February 24, 2010

Wednesday, March 3 at the Arts Club

...Before I segue to ACW matters, I should mention that I've been lucky enough to land a featured spot at the 17 Poets! reading series in New Orleans when I head into town for a conference this Thursday, February 25. If you're in that neck of the woods--or know someone who is--please encourage them to join us! The reading will begin around 8:30 PM, to be followed by an open mic. The series is hosted at the Gold Mine Saloon, at 701 Dauphine Street in the French Quarter....

And speaking of readings, my lordy, am I feeling lucky to host the next reading at the Arts Club of Washington on Wednesday, March 3. First, check out the basics:

Rising Stars: Poets Tom Healy &
Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Wednesday, March 3 - 7 PM

The Arts Club hosts poets Tom Healy (author of What the Right Hand Knows) and Gabrielle Calvocoressi (author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart and Apocalyptic Swing). Readings will be followed by a Q&A, then a light reception and booksigning. 

Free. Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW, DC. 


Now, check out the just-released list of finalists for this year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry:

  • Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Apocalyptic Swing (Persea Books)
  • Amy Gerstler, Dearest Creature (Penguin Poets)
  • Tom Healy, What the Right Hand Knows (Four Way Books)
  • Brenda Hillman, Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press)
  • Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, }Open Interval{, (University of Pittsburgh Press)

That's right--two finalists on one stage! When I named the program "Rising Stars: Poets Tom Healy and Gabrielle Calvocoressi," I didn't realize just how prescient my words would prove to be.

Our February launch was foiled by snow, and I'd like to remind the Arts Club that these free, public programs have the potential to draw new folks to the venue (because without the Arts Club's generosity, these programs would not exist).  So please, if you're in the DC, Maryland, or Virginia area, join us for this reading--and if you're not, spread the word to a poetry-lover who is. This line-up is too amazing to ignore. 

The full press release is below...

Rising Stars: Poets Tom Healy and Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 7 p.m.

The Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW
Free and open to the public, reception to follow.

On Wednesday, March 3, the Arts Club of Washington will host Tom Healy and Gabrielle Calvocoressi, two rising stars of the poetry world, in celebration of their bold, inventive, and compassionate collections. Readings will be followed by a light reception and booksigning. This free event, which is open to the public, is part of an ongoing series at the Arts Club.

TOM HEALY is the author of What the Right Hand Knows, one of the bestselling books of contemporary poetry in 2009. He teaches at the Pratt Institute in New York and serves as a fellow at the Goreé Institute in Dakar, Senegal. He has traveled the world for AIDS prevention and microfinance efforts and was a member of President Clinton’s White House Council on AIDS. He lives in New York and Washington with his partner, Fred Hochberg who was appointed by President Obama to lead the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

GABRIELLE CALVOCORESSI is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart and Apocalyptic Swing. She has been the recipient of numerous honors including a Stegner Fellowship and Jones Lectureship from Stanford University and The Bernard F. Conners Prize from the Paris Review. In addition to teaching in the MFA Program at Warren Wilson College, she is the Sports Desk editor at The Best American Poetry blog. Her poem, "Temple Beth Israel" was recently the Poet's Choice in The Washington Post. She lives in Los Angeles.

THE ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON is at 2017 I Street NW, near Foggy Bottom/GWU and Farragut West metro. Headquartered in the James Monroe House, a National Historic Landmark, the Club was founded in 1916 and is the oldest non-profit arts organization in the city. The Club’s mission is to foster public appreciation for the arts through educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.    


February 22, 2010

Over at She Writes...

I'm getting all practical with today's "Countdown to Publication" post over at She Writes. An excerpt, from a section offering tips on author photos:

I really enjoyed Randy Susan Meyers' recent post on "Photoshop-Botox for Author Photos." An additional thought, based on my days at a magazine where I was in charge of photo-editing: Be careful of poses that are difficult to crop. Bringing your knee or your hand up by your head may look really cute when we can see the full-body posture. But if I've got a box in layout big enough for only your face, a random knee floating by your left ear--or an index finger thoughtfully crossing your chin--is going to look mighty strange.

Every author photo is really four photos: the color version, the grayscale version, and for each of these, a "big" and "small" version--a print-ready file of 300 dpi, minimum 4x6 inches, as well as a web-friendly version at 72 dpi, minimum 2x3 inches. Why multiple file sizes? Traditional printing processes require a lot more "dots per inch" of ink in order to define an image, whereas our eye registers a picture on screen using much less data. Those who work online don't want to have to upload hefty files that clutter their server space; printers forced to run less than 300 dpi end up with grainy or blurred images. JPG is the current standard format (a few publications request TIF, but can usually deal with JPG in a pinch). BMPs from Paintbrush are not acceptable, nor are GIFs--it's a function of file size, compression, and palette management.

Name your file "[Last name][First name]" (i.e., "DoeJane") or, if a credit is needed, "[Last name][First initial]Credit[Photographer First name][Photographer last Name]" (i.e., DoeJCreditMattBell"). I can't tell you how many author photos go to magazines having just been ripped from a digital camera--with the nondescript, overly long file name to boot. If a file like that gets saved to a folder, it's really tough to find again. And in the last-minute stages of proofing, it's really handy to have the author name (and photographer credit) embedded for reference.

You can read the whole post here.

February 21, 2010


I've sat down several times this week, hoping to gather my thoughts on this past week's New York trip. Things did not begin auspiciously. Despite getting up at 5:45 AM on Tuesday, the combination of black ice, clunky snow boots, and an unannounced Metro delay caused me to run to the plaza at 10th and H Streets just in time...to see the Bolt Bus pull away. I had no choice but to hop right back onto the metro, wheezing and teary, and head to Union Station to catch the 8:10 Vermonter train instead. That was $106 I couldn't afford, but I had a 12:30 lunch date with my editor at Crown--a new editor--and I was not going to make a first impression of flaking out. 

Meeting an editor who has "inherited" your book (following the departure of a previous editor) is a terrifying proposition, but Sydny put my mind at ease. She's an industry vet, savvy to the latest marketing trends as well as the traditions of good editing; she worked for many years at Simon & Schuster, where she handled a series of successful books for food lovers. Most importantly, when they brought a humongous swirl of house-made blue cotton candy out with the bill, she helped me devour it. That's my kind of lady. 

The good news: the first 101 pages of the nonfiction book are in good shape. The bad news: that means I have no further excuse to put off the other 100 pages of the book. It's going to be a crazy spring.

Most of the rest of my trip was grabbing an hour here and an hour there with writer-friends in the city. We celebrated my sister's 20th birthday (!) with dinner at Hangawi, a midtown vegetarian/Korean place which won my heart with its tranquil atmosphere and its focus on mushroom rather than tofu-anchored meals. Their homemade kimchee (the real stuff--fermented as well as pickled) is amazing, as is their array of delicately flavored mountain roots.

Just be sure to wear presentable socks, lest you get caught off guard by the tatami seating. I had remembered this, all the way back in DC, and accordingly packed my Valentine's Day socks (red hearts) rather than my Christmas ones (candy cane-wielding reindeer). The only socks I own--because I wear them only on the occasions of snow and bowling--are novelty ones received at the holidays. That's right: my mom still buys my socks.

We opted for dessert at Veselka  after the movie (Fantastic Mr. Fox). It's one of my sister's favorite neighborhood places, and she says that every time she brings a friends they notice some minor celebrity--usually of the Gossip Girl variety. Sure enough, I think we were sitting next to Bryan Greenberg. At first I thought "no, that can't be him, he's too short," but we left at the same time as he and his date and he unfolded some astonishingly long legs from under that little cafe table. 

I'd like to claim I recognized him from How to Make it In America, which is the heavily hyped new HBO series. Nah. If it was him (the lanky build matched, as did the eyebrows and the prominent ears; the chin scruff did not), I recognized him from the sap-fest that was October Road. I'm a sucker for shows with a writer-as-protagonist. 

All of this goofiness aside, I did have one more important thing to do before leaving New York: filming an interview for Poets & Writers 40th Anniversary. I owe them such a huge thank-you for the doors opened for me through the Maureen Egen Exchange Award. When they asked if I'd be interested in sharing a few anecdotes for their birthday video, I was thrilled. 

Let's just admit this was not a good travel-trip for me. I dashed from another birthday celebration--this time at Angelica Kitchen (all the special women in my life are vegetarians, apparently)--down to the Broad Street office for my 1:30 PM call time...only to learn I was supposed to be at Writer's House, 26 blocks north. I got right back on the subway and proceeded to break every rule of etiquette: brushing my furiously windblown hair, powdering my sweaty forehead, checking my teeth. I was that person. I'm sorry, New York. 

Luckily the interview itself went fine, and I'll post a link if they do a longer version for the website. My interviewer was Elliot Figman, who is now the executive director but has been at Poets & Writers forever--he started out as a volunteer in 1977, and there are some great black and white photos to prove it. He sat just off-camera, asking leading questions (nothing quite like racking your brain while the film rolls, thinking OK, what story is it that I told him, that he clearly wants to hear again?). It's a good thing Elliot is such a sweet guy, because otherwise it would have felt like a scene from A Chorus Line. 

Talk about true celebrity spotting: I met Roxana Robinson on my way out, and later in the day Jonathan Franzen was coming in. How on earth did I get here?

February 15, 2010

She Writes

In January I signed up for a free account with She Writes, a site with a membership about 7,000 women writers in all genres. The same day I signed up for Red Room.

My Red Room account promptly dissipated into the ether: they make an unsettling distinction between "members" and "authors," and my page doesn't turn up under the browsing menus. Meh. In contrast, within 24 hours the folks at She Writes welcomed me with a personal hello, an invitation to join the "poetry social" group, and a rotation of my author photo through the main page's mini-roster.

She Writes made me feel like a vital part of the community, right off the bat. So in return, I'm thrilled to contribute a series of "Countdown to Publication" posts to their site in the coming days--a kind of behind-the-scenes of what goes into launching a poetry book into the world. I am proud to be contributing alongside these other authors:

Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant
Elizabeth Bard
Sonya Chung *
Victoria Mixon

* Sonya has gotten a head start on the rest of us--and has already impressed me with the detail and the honesty of her posts...

Each weekday, one of us will be featured on the She Writes Blog, which is authored collectively; my "day" is Monday. We're following in great footsteps--Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) and Hope Edelman (author of The Possibility of Everything) have gone before us. Wish me luck!

& if you sign up for She Writes, invite me to be your friend, please?

Countdown to Publication: 48 Days

An excerpt:

My first collection of poetry, Theories of Falling, was published by New Issues Poetry & Prose, which is based at Western Michigan University. They did a fantastic job with editing and design, and have been incredibly supportive at every step of the way (even now, having just initiated a 2010 reprint of the book). One great thing about a university press is that some of the staff will be salaried, meaning you don't have to feel guilty about asking them to respond in a timely fashion; sure, it's a labor of love, but it is also their job. Yet unlike New York houses (where the turnover can be relentless), employees at university presses tend to stay for at least 2-4 years, which will be the core lifespan of your book. These folks usually have priorities in addition to climbing the publishing ladder--a PhD program, or a family, or other commitments to the town. They stick around, and you get the pleasure of building a real, lasting relationship with them."

Even with the best presses, sometimes things go wrong.

Countdown to Publication: 52 Days

Visit She Writes

February 11, 2010

One-Horned Beasts

Given the recent preoccupation with snow, snow, and more snow, hard to believe that Valentine's Day is suddenly upon us. I've been thinking about love poems, which led to an essay "On Love Poems (and Other One-Horned Beasts)." 

Here's the opening excerpt:

I’ve been writing love poems.
Or rather, I’ve been trying to write love poems.
To be precise, I’ve been cursing the blank page where my love poems should be. I’m in love, damn it. Where are the poems? When I’m sad, I can write about sadness. When I took a cable car up Mount Pilatus, I could describe the view from 7,000 feet.
It’s not uncommon for a lover to ask, “why aren’t I in your poems?” Usually the poet thinks, “You don’t want that. Showing up in poems is a bad sign.” There is a truism that poems do not thrive on the agar of contentment. No, that’s not quite it; great poems do not thrive on the agar of contentment. Mediocrity flourishes in any petri dish. William Butler Yeats, in “Meditations in Time of Civil War,” diagnosed the problem. “Only an aching heart,” he said, “Conceives a changeless work of art.”
You’d think the ratio of poems about love affirmed, versus love lost, would be similar to the ratio of happy marriages to failed relationships. But look through any sampling of literary journals, and you’ll realize that genuinely joyous “love poems” are like unicorns. They’re extremely rare; they come to people seen as preternaturally faithful or naïve; and afterwards, someone points at what’s left behind and says, “Well, looks like plain old horse manure to me.”

& you can read the rest of it here

February 10, 2010


This weather is something else. Arts Club reading: postponed to April. Miami trip: postponed to May. Our electricity has held up, but I am superstitious enough to be cooking things that can be eaten cold, out of the fridge, if we lose power. (PEPCO has pulled its workers off the streets because of the winds--meaning that if your lines are down, there's no help on the way just yet).

Nothing but white, white, white. I have to get all the way up to the windows in order to see across the street. The birds look like they're flying from something.

So...Plan B. An afternoon conference call on PR possibilities for the upcoming "Writing the Future" conference at the Writer's Center, which I am really excited about. A Michael Pollan book to read. Maybe a game of Scrabble, which makes me wonder--my goodness, what are the VCCA folks doing in all this? Has it been nothing but pasta dinners on the mountain?

Before I forget, hooray for Rebecca Skloot's new book (I've been reading her bylines for so many years, I was shocked to realize it's her first book). The subject of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is fascinating, and I root for any fellow not-quite-memoirist. Amidst the raves there's been an unusual amount of meta-reviewing of not only Skloot's writing, but her success and how she came to it. Check this out for a tip of the iceberg.

February 07, 2010

Part 4: On Animated Poems & YouTubing

I live in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, and the snow--a solid 18 inches, with drifts in many spots up to 24 inches--got us good. On the night of the big December storm we had friends over and were blithely ignoring the whole thing until, sitting on the step to my balcony, I realized I could reach out and scoop up handfuls of fresh, clean snow to eat. This storm has been more orchestrated--too much hunkering-down, too much waiting and worrying.

Plus, somewhere adjacent to this apartment, someone has left an alarm on, buzzing every three seconds, going into Day 2. Buzz buzz buzz. (Pause) Buzz buzz buzz. (Pause) Buzz buzz buzz. Sigh.

The upside is that the stir craziness drove me to make a second in my series of animated videos illustrating poems from the forthcoming I Was the Jukebox. I chose "The Story," which first appeared in The Florida Review, for several reasons.  It is a shorter piece, the text isn't on the web anywhere else, and for February I thought I'd chose a love poem--a valentine, or as close as I get to one.

With each one of these, I'm learning a little more about the process. Here's what I had on my mind this time around:

-No poem is too short. Really. In the run-through I thought "my god, this is only going to be a 26-second video!" But after you add title matter and closing credits, and match the frames to how long it takes an unfamiliar eye to absorb the text, the length will be twice what you expected. Since none of these should run over two minutes anyway, no poem is too short.

(Okay, maybe clerihews and haikus. No other poems.)

-Make the most of your images. I decided to go with a minimalist approach of text on black. This served a practical purpose--every hi-res still costs about  $2-5 at iStockphoto, which can add up quickly--and also, an aesthetic one: I worried that a series of literal parade of the objects named in "The Story" (a hotplate, copper ore, a cheetah) would be too clunky and distracting.

So I wanted to make the most of my animations. For "Vocation" I cut corners with 15-credit (~$15) versions of the MP4s, which are then fuzzy in the YouTube site display, but fine embedded in blogs, etc. This time I held myself to two MP4s, but paid for higher-res 25-credit versions. In the case of the cut-paper house sequence, it was out of respect for the artistry. I was also happy to find a candle-burning clip that ran a little longer than most (this is a popular type of iStock clip), and included the candle going out. I cropped that from the MP4s first appearance, then patched it in for post-credit closure.

-Choose music paced to the time you have. I was worried, after "Vocation," that I was eternally wedded to jazz soundtracks. But "The Story" has a different energy, and Kevin MacLeod had sectioned out some wonderful (and royalty free) snippets from Mahler's Danse Macabre. I picked two that added up to the full length needed and lined up the seam between them with a transition in the poem.

You might be tempted to pick a song that runs longer than what you need (2-4 minutes), and just chop it off when your poem ends. Don't do that. Every clip has its own internal rhythm; pick something working toward an end point aligned with your poem, and you'll be surprised at the congruities in phrasing that may occur. We sense when something is cut off, even with a decent fadeout effect.

-Balance your sound. The biggest problem with "Vocation" is imbalance between the microphone input (for the voiceover) and the MP3 soundtrack. I've decided the built-in mic is more effective than my plug-device--in part because the former is more responsive to the "Normalize Clip Volume" function built into iMovie and found under "Audio Adjustments." (This is also a way to equalize the volume across multiple MP3s.) You can further tweak the balance under by upping the voiceover track (up to 200%) and "ducking" the MP3 track (I punched it down to 5% of original volume).

The result is, I hope, a more natural sound balance. Keep in mind that this was recorded in the exact same physical space at "Vocation," yet it is far less tinny. Those settings really make a difference.

Anyway, with no further ado...

...and, for comparison's sake, here is "Vocation"...

February 05, 2010

Dreaming of Florida

With this snow on its way to DC (24 inches? really, folks?), there is only one appropriate course of action: start thinking about next week's trip to Miami. 

SeminArt - LegalArt Writing Workshop at Rubell Collection


Next Thursday (February 12, 2010), LegalArt, an organization in Miami that provides artists with affordable legal services, grants and educational opportunities is holding SeminArt, a writers workshop hosted at The Rubell Family Collection (show above). The workshop which aims to empower would-be writers with the skill set necessary to make it in the professional realm promises to be a unique opportunity for emerging writers of all types to get the inside scoop on launching a writing career. The workshop will be presented by literary agent Shannon O’Neill, and author Sandra Beasley.
An experienced literary agent, Shannon will discuss how to find an agent, what agents do, and how to know if you have a good agent. She will also give tips on ensuring a successful meeting with an editor, such as what to include in a pitch and book proposal. Sandra will share her experience as an author who works in different genres, and provide advice on how to take advantage of the variety of opportunities open to writers who are versatile.
About the presenters:
Shannon O’Neill is an editor and literary agent at The Sagalyn Agency, based in Washington DC. For over 20 years, The Sagalyn Agency has represented journalists, academics, business writers, and novelists, doing business primarily with the large New York houses and focusing on up market nonfiction, business books, and commercial fiction. Shannon also teaches writing and publishing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Washington and serves as a guest panelist at events such as the annual Conversations and Connections Writer’s Conference. Shannon has a Master’s degree in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College.
Sandra Beasley is the author of two poetry collections: I Was the Jukebox (W.W. Norton, 2010) and Theories of Falling (New Issues, 2008). Her nonfiction has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, and she is working on Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life (Crown, 2011). She first studied literature as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, and holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from American University. Beasley lives in Washington, D.C., where she serves on the Board of the Writer’s Center; in 2010 she received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Thursday, February 11, 2010 7:00-9:00 pm
Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29th Street, Miami, FL 33127
Register now: provide the names of those attending to legalartprograms@gmail.com

February 04, 2010


I'm delighted to find out that poet Andrew Kozma has reviewed Theories of Falling for Zoland, a cool annual that operates an an interesting hybrid between anthology and journal. Beautiful print values, too (though I'm not sure the print version includes the reviews). 

The review makes some lovely observations about the organization of the book, including the tonal shifts between the sections. An excerpt:

"This world is presented through the eyes of a child who is both being taught how to perceive the world by her family, and who looks back as an adult as a witness to how these lessons in perspective have betrayed her adulthood. For the speaker, nothing is as it seems, and nothing, finally, in her world, relates to how others describe the world as being. This prepares us for “Allergy Girl”, a long sequence that recounts the life of the speaker, a girl whose allergies make the world a dangerous place. And the world is dangerous not just because of her allergies, but because of the inability for others in the world to recognize her allergies. The parents try to calm the child down with food that simply makes her more irritable. They wonder why she won’t eat, and make delicacies to tempt her with poison instead. A disbelieving boyfriend tricks her with a kiss, his mouth full of chocolate; an ex insures against physical contact by eating cheese before a reunion.

This section – the first of three, titled “The Experiment” – embodies a world of deception, where things don’t shift form, they shift interpretation. The poems here show a mastery of metaphorical narrative, all the poems fitting together tightly towards a single goal even though the poems themselves tackle widely varying subjects."

Thanks, Andrew, for your careful attention to the work. It's nice to be reminded that a book continues to make its way out into the world after the first year. The full text is here

...and in other, less selfish news, congrats to D. A. Powell and Beth Bachmann, winners of this year's Kingsley Tufts ($100K, whoa) and the Kate Tufts Awards!

February 02, 2010

VCCA: Home

If you have ever debated whether an art colony is for you, stop debating. They are tremendously productive. In two weeks I managed to do the following:

7 full-length prose books read
7 full-length poetry collections read
4 literary magazines read
3 chapters revised
12,450 words written

The last thing I did before leaving my VCCA studio: hit "send" on 101 pages--the first half of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. Hallelujah!

I got back into DC just in time to head up to Cafe Muse and hear Gregory Pardlo and Ed Skoog read their poetry, then go out for a drink afterwards...at which point my 5:30 AM wake-up call got to me. I was asleep before midnight and now face a minor hurricane of unpacking, to-dos, and emails. So I'm off to work, and in the meantime I leave you with this-the first part of a Rachmaninoff Sonata being performed by Inna Faliks, a pianist I hope to work with later this year:

Here is the YouTube Channel for the rest of the piece. One thing I won't miss about VCCA....the sloooow internet connections. It has been a video-less two weeks.