Sunday, March 30, 2008

Working the Manuscript

Instead of doing actual work this weekend, after a long week and fulfilling my semester requirements for both the MFA and the MA programs, I decided to put in a bit of time on my full-length manuscript, which is taking shape quite well. I'm having a tough time finding a thread that runs through the pieces - I rarely write on one theme exclusively (I'd bore myself to tears), though I have discovered that seasons and place (mostly Kentucky and Long Island) get mentioned quite often.

As of right now, I am tentatively titling the collection "A Stranger in Tornado Country." I don't know why, but I like the ring of it, and I like the poem it comes from, so for now, that's the winner. I hate sending things off half-cocked, and there's nothing worse than a collection with a lackluster title, especially with all the volumes of poetry being written. I don't want editors and judges bored before they get past the table of contents.

I've culled the collection to only polished pieces, and pieces I'm very fond of. Right now that puts me at fifty, with my new poem "Summer Sings," though there are about five or six I may take out because they're weak and/or obviously don't fit the rest of the tone of the collection. For instance, I happen to be in love with my new poem "Love Letter from a White Woman," but it's jarringly different in both tone and style, and relies more on rhythm than most of my other pieces do. I want it to be as strong as possible, but I also don't want to wait until the end of the MFA program (November 2009) to start submitting the manuscript.

My goal is to submit the full length manuscript to at least 4 competitions this year, as well as to some open reading periods at places like Tupelo Press, where the editor sends a handwritten note and critique for their open reading period. For poets, a full length manuscript is generally between 48 and 100 pages. Chapbook competitions are markedly shorter than that, requesting manuscripts of about 16 to 30 pages (and often shorter than that). There are tons of competitions, but it gets rather expensive after awhile, since most are about $20 a pop, with the full length competitions running closer to $25. Then again, I need to remember to ask if I can write those off...

My next daunting task, after writing a few more pieces that will round out the manuscript, will be to figure out what order they should be in. I haven't found a decent software program to do this (I've heard Scrivener is great, but I don't work on a Mac), so I'm seriously considering doing it with index cards and a giant corkboard. Any other ideas or suggestions are, as always, welcome and encouraged.

Does anyone have much experience putting together a successful poetry manuscript? What say ye?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I am a Sonnet

I'll admit it - I'm on OKCupid. I heard from one of my twitter friends that it's not bad. Plus, it's free, and eHarmony hasn't been doing me any favors lately. What I love about OKCupid, though, are all of the random tests and quizzes you can take. For instance, the Dating Persona quiz. I wanted to know what sort of a dating personality the quiz thought I had. I'll tell you, I am completely honest when I take these things. To a fault. (I also occasionally read my horoscope, though I don't take my Gemini status as seriously as some Scorpios I know, who ascribe their every relationship move and personality quirk to their star-sign. Ahem.)

You can take the test here, if you like. Definitely check out my results below - don't I sound like a lovely and date-able Poetess?. I was very surprised to find I'm a sonnet, especially since I answered all of the dirty questions honestly *grin* I was not surprised to find that I was told to always avoid The 5-Night Stand (DBSM), The False Messiah (DBLM), The Hornivore (RBSM), and The Last Man on Earth (RBSD), but I thought it was interesting that my direct opposite (according to the test) is Genghis Khunt, Random Brutal Sex Master. Not sure that's a title I'd covet anyway.

The Sonnet

Deliberate Gentle Love Dreamer

The Sonnet

Romantic, hopeful, and composed. You are the Sonnet. Get it? Composed?

Sonnets want Love and have high ideals about it. They're conscientious people, caring & careful. You yourself have deep convictions, and you devote a lot of thought to romance and what it should be. This will frighten away most potential mates, but that's okay, because you're very choosy with your affections anyway. You'd absolutely refuse to date someone dumber than you, for instance.

Lovers who share your idealized perspective, or who are at least willing to totally throw themselves into a relationship, will be very, very happy with you. And you with them. You're already selfless and compassionate, and with the right partner, there's no doubt you can be sensual, even adventurously so.

You probably have lots of female friends, and they have a special soft spot for you. Babies do, too, at the tippy-top of their baby skulls.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Pooped Poetess, and the Wonders of the MFA Residency

I've been waiting for some sort of writerly inspiration to strike me before posting again, and have run dry for the moment. As a matter of fact, I've felt the need to learn to knit, to learn to embroider so I could Tattoo my Towels, and I want to cook something delectable for someone, but my brain positively balks when I prepare to write something. Anything. My brain, she is empty of deep and interesting topics, or the will to write about them.

I haven't written anything heart-rendingly wonderful lately, though I'm currently a fan of my piece-in-progress, "Wife at the Parole Hearing," which starts with "Pennies are a punch/ in the mouth" - I've submitted it as part of my worksheet of pieces to be workshopped at the spring residency at Spalding. I'm tired. Work is more than a full time job (I love it, but it's demanding), keepign a steady stream of writing was far easier at the beginning of the semester than it has been in the last month and a half, and I just completed a 15 page paper and another workshop here at UTC. The Poetess is pooped.

I am very much looking forward to the 10-day residency in Louisville. Not so much because it will be an opportunity to relax (because it won't - residency is a ridiculously busy 10 days), but because I desperately need the reinvigorating atmosphere. In November, my first residency in the MFA program, it was something like being at a carnival with not enough time. Happily, they send out the schedule in advance, so the utter nerd in me was able to make a blow-by-blow plan in 15 minute increments.

It's tough *not* to be inspired to write when surrounded by fellow artists and supporters of the art community. Between panels by successful authors of every genre you can think of, discussions with small press editors, readings by faculty, students, and outside authors, class sessions taught by graduating MFA-ers, and a Buddy Guy concert (no, really), and chillaxing/collapsing in the hotel lobby by the bar at night with the likes of storytellers like Drew, the air is positively filled with inspiration. Finding the time and energy to write during residency was not as simple as I'd hoped, though I managed to jot a few things down that grew into poems later.

I'm looking forward to this residency for a few reasons. First, it's proof that I've completed my first semester (or will have, once I email my last packet of work out this Friday). Second, I'm going in with a lot less trepidation this time around because I already know a number of fabulous people from *last* residency, and have been sharing work and bitching about life for the past few months with these folks. You then pile in all the interesting lectures and panels, the opportunity to do a reading for people who are genuinely interested in what writers produce, and a posh hotel like The Brown, and it's pretty much heaven, even if it *is* in Louisville. (No offense meant, I'm simply more partial to Lexington, given the choice.)

Anyway, yes, residency is around the corner - about two months and counting, and I could really use the creative tank refill it offers. Now, as for where on earth I'm going to find the time to get in some actual relaxation....that's anyone's guess.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Minor Rejuvenation, and Some Excellent Fiction by Saintcrow

For the past month, my creative writing has been on something of a hiatus, as work has been busy. (Who would have thought that librarianship could be hectic?) Anyway, I've had one or two decent pieces written in the past few weeks, but this weekend was the first one where I've had time to sit down and do some personal work. I spent Saturday mailing out my taxes (in a veritable monsoon, which I know the IRS won't appreciate), and then writing a ten page paper on Anne Sexton and confessional poetry.

Today, on the other hand, was monsoon-less, and I spent a good deal of it outside, sitting in the grass with my basset hound Otto. It was delicious. There is very little in this world that is as gratifying as a mild spring day and having a sun-warmed dog in your lap. Add that the dog is a basset hound, and really, you can't wipe the smile off.

The real accomplishment of the weekend, however, was not grinding out that paper. (That paper, by the way, isn't due until *next* Wednesday. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing an assignment early!) Nor did I make any sort of a dent in the fifth and final packet of work due for my first semester in the MFA program at Spalding. No, what I did accomplish was reading the first four books in Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine series.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Lilith Saintcrow for creating the sort of badass, emotionally-damaged-but-not-terminally-annoying warrior chick in a world with paranormal characters that Laurell K.Hamilton almost created in her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Perhaps it's because it's still in the first few books, but each of Saintcrow's books is still taut, exciting, and surprising. While Hamilton fell into the abyss of favoring elaborately staged sex scenes at the expense of plot, Saintcrow drenches us in plot and character development. If that is due to her surprising lack of detailed sex scenes, then I will happily turn to my trashy romance novels to keep me set for that.

I am a tiny bit upset that I didn't realize book 5 of Saintcrow's series was already out, but I suppose it's just as well. It's 9pm on a Sunday night, and I simply don't have the stamina to read more than four books in a 24-hour period.

Anyway, this minor indulgence has been extremely satisfying, since I've admittedly read no fiction in the past few months (the horror! My brain weeps at the lack of candy). It has helped to ease much of the stress I've been feeling, and despite the fact that I wasn't doing anything "productive," I feel better. The only thing missing was a pedicure, but I'm still waiting on my tax returns, so one thing at a time.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nudie Paintings! The Poetess Collects Art

I will admit to some odd taste in art. I don't much care whether it's famous or not. I choose my wall decorations the same way I choose favorite poems - based on whether I am touched or inspired by them. Deep in my soul, I admit that I desperately want to be able to do figure drawing and painting, but I haven't made the time to develop that skill. (Truly. I've even bought canvas and oils and acrylics and brushes and brush cleaner. I'm just terrified of putting paint to canvas and looking as untutored as I am. I feel I need professional training or something. Bob Ross vids, here I come!)

Instead, I peruse art and buy what I like, if I can afford it. I have a number of prints, and a few watercolors, and even some oils, all thanks to that affordable bastion of reproduction, eBay. I will discuss later whether or not the fact that I am buying 99 cent oil paintings detracts from the value of the original. (Personally, I don't think it does, since I can't afford the gazillion dollar originals but would still love to display an artist's work, but again, this is a discussion for a different post.)

I do usually end up choosing figure studies, and (I admit it) female nudes. My former roomies (both male) considered this a great boon - free porn! It actually comes down to this - for art purposes, I find the female form more graceful, with a more soothing line to it. On a personal level, sorry ladies - when it comes to holding onto something, I prefer men. But feel free to whistle at me anyway, I always take it as a compliment.

But it's true - landscapes don't do it for me - they leave me feeling cold. On occasion I fall in love with a simple seascape, but it has to be devoid of people, umbrellas, and the other detritus that comes with inhabitants. I like my oceans to be solitary places of refuge.

I don't prefer abstract art, though I appreciate it. For me, art is a space to go to reflect upon beauty and silence. A painting or print with people in it is no longer silent - I can hear the noise of conversation. (My one huge exception to this is Jack Vettriano's work. You can look him up at if you don't know who he is.) Flowers and landscapes and such are too impersonal for me, not my cup of tea. Van Gogh doesn't entice me in the least - his work looks like a talented kid with crayons gone wrong, and Starry Night gives me a headache. Picasso's pieces look to me like they were tortured, torn up and pieced back together. See how judgmental I am? I am one very picky poetess. For a very long time, I didn't put any art up at all. As I've grown older, this has become more and more unacceptable t the artist in myself.

I like simple things, with simple lines and grace.

Let's discuss my current eBay oil painting spree - I have other oils rolled up in the corner form other sprees, but let's focus on what I've got visuals for.

I have a number of Michael Austin prints, which I love. This one is already matted, framed, glassed and on the wall in my living room:

I had planned to make it an all-Austin room, because I love his figure painting, but that seems a bit sterile and predictable. His lines are gorgeous and simple, the pieces are stark, and (very important to me) they have no faces. I do not like faces of weird/strange people on my walls. It's a personal preference, of course, but if anyone is going to be lookin at me, I'll make it photos of my family. For me, art is personal, and much like a book in that I do not want to be told overmuch about tiny details, I want to make some of it up on my own.

And so, I have been shopping victoriously on eBay, which is a wonderful way to find art on the cheap. Yesterday, I picked up this beauty, which was a print I had been eyeing on

My living room carpet is sand colored, the walls are white, and the couches are a merlot color, so the splash of red in this piece fits perfectly.

This one - well, I don't have an explanation for why I'm bidding on this one, other than that I like it. I don't have a dang thing in my apartment that blue will match with, so I'll have to improvise to find a spot for it.

I have considered taking all of the random art I love (but that doesn't "fit" anywhere) and simply stuffing it all into my mini office area in my apartment - a deluge of inspiration and beauty, if you will. Besides, mom decorated the rest of my place with such an eye for detail and matching that it seems a shame to clutter it up with my odd taste in pretties.

This piece I did win already, though I have no clue where I'll put this one, either.

At least it's pretty neutral, so it can go in the bedroom no matter what, though I've considered draping a scarf across the top (and left to dangle down the sides) just for color once it gets stretched and ready to hang. This one *is* too risque for the living room, methinks. My old roommates used to get a kick out of how my bedroom was the "porn room," but I do want whomever visits my apartment to feel comfortable.

One of the best compliments I've ever received was when one of my old roommates walked into my bedroom after I had, in a frenzy, hung all of my pieces in a manner that suited me. He said, "Well, you can definitely tell that you are indulging your tastes, and that you're not putting this up to impress anyone else." I suppose, offhand, it seems rather like an insult, but I'm okay with that, too. A large part of my life is spent bowing to the will of others - we all do it, both at work and in other areas of my life. I don't mind it overmuch; my boss is quite okay with my tattoos and the occasional pink streak I sport in my hair. But I want my art to reflect my tastes, particularly if it is going to hang in my home, which is my sanctuary.

Computer Issue, revisited

Due to frustration at technology that is not as "plug and play" as it claims to be, and due to a blue screen of death "line stack error," or some such thing, on the laptop, the retirement of the desktop will have to wait. I will just deal with the grinding noise coming from the chassis.

I am seriously considering asking some of the techie guys from work over one weekend day, paying them each $100 plus lunch, and asking them to set me up a real network, with wireless and everything. It's what I'd end up paying the Comcast guy to do it, I'm sure. I may wait until I buy the new computer, though, and do it all at once.

Computer Issues

My power went out at approximately half past midnight last night. After using my old school Nokia 6010 tank of a cell phone to light my way in the dark so that I could brush my teeth, change, and corral the dog into the bedroom, I realized that the night was lovely and silent without the hum of the myriad machines that make my life easy.

I enjoy the silence and darkness of deep night; I always have. In college, I drove my rommate bonkers because I had to tape paper bits over all the lights that stayed perpetually on, because they annoyed me when I was trying to sleep. (You know, the little green light on the computer tower and monitor, even when they go into 'sleep mode?' Those. And I stuffed a towel under our dormroom door. My silence requirements drive people nuts, too - when I lived with gaming roomies, and went to bed at odd hours because of my third shift job, I drove them insane with how finely tunes my ears were - I could hear what show they were watching in the basement, or what boss they were killing in World of Warcraft. I was a singularly bitchtastic roommate if I had to go downstairs more than once to request lowered volume. (Apologies, guys!)

So, I enjoyed the silence of last night's power outage, particularly since I was going to bed at that hour anyway, so I didn't mind that my intarwebz were unavailable and that the tv was out. I don't have cable anyway, so there was likely nothing good on. I slept like a baby, and only marginally worried about the month's worth of yogurt in the fridge, certain it would be fixed by morning. (I called the power company to be sure.)

Unfortunately, the price of said power outage is my desktop machine. The Dell I bought back in January of 2002 has been getting more and more wonky lately - MS Word won't work at all, it restarts itself on random occasions, and occasionally makes noises like the elves inside are fighting their version of the Peloponnesian war. When I restarted my computer this morning, the computer sounded a bit like a motor gone wrong (though now that it's been on a few hours the noise level has declined some). I took this as a hint that my sturdy electronic steed would not last me until June, and have now set up my laptop to have access to the internet through an ethernet cable, since I have no wireless router yet.

To be honest, not having the internet at home doesn't affect my writing much, since I'm old fashioned and only work in paper until I get a decent draft finished. What it *does* affect is my ability to bring up the TV Guide for the evening, chat with friends, indulge my Gmail email-checking obsession, and generally feel like I'm connected to the world somehow. I need internet because I'm addicted to my email, chatting with friends I can't afford to travel to see, and because it's primary season, damnit, and I don't have cable.

I am currently typing this post on my desktop, which is grinding with Sisyphian effort in a particularly annoying key. *And* I just realized that I never plugged the ethernet cable into my laptop, so I've been pirating someone's weak wireless signal, explaining the slow ass downloading of the antivirus and firefox. Plugging the cable in, however, did not result in a working hard connection. WTF.

I use computers for work. I can learn new software and usually implement it fairly painlessly. Usually, since everything I use is point and click, for the most part. This is the sort of thing I hate - stumbling through actual hardware setup junkness. And it won't renew my IP address for the hard line to the laptop, wants me to contact my ISP, who will charge me an arm and a leg to do this for me. AUGH. My "plug & play" Linksys Cable Modem doesn't 'play,' and the laptop doesn't see it. Despite the fact that they're connected with a cord.

Both of these computers are becoming more highly at risk of taking a long walk off my short windowsill.