Jul 21
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The Kindness of Writers

19 January 2009

The same day I asked them, two writers gave me permission to use their photos and literary excerpts: poet Eric Pankey and journalist/novelist Harper Barnes. Jeannette Cooperman, of St. Louis Magazine, another great writer, helped me find an E-mail address. How wonderful, and knock me over with a feather: All this within a few hours, on a federal holiday.

Yesterday at the St. Louis Poetry Center monthly workshop Pamela Garvey was the guest critic. Friday I attended the monthly Loosely Identified workshop. At both I got help with my work, and hope I helped other writers in the process. I am so grateful that writers gather in workshops to support each other, and build individual and collective confidence.

Writers are generous, quick, and wide-awake, and knowing them is a pleasure!
Jul 21
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Among Friends: Books Published or to Be Published

16 January 2009

Just to show it does happen, a list of recent book publications/acceptances (2008 and early 2009) by local writers I personally know and like:
  • Claire Applewhite, The Wrong Side of Memphis (L&L Dreamspell), novel
  • Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly, Marlene Miller, Niki Nymark, Marilyn Probe*: Nothing Smaller than Your Elbow (Bluestem), poetry
  • Mary Ruth Donnelly: Weaving the Light (Cherry Pie Press), poetry chapbook
  • Pamela Garvey, Fear (Finishing Line Press), poetry chapbook
  • Colleen McKee* and Amanda Stiebel, Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (Penultimate), anthology
  • J. Roger Nelson*, The God Whom Moses Knew (Thomas Nelson), novel
  • Niki Nymark, A Stranger Here Myself (Cherry Pie Press), poetry chapbook
  • Angie O’Gorman*, The Book of Sins (PlainView Press), novel.
  • Catherine Rankovic: Fame: Writers in St. Louis in the 1990s (Penultimate), nonfiction
  • Suzanne Rhodenbaugh, The Whole Shebang (Word Press), poetry
*=formerly my student!

I would LOVE to see in this list next year:

Denise Bogard (novel)
Janet Edwards* (nonfiction)
Rebecca Ellis (poetry)
Matt Freeman (poetry)
Julia Gordon-Bramer (poetry)
Susan Grigsby* (poetry)
Tim Leach (poetry)
Steven Schreiner (poetry)
-- and YOU.
Jul 21
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Midweek Delight

15 January 2009

Two outstanding poets I know and admire, Pam Garvey and Tim Leach, will be reading at The Pointe on Sutton Ave. in Maplewood, Mo., Tuesday Jan. 27, 7:00 p.m. Tim's public appearances are very rare. Don't miss him. He's the best unrecognized poet in St. Louis.

Last night after work instead of TV I drove to the Chesterfield Arts Center to hear poetry from Niki Nymark, and Steve Schreiner. I'm a fan of both. I bought Niki's new chapbook, I'm a Stranger Here Myself (Cherry Pie Press) and had her sign it. Steve's book is Too Soon to Leave (Ridgeway Press, 1997) and I wish he'd publish another. So does he. He said publishers don't like the title he gave his new manuscript. Poets' books should be what the poet wants.

It was a very intimate reading in an art gallery rather like a living room. The poets made us laugh, sigh, blush. Both Niki and Steve write good love poems. (Something I can't do.) What a delightful place to have spent a Wednesday night. St. Louis has many great poets. Give up "the media" one weeknight and hear them for yourself.
Jul 21
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Surprise, Surprise

10 January 2009

Ten months passed and I forgot about the poem. Then two months ago I heard the mag had been published. Was too busy writing new stuff to inquire as to why I didn't get a contributor's copy. And I'm kind of far along in life and in art to grouse about contributor's copies. But through my own efforts I got a copy. Today, read it. So much good stuff that I went into that altered state that readers of poetry get into. And when I met my own poem I began reading it as a stranger might. It's better than I remembered. It belongs. It's worthy. I'm pleased with it.

How refreshing! And quite a boost to morale. Basked in it for about 15 minutes.

Now, place fingers on keyboard, both you and I, and let's hunt up the next good poems we're going to write.
Jul 21
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Crazy

8 January 2009

This past week I drafted new work that I think is crazy: way, way off my usual path. This is the good kind of crazy for a writer.

That was during vacation time. Now I'm back to being mentally healthy, according to the standards of this culture: A clock wakes you, you shower and go to work and earn money, and try all day not to destroy your body, bank account, and relationships. You never tell your co-worker or boss, "I need time to myself" or "I'm busy writing a poem; go ask somebody else to do that" --that's so seriously nutty that they call it career suicide. If they catch you working on your novel or memoir (or blog), they won't listen when you explain that you are DRIVEN to do it by unknown forces and that you were born that way.

So we writers lead two lives from the start. One is crazy (according to non-writing mom, stepdad who wanted me be a court reporter because they really rake it in, boyfriend who thought writers get thousands of dollars when they complete a book, etc.). The crazy one is the fun one, the one with the starry dream world and infinite potential. That's also the one with the workshop that is happy, even thrilled, to read each other's crazy writing.
Jul 21
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Unagented YA Manuscripts Sought

3 January 2009

Wide open market for UNAGENTED young adult fiction -- a new Harlequin imprint, actually -- reported on Tricia Grissom's Coffee and Critique blog. I know that you know somebody with a YA novel, so please pass the information on.
Jul 21
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Spring Course in Advanced Creative Nonfiction

2 January 2009

If you're working on nonfiction and need a workshop, I'm teaching an evening workshop called Nonfiction Seminar at University College, Washington University, this spring. It's a 3-credit workshop course for memoir, essay, biography, travelogues, and nature writing; or narrative, as-told-to and other forms of creative nonfiction. The course emphasizes professionalism and publishability.

The course meets Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30 p.m., begins January 13 and ends May 5. I am happy to answer any questions. Please pass the word. Thank you.

To register, go to ucollege.wustl.edu and click "Courses and Registration" The course number is U11 313, under English Composition, and tuition is $1495.

I'm also teaching a course Thursday evenings, same place, U11 323, called The Art of the Personal Essay.
Jul 21
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Shame on You for Selling Your Books

1 January 2009

If any empire deserves to crumble, it's publishing as we have known it. This good New York Times article discusses online amateur book dealing. When you sell your used books on Amazon it bothers publishers no end because they get paid for the book only once. Maybe like their writers they should get used to being paid only once.

By comparison, a publisher of eBooks can charge for every download, although texts must be priced more affordably. But easy and instantaneous transactions mean the publisher sells more -- even when downloaded books get passed around. More sales and no middlemen mean a bigger chunk of the profits can go to the writers -- not the current lousy 10 to 15 percent.

According to the article, brick-and-mortar bookstores must go down with the ship, and that's sad. But the best ones will adapt, mostly the smaller independent ones. They've been pulling for the writers all along, and we will pull for them. Don't confuse the demise of traditional NYC-centered publishing with the demise of books or reading.
Jul 18
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Talking With: Dwight Bitikofer

Poet Dwight Bitikofer, Kansas native, is the publisher of the Webster-Kirkwood Times which he helped start in 1978, and the West End Word, and frequently emcees poetry events around St. Louis. He won second place in the 2011 St. Louis Poetry Center James Nash competition, and has been published in Untamed Ink and Literal Chaos and work is forthcoming in Natural Bridge. Dwight’s rhythmic reading style has roots in jazz, and he often performs with musician Raven Wolf; their next joint appearance is Sept. 17 at the Old Webster Groves Jazz & Blues Festival. His reading style is unusual and not to everyone’s taste. So I asked him:

dwightbitikoferWhat gave you the idea to read your poems to music?

One night in 2006 I went to a reading by James Goodman, who combines his poetry with guitar and oud and singing. There was an opportunity that night for others to read. The small room was lined with four or five or six young men with djembes and other drums. As I read, they drummed. I was enthralled!  This is how poetry was meant to be read and heard. When I had a reading opportunity in 2007 at Poetry at the Point, I brought my son’s band in to back me up on three or four of the poems I read. Audience response was very good.

You have a unique reading style. Nobody else does what you do, and some think it’s way out there. Why do you do it?

The style feels natural to me. And I receive a lot of good response. I try to honor words – their sounds, their meanings, their intensities. I do not have strong memory skills, so I read my work. But I like to have it on a music stand or podium so that my hands are free to be expressive. I hope to know work well enough that I can have a lot of eye contact with my audience. I often feel my audience come to attention, especially when hearing some of my more dramatic pieces. I thrive on that interaction. It connects me with people.

What do you hope to accomplish by writing and reading your poetry?

Like most poets, I would like some recognition. But poetry in its best forms is part of a self-discovering process. When I sit down to write a poem and it goes in some unexpected direction, that is part of an unconscious pathway of discovery. Poetry sometimes enables me to share something of myself that I would share in few other interactions. Poetry gives me permission to be who it is I am outside of the roles of business owner, publisher, parent, homeowner, resident of Webster Groves, son of a farmer, etc. etc.

What is the question you wish people would ask you, and what is its answer?

“What life experiences, events and stories shape your writing?” I think my writing is especially shaped by the rhythms of my childhood world. I am a child of flat land laid in square-mile grids under an open sky. I am a student of sunsets, songs of meadowlarks and the wind in cottonwoods.  I was raised among Mennonites, people with a literal interpretation of the Bible, lots of expectations and prohibitions, strong beliefs in heaven and hell, sin and redemption, hymns sung a capella in four-part harmony and thousands of grueling hours of church. These were pacifists, strict-but-kind people who worked very hard and shared much of what they had. I worked from a young age and it gave me character. I was terrible at sports, but I could spell, and drove farm vehicles at age 10. I piloted trucks and combines from Texas to the Dakotas during the summers starting at age 17.
      I became a city person around my 21st birthday. Worked at a social service agency and drove a taxi. Married and had three children. That held together for 19 years, but its difficulties also opened doors into a new way of looking at the world and life through a 12-step program (Al-Anon). That in turn, blossomed new friendships that introduced me to healing touch and to some spiritual practices and ceremonies passed down from Native American traditions. All of those things – plus travel – shape my poetry. And I am grateful.

Jul 18
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An Experiment with Voices and Chance

Talking about livening up poetry readings, we got this idea: Have area poets send us original works of their choice, and the five members of the poetry group Salon will arrange them for a multi-voice performance piece, of works by St. Louis poets, to be presented sometime soon. We think that might be cool. It will at least be different. There is no money involved and poets retain all rights; we just want to experiment and offer an outlet for unpublished works, maybe those "pet" poems the poet loves but that never get chosen for publication. Please email your poem to me at clrankov at gmail.com. We will treat it responsibly and with respect. If the poem is long it might be excerpted. Depends on what we get. I love chance! Pass the word on also. Thank you!
Jul 13
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Why Housepets Are Not a Good Subject for a Book

Like our families and our children, our pets are extremely interesting and important -- to us. A writer has to sweat to make an editor and readership care about our housepets as we do, mainly by presenting a unique and dramatic story, if there is one. Start an essay by describing a pet cat, and then for comparison, describe a previous pet cat that let itself get dressed in doll clothes, and the reader will think, "This is old news."

Housepets are not a good subject for fiction, either. We love them but they say nothing, do little and mostly go nowhere, and that doesn’t make for enjoyable fiction. Fiction narrated by a pet is old-old news. Think Black Beauty (1877).

Famous writers have published books about housepets. Virginia Woolf wrote Flush. I haven't read it. May Sarton wrote The Fur Person (a cat). Some people love it; there's even a gift edition. I haven't read it. Same with Doris Lessing's On Cats. I'm inclined to read about people, and then maybe animals other than housepets, as in Call of the Wild, Giraffe, and Watership Down. Readers are still recommending Watership Down, a misleading title for a novel about a colony of wild rabbits, published in 1972. I heard it recommended just yesterday. I have even read Will I See Fido in Heaven?, a work of nonfiction. (BTW, the answer, just as I had hoped, is "Yes.")


Having had pets I know how dear they are, and their lives have a few dramatic moments, but a reader is thinking, “What’s in this for me?” The author bursting to tell a pet story should write it, but for a readership, prepare to deliver a story never before told.
Jul 08
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Never Do Anything Out of Desperation

A service that pays for editing had me try out for a contract job using a segment of a real-life manuscript. And do this for free. Ignoring my own advice (NEVER ignore your own advice!) I did it, and mailed it back, but received no acknowledgement, reply or thanks. And they got about 4 hours of my work for free. This refreshed my memory of a lesson I had learned before, and forgotten:

Act out of desperation and you will be treated like a bar rag.

"Desperate" and "despair" have the same root, "without hope." Thus desperation is a state of mind. I'm not saying "trouble is a state of mind." There is such a thing as real trouble: illness, no money, tragedies, threats.

But how many of us have had even 10 weeks of full-time training in how to handle trouble -- the one thing we know we will have? If you're like me and not very good at it, you might, "unencumbered by the thought process," fall straight into desperation, where you are vulnerable to exploitation, like the poor soul who calls a $3.99/minute psychic hotline to ask if he'll win the lottery.

We've all had our hands or minds wrung by desperate people. It is natural to flinch from them. And it is somehow natural, if a desperate person hangs around a lot, to want to injure them further, if only to make them go away. To take what they offer (anything! everything!) and escort them out. To shut the door in their faces. Or not answer the door.