Kansas City Voices, an annual, last week chose a poem of mine for its 2010 edition, but the judge (his assistant called him "the poetry editor of the Kansas City Star") had suggested some changes in it. Open to suggestions? I always am; that's the nature of our business; plus, I had submitted that work in March and have since revised it, so I knew it needed revision. The assistant e-mailed me the judge's version of the poem. Golly.
Knowing that editors are not writers' enemies but their best friends, I gave the suggestions their due. About half of them would not harm the poem; about a quarter of them would help.
I printed out "their" preferred version and came up with my "corrected corrected" version. Naturally they were on deadline, so the assistant and I then worked by phone to reach a meeting of minds. I had cut out an image she liked. I explained how it was "over the top," and she suddenly saw that and agreed. I had deleted another line she said she hated to lose, so I let it back in. This mutual tweaking took about twenty minutes.
The result: The poem is better than when I sent it, and we are now both satisfied. How did that happen? Respectful. Calm. Informed. Orderly.
Poet.com, the URL, is owned by POET, a midwestern biorefinery, now with 26 plants, established in 1986. POET makes ethanol out of corn (grain-based ethanol), and is planning to make even cheaper ethanol from corn stalks and cobs (cellulosic ethanol). That's billion-dollar business and POET is the biggest such operation in the nation. On their rather mystifying website I tried hard to find how a biorefinery got the name "POET," searched to see if it's an acronym, and these are the best I got:
4/13/2007 8:45:11 AM, Countdown to Cellulose, by Jeanne Bernick
"Broin Companies has changed its name to Poet, "a short, memorable name that evokes energy and creativity." Expanding its Emmetsburg, Iowa, plant to include cellulosic processes is its latest innovation. . ."
and another article: ". . .Broin said they wanted a name that would reflect the unique nature of their organization. "We wanted a name that would represent, rather than describe, who we are and what we do," Broin said. "As a poet takes everyday words and turns them into something valuable and beautiful; we use creativity that comes from common sense to leave things better than we found them."
Wonder if they'd ever hire actual poets.
Thanks to Gaye Gambell-Peterson, who saw a commercial with a steel-jawed guy in a hardhat labeled "Poet" (bet he was embarrassed, and I bet somebody on the set called him a fruit) and forced me to investigate.
Looking through an airline's in-flight magazine I found to my surprise it's not a magazine anymore, but a catalog full of purchasable items, titled Sky Mall. I kid you not. In vain I searched it for articles, advice, horoscopes. The items were fascinating and I probably read the catalog more thoroughly than I ever read those in-flight magazines with ecstatic descriptions of trips I would never take.
I think about magazines, talk about magazines. I receive magazines. So what the heck IS a magazine? A wanna-be book with a shorter lifespan? A paper-bound, two-dimensional variety show? A newspaper on steroids?Etymology: "storehouse, granary." Sense a) "a storehouse of information on any subject." The term used to be applied to books. But more recently, b) "a periodical with miscellaneous papers, esp. critical and descriptive articles, stories, poems, etc., designed for the entertainment of the general reader." (Then a qualification: "Magazines are now often specialized...") (because there is now no general reader. General readers read, like, catalogs. Magazines are slanted toward certain demographics.)
The dictionary points me toward the word "review." What, I ask, is a "review," as in Paris Review? Threepenny Review? I have never looked it up. Anyone can see that "to review" means "to look again," but the noun is defined thus: "a periodical containing critical articles primarily."
What is a magazine? I love magazines, so I have to give this more thought.
Poet and teacher Julia Gordon-Bramer writes: "It's very suburban, but this is where I get all of my reading and writing done, when I'm not actually typing it up on the computer inside. I call it my 'outside office.' For me, it's bliss. And with my citronella candles, it's not too buggy, either."
My late husband, Robert H. Kneib, wrote fiction and nonfiction, and published two essays (one, "My Last Great Reading Binge" nominated for a Pushcart Prize) during his lifetime. But I always liked his short stories, was sorry they never found a publisher, believe he quit trying too soon. I thought Bob's fiction had vanished along with his computer, but in cobwebby boxes in the garage, I found hard copies; he had kept all manuscripts which had workshop comments on them. Re-reading for the first time in ten years, I see that two of the five extant stories are excellent, and one nearly so; for these, successive drafts exist, showing ever-higher levels of polish. Only now has it occurred to me that they ought to be published and shared.
First I thought to set up a blog. But considering there are two excellent stories of significant length, a fiction chapbook would be ideal. Fiction chapbook competitions exist. I will see if being a living author is always a requirement. Failing that, nothing stops me from publishing such a chapbook myself.
While I consider what to do, I'm typing up the stories, digitizing, so that his best work may survive him.
Thursday, June 3: About 2 p.m. I plop down into a place at home I don't normally write in, and write prose for two hours. I realize I do need to change places now and then, and that I require a computer that boots quickly, because once I am ready to write I'm impatient to start.
Friday, June 4: Half the day, great pleasure. Cheered by lunch with writer friend at a groovy new venue. Errands and exercise are joyful. Differences threaten another friendship. I try hard to tell myself it's not my problem, to distract myself, to cage and tame my feelings, to put it in perspective next to the Gulf oil spill. But I'm overwhelmed and I don't write. Up much of the night reading Puddn'Head Wilson.Saturday, June 5: St. Louis Writers Guild holds a poetry-writing workshop outdoors at the Botanical Garden, 10 a.m. to noon. About 20 people met, heard some poems, then separated and each went off to sit alone and write, and then met again to hear the results of our exercise. Interesting and entertaining. It is an exercise in hope.
I have found a rigid writing schedule to be intimidating, and it is not for me at this time. But trying to adapt to it, I assembled and sent out a chapbook, wrote some prose and some poetry, mailed out some poems, and astonished myself by registering for a course that is waaaay out of my comfort zone: Adult Beginner Ballet.
Gaye Gambell-Peterson writes, "Picture 1 is a collage/painting done by me. My extended family has two beach houses, one in each Carolina. I've always found my muse sitting in one of the old wooden rockers on the respective porches. Those chairs not only prompted lines of poetry, but inspired a whole series of Portraits of Rocking Chairs. Photo 2 is my real writing spot. The Poetry Chair. I sit here (alone during the day, except for Rossi Cat) and write longhand. Once I've got a computer printout, I sit here and edit, and re-edit. You can see my clipboard, with dictionary and thesaurus in easy reach."
Tuesday, June 1. Morning errands that should have taken one hour took four hours. Workout at noon. Lunch on foods that need only warming up so I'm not distracted by cooking, which is my third-favorite activity and a great way to waste writing time. Afternoon, try to read Puddn'head Wilson. Fall asleep, waking in time to watch Judge Judy. After that, read a friend's essay draft, being very judgmental. After dinner, begin to sort through papers, throwing away drafts, duplicates, and obsoletes. Online I find an excellent writer's resource site, www.newpages.com. Read some of their very pointed and frank reviews of litmags. Check in with St. Louis Writers Guild and my publisher. Yoga before bed. Didn't write.
Wednesday, June 2. After a half-hour with journal and one hour of yard work I clean myself up and sit down at computer. Wondering what to start with, suddenly I'm in every writer's dream: I open up a file drafted months ago, one I thought was dross, and re-read it for the very first time. Darn, it's good! It wanted for nothing! Tinkering with it only ruined it! I printed it out, added it to packet I mailed to Southern Poetry Review (their contest closes June 15). Now every decent poem that I have written is circulating. I am aware that some people would prefer that I write essays, and while the poems circulate, am considering topics.
First in a series. Do you have an image -- inner or outer -- of a dream-place, ideal place, for a writer to write? Email them, if you would like to, and I may post them. Please give a photo credit. This one taken by me on a desert-blooming morning in Mesa, Arizona.
Sunday, May 30. Wake 5 a.m. in dread (nothing's really wrong). Coffee on porch, paging through a friend's poems. At 7:30 a.m. decide I must use the cool of the day for brushcutting and lawn mowing. After three hours of that, I shower, lunch, create no-knead bread dough and set it to rise, then, unbelievably, needing to escape the house, I go to the gym, grocery, and gas station. After dinner look at a friend's poems. Decide it's now or never to do my scheduled work. So tired I feel poisoned, but that has killed the dread. Taking up a copy of Rattle, Summer 2010 issue, I find exceptionally good poetry and interviews with Carl Phillips and Aram Saroyan. I read also the author bios. Gemma Mathewson's includes this: "Poetry is, for me, a kind of skywriting. It involves melding the twin vertigoes of altitude and disclosure, in the medium of vapor. " Good read. Want my work in that mag. Bed 9:30 p.m.Monday, May 31. Wake 6:30 a.m. Feed birds. Bales of straw are required to complete my yard project, but it's too early to shop. I could plant tomato plants, but remembering yesterday, I halt myself and at 7:30 a.m. begin assembling chapbook for Midwest Chapbook Series competition run by Laurel Review, litmag from Northwest Missouri State University. Deadline is June 1; do it now or never. First chapbook competition I have ever entered, following my own advice to attempt the local before I try national. Picking up the contest guidelines I see I've scribbled on it a possible chapbook title: Soviet Life. I like it and use it. Manuscript and mailing package assembled and finished by 11:30 a.m. Manage to do it by literally gritting my teeth. Relieved it's done.
Annie Dillard, a prolific essayist, wrote about having a writing schedule, concluding that it's a net that traps that fleeting commodity, time. So I embark tomorrow (not today! Too busy today!!) upon an entirely scheduled writing week as an experiment. I think four hours a day, in the morning, let's say 8 to 12, is reasonable for writing and writing-related duties (writing in journal does not count; reading literary magazines does count); two hours a day for exercise, housework or yard work; two to six hours for paying work; & the rest open. I will let you know whether rigidly dedicated writing time turns out to be productive -- so many writers have said it is -- or if I can't make myself do it for seven straight days, and why.
I tend to start with unfinished material, tinkering and thinking, and within a few days get totally in gear, ready to draft new material.
Usually I refrain from offering the information I am a writer, and recommend this practice to all writers. "English Teacher" is so nicely cut and dried. But walking on the wild side this week I said "Writer" to a shoe salesman who said he's been in the same business since 1954. He asked what I wrote. My mom chimes in, "Oh she just wrote a book on St. Louis writers," pegging me as a local in a place rather far from St. Louis. Shoe salesman begins recalling many trips to St. Louis to Brown Shoe and International Shoe headquarters, 15th and Washington streets. I tell him that area has changed, is mostly loft dwellings now. "I'm a poet and an essayist," I added rather desperately. "She just won a poetry prize," my mother chimed in. "Yeah. This poetry stuff," I joked, "is really paying off," and I escaped with my new sandals, however sheepishly and lamely. Next time: English teacher.