Children are all about imaginary time…

…as in, any time not spent with them is strictly imaginary and illusory, or, in fact, altogether nonexistent.

These warm sunny days, while energizing & welcome, make the perennial juggling of daily life an even harder challenge. When it’s cold, wet, and dark, it’s nice to stay indoors, easier to interest the boys in pseudo-crafty projects (I say “pseudo” because I am not even a little crafty. But the boys are too young to have made that determination for themselves, and are happy to be allowed to make big messes in the service of “art.”), baking — dough-kneading was a big success this winter — and thus easier for me to simultaneously work on my various projects.

Now, though, they want to be out out out. They zip around the apartment like mice hopped up on crack until a collision with some stationary object ignites a firestorm of tears. Hysteria, sniffle, repeat.

Or, Vincent says he does not want to be out, and proceeds to systematically destroy his room in a fit of stir-craziness.  This is not hyperbole. I, who am shameless when it comes to poor-housekeeping, would be mortified to show a snapshot of the current state of Vincent’s room, accomplished in five minutes this morning.

If we had a yard with a fence this would not be an issue, but as it stands, when we go out, I have to abandon any hopes of multi-tasking and spend all my time keeping the boys from clubbing each other with rocks or dashing into traffic.

(“Vincent, when you sit on Aidan’s head/push Aidan down/ poke Aidan in the eye/ stab Aidan with a pin Hey! Where’d you get that pin? Give that here right now!, it hurts him. That’s bad. Why would you do that?”

“Well, Mommy,” he replies, hands out as he explains in his most thoughtful, reasoned manner, “bad things always seem like a good idea to me.” Oy.)

Not that I haven’t written at all since the fair weather began, but I spend more time muttering lines to myself in an effort to remember them when I’m again near writing implements than I do actually writing. It’s frustrating — we’d had a nice workable rhythm to our winter days. Makes me long for nothing so much as a string of cold rainy days…

Thanks for the memories, Rejection Edition.

One of the other things I neglect in order to focus on poems is this blog, and blogs in general. Sorry about that. On the up side, however, I wrote a new poem. I have one more small edit to make — which I’ve been thinking about since last night when Lance read it & pointed out that a line was confusing — and, okay, there’s an image near the end that I’m not entirely happy with yet & is acting as more of a placeholder until I come up the right-er one. But it’s pretty close to done, and I’m pretty close to happy with it. Which makes for a pretty perfect sort of day.

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Literary Rejections on Display today is highlighting the new book, Other People’s Rejections by interviewing its author, Bill Shapiro. It’s an interesting interview, and he closes with this piece of advice:

Risk rejection… and save your rejection letters. No, no—not for me. For you! Not every writer will have the story about the 30 publishers who rejected them before landing on the best-seller list. That’s not what this is about. You’ll look back on the letters years down the line and see them as markers of your passion, your bravery.

Now I don’t know from bravery, but I’ve saved all my rejections since I began submitting too long ago.  I do think of them as “markers of [my] passion,” indicators of the seriousness I take my writing. As unsettling as the idea is that my poems are actually getting out into the world & being read by strangers, I consider finding an audience for my poems part of the work of being a poet.

Some evenings I pull out the bulging file of rejection slips (while also noting with no small satisfaction that the acceptance file is gaining weight too), and, in an act my husband considers masochistic, I page through the papers. But I do this for two reasons. First, it reminds me how far I have progressed: the early days of peremptory slips have given ground to many more personal notes. Second, it reminds me of those encouraging notes, of journals I haven’t tried in a while that I need to send work to. I find that I tend to get in submission ruts, forgetting certain journals for periods of time. My rejection file is a great resource, an archive of journal contact history. I hope I always have it.

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The First Annual NaPoMo Poetry Giveaway was very good to me, to my neverending surprise. My winnings:

  1. from Jennifer Gresham at Everyday Bright, a copy of her chapbook, Explaining Relativity to the Cat. This just arrived today — thank you, Jen!
  2. from Ron Mohring at Supple Amounts, a copy of Deb Burnham’s chapbook, Still.
  3. from Ronda Broatch at After Artist’s Way, copies of her chapbooks, Some Other Eden and Shedding Our Skins.

It was great fun meeting so many new folks, though I’ve been so wrapped up in my own work since then that I haven’t explored the blogosphere much. Thanks again to everyone for making poetry month so much of a real celebration.

Imaginary Time & Poets

My husband has been watching a science program featuring Stephen Hawking on DVD. Funny how, as long as the scientists are speaking, the theories they’re explaining make perfect sense to me, but the second the tv goes silent my understanding evaporates. However, that doesn’t keep me from making free use, and profligate misuse, of them. Imaginary time, for example:

…imaginary time is not imaginary in the sense that it is unreal or made-up — it simply runs in a direction different from the type of time we experience. In essence, imaginary time is a way of looking at the time dimension as if it were a dimension of space: you can move forward and backward along imaginary time, just like you can move right and left in space.

Wikipedia

Scientifically speaking, I don’t really get it, but something rouses when I read that in conjunction with A.E. Stallings’ post over at Harriet:

I am somewhat mystified by correspondences with poets, perhaps fresh out of an MFA program, who have no job or children, and claim they need to come to Greece for a year, preferably on an island, to have “time to write.” Don’t they have the same twenty-four hour days where they live?

Because really, I have no patience for the very nice but entirely mistaken writers who claim they have no time to write. It’s all a question of priorities, isn’t it? Making more creative use of your time in all its dimensions. Stallings talks about having a space, a room of your own etc, but I think space in a more metaphysical sense is paramount. Making the space in your own mind to be a writer, whatever it is you’re physically doing in the moment.

No one can do that for you — are you serious about your writing or not? — but there are other, more pedestrian, ways to fit writing into your day, which I completely endorse. Stallings mentions some of the ways we waste time (Facebook, twitter, etc.), but what I’m talking about is even more basic:

Showers: If you take a shower every single day, not only are you not a mother, but you’re losing time. As long as you brush your teeth and wash your face twice a day, you’re fine. I mean, really. And models will tell you, freshly washed hair is murder to style. Try every other day (which would still count as a ginormous luxury in my eyes) and watch how your time expands.

Chores: Who are you, Martha Stewart? She’s got hired help. Me, my bank balance is in the realm of imaginary numbers. Decide: exactly what is  your chaos threshold? My bugbear is a neat kitchen. Neat, not clean. Because actual cleanliness would take real time. Dishes clean, clutter pseudo-organized, table crumb-free. Done. Some people can’t abide dirt on their floors, tumbleweeds of dust and cat hair. Get over it. (Unless, of course, you’ve been diagnosed with OCD by an actual doctor not yourself.) I’m not saying you have to live in filth. And, as Stallings says in her piece, chores can be good times to mull. (Before I had kids, I would play music & sing while washing dishes. Not anymore. Not only because this apparently disturbs the household  to ego-crushing lengths, but because I tend to use the chores I do do as time to think.) But know this: if you’re constantly putting the laundry/gardening/vacuuming/dusting (dusting? Really? I. don’t. dust.) ahead of your writing, you’re making a choice.

Sleep: If you sleep more than 5 hours a night, you probably don’t have kids. If you are indeed a parent, then you’re probably a dad. Yes, I said it. Anyway, if you truly can’t find another minute in your day to squeeze writer-time in (and I qualify “writer-time” as time spent not only writing, but reading, because you can’t be a writer without also being a reader), then you need to lengthen your day. Some of us are too foggy-brained in the early morning (that would be me), while others find their brains too full & fatigued in the evening. Discover which one you are, and then stay up a little later or get up a little earlier to fit your writer-time in. You’ll be tired at first, because clearly you’ve been flagrantly self-indulgent with your sleep all these years, but if you keep at it, you’ll find your internal clock’s reset and your mind’s alert and even eager for that space you’ve at last given it.

Because time is what you make of it.

To NaPoWriMo or Not To NaPoWriMo? — That is the Question.

Like most writers I know, I have an abundance of books. Some would say too many, but we all know there’s no such thing. And now, just as I did when Vincent first became mobile, I spend altogether too much time rescuing my books from Aidan. As I skid the wood floors from room to room in pursuit of the toddling mischief-maker, Lance can be heard grumbling sotto voce, “Do you have to have piles of books on every table in every room?” Well, yes. Obviously.

One side benefit of Aidan’s attempted book-savaging and my just-in-time salvaging, the only benefit that I can see, is that he discovers books I’d forgotten I had, that I haven’t read in a while that I may now read with a new eye. Case in point: Wild and Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation, moderated by H.L. Hix.

Hix wondered, what would poets say about other poets’ poems if they were being honest? And how could he encourage that honesty and conversation across the different poetic camps? His imperfect but rewarding attempt is this: [from the back cover] “H.L. Hix invited thirty-three of America’s finest and most influential poets, representing diverse backgrounds and approaches, to engage in a conversation. Each volunteered an original poem, which Hix circulated anonymously among six of the other poets. The poems and responses progressed from poet to poet — unfolding, complicating, and sending up sparks of insight, of opinion, of disagreement.”

Participating poets include Carol Frost, Cate Marvin, Bin Ramke, Annie Finch, Paisley Rekdal, Michael Waters, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, A.E. Stallings…and more! It’s a really rich sampling, and bears multiple readings, preferably years apart: time enough to have forgotten the poets & poems, and to have deepened your own reading & poetry practice, so that you return to the poems and the responses with a fresh perspective.

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To answer the question — am I going to NaPoWriMo this year? — is difficult for me. Completing last year’s challenge, actually writing 30 poems in 30 days, was so exhilarating! And a large part of the zest of it is being among the larger NaPoWriMo community, all of us plugging away at our poems & postings.

But part of the purpose of participating for me was reintegrating a regular poetry practice into my utterly changed & expanded life. Which I have been pretty successful doing: I’ve written more this past year than the previous five years combined.

So my focus this NaPoWriMo will be to continue as I’ve been, and making good notes of all those ingenious prompts on offer. If there’s anything I truly want to improve, it’s the time I spend reading and re-reading.  So many books!

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Speaking of National Poetry Month: we’re packing in 2 events over at the Collected Poets Series to celebrate, so go on over, check it out, and come if you can!

Also, if you haven’t yet taken advantage, I’m participating in Kelli Russell Agodon‘s Poetry Giveaway for National Poetry Month. Leave a comment here to be entered in my giveaway — you could win any one of THREE items!

Cal & Elizabeth

On [what was] this day [when I began this post but is now yesterday] in 1917, Robert Lowell was born. I’m about a third of the way through Paul Mariani’s biography of Lowell, Lost Puritan, and I’m liking it more than the Hamilton so far — Mariani, while just as blunt about the wreckage Lowell’s breakdowns wrought, seems more compassionate on the whole, and less judgmental. I have the sense that Mariani actually likes Cal Lowell, for all his flaws, which makes Lost Puritan a much more full-blooded read.

Just one aspect of havoc his mental illness inflicted on his life, an aspect that gets forgotten, I think, amidst the stories of his infidelities (manic episodes were inevitably accompanied by an affair — they were practically symptoms in themselves) and outrageous behavior, is the bald fact of time lost. Nearly once a year for, what, a decade? more? Cal suffered a breakdown followed by months, months, of recovery in various clinics or institutions.

Elizabeth Bishop suffered from depression, and was a serious alcoholic. I had no idea. Characterizations of her tend to be in the reticent & self-deprecating vein. But she was in her own way just as screwed up as Cal. In her later years she seemed to be constantly recovering from some broken bone or another due to drunken spills. She hated to be alone, solitude paralyzed her — she would find it impossible to write and would be sucked into another cycle of drinking and subsequent stints somewhere to dry out. Again, all the time lost.

All appearances to the contrary (the size of his Collected!), Cal was not constantly writing new poems. There are poems he worked and worked on, only to discard either in their entirety or in huge part. And while Elizabeth is the one portrayed as a perfectionist, he also revised endlessly. But Elizabeth certainly wrote more than she included in her Complete Poems, as evidenced by the much-debated Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox, edited by Alice Quinn.

Comparatively speaking, they both led pretty privileged lives: lots of travel, summer homes, often free of the responsibility to work outside of writing. This is especially true of Elizabeth, though her nomadic life was a source of strain and a corollary to her larger sense of homelessness and aloneness.

But they sacrificed so much of themselves and their writing life to their illnesses. In this respect alone, the poetry they did manage to write is truly a triumph, written in spite of their sufferings, not because of. That so much of it is outstanding is a literary wonder.

But it seems to me that Cal was able to write, to find solace in writing, in a way that Elizabeth, stymied by self-doubt and insecurity, could not.  And whatever its cause (her status as a woman poet? as a lesbian woman poet?), this, in a her lifeful of grief, is what saddens me most.

Draft of the Week, #15

If I’m going to participate in NaPoWriMo this year, which is by no means assured, then I may have to stop writing for March and begin working on a game plan. But that’s another post.

Today’s poem used some words from a wordle ReadWritePoem prompt. Only some words. But they were a big help in narrowing my focus, so my thanks to them for another solid challenge.

As usual, this will stay up for a short time only. Any & all comments are welcome.

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #14: Part III

NEW YORKER illustration from review of WORDS IN AIR.

Writing this last cento using poems by both Lowell and Bishop was the most gratifying of work. Putting their voices, these two poets who were such good friends, in direct dialogue with each other gradually took on more and more significance for me. It feels like a Valentine of sorts.

Thanks again to Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem for the cento education!

This’ll come down in a couple days. Hope your Valentine brings you chocolate.

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #14: Part II

North & south by Elizabeth BishopI find writing centos a very absorbing process. I’m a crossword puzzle fiend thanks to my former bookstore boss, so drafting centos definitely appeals to that part of my brain. And I can see where working with centos could inspire you and get you started on a poem entirely your own.

But what’s better, centos really focus you on all the smaller moving parts of a poem. It’s like taking apart that engine in shop class to see how it works, and then putting it all back together, only now you’re the engineer and can design a whole new machine.

And working with single-poet centos forces you to engage with his/her poems in a completely unfamiliar and illuminating way. Recurring themes, word choice patterns, images, even something as basic as blocks of syntax — you live within the poems more through your study of them.

I feel particularly conscious of this because of my Lowell/Bishop reading project. As much as I felt they differed when I began is how much I can see now that they share. It’s misleading at first because Lowell wrote so much, and his style and concerns changed much more than Bishop’s over the years. I found writing my Bishop cento initially much more challenging. But patterns have emerged, and I’ve already begun the Lowell/Bishop combined cento. I’m excited to see how that turns out.

For now, below is the Bishop cento; it will remain up until the next, and last, cento is up, probably Friday or Saturday. Many thanks to Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem for coming up with this challenge!

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #14.

I was lucky enough to spend two whole days with Rhett Iseman Trull, and what fun we had. We talked poetry, literary journals, played with the boys… and Lance made gumbo! Which we wolfed down, starved after our intersecting journeys.

First thing when we stepped out of the car after arriving from the airport, Rhett looked up and spied a bald eagle. Truly!  (We discovered later that he’s a regular—Lance always knows these things—called the “Bridge Eagle” around here, because he hovers around the bridge, fishing in the river. Which he can’t do right now, due to its current frozen state.) Sadly, that was the eagle’s first & only appearance to us—if he’s smart he lit off for better hunting grounds.

Rhett & Meg both read wonderfully; they were a great match-up, full of spark & personality, and we had a packed house. After such a lively poetry party, I had a hard time settling into sleep that night. Hooray for me, I had Rhett again the next day when the wacky weather played havoc with her travel plans. More poetry talk, more playing with the boys—Rhett’s a total wiz with kids, Vincent & Aidan adored her—until it was time to bring her back, however reluctantly, to the airport. I already miss her softly Southern lilt, and look forward to seeing her again sometime, I hope, in the not too distant future.

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On another note, Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem have named their poetry mini-challenge for the month, and it is “Fall in love with a poet”, cento-style! Check out their post here to read more on this form and what this challenge is all about.

Per the rules, I have altered very little: capitalizations, punctuation (though less than you might imagine), one verb tense, and I added one preposition. Not quite a pure cento, but pretty damn close.

Because I’m in the midst of a Lowell/Bishop kick, and because I can’t seem to follow a prompt without customizing it (sorry!), my plan is this: on day one (today) a cento from Lowell; day two (tomorrow, maybe Thursday), a cento from Bishop; and on the last day (Fri/Sat), a combined Lowell/Bishop cento. As each new poem goes up, the previous one will come down. Comments, both yays and nays, are always welcome.

(As an aside, does anyone know whether it’s okay to submit centos to journals for publication? I ask because the cento, even with due credit given, seems like it inhabits a sketchy magpie area. Any thoughts?)

{poof!}