Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Can't Believe They Pay Me to Do This

That is the title of the memoir of the past two weeks of my life.

I'm pretty exhausted. My transition from unemployment to being thrice employed happened overnight, and I didn't get a lot of sleep that night. I haven't had much time to get caught up either, since my mom is coming out for a visit later today. She'll be here until Monday morning, at which point, I start my long distance hurdling sprint again for the week.

Today I start my job as a poet-translator. What's most fascinating about this work is the fact that I don't speak anything other than English. I am, however, a good poet and experienced, confident teacher of children, and these thinks make up for the fact that I might not be the most skill at reading Chinese poems aloud just yet. But that's ok, because a number of the students I'm teaching are Chinese American. I wonder if any of them are from ancient Rome and know how to speak Latin.... hmm...

In all seriousness though, I never considered translation because I thought you had to have some kind magical training. Maybe I am not giving myself enough credit, because I do have some experience with Spanish (I did take the class for six years in middle & high school), but really, translation isn't about being fluent. Knowledge of poetry can bolster your skills as a translator of poetry until the language skills develop. Since most languages won't translate exactly anyway, and poetry often uses strange syntax and surreal images, much of the work of translation is making a choice about language, much like you do when you write in your primary language.

If you are a poet and you haven't tried translating, find yourself a poem in another language, get thyself onto Google Translator and do a rough translation. Then take a look at the poem. It probably won't make total sense, but that's ok. Try Googling phrases. Or translating entire phrases to see if there is more meaning. It's fascinating to see how many options we have with language. It's a wonder we ever communicate anything at all.

My other job is writing about fashion, which seems different, and it is, but it's also translation in a way. I am writing product descriptions for ModCloth, which is super fun because I get to come up with pun-filled names for adorable, vintage-inspired dresses and shoes and then write the fun descriptions. Describing a real solid object in a fun, yet informative way for someone who only has a picture of the object, well, that's translating. And it's a blast. Because I get to write stuff like this. Also, it's super hard to not spend all the money I earn on adorable clothing. I can't believe I haven't bought something yet.

With all this working, I haven't really made much time for writing poetry. It's only been two weeks, but I can see that I need to set aside time for it each day. I'll get the hang of it eventually. I think having long spans of time to write actually hinders my process, because I allow myself to be distracted by other things, rather than focusing on the poem. If I have only 15 minutes, well, then I must get to work.

In fact, I'm going to do that now before I get ready for work. You should try to translate something today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Colorful Cornucopia of Delicious Literary Autumn Squash!

I broke the ice last night and dove back into blogging after a hiatus for a couple of weeks. Maybe it was less than that, but I was writing every other day for a while there and then I started feeling guilty and so I just jumped in, jackknife-style, and now I'm covered with bloggy goosebumps and ready to share with you an autumn harvest of literary wonders!

First, in case we aren't Facebook friends, you might not have heard my happy news. My poem "Widowing" one the 2011 Crab Creek Review Poetry Contest. The contest judge of Dorianne Laux, who had some amazingly generous thoughts about the poem. It's a big huge giant honor to be selected and I'm seriously still flying high from the news.

I also attempt being a formalist poet over at Whistling Fire. Check out my poem "The Ordination of Woman" that the published last week.

In online literary news, a bunch of journals have released their latest issues including Toad, Boxcar, PANK, and Sweet. I plan to sit down with all of these issues and read read read this weekend. I love them all. I'm a particularly big fan of Rachel Bunting and Mary Biddinger, both who are featured in Toad. Also, Adanna Literary Journal, a lovely new feminist print journal, has featured the work of some of their latest contributors online. Check out Carol Berg and Mary Stone Dockery, two upcoming Weave contributors.

I just got my copy of Gregory Sherl's Heavy Petting. Super excited to read it. I've flipped through it and caught a few pages, but I've been super busy with starting new jobs this week. I'll be honest, I don't read a ton of male poets. It's taken me a while to find people I like, and sometimes I find myself being uber-critical, and I have to step back and try to take in the experience and perspective of another. Sherl's poetry, often about relationships and sex, is open, funny and honest. It's quirky, which seems to be "the thing" in the hip-poet world at the moment, but not so quirky that it misses the emotional boat ride. These poems resonate. Some are also pretty sexy. I like sexy poems. Also, can I just say, nice job YesYes Books! Your design and print work is simple, yet stunning. Check out the review of Heavy Petting at Read This Awesome Book.

Let's see, what else?

Read this interview over at Poets & Writers with John Murillo, where he discusses voice and reading your poetry.

In the intersections of technology and all things literary we find two great bits of news. One, the Poetry Foundation has an app for your smart phone. Pretty sweet to be able to pull up any poem you want, whenever. Also, for you Kindle users out there, you can now check out books from certain libraries that use a service called OverDrive. I haven't tried it yet, but if you do, please let me know how it works. I think this has the potential to be HUGE.

Pittsburgh, I miss you. I miss autumn and pumpkins and the gorgeous hillsides ablaze with color. The last reading I attended in Pittsburgh was City of Asylum's 2011 Cave Canem reading. It was fantastic and featured readings from poets Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Natasha Trethewey, and special guest Amiri Baraka. If you missed it, never fear. I've posted the video of Amiri Baraka's reading at the end of the post. You can also read an interview with Baraka in the latest issue of Sampsonia Way. While his poetry often sparks controversy, I think that is one of things I see less of in the world of poetry these days. Let's all go write some poems that piss people off this week, okay?

Oh boy, there is still more literary deliciousness!

Issue 06 of Weave was reviewed by NewPages. Says reviewer Hazel Foster, "this issue offers an accessible mix of prose and poetry." I agree! Also, "Weave is a great example of how an independent print magazine can succeed. Subscribe, submit, find a comfortable place to devour and enjoy." Thanks so much. Oh yes, subscribe or purchase by tonight and you can get half off anything you buy. Just use the code "BICOASTAL" at checkout.

On an unrelated note, everyone in California is wearing these shoes. I want them too now. They look super comfortable. I'm going to Nordstroms tomorrow to try on a pair I think. I need some comfy walking shoes. Also not literary, but still fun, are these comics about bisexuality. Definitely relatable.

My last morsel of lit news comes from the United States Postal Service. Thanks for putting more poets on stamps. I can't wait to get my hands on these! Send me a postcard with one of these and I'll love you forever and ever.

Happy reading everyone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Long Time No Blog

Hey you! How ya been? I've missed our little chats lately. Sorry I've been so busy and I have a few blog posts I started and then abandoned and then more time goes by and I feel guilty for not blogging, which then makes it not fun anymore.

The truth is that I've been busy because a got jobs. That's right, you heard me. I got jobs. Plural. More than one. Two, in fact, with a third in development. I started working as a part-time freelance fashion writer for ModCloth and I'm tutoring kids in the East Bay. I also began training to be a poet-translator for Poetry Inside Out. All of these gigs will get their own update someday, when I'm not nodding off over my sleepy-go-night-night mug o' peppermint tea.

Goodness gracious, I'm tired.

It feels good be tired from working though. Really good. I have officially ridden the bus more during this past week than I had ever in my entire life combined. I did lose a cute sweater and my favorite blue felt flower pin on the 71 bus yesterday afternoon. Or maybe it was the 47. So many bus routes, but either way, losing my pin, well, that was sad.

I'm so tired right now, but I am still alive and I want to write more when I'm not tired but I still need to finish my lesson for tomorrow afternoon and I have to get up for an early appointment. That was long winded. Short version: me sleepy now, write more soon. kthax bai.

I leave you with an awesome picture of the Barenaked Ladies, who I saw in concert last night. It was a belated birthday gift from Sal. Second row seats = Awesome.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hello Out There!

It seems that my recent post about getting involved with your local literary community has inspired people. This is super exciting! One compliment that I get from people, that I don't mind getting, is that I've got a lot of enthusiasm. Usually they are referring to something specific, like poetry or travel. However, those closest to me know that I tend to be easily excitable. "IT'S TUESDAY! I LOVE TUESDAYS!" Or "ZOMG this Pad See Ew is SO GOOD!" Then I do a happy dance. It's a very uncool dance that involves a lot of bouncing and flailing. Watch out when I flail. I'm pretty tall, I might knock you down.

So yeah, I'm excited that people are excited about getting involved.

Speaking of getting involved, I attend a fantastic conference this weekend for California Poets in the Schools. I met a bunch of really great veteran poets who have been teaching in the schools for decades. They were so inspiring! I also made friends with some of the new poets and I'm stoked to get more involved. I will be updating about this organization a lot.

I also drove on highway 101 South for 343 miles. Then, again, coming back north. California, you're mountains are wooing me. *swoon*

I have news. News that I can't share yet. It's good news. Like, really excitingly good news. I almost can't stand it. This is an exercise in developing patience.

The good news I can share is that I got a job! That wants to pay me! Soon! I start a part time tutoring job in the East Bay next week. I will teach reading and writing to groups of second graders for the school year. It's very exciting.

I also am hoping to get involved with Poetry Inside Out, part of the Center for the Art of Translation. I've been accepted for their training, which runs for the next two Saturdays in a row. I'm so excited to meet poets in the city.

There is more to say. I will say it soon. But I must get some reading and writing done this afternoon.

Yeah, I rhymed. What WHAT?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning the Words

I had this math teacher in college –actually he was a math education teacher – who was very strange. Most of the subject matter courses were designed to have you finish the semester with a 4-inch binder full of lesson plans that you could use in the classroom. This was a practical and reasonable way to teach teaching. My professor though, let’s call him Professor Big Picture, well, he taught his philosophy. He quoted Maria Montessori and said that school wasn’t for educating, but rather, for social conditioning: teaching kids to raise their hands, walk in a straight line, only go to the bathroom when an adult gave you permission.

Most of his students complained about this course, because we didn’t leave with our normal stack of lessons. Instead, we spent the entire semester on one project: teaching a young child to add, subject, multiply and divide fractions (I watched in amazement as he taught a six year old using math manipulatives how to multiply 3/8 times 1/2.) He insisted that the way we taught math in schools wasn’t about real learning, but about memorization of algorithms, or rules. His educational philosophy was based on a simple truth: kids know everything, except the words.

This was a lot for some people to really grasp. I loved this course and loved the way Professor Big Picture taught it. He was old and strange and made jokes about how kids have no idea what they are saying when they Pledge Allegiance or sing about “purple mountains” and “amber waves of grain.” When I think back now, his ideas about education were pretty revolutionary, especially for a bunch of college students in the Mon Valley.

But think about it: what if we are born knowing everything but the words? What does that mean for educators? For starters, it means everyone has the capacity to learn; we just need to make sure we are speaking their language. With math, perhaps the language can be specific or more limited, because there are correct answers. In the humanities, things are more subjective. But I think Professor Big Picture’s philosophy applies here too.

Let me tell you a little story.

I first got involved in a literary community as an editor. Rather, I started calling myself an editor. I didn’t know much about literary publishing at the time. I just knew I had friends who were writing some really amazing stories and poems and I thought they deserved to be shared with the world. I did harbor doubts about my role as an editor though. What makes me think I can decide what is good and what isn’t? I wasn’t a published writer. Actually, I was writing some pretty awful poetry at the time. But I was surrounded by people who were writing really awesome poetry and I knew it. Turns out, I was in exactly the right place.

Today I watched this video that animates a brief talk by Ira Glass about people who do creative work (embedded below). He posits that all creative people begin in the same place. We have an inner sense of what is inherently good in the work we admire. However, the gap between what we love and what we create ourselves is BIG. But what is inherent at the start is our taste.  We know what we like; we just can’t quite imitate it yet. Some of us try. Glass says that a lot of people quit before they get through this process of closing the gap. But successful creative people spend a long time – years – working to close the gap between what we know is good, and what we are creating. The only way to close that gap is to create more and more work.

This video made me feel much better about my path into the literary world. It turns out I knew what I was doing when I first started as an editor. The work we selected for the first issue of Weave is still the same quality, though my tastes may have fluctuated as I grew. What I’ve gotten better at is articulating why a piece of writing works. I’ve learned the language of craft. I’ve learned the words and I’ve applied this knowledge to my own writing. I still have a lot of words to learn. I always will.

Parents will often complain about the ‘terrible twos’ phase of childhood. Having worked with kids this age, I’ve witnessed the frustration that is inherent in learning to speak. Talk to an 18 month-old sometime. They know what you are saying. Seriously. They can understand you. They just literally can’t form their own words yet. They have been listening to the words since before birth. They want to communicate. Parents remind children to ‘use their words’ well after they learn to speak. When a young child can’t articulate, it’s incredibly frustrating, thus resulting in lots of tantrums and timeouts. But I can relate. When I get upset about something, I find it harder to explain myself. And yet, when I find the right words – those perfect words that clearly explain how I feel, what I want, what I need – well, that’s an amazing feeling.

So maybe Professor Big Picture was right, and not just about learning math, but learning anything. We all know things, inherently. This collective knowledge is the human condition. We just need the words.

Other Voices Weigh In

Other writers out there are weighing in on the discussion about publishing poetry. Here is a list of what I've found to be most useful.

Sandra Beasley: What I Think About When I Think About BlazeVOX

Sandy Longhorn: Buy or Borrow a Book of Poetry Today: Not a Post on the BlazeVox Kerfluffle

Roxane Gay: A Kingdom of Kings

Vouched Books: Poets Going Gentle Into the Good Night: Thoughts On BlazeVOX

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Poets are the Worst Salespeople Ever AND Seven Ways to Get Involved in Your Local Literary Community

I've been quiet here all week, waiting for the dust to settle after the BlazeVOX thing. It will soon be out of our minds, because that's how things go these days. So many words out there, so many people talking. Is anyone listening? I've been listening this week, reading blogs and TwitFacePlus updates and I keep encountering the same words over and over.

Poetry doesn't make money! There is no profit in literary publishing. You won't get rich publishing a lit mag! No one reads this stuff except other writers and even that readership is debatable. Give up on life because all your dreams will never come true.

Geez, when you put it that way, what hope is there for any of us?

Poets are the worst at sales. We run around saying things like this and then act surprised when no one wants to listen to us read our poems or buy our books. I can hear people saying our words back, "Well, you said no one reads poetry anymore..."

Seriously folks, we need a new slogan. It's late here and I'm beat so I can't think of anything at the moment. I'm toying with something like, "Poetry makes you rich in metaphors and ideas!" Maybe that's lame. Right now it sounds kind of cool. And by cool, I mean super nerdy.

Additionally, I keep hearing people talk about themselves. How it's SO HARD to be a writer. Yeah, it is. But it's also hard being human. Sure, things like money can soften the edges and, you are right, we already have established that most writers aren't rich. But you know what else can soften the edges? Community. Getting involved with your local literary community can help lighten the burdens that come with writing. But don't think about what you can GET from your community; think about what you have to offer. Not sure exactly? Well, here are some of my thoughts I've come up with this week to get you started.

1. DONATE money to a local literary organization.

Yeah, we have established we're all broke. But think about all the money you spent this year on beer. Or movie rentals. Or delicious candy treats. Whatever it is, consider opting out one week and donating $5 to a local literary organization. And in the process you could get a little healthier by cutting down on extra calories or going for a walk instead of zoning out in front of the television. Just saying.

2. SHARE your time, skills & knowledge with a local press.

When I imagine an editor, reading manuscript after manuscript, searching for funding, running a business, designing, printing, promoting and selling books of experimental poetry, I think to myself, why in the world has no one volunteered to help him? I could not run Weave with my amazing staff of volunteers. Everyone that is involved with Weave has come forward on their own and offered to help. Not sure what you can do? Well, if you aren't confident in your editorial skills, perhaps they need help stuffing envelops or running to the post office. Maybe you are awesome at social networking and could set up a blog and Facebook page. Or perhaps you are great at event planning and could volunteer to help set up a reading. The door is open. Walk through it and offer to help.

3. ATTEND local literary events.

Go to readings. Especially ones where you don't know the people who are reading. They are usually free, sometimes they ask for a donation, or just ask that you buy a drink from the venue. Awesome! Now you can have that drink back that you donated from step one. Don't underestimate the power of your own physical presence in an audience. Engaging with the work of others has ripple effects in our own lives.

4. BRING your non-writer friends to the next lit event.

This is a big one. Next time you head to a reading, bring along you BFF from college or that friend from work you've been meaning to hang out with. You never know how people will be affected by a reading. This will help open the poetry doors to a wider audience and strengthen the community.

5. ADVOCATE poetry on a daily basis.

Talk about poetry with your mom and your coworker. Your neighbors and kids. Tell friends about your favorite poets. Tell them about the last reading you attended. Talk to people about the volunteer work you do with your local lit mag. Of course, you can also talk to them about the latest episode of Parks & Rec, thereby demonstrating that poets are completely out-of-touch with popular culture. Lend someone a book of poetry you think they might enjoy or show them a cool animated poetry video. Reach them. Talk it up. Be an advocate. Demonstrate poetry's relevance in your life.  Don't complain about how poor you are. Instead, write a poem on a post it and put it on back door of a bathroom stall. Sew poems into shirt tags at the Goodwill. Mail a postcard poem to an old friend...

6. BUY books. 

And READ THEM. Yeah yeah, money again. But lots of presses have sales or discounts on older titles and back issues. Speaking of which, Weave is having a half off sale right now! Again, figure out a way to make it a priority. Make coffee at home instead of hitting Starbucks. If you can't buy books, then get your butt to the library. Libraries are awesome.

7. CHAMPION the work of others.

Offer to help your recently published poet-friends hold a reading at your local library. Write book reviews. Chat up your social networks about an awesome piece you read online or a great new book by an emerging writer. Email a poet whose work you admire and tell them you are a fan. I've done this last one before and boy, is it a powerful thing to let someone know how their words affected you. I highly recommend it.

While these steps might have some overlap, I think they are a great starting place for those who are looking for a community. Not sure where to start in your community? A quick Google search will show you what organizations are nearby. If nothing is close, well then, start something! A reading series, a monthly workshop, a book club. Whatever. You have something to offer. Get your butt out there and get involved. I'm talking to you. Yes, you. Stop blogging about how you'll never make money from poetry and get out there and make something even better: a friend. Yeah, corny I know, but it's the truth.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Literary Roundup: Friend Edition

Hi friend! How are you? I miss you, probably, but if I've never met you, well then thanks for reading my silly little blog.

On the personal front, life is improving. I realized last week that I was drinking way too much caffeine. I have since cut it in half and despite the terrible headaches in the morning, I'm feeling so much better. Like, beyond better. Turns out, caffeine produces anxiety and fucks with your sleep. Duh, Laura. I accomplished a number of things this week that I have been putting off.

Good news on the job front: I got a call about a tutoring job! I would teach writing to small groups of kids in grades 1-5. Fun! I also applied to work at this little cafe down the street, so hopefully I will be able fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a barista.

I also finally ventured over to Books & Bookshelves, which specializes in books of poetry. I can't tell you how awesome this store smells. Old books + wood furniture = Nose Heaven. They also have a large collection of beautiful paintings. I bought a book by San Francisco poet Michelle Tea and I chatted up the employee, David Highsmith, also a poet and he gave me his book for free! Really nice of him. The furniture was surprisingly affordable, so Sal and I might venture over there this weekend to look at some headboards.  The store is now officially carrying copies of Weave Issue 06. They also have readings there, so I'm considering holding one for Weave.

Speaking of Weave, people are really talking up the latest issue on Facebook this week. There is lots of contributor love happening, which is great. I love when contributors find one another online and form mutual admiration societies. So cool. Also, this week we posted book reviews by poet (and friend) Thom Dawkins. Go read and then buy some books

Ok, what else is happening in my literary world this week?

Well, classes started up at Chatham and it's strange to not be a part of it. Grad school was over so quickly and now I keep finding articles that examine the value of the MFA. I have opinions on this. I will share them someday. In the mean time, read this fun piece by fellow Chatham alum Robert Isenberg, called "The Vanishing of Sombrero Man." He wrote this in our literary journalism class. It's cool to see it all finished and published.

Rattle wants to give you free books. All you have to do is write a review. Sweet!

The fall issue of A cappella Zoo is out. Online version coming soon. Somehow I missed the spring version (maybe it was that whole thesis-writing thing...) but I hope to read it later today and belatedly share some goodies with you.

That's all for this week, as I'm behind on blog reading. I started a new writing project, so I've been focusing a bit more on that. I hope you all have a fantastic long weekend. Enjoy all the fruits of your labor. Eat some BBQ. Read a book. I leave you with pictures of awesome people reading and a picture of me and Lindsey during her visit last weekend.