December 29, 2008

Visual Maps

I've welcomed having time to sit down with three great poets during this past week: Jehanne Dubrow, Deb Ager, and Ethelbert Miller. One of my chief pleasures of living in DC is having access to so many other writers. One of the chief perils of living in DC is not always making time to see them.

Whenever I sit down with Ethelbert he has several newspapers on the table in front of him. He dissects: pulling out each page, folding it over, creasing it. He devours: sports, arts, local, national, stocks, forecasts for places he's never been. And he decorates, scribbling away with his ballpoint as we talk: accent lines are transformed into timelines; a key word in a headline is circled, and becomes a hub for a plan; a cast of characters is defined in shorthand, "Ob___" and "EA____" and "CJ____." Everything is translated into diagrams, squiggles, and arrows, and it's electrifying to watch.

That has me thinking about nonlinear, even nonverbal, modes of response. There's an artist and writer named Austin Kleon who does "mind map" book reviews. Check out his interpretation of Oliver Sacks' most recent book, Musicophilia:

...and in a similar vein, here is his record of a conversation with a friend, following the occasion of a reading by author Michael Chabon:

I love the way these drawings capture imprecise values--priorities, relative amounts of attention, random associations, postures and energy--in a way that would be lost by a strictly verbal transcription or response. I've never been one to keep a diary. But if I could get in the habit of using this format...maybe.

[Both images (c) Austin Kleon]

December 22, 2008

The Trip Up

Adventures in a life of freelancing...

Step 1: Field phone call from worried mother about "the snow up there" in New York City. Obediently pack separate bag with boots, socks, hat and gloves.

Step 2: In your rush to make it to Amtrak on time, leave said bag by the front door. Pay $10 for white (white!) yarn gloves at Union Station kiosk. Note for future reference--crocheted yarn does not, in fact, keep the cold out.

Step 3: Wait as they scrape the ice off the Northeast Regional train so it can depart. Check time nervously. Wait some more.

Step 4: With only 40 minutes instead of your alloted hour-and-fifteen, stumble into the New York subway system and start navigating. Catch an N train headed to Queens. Experience doubt about which stop you're supposed to use.

Step 5: Decide that it is better to live with doubt, versus interrupt the couple next to you--who are arguing very loudly about their E supply and "that Jew f*cking roommate of yours"--to ask for help with directions.

Step 6: Call soon-to-be-met interviewee and assure her that while you're cutting it close, you should be there momentarily.

Step 7: Get off at Ditmar Blvd-Astoria stop. Walk over to map. Realize that the funky street address you have in no way implies a cross street (21-45?). Realize that the only recognizable intersection from your Google directions mentions 35th & Broadway," which is...two stops and fifteen blocks back. Realize that in Queen, there are no taxi stands. And your heels (o boots, though hast forsaken me) can't take the unsalted sidewalks.

Step 8: Panic.

Step 9: Start walking anyway.

Step 10: See a taxi parked by the side of the road, the driver relaxing as he plays the radio and runs his heater. Stop and ask if he'll pick you up. He shrugs; he's not on duty. Promise to tip well.

Step 11: Agree to help de-ice his car in return for him running you down to Broadway.

Step 12: Smack at ice with your pseudo-gloved palm until it cracks off the door frame on the back passenger seat. Try handle. When it doesn't open, groan and start smacking at the doorframe for the front passenger seat. Repeat to yourself that this is still faster than walking. Try the handle. Groan again. Watch helplessly as taxi driver chuckles and leans over to press the 'Unlock' button on the doors.

Step 14: Slip into the blessedly warm back seat. Read out full address to driver. When he asks you to repeat it, read it again. A third time, with him holding up his fingers to confirm each digit.

Step 15: "Ma'am, you need to open the door of my taxi. And get out. Cross at that light up there. The building you want is on the other side of the street."

Step 16: Offer to tip anyway, to which he says "No, you're a nice girl." (Unspoken: "...and you helped de-ice my car.")

Step 17: Cross intersection. Ring up. And meet Marilynne Robinson.

December 19, 2008

Shameless Plug

This Sunday I will have an "XX Files" in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. All of next week you'll be able to find it here.

Topics covered: the Phi Beta Kappa Society, growing up, beds of nails, and a girl on the back of the motorcycle.

December 17, 2008

Diagnosis: Exhaustion?

Is anyone else feeling like the blog over at the Poetry Foundation is a bit...adrift right now? Maybe Harriet is feeling the stress of the holidays like the rest of us. I enjoy conceptual writing and experimental musings--Olena Kalytiak Davis has me hooked--but I'm missing posts that feel relevant to my everyday (if there is such a thing) publishing world.

Jeffrey McDaniel, Steven Burt, and Ange Mlinko stand out in my mind as past Harriet-eers who found a good balance of posts that ranged from critical to casual in tone. I felt like I actually got to know them through their posts.

Who have your favorites been so far, and why?

December 12, 2008

First Book-age

I've been reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, by Lewis Hyde. I'm not ready to opine on the book just yet, but if there's one thing I've learned it is that a gift carries value only for as long as it is moving onward through the community. If your response to a gift is to take it out of circulation--picture the English colonial shipping off the Iroquois peace pipe, to be kept under glass in some faraway museum--you're not doing anyone any good.

What follows is a list of awards and fellowships for which one is particularly or exclusively eligible having published a first book of poetry. Note that you'll have to check individual website to confirm how the deadline relates to your publication date. This list builds upon something passed to me by Erika Meitner a couple of years back. Enjoy...

ForeWord Magazine Book Award
Deadline: January 15

Levis Reading Prize at Virginia Commonwealth University
Deadline: January 15

Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books
Deadline: January 15

Balcones Poetry Prize
Deadline: January 31

Devil’s Kitchen Reading Awards
Deadline: February 1

Paterson Poetry Prize
Deadline: February 1

Library of Virginia Awards
Deadline: February 8

Bread Loaf Conference Fellowship
Deadline: March 20

Sewanee Writers Conference Fellowship
Deadline: May 1

National Book Awards
Deadline: June 16

Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award
Deadline: July 25

Kate Tufts Discovery Award
Deadline: September 15

Pulitzer Prize
Deadline: June 15 and October 15

Norma Farber First Book Award of the Poetry Society of America
Deadline: December 22

Deadlines and details of entry are subject to change and will not be updated on the blog; this is just a set of leads as of December 2008. Good luck!

December 09, 2008

Supporting Your Authors

Since each new blog post pushes down my tribute to 32 Poems, a quick reminder: Subscribe! You'll be glad you did.

Earlier today I traded emails with Marianne, my wonderful managing editor at New Issues. We were touching base on the winter deadlines for book prizes--not publication contests, but the awards that can be bestowed on a title in the first year following its release. There's about a dozen of these prizes on my radar. Usually, the entry fee is something like $0-$50, plus 1-5 copies of the book; the prize usually includes a reading opportunity and an honorarium of $500-$2,500.

At New Issues, I am very fortunate to have a support structure that budgets for judges' copies and contest fees, so that they don't have to come out of my pocket; the press also has paid staff for whom writing a letter of nomination is a reasonable request, in line with their duties. On the rare occasion when they decline to try for an award that I've asked about, they'll articulate sound reasons based on the track record of who has won and what the actual benefits have been. (I also know better than to make a request that, whatever its symbolic value, is not a good use of their resources. In other words I can make that $100 check out the Pulitzer committee myself, thankyouverymuch.)

At many small and independent presses, the burden of applying for these awards falls squarely on the author. The token of prestige and a smattering of book sales for a single, occasional winner does not, for many publishers, justify the expenditure of energy and money that would go into automatically nominating the multitude of authors they publish each year.

That's a shame. Justify it a thousand ways: volunteer staff stretched thin, money better invested in future titles, limited book stock. But the subliminal message to the author is often that the work is good enough, at least to publish, but not so good that it has a chance of winning. And in cases where a nominating letter HAS to come with the publisher's signature, it puts the author in the position of having to remind, cajole, even beg for what feels like a "favor" but is really a reasonable extension of the professional relationship.

I'm a fan of indie publishing, and I certainly admire the vision that causes one to found a new press. But I sometimes wonder if poets, when they become publishers, are really signing on for the whole ten yards of support they need to offer their authors--and if authors, when they ponder the myriad of book contests to enter, know all that they should ask of their presses before signing a contract that hands over the precious asset of creative work. It's not just about the gorgeous cover designs or a bustling table at AWP. It's about the sustained commitment from a press that ensures, once the book is released into the world and the "new" shine wears off, it can continue to move outward, find audiences beyond the author's friends, family, and local venues, and thrive.

Some people harp that big awards--the Tufts or PSA prizes--only recognize "mainstream" presses. They chalk this up to a hegemony of judges. But if the big presses are the only ones fully committed to nominations, can you blame them for winning?

December 08, 2008

Pushcart Nominations

I have been really fortunate to receive three nominations for the Pushcart Prize this year, for the following poems:

-"Another Failed Poem about the Greeks" (nominated by Cave Wall)
-"The Green Flash" (nominated by Passages North)
-"The First Editor of Encyclopedia Britannica Regrets Everything" (nominated by Black Warrior Review)

I'll be crossing my fingers, toes and eyes that one of these might get picked. Thank you, editors, for your support!

December 05, 2008

Preemptive Drawing Sale

Looking for original and unique works of art, but don't have a collector's budget? Check this out--my absolutely awesome-artist friend Adam Grossi is holding a Preemptive Drawing Sale. Here's the deal, courtesy of a note from Adam:

I am trying to raise some money for expenses related to my last year of graduate school. I am also trying to incorporate more drawing into my studio practice. The intersection of these two ambitions has resulted in the Preemptive Drawing Sale. Here is the way it works:

1. You decide what size you want your drawing to be from the following options:
a) 12 x 12" ($40)
b) 16 x 16" ($60)
c) 20 x 20" ($100)
d) 24 x 24" ($150)

2. Email me your choice and I'll send you a PayPal invoice (or you can mail me a check).

3. From the date of your payment, I have up to three weeks to execute your drawing and mail it out to you. All prices include shipping, and all drawings are unframed. The drawings will be some combination of black ink, graphite, charcoal, and collage on a heavy drawing paper (most likely Rives BFK or an Arches rag paper). Each drawing will not necessarily contain all three of those materials. Most will be simply ink on paper.

4. You have no control over the content of the drawing -- all I can say is that the drawing will be an integral part of the thought-processing of my studio practice, and so will be intimately engaged with the themes of the recent artworks you see on this website.

The Preemptive Drawing Sale will continue through the end of February 2009. Please spread the word!


Keep in mind, you're getting a deal. Although we went to the same high school, Adam and I didn't truly connect until we crossed paths at Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Since then it has been a pleasure to watch him go--from being a student at Carnegie Mellon to a rising star on the Pittsburgh scene (where he was named a 2007 Emerging Artist of the Year), then receiving a fellowship to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is now earning his MFA. His work will only continue to grow in value.

If I were you, I'd catch this star while it's on the rise...says the girl who has already called in her order.

December 03, 2008

Teeny Tiny Reminder

I'll be reading at Kensington Row Bookshop tonight with Kathi Wolfe at 7 PM. Bring a poem to read at the open mic afterwards!

We Love 32 Poems

I recently received this note from the forces behind 32 Poems, John Poch and Deborah Ager...

Dear Readers:

As you well know, Christmas is coming. Your father doesn't want that tie, your mother doesn't want a gift certificate to T.J. Maxx, and your friend doesn't want the cool lamp you found at the estate sale. They want something unique--something like: 32 Poems.

We continue to publish the newest voices who soon become nationally-known, award-winning poets: Caki Wilkinson, David Roderick, Alison Stine, Paula Bohince, James Hoch, to name a few. We've made it easy for you to order a gift subscription or two, easily. Did we mention it's easy? Click on this link right now, and you can pay with Paypal. Get a Free Issue When You Order Now!

$20 for two years. (Save $8 Plus Get 1 Free Issue!)
$14 for one year. (Plus Get 1 Free Issue!)

Be patriotic. Be thrifty. By all means, be cool. Order now.

Thanks! We really do need your help, as 32 Poems publishes almost completely through the money we get from subscriptions. We can only continue with your support.

Always readable, always affordable, always already, always yours,
Deborah Ager and John Poch


Now, we have 32 Poems to thank for circulating the work of poets such as:

Kate Northrop ("The Place Above the River")
Eric Pankey ("As Damper Quells a Struck String")
Geoff Brock ("Exercitia Spiritualia")
Melanie Alameder ("Post Modern for Lowell, Massachusetts")

...and many more. I know many in the poet-blogger community have had the pleasure of crossing paths with Deborah herself via the 32 Poems blog.

Guys, it's just this simple. This magazine not only needs our support, it has earned our support. They have a demonstrated track record of publishing great poems, in a modest and charming format, and being open to emerging writers. The editors aren't asking us to line their wallets; they are simply asking us to keep the magazine a self-sustaining enterprise. Honor the work. Subscribe!

Don't tell me you don't have the money. We're all feeling the pinch, but you can subscribe for the price of a bottle of wine. Or, if you live in New York City, a single cocktail. So all it takes is one night of sticking to Diet Coke, and you've got your funds. Make the right choice for your liver and your muse.

Already a teetotaler? Subscribe in lieu of paying that reading fee, the one for the contest you know you're not going to win, but apply to every year anyway. You know what I'm talking about. This year, why not make an investment that will truly pay off?

Because getting 32 Poems in the mail is a lot better than that thin envelope, with the obligatory xeroxed announcement of someone else's name inside. Trust me.