- Waiting for someone to tell you it’s ok to write.
- Put off writing until after the dishes are done, the bills are paid, the lawn is mowed, Game of Thrones is over, you’ve re-watched all nine seasons of Seinfeld.
- Use your writing space for grading papers, planning lessons, paying bills, doing taxes, repairing your motorcycle.
- Never jotting down your good ideas.
- Believing your good ideas are rubbish.
- Judging what you write.
- Judging what others write.
- Comparing your writing with that of others.
- Berating yourself for not writing more.
- Repeating the familiar instead of exploring the unknown.
- Never asking questions.
- Assuming you don’t know how to write well.
- Assuming you do know how to write well.
Milestones: School began two weeks ago on August 21st with a Monday morning College Convocation and an afternoon viewing of the eclipse from the backyard of a neighbor’s home. We spent most of the afternoon and early evening visiting with friends old and new and enjoying a variety of delicious foods. We also had the unique opportunity to observe the behavior of backyard chickens as well as a growing hive of bees. As you might guess, the chickens were just beginning to settling down to roost at totality and seemed a little confused that it was time to get back to hunting bugs only a few minutes later. The bees, only slightly befuddled, went into their hive one minute then popped back out the next.
None of the resident or neighborhood dogs seemed to notice anything different about the moment, except, perhaps, that their silly pet parents seemed awfully preoccupied with the sky.
Tuesday, August 22nd marked the first day of classes, and like many other first year writing instructors, I found my English 110 classrooms filled with eager deer-eyed students ready to prove they are ready handle a college workload (in most cases), a spirit that was dampened by Thursday afternoon when an active shooter and hostage situation developed in a restaurant near campus.
In fact, two of my students were confined to their dorms, located adjacent to the restaurant, and sent emails notifying me they would not be able to attend their 1:40 PM class. Because police contained the situation rather quickly, and it did not technically happen on campus (though we have an open campus), the president did not cancel classes, a choice that has resulted in a great deal of flack and general outcry from parents. At no point did the alert messages sent by campus security mention that there was an active shooter, only that there was an” incident” on King Street and to avoid the area.
Needless to say, with so many charged events, the first week of classes was both exciting and exhausting; busy and disheartening. Fortunately, and thankfully, the second week of classes was much closer to normal, though I fear my freshmen students are already a little worn out. As you can imagine, their parents have become extra vigilant and are demanding frequent updates.
During these same two weeks in my Intro to Poetry class, we discussed Gregory Orr’s “Four Temperaments and the Forms of Poetry” as well as completed several in-class writing prompts. Out-of-class poetry assignments have included writing an Abecedarian poem, a question poem, and a student choice poem, so my Labor Day weekend plans includes reading and responding to new poems by new poets.
Now, for this month’s digest.
- Poetry Picks have been filled until March and there are still submissions to consider. I even selected a few extra poems to publish on Holidays – that’s how great this year’s submissions have been.
- Submissions closed on August 31 for this reading period. They will reopen in December.
- I am reviewing poems published between July 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017 with an eye for six to submit to the Best of the Net awards.
- I have selected six poems that were published, or slated to be published, on Zingara Poetry Review in 2017 for submission to the Orison Books 2018 Anthology of Spiritually Engaging Poetry. I am awaiting releases from their authors and will post a notice on the site with the poem titles once I have them.
August Poetry Picks:
August Monday Minutes:
and one prompt:
Monday Minutes (that I know of):
Readings and Workshops:
Save the Date: Gary Jackson, Elizabeth Powell, and I will be reading at The Writer’s Place, 3607 Pennsylvania Avenue in Kansas City, MO on Friday, October 20th beginning at 7:00 PM.
- Dogwood – A Journal of Poetry and Prose: An annual national literary journal seeking works from writers during its fall reading period each year. We publish fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction of both contest winners and other writers in May of each year. The literary journal is produced by the faculty in the Department of English at Fairfield University, and Fairfield undergraduate students gain hands-on experience in helping to edit and produce the journal by taking EN 340: The World of Publishing or The World of Publishing II.
- The Magnolia Review The Magnolia Review was born in October 2011 by Bowling Green State University creative writing undergraduates. Suzanna Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder. Please visit the Submit tab for information on how to submit. While The Magnolia Review will not have physical copies at this time, the editors may compile a print version if funds become available. We publish two issues a year, deadlines on November 15 and May 15. The issue will be available January 15 and July 15 online.
- The Mantle: Founded in 2017, The Mantle is an online quarterly journal dedicated to contemporary poetry. We’ll publish the most memorable poems we receive. When the time comes, we’ll nominate for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Our first issue releases on August 1st. We are now reading for issue #2. Find our submission guidelines here.
- Naugatuck River Review: This is a literary journal founded in order to publish and in doing so to honor good narrative poetry. We publish twice a year. Our first edition was Winter 2009. A print issue will be available through this site for purchase. It will also be available for download. Publication rights will revert to the author of the poem and we do not pay for poetry published. We accept simultaneous submissions, but please inform us if your work is accepted elsewhere. Naugatuck River Review is dedicated to publishing narrative poetry in the tradition of great narrative poets such as Gerald Stern, Philip Levine or James Wright.
- Panoply, A Literary Zine: Join us here for a wide-ranging and impressive array of writing. Issue 7 will be a double issue and comes out August 18, 2017.
- Peacock Journal: Have you ever been so attracted to something, you just wanted to be close to it? You just wanted to exist within the same space? Or have you ever seen something so beautiful you thought it might be a door to another world? And all you desired, with the entirety of your being, was to pass through that door, into that other place, and just exist there for a little while? It’s not a separate reality, it’s a heightened, more intense reality, fuller and more complete. Write that and send it to us. It’s really difficult. It’s far easier to write gritty and pedestrian. But try it. Send us something about water and wind and light and the interplay of harmonies between them.
- Pearl S. Buck Writing Center Literary Journal: The theme for the Fall 2017 Issue, Volume 2, Number 2, of the Pearl S. Buck Literary Journal is Justice and Mercy. We see a host of possible avenues for writing about justice and mercy — the lack of either virtue OR the presence of either virtue. We include both sides of this theme, for, in Anne Kaler’s words: “If there were perfect justice, we would not need mercy. If there were perfect mercy, we would not need justice.”
- Quill’s Edge Press: QuillsEdge Press is dedicated to publishing the poetry of women over the age of 50. We offer an annual chapbook contest during the fall and winter, and beginning in 2017, an annual anthology of new, emerging, and established women poets called 50/50: Poems and Translations by Women Over 50.
- Seshat – A Homeschool Literary Magazine: Submissions will be open until September 1, 2017. Please review the submission guidelines before submitting your pieces to our email. All pieces will be reviewed immediately upon being received.The inaugural issue of this journal is planned for release on September 15, 2017. Any further news regarding this new release will be updated as time passes.
- Sliver of Stone: Sliver of Stone is a nonprofit online literary magazine. Our editors are the talented progeny of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Our mission is to provide for a web-based environment for outstanding literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual art from around the globe. We want to expand the influence of these genres beyond their traditionally academic audiences.
Which means I live in a location that is very attractive to people for hundreds of miles around whom, I suspect, have been trickling into town for the last 48 hours or so.
Some estimates predict Charleston’s population will swell by approximately 1 million people, which is over double its normal population. I don’t know where everyone will stay, now that the hotels, Air B&Bs and campsites are filled to capacity.
And I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen with our already congested traffic Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning when people try to leave. I am imagining something akin to the evacuation traffic I witnessed during Hurricane Matthew last October, except I doubt the Governor will reverse lanes.
Though you never know.
In anticipation of this century’s total solar eclipse, folks around here have been preparing the way I used to prepare for a Kansas ice storm; that is, by running lots of errands and stocking up on food and water. Only this time, shopping lists include a pair of eclipse glasses.
Now, the day is here, and though I have plans to attend a backyard BBQ and viewing party, the sky is in fact overcast and the weather app on my phone has that little cloud/lightning bolt/rain icon thingy for the hours of 1:00-4:00 PM.
Precisely the hours the solar eclipse is to take place.
Oh, we will still notice the darkening sky, still raise a beer to toast another 100 years (talk about auld lang syne!), still appreciate the afternoon off and the strange ways the eclipse has been commodified.
But I don’t know if we’ll actually get to see it.
So, to pass the time, I’ve compiled this entertaining list of eclipse related media, the most bizarre (in my opinion) being the Chiquita Banana Eclipse Commercial below.
(And look – the sun is peeking out now, so there’s still a chance we’ll see the eclipse after all.)
How the Solar Eclipse Works (great visuals): Sure, you know the basics, but why not enjoy this refresher?
Eclipse Extravaganza at Caw Caw Interpretive Center: Usually closed on Monday’s, Caw Caw is open today for the eclipse event and interpreters will be on duty to observe the behavior of wildlife (though I don’t expect alligators will jump in their cars to sit in line for a Krispy Kreme Eclipse Donut). Viewing glasses will be provided to visitors.
Astrological Significance of the Eclipse: “An interesting observation about the coming eclipse is that 5 major planets (Sun, Moon, Rahu, Mars, and Mercury) will be in close proximity within 20° and will also be under Ketu’s aspect. This planetary amalgamation is likely to make the full solar eclipse even more potent.”
Chiquita Banana Sun: Something purely silly and ridiculous that makes me hate advertising a little less.
Krispy Kreme Eclipse Donut: This will tie up traffic on Savannah Highway all day. The last time Krispy Kreme had a donut deal, we needed traffic cops!
About how it is different, but related to, expectation, and of how difficult it is to keep.
Of how I’m often not sure what hope is and often feel as if I have none.
And of how Emily Dickinson’s poem sometimes restores me in those moments when hope feels the most nebulous:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity
It asked a crumb of me.
Ah, the salve of poetry on the soul. Words strung in a certain and deliberate manner creating a feeling of centeredness amid confusion and chaos.
Dickinson’s couching an abstract idea like hope within the apt imagery of “feathers” and “tune,” “storm” and “chillest land” is, of course, why her poetry has withstood time and fashion to resonate with readers today.
And there are no more fitting or contemporaneous events than those which took place in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend to prompt contemplation on the subject again. To ask, what does hope stands for?
Not unlike Dickinson’s bird, I see hope as fleeting, at best, and while it may in fact sing a tune somewhere beyond the wind and clouds of whatever storm is blowing through life at the moment, I am generally too busy dodging rain drops and lightning strikes to think about it, much less hear it.
I guess all that running around is a necessary function of survival. The ego keeping me from doing something stupid during a downpour that might get me killed. The fight or flight response to a life-threatening situation helping me to survive that situation.
There was a time I rather liked the excitement and danger of running around in storms. These days, though, I generally prefer to stay out of the wind and rain, if given the choice.
But since I am speaking in metaphor, the kinds of storms I really mean don’t stop just because I’m inside, and they certainly don’t care what my past may have taught me about surviving,
And they almost always require that I leave the comforts of home.
Other times, it’s just a big old-shit storm.
I mean, something ugly and racist, hateful and riotous. Something that gains frenzied, savage energy with every violent projection and slur. Something that thrives in the absence of rational thought and perpetuates fear with architectural precision.
The kind of shit-storm expressly designed to extinguish the hope Dickinson envisions, the kind of hope I choose to believe in.
I don’t know where that little bird may be right now, maybe off somewhere singing its tune as Dickinson suggests. Maybe beyond the clouds, maybe even over a rainbow.
But for now, I’ve grabbed a pair binoculars.
For now, I’m watching out.
Because when you get busy, you get better:
- Take a walk, a swim, a bike ride, or otherwise stimulate your endorphins. Endorphins make you feel good!
- Read something unfamiliar to create new neural pathways in your brain.
- Get to know your work, and voice, by rereading favorite works by you — objectively. Take notes.
- Paint a picture. Plenty of studies support that learning to paint improves writing.
- Make a list. Doesn’t matter what kind, it will engage, and quiet, your inner editor.
- Iron clothes, mindfully. It helps with focus (and you’ll look extra sharp for that next dress-well affair). Alternately, do a jigsaw puzzle.
- Talk with a writer or artist friend. They know what you’re going through.
- Get negative. Imagine all possible negative outcomes of your not writing, now or forever. See, things aren’t that bad!
- Watch a favorite movie and take notes on plot, characterization, dialog, setting, etc.
- Listen to a favorite podcast, preferably one involving writers (think interviews, readings, craft discussions). One of my favorites is On Being. Krista Tippet frequently interviews poets and writers.
Like writing prompts? Check out Fast Friday Poetry Prompts
I didn’t know the exterminator had even arrived until my husband called me around mid-morning to say he’d received an invoice for the exterminator’s services via email. My husband was in San Diego at the time, attending the Comic Con.
I was surprised because the appointment had been scheduled for 2:00 PM., and because it was raining cats and dogs when I’d left the house at around 8:20 AM. I was attending a conference in town.
Of course, it makes much more sense to extract a wasp’s nest first thing in the morning. That’s when the nest is most occupied by wasps.
I just hadn’t thought of it.
Still, I was in doubt. I couldn’t fathom that the heavy rain and wet conditions wouldn’t interfere with the extermination. Honestly, I half-expected the phone call was to cancel.
But my husband confirmed that, yes, according to the exterminator, the wasps had in fact been “augmented” from the yard. It was a sizable nest, my husband quoted the exterminator as saying, probably 500 wasps or more. There is a chance that a few are still buzzing around looking for their home, but they won’t last long without their nest,” my husband continued.
Something about this last observation made me feel cold-hearted.
I’m not confessing a secret love for yellow jackets here, or anything like that, but I have to admit to experiencing some residual feelings of guilt over creating a situation that caused the death of hundreds of innocent creatures. Those yellow jackets were, after all, only behaving as yellow jackets do: making and protecting their home, creating more yellow jackets, and generally building an existence.
It just so happened that their existence was interfering greatly with ours.
Specifically, they made it impossible to mow the yard, first by attacking my husband when tried mowing the back yard before we left town, then attacking a friend, who tried to mow just the front yard while we were gone.
They simply had to go.
Still, I couldn’t help imagining those few surviving wasps, stunned and confused, hovering around the hole in the ground that was once their nest. Couldn’t help but sense their groundlessness.
Such are the thoughts of a writer.
But then I realized that, since the extermination had been taken care of, my afternoon was free.I felt cheered, then, and shifted my thoughts to how to spend the rest of my day.
And this, dear reader, is precisely the moment that the demons of indecision appeared.
A virtual drop-down list of options, including everything from doing homework for the conference to editing my manuscript, finishing a quilt I’ve been sewing to taking a nap with the cat, to going to the gym or staying on campus to work on my syllabus, all popped into my mind.
Good options, all. But together, potentially overwhelming.
Especially since I am apt to paralyze myself with indecision in these moments. I mean, just making the decision to eat out, for example, can evolve into a mental debate of what and where to eat.
Choosing to write opens an even wider array of menu options: should I write poetry or prose, something formal or informal, personal, creative or academic? Should I write something new or revise something old? Should I catch up my correspondence by sending cards or composing emails?
Really, the list is endless.
The point is, I tend to put too much pressure on myself when it comes to decisions. I feel I must make the absolute best decision and fear that making the “wrong” decision will result in drastic, long-lasting consequences which I neither wanted nor intended.
Even though this has never happened.
Still, it is true that no matter what I choose to do, I am choosing NOT to do a whole host of other things. If I write, I am not exercising. If I do homework, I am not working on my poetry manuscript. If I work on my blog at Starbucks, I am not working on my quilt at home.
And of course, making no decision at all is a decision in itself.
So it is that with every choice I make, I feel a little bit of grief and a smidgen of sorrow. Like those stunned wasps unhoused by the exterminator, my unchosen options hang around searching for a home – a place into which to burrow and build an existence.
But such are the thoughts of a writer.