will tell people to email me with poems they would like to have "officially" workshopped. I'm planning some really fun writing activities, including making some mini books and poem cards we can give away to people at the store right then.

I think I might also do a similar project with my students this week. It's really easy to make a little book out of a piece of paper. I watched a video about how to make a book with one piece of a paper and scissors (below). I'm really stoked to teach this to my students. We can write stories, make books and then perhaps even sell them at Fleeting Pages.

If you haven't been there yet, you should check it out. You should also bring some artwork to display or create a workshop or run an open mic night. Anything! It's a big community project and they are open to all kinds of ideas.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Big Poetry Giveaway 2011 Winners!

It's May and National Poetry Month has finished. While I didn't complete the Poem-a-Day challenge due to my thesis defense and a bout of food poisoning, I still wrote a lot. Thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon for organizing The Big Poetry Giveaway. This was my first year, so I went a little crazy with the give away. I used a random number generator to determine the winners. (The range was 1-25, though there were 28 comments. Two were my comments and one comment posted twice).

Winner: Carol

Winner: Tess Duncan

Nicollete Telech’s Blueberries and Kindling
Winner: Iris Dunkle   
Congrats to the winners! I will contacting you all via email or Facebook shortly.