Virtual Salon #2 with William Woolfitt

The season of cracking open, bloodroot,
egg strings. My grandmother chops the cloddy
ground. Many years without him. Onion sets,
new moon peas. 
          from “Chorus Frog” by William Woolfitt

It’s alarming to watch Netflix now: all those strangers in unconcerned proximity, sharing bread, shaking hands! Poor hygiene is not, I suspect, what those directors wanted me to focus on. So when I say that William Woolfitt’s lovely third collection is crowded with isolates, full of hungry survivors, am I distorting the book through a lens of present anxieties? When I notice that many of the landscapes he evokes are like the places I walk through daily–degraded, haunted, but beautiful–am I biased? I think a person always reads from where she is, and that’s okay, although that’s one of the reasons I like in-person, open-ended discussions about books, too. It’s helpful when someone else’s reactions knock your own perspective ajar.

Still, I feel sure that Woolfitt’s book is exceptionally musical, both in its references and in the sonic density of his own alliterative lines (you’ll find listening suggestions in the mini-interview below, to boot). Spring Up Everlasting gives witness to human hardship, vulnerable creatures, and environmental damage with love and compassion: the author sees fully and justly, and the poems he builds from those observances are beautifully weighted, crafty in rhythm and structure. And one last point: Woolfitt really does describe people washing their hands a lot, from Rulina who plunges an arm into “icy creek-water” that “chills her blood, needles her with stars of pain,” to the laborer in “Red Notes” who dreams of release and reunion:

Before they meet, he’ll wash with a bucket,
scrub the pulp off his hands, sing the notes
he’s strung for her, tomato lonesome, tomato blue.

  1. If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

The food menu would include Rulina’s elk tenderloin, half-moon pies, sawhorse tables laden with bowls of potato salad, deviled eggs, and chow-chow. And also hulled corn soup, hardtack, porridge and fried plantains with daybreak sauce, tacos, and figs. The poems of Spring Up Everlasting wander from Appalachia to Mali, then back to Appalachia, then to Newfoundland, to California, and so on, visiting sacred grounds, desecrated wastes, reclaimed lands. The drink menu would include spring water, rain-barrel water, living water: it’s a book that looks again and again to creeks, ponds, oceans, and underground streams.

  1. If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

Teaching and parenting are keeping me busy these days, and I’m okay with that. Maggie Anderson says that a poem comes from “persistence, devotion, and a sustaining hope that it was important to write and that it would, eventually, come around to its best shape.” I’d like to believe that I can practice the poet’s verbs—persist, devote, and sustain hope—in whatever task I’m doing. Richard Foster says that “our work becomes prayer,” and I’d like to believe that our work can become poetry too.

  1. How can your virtual audience find out more?

Visit www.williamwoolfitt.com or www.mupress.org/Spring-Up-Everlasting-Poems-P1039.aspx. But I would also like for my audience to look through me to the sources that I’ve drawn from while writing Spring Up Everlasting: Jessie van Eerden’s The Long Weeping; Ida Stewart’s Gloss; Melissa Range’s Horse and Rider; Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light; Maxine Kumin’s The Retrieval System; photographs by Eudora Welty and Roger May; Ella Jenkins’ “The Wilderness;” Jean Ritchie’s “Black Waters.”

the salonnière introduces …the state she’s in!

My book is now available from Tinderbox Editions! And, once we get through this, it will also be available in independent bookstores near you.

In the meantime, I hereby introduce a virtual salon for authors launching poetry books plus anyone who enjoys a pretend party. Imagine this space as a high-ceilinged room, art-fans lounging on its velvet divans. The upholstery is a little threadbare, the paint on the moldings chipped here and there, but that just makes everyone feel more comfortable and bohemian. Trays laden with canapés gleam on some of the side tables; others groan under the weight of oozy cheeses, fat grapes, champagne bottles, expensive scotch, and cans of pamplemousse La Croix. The scent of beeswax tapers burning in candelabras mingles with the aroma of a nearby sculptor’s bare feet. An enlivening breeze sometimes wafts through the French doors, which are open to a balcony that overlooks city lights. Someone near the window adjusts their beaded shawl and laughs.

A shameless salonnière, I stand up first, welcome all of you, and introduce my own damn book, The State She’s In. (Did I mention it’s now available from Tinderbox Editions?) Here are my answers to the three questions I plan to ask many guests in turn:

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

Wine varietals mentioned in my book include rioja, garnacha, and chardonnay, so we are well-beveraged; I can add to the menu a Black Walnut Celebration Lager I drank at AWP ’19 in Portland, with my poem “Black Walnut” in mind. After some syllables of cheese, wild rice blini topped with sour cream and caviar, and quesadillas with postlapsarian salsa verde, we will savor ramekins of pawpaw crème brulée.

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

My loved ones and I are well, although we’re all worried, and my son is sad about having his first year at Haverford cut short. He’s also a straight-A student who is suddenly unable to concentrate. That teaches me something about how online instruction is likely to go and how forgiving and flexible we’ll all have to be. I’m not surprised this transition is logistically challenging for a seminar teacher like me, but it’s been emotionally harder than I expected. My identity is wrapped up in being a good teacher. It’s upsetting to let go of some of the standards I hold myself to.

I’m writing emails and texts plus revising syllabi. I also started a Pandemic Diary on paper, because I’ve heard from historians that they often lack as-it-happens accounts of crisis. No poetry at all, but it will come back–and really, when poets are in publicity mode they rarely get much writing done anyway. I’d remind everyone, though, that there’s actual scientific research suggesting that daily expressive writing improves immunity.

How can your virtual audience find out more?

For me, it’s my self-designed and therefore basic website as well as my page in the Tinderbox Editions store, where you can find the amazing blurbs some incredibly generous poets wrote for The State She’s In: Diane Seuss, Oliver de la Paz, and Linda Lewis. They are clicking virtual glasses in this salon, and they look fabulous.

***Stay tuned for future gatherings, and please let me know what books should be on my radar. Many possible factors could affect frequency; also, I want to read each book before introducing it. I’d love to post once a week, though–perhaps more often. Be well, friends!

Virtual launches and figuring out how to help

The first books and mags from #virtualawp come in, including some freebies

When my students asked me last week–during our final in-person classes, as it turns out–how I thought the virus would develop or whether W&L would switch to online instruction soon, I offered guesses with the caveat, “But I’m not an authority on this. My thoughts about poetry are worth something; otherwise I’m just an average person who reads the news.”

These days I don’t feel like an authority on poetry, either–at least not about how to generate enthusiasm for poems when most-in person gatherings are canceled. My fifth full-length collection, The State She’s In, officially launches this week. I’m proud of this book and have been laboring hard to set up readings this spring, basically performing the job of a part-time publicist as well as full-time professor. They’re dropping away fast. Pre-launch copies have been available from the publisher, Tinderbox Editions, since AWP (I think the discount code AWP2020 still works), but I wasn’t able to sign it there, and I just postponed my local book party, too. These cancellations absolutely need to happen, never mind all that shopping I did for goody bags, stickers, chocolate eggs, and pink ribbon. Chris says don’t worry, it’s just a delay, I can still do those events latter. I hope he’s right, but in the meantime I’m trying to figure out what I CAN do.

I’d love your ideas, but what’s currently on my docket: I have a few guest-blog-type-things in the works as well as possible reviewers, and of course I’ll use social media (although I’m limiting my own time on FB and Twitter lately). I got some new author photos done, below. My copies of The State She’s In arrived a few days ago and this week I’ll be sending them where they need to go.

My latest brainstorm is to use my blog to promote other poetry collections launching into this virus-blasted landscape. Effort on behalf of others tends to boomerang, right? I’ll definitely focus on books from little presses, not the ones already attaining media spotlight. I’m currently thinking I’ll begin each post with my own micro-review, maybe just a few sentences describing what attracts me to the work, then ask three questions of the author. I’m pondering what might be good questions to ask, not too run-of-the-mill. If you have notions about how to do this, or you want to draw my attention to your OWN new book, I’d like to hear from you, so just reply below or on FB or by email (wheelerlm at wlu dot edu). Digital ARCs and review copies would be welcome, and I’ve already ordered and pre-ordered some books I’m interested in. My plan is to start off with The State She’s In then feature as many new books as I can, maybe one a week.

Oh, and poets: Shenandoah just opened to poetry submissions. As the website says: “Our spring 2020 reading period for POETRY will be from March 15–March 31, 2020. Please send us prayers, spells, charms, curses, blessings, invocations—poems that try to make change happen. All forms, styles, and procedures are welcome. A selection will appear in a special Shenandoah portfolio in the Spring 2021 issue.” Reading subs is another way for me to serve poetry in a pandemic–send spells for worldwide healing, please, or curses upon the political leaders who are failing to stem pandemic! 

Of course I’ll be trying to manage all this in a state of intense distraction. My tree-pollen allergies are kicking in, totally unlike coronavirus symptoms, but every time I have a hot flash I whip out the thermometer. I have to gear up for 4 more weeks of my 3 current courses, THEN for my 4-week May term, which we’ve just been informed will be virtual, too. My husband and son are making a quick run up to Haverford to pick up his things prior to the beginning of my son’s own online courses; it’s necessary, although I’m not thrilled they’re traveling. I wake up in the middle of the night concerned about my eighty-year-old mother and vulnerable friends who are self-quarantining. It’s a pretty big burden of worry for all of us.

I’m sending out all the love, friends, and will be posting again soon in solidarity with poets and publishers. Take care.

First box of my beauties–yay?

#Virtualbookfair, disappointment, little gifts

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This week has been a bummer. I voted for Elizabeth Warren, whom I love love love but who did poorly across the country in Super Tuesday. It’s been clear for many weeks that she wasn’t going to win, so I’m more resigned than some to this country being a sexist retrograde mess, but still… I’m also worried about coronavirus–not freaked out yet but worried, less for myself than for all the immune-compromised people out there, including my mother and many friends, some of whom lives very close to the quarantine implosion in Seattle. Further, colleges are a petri dishes, although I can see that mine is taking this chance of pandemic seriously. So many people at W&L just got back from travel to hot zones, so I and many others think the bug is already here, incubating. One little fact that struck me: I have a relative who’s a VP at a major insurance company and she said they’ve been preparing for one of these hundred-year major pandemics for 5 years, because it’s due. If Big Money is worried, the risk seems more real. I sure hope this is a false alarm; I’d be delighted to have egg on my face. I am, after all, a Cold War baby who did nuclear bomb drills in grade school–the threat of apocalypse has always been on my mind. But, worrisome.

Also, and I know this will rightly seem trivial to many, I’m so sad about AWP. I decided to opt out for several reasons: I have a cold and didn’t want to expose people to it on the plane, nor deal with their alarm at my sniffles, nor pass through security wariness. Further, one of my panels got canceled, I knew attendance levels were crashing, and my press (very understandably) decided to not to come. Advance sales at AWP are a big deal for the success and visibility of a poetry collection, which is my best yet and which I’ve been hoping would make a tiny splash. If you’re interested in it, I hope you’ll consider ordering it at an excellent discount from the Tinderbox Editions website. Just use the discount code AWP2020. In fact, check out all your favorite small presses, many of which canceled and are giving similar #virtualbookfair deals. I’ve been buying a lot of books myself.

There are compensations, plus more than my share of good things happening. I sorely needed some rest and time, and since I had already arranged makeup assignments for my classes, I’m taking it. Bonus: many friends who couldn’t attend AWP are enjoying these bookfair perks. A few lovely people have lately offered to review The State She’s In (which, by the way, is a pretty political book–let me know if you’d like a copy for reviewing or teaching). If you can, I hope you’ll look at some of my recent publications: poems in Kestrel and Literary Matters; microreviews of recent collections by Erin Hoover and Amy Meng in the very first issue of Revolute; an interview in the anthology Inside the Verse Novel, edited by Linda Weste. Please, friends, stay well, and if you get stuck at home, read poetry!

Pre-conference quiz

1. I am attending AWP 2020 because:

a. I am legitimately excited about sharing my book, seeing literary friends, and hearing strong writers talk about what they do

b. As a former board member amazed I ever carried that load, I’m glad to support the current board members and the organization’s great new leaders, all of whom work super-hard with a budget much, much smaller than that of, say, the MLA

c. I would feel tortured by book-promotion-guilt and FOMO if I avoided it

d. All of the above

2. I feel stressed out about AWP 2020 because:

a. The conference is gigantic, overwhelming, and bound to make me feel like a crumb on the fancy-pants of life—and will anyone really show up for my book-signing?

b. Events run from morning to night and while I AM scheduling in rest this time, historically, I haven’t been very disciplined about taking that rest

c. It’s not like work stops—in fact, my teaching/ committee load before and after the conference is MORE intense because I have to make up for being away

d. All of the above

3. I’m lucky to attend AWP because:

a. It’s freaking expensive yet I can more-or-less manage the cost despite having already used up my university conference allowance, in part because my kids are pretty independent now and worrying about their care is no longer a big complicated thing, especially since my spouse and I are going together

b. I’m more aware than ever of how many friends can’t manage the conference due to cost, disability, and caregiver obligations—travel is hard, never mind the intensity of such events and the difficulty of navigating huge conference centers when your mobility is limited

c. Really, look at a. and b., I really ought to just calm down about the stress already

d. All of the above

So I score a “D” on this quiz, what else is new. I’m still having a good week. It’s February break, just after our midterms, because we start so early in January, and I managed to take an actual weekend off, which did me a lot of good. And to my amazement, ARCs of my novel just came, and they’re beautiful and terrifying! I think this is one of the best moments of publication—there’s no immediate obligation attached, it’s the culmination of a ton of work, and damn, they’re just really gratifying to look at. Thanks to all the people who have already expressed interest in reviewing it or my new poetry book; let me know if you’d like to be added to that list and receive a free copy. I’ll be back with some post-AWP reflections one of these days…  

Poetry and heart

Thanks to the folks at Copper Nickel! The new issue contains my essay on Robert Sullivan, “Uncanny Activisms”

I looked up “heart” and found definitions including feeling, courage, enthusiasm, vital part, “the condition of agricultural land as regards fertility,” personality, disposition, compassion, generosity, character, charity, humanity, and of course love. It has associations with memory, too (“by heart”) and deep concern (“to heart”). Obsolete: intellect, which is pretty much the opposite of what most people mean by “heart” now. My curiosity about the word is probably connected to valentine season, but I’ve also been reading a ton of poetry lately and thinking about what draws me to some poems more than others–a set of qualities I sometimes call heart.

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

In town, though, crocus and snowdrops are arriving, early omens of a busier season. I’m not sure I’m ready for spring and the associated book-launch madness, but at least I have the generous blurbs below to reassure me the book is worth at least some attention. That matters so much, when writers you admire will spend their time reading your work and saying thoughtful, encouraging words about it. It gives me heart.

Still at the Egg-life–

I’m dormant these days, sometimes “chafing the shell,” as Dickinson wrote, but also conserving energy and trying to stay focused. Some hibernaculum thoughts:

  1. I clearly know nothing about words or publishing, because I posted my most popular tweet ever this week and it was about…boots. Success, if that’s what that is, isn’t always confidence-inspiring.
  2. I am working hard to launch my books with a bang, but this effort is grounded in sheer stubborn grit. Made a promise to myself; gonna keep it.
  3. “February is not my favorite month,” I told a kind person who is also my hairdresser. He answered, “Good title for a poem.” Maybe I’ll write it when I hatch.
  4. I’d be lying like a Fox newscaster if I didn’t admit to cracks in my self-containment. Thanks to Colleen Anderson for posting a Q&A with me in her Women in Horror Month series. Two magazines with my work in them just arrived, too–Hampden-Sydney Review and 32 Poems–and those editors have placed my poems in dazzling company.
  5. I am also reading the news and issuing an occasional plea to representatives (talk about horror!). I suspect and fear this corrupt and compassionless president will be voted into a second term, not least because he’s doing his best to disempower voters. I want a President Warren and don’t understand this country’s grudge against competent women–of everyone in the running, she’s the person I trust most profoundly to fix what’s broken–but whoever wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll be all-in. The stakes are so high for vulnerable human beings and for the more-than-human world.
  6. A zone that’s smaller, but in which my power and responsibility are greater: I am, again, amazed by my students’ energy, talent, and ambition, and I am determined to serve them well, but I am struggling to keep my teaching and advising load within a reasonably-sized container. This term it’s a composition course on speculative fiction; a general education course called Poetry and Music; and a small senior seminar on documentary poetics (we’re currently reading poems responding to Hurricane Katrina). I’m also advising an honors thesis and prepping a brand new Whitman-Dickinson course for our May term, all of which is fun, but could easily keep me in my eggshell office around the clock. The grading alone!
  7. Yet I AM making some time for those double book launch preparations–not a ton, but some. I’m inquiring, applying, and updating my Events page when something comes through, all the while trying to tamp down my delicate-flower dismay about asking for things AND pondering how much busy-ness Future Me will be able to handle (Chris sometimes says, “Former Chris, the one who put me in this position, was an asshole.”) Next year is my sabbatical, so there has to be time in there to write, revise, recharge.
  8. Tiny triumph: please check out the book launch party flier below, which despite its simplicity took much of Saturday morning to put together.
  9. I also finally squashed down my loathing of being photographed to book a headshot session with Anne Valerie Portrait. Turns out the photographer is a lovely person with a calming vibe. When she said, during our first meeting, that she usually has a long preparation process but had read my blog and recognized that I need to do this efficiently, conserving energy, I almost burst into tears. Maybe it can be good to be seen.
  10. What I’d like to do right now? A box of mss just came from Cider Review Press, because I’m serving as this year’s judge. I want to read read read–something I know for sure I’m good at. Pondering them will be good work for February’s closed-in evenings, when wind rattles the tin roof and poems are the only hubbub I feel drawn to.

She’s in a state, all right

THIS is the best thing about this week: a stunning cover for my forthcoming poetry book, featuring a painting called “Censer” by Ida Floreak and designed by Nikkita Colhoon. Nikkita’s work was one of the draws, for me, in working with Tinderbox Editions–all her covers stop you in your tracks. I feel really lucky. I owe thanks, too, to Clover Archer for bringing Ida’s art to Staniar Gallery on campus, and to Kevin Remington for getting a high-quality photograph of the work. I went to Ida’s talk just as I was puzzling over possible covers, so there was something magical about the convergence.

Like Ida’s other work, “Censer” has a meditative quality I love. She’s arranged a shrine out of natural objects, highlighting their grace–and the cracking egg suggests rebirth (when am I being reborn again? I’m ready!). Ida says she’s influenced both by botanical drawings and religious art, and this book is full of plants, creatures, and spirit-questions. I had wondered what colors Nikkita would choose for the words on the cover; the pink is both surprising and right. The poems reference pink constantly, from pussy hats to magnolia blossoms to rose-tinted medicines. And somehow the pink lettering makes the shadows more striking, which feels appropriate to this collection, too. Yes, I know I’m close-reading my own cover at length, but I’m excited, dammit.

Of course, having a cover helps me kick publicity into high gear (well, as high a gear as I can manage in my rural location, with no publicist). I’ve been busy arranging a local launch and seeking readings elsewhere with more success that I’d expected but also some disappointments/ loud silences, as you’d imagine. Here’s a preliminary list, but I’ll fill in more details soon. One thought: I’d somehow imagined that when big-name poets posted their tour dates, bookings had just fallen into their laps, because of their dazzling fame. Maybe that happens sometimes. But now I’m suspecting there’s way more hustle involved (my list represents a ton of cold queries and painstaking applications, but also many kind suggestions from allies). I don’t have chutzpah but I am diligent, so I’m trying to compensate for one with the other. I’m also taking any and all ideas about reading venues and I’d be grateful for yours.

I’ll be traveling this spring and summer from Vermont to the Carolinas, with a detour to Wisconsin, and I’m both thrilled to get out there and a little worried about pacing myself. I’ve always been an anxious person but anxiety has been WAY harder to manage this year than ever before–the old tactics and treatments are almost useless, as they sometimes become during menopause, I hear, and I’m having to reinvent my approach. One of my doctors pointed out recently, “The bell rings, and you jump,” meaning I consistently meet my obligations, even when I feel bad. I even enjoy some of them–teaching and giving readings, for example, are generally fun for me. But the costs are higher; I take longer to return to calmness. So I’m thinking maybe I should pair each professional event with a restorative treat–following a guest workshop with a couple of silent hours in an art museum, for example, or a cozy dinner with Chris in an interesting restaurant. I also think I need to decouple the pleasure of sharing work from anxiety about whether the event sells books or not. Sometimes I feel wonderful, knowing that my poems connected, and then I feel crushed when all the impecunious people rush out without buying. But one should not negate the other. Ideas on how you manage the emotions of promotion would be very welcome, too.

Not resolutions but invocations

Last year, I substituted a mantra for a resolution: “breathe.” It helped a little. This New Year’s Eve I wrote up more resolutions, got upset about them, and then decided: to hell with self-improvement. I need fewer bullet points on my endlessly guilty, mildly self-loathing to-do lists. And better ones. In fact, let’s not even call them bullet points. They look like open pupils, too. Pencil points. Poppy seeds.

In considering what words I and others DO need to hear, I’ve been crafting a call for Shenandoah‘s next poetry submission period that will read something like this: “During our March 2020 reading period, please send us prayers, spells, charms, curses, blessings, invocations—poems that try to make change happen. All forms, styles, and procedures are welcome. A selection will appear in a special Shenandoah portfolio in the Spring 2021 issue.”

I know I’m not good about practicing self-care, but I want to keep asking for help this year, sending something like prayers or petitions outward and earthward. (I don’t believe there’s a god up in the sky, although it’s fine with me if you do; I do believe in a living earth that I can listen to and do better by.) I plan to mutter, be kind, pay attention, especially to myself. (And I will remind us to vote for kindness, too, whenever a crooked system gives you the chance. Fires blasting Australia, the U.S. president stirring up war to deflect attention from impeachment–I’m not sure we or the more-than-human-world can take much more of this.)

It may seem paradoxical, given these meditations on care, that I’m beginning 2020 by trying to be in two places at once. As the term starts here in Virginia, I’m handing a pile of syllabi and first-day lessons to my professor-spouse (I swear he’s fine with it, and well-rested!), then hopping on a plane to Seattle to attend the MLA convention. After thinking deeply about whether saying yes was another instance of crazed dutifulness, I decided that, actually, I want to go, as long as I can conference kindly.

The first thing I’m going to do when I arrive is hang out, for the pleasure of it, with a long-distance friend I hardly ever see, Jeannine Hall Gailey. Over the next few days, I’ll attend a few panels, and I’m speaking on a fun one, too (and trying not to stress about it). I joined Janine Utell’s MLA roundtable, “The Space Between Creative Nonfiction and Literary Criticism,” because I thought it would enrich my thinking as well as making my own work more visible, especially the creative criticism in my 2021 book Poetry’s Possible Worlds; this is the kind of conversation I want to have more of, genuinely. On Friday night, I’m part of an all-star lineup at the MLA Offsite Reading (2 minutes each and I’m quite sure most stars will peel off by the time we get to my part of the alphabet, which is fine with me–see the poster below). And on Saturday night, I join Jeannine Hall Gailey to read speculative poetry at Open Books. In between I’m planning to sleep, avoid my email, take a walk or two, and do minimal homework, as well as being super-nice to the anxious job-seekers in the MLA elevators.

Attending is also a way of being kinder to myself as a writer, rather than being maniacally diligent as a teacher (what do you mean, miss a class?!–we will NEVER GET THAT HOUR BACK!). I’d like to do better at fulfilling my responsibilities to what I’ve written, as Jeannine says in PR for Poets, which I’ve been rereading. In addition to the aforementioned 2021 essay collection, I have a fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, and a first novel, Unbecoming, to launch this spring (look, I made pages!). I believe in them and I want them to find readers. No more prioritizing a tidy email inbox over inquiring about a reading series or submitting to a post-publication prize! I need to do less busy-work, somehow, in 2020, but also keep priorities straight. I will achieve this imperfectly, if at all. But it’s not about checking off a list, right? It’s about keeping those pupils wide. Wish all of us luck. And write some powerful spell-poems, please, no matter where you plan to release their magic.

Credit to a local poet-friend, Julie Phillips Brown, for making a shareable poster!

Reading by the glow of a year on fire

2019 was a good year for books but a weird year for reading. For pleasure, work, and mood-medicine, I read constantly, but it’s been different lately: my poetry rate is typical, but fiction and I have had some problems. I couldn’t finish things, or I read multiple books in alternating fragments, concentration flickering. I received less solace from it.

What worked best for me were predictable genres: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction. I’ve heard others say that they’re overworked and sad about politics, so the more escapist a book turned out to be, the better. That’s true for me, too, but personal stresses have diluted my attention even further. On the happy side, reading Shenandoah subs takes time and energy I used to devote to reviewing. I’m also launching my fifth poetry collection and my debut novel next year, and an essay collection in 2021. Good LORD did I reread and revise those mss, over and over, and when you’re reading your own pages you have less time for others’.

I still read and admired lots of poetry collections–many of those listed in “best of 2019” articles, and also small-press volumes by Erin Hoover, January O’Neil, Kyle Dargan, Martha Silano, Amy Lemmon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ned Balbo, Jeanne Larsen, Niall Campbell, Hai-Dang Phan, Paisley Rekdal, and Oliver de la Paz. I reviewed Franny Choi’s Soft Science for Strange Horizons. My brief year-in-review piece, forthcoming soon in that magazine, gives a shout-out to poetry collections that touch on sf as well as fun novels by Atwood, King, and a few others. Some sf-ish books I was excited to read, though, disappointed me, especially Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel, which I found tedious (am I the only reader who thinks “Slavery is” might be an inauspicious way to begin a sentence?).

A few more books that touched, haunted, and even changed me: Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, especially a prayer-poem near the beginning. A Holly Black fairy-tale my son recommended. Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, because of its disturbing exploration of “bad” parenting. Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, I don’t even know why–dark side of Downtown Abbey, maybe? Patchett’s The Dutch House, perhaps because I took it in more slowly than usual, as a brilliantly-delivered audiobook by Tom Hanks. And as I’ve posted before, I didn’t think The Slow Professor was a great book, but it gave me a lot to chew on as I considered how next year ought to be different.

2019 saw a lot more beautiful poetry books by beautiful people, and I WILL get to them in 2020, as well as voting for whatever candidate the Democratic party puts up against the current flaming-ass-in-chief. Oh, and I’m going to keep rereading this little treasure as I try to launch my own little fire-starters as brightly as possible. Happy new year, fellow readers!

POETRY (78)

1/8 Hoover, Barnburning* (review)

1/13 Hayes, American Sonnets* (reread for class)

1/14 O’Neil, Rewilding* (fandom)

1/15 Komunyaaka, Dien Cai Dau (reread for class)

1/20 Barnhart and Mahan, Women of Resistance* (for class)

1/25 Coleman, Words of Protest, Words of Freedom (reread for class)

1/29 Macfarlane, The Lost Words* (for class)

2/6 Bashir, Field Theories (reread for class)

2/7 Harjo, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings* (reread for class)

2/23 Dargan, Anagnorisis* (fandom)

2/24 Abraham, al youm (for class)

3/4 Mathieu, Orogeny (for class)

3/5 Nezhukumatathil, Oceanic (reread for class)

3/13 Silano, Reckless Lovely (reread for class)

3/16 Michelson, Dreaming America (reread for class)

3/25 Kaminsky, Deaf Republic (buzz—Twitter mostly)

4/6 Brown, The Tradition* (loved the title poem on poetry.org)

4/6 Jernigan, Years, Months, and Days (review)

4/11 Camp, One Hundred Hungers (reread for campus visit)

4/15 Lemmon, The Miracles* (fandom)

4/18 Fisher-Wirth, The Bones of Winter Birds* (fandom)

4/20 Silano, Gravity Assist* (fandom)

4/20 McCarthy, Surge (new pressmate)

4/21 Balbo, 3 Nights of the Perseids* (fandom)

4/27 Shakespeare, Sonnets (just got caught up in them)

4/30 Nethercott, The Lumberjack’s Dove (friend’s recommendation)

5/1 Kaneko, The Dead Wrestler Elegies (planning for his visit)

5/4 Youn, Ignatz (Krazy Kat fandom)

5/5 Xie, Eye Level (strong reviews)

5/14 Miller, Emily Dickinson’s Poems As She Preserved Them (teaching prep)

5/18 Larsen, What Penelope Chooses* (fandom)

5/18 Hayden, Exuberance* (fandom)

5/18 Selznick and Whitman, Live Oak, With Moss* (comics version, teaching prep)

5/18 Seay, The See the Queen (teaching/ visit prep)

5/18 Alleyne, Honeyfish* (teaching/ visit prep)

5/23 Camp, The Turquoise Door* (campus visit)

5/23 Nguyen, Ghost Of* (good reviews)

6/4 Nelson, The Freedom Business (forget where I bought it!)

6/10 Frank, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country (bought at a reading)

6/12 Bashir, Where the Apple Falls (research)

6/17 Campbell, Noctuary* (fandom)                                                                             41

6/18 Rekdal, Nightingale* (fandom)

6/20 Bashir, Gospel (research)

6/21 Gray, Radiation King* (received review copy)

6/22 Schwartz, Miraculum (found it on my shelf)

6/23 Phillips, Reasons for Smoking (found it on my shelf)

6/23 Honum, The Tulip-Flame (found it on my shelf)

6/23 Baker, waha / mouth (fandom)

6/24 Phan, Reenactments* (fandom and research)

7/1 Choi, Soft Science* (for review)

7/4 Matejka, The Big Smoke (found it on my shelf)

7/8 Satterfield, Her Familiars (reread for research)

7/11 Bray, Small Mothers of Fright (research)

7/12 Ginsburg, Dear Weather Ghost (research)

7/12 Ginsburg, Double Blind (research)

7/13 Dawson, Big-Eyed Afraid (fandom)

7/14 Legros George, The Dear Remote Nearness of You (found it on my shelf)

7/15 Calvocoressi, Rocket Fantastic (found it on my shelf)

7/16 Ali, Sky Ward (research)

7/17 Mlinko, Marvelous Things Overheard (bought at a conference)

7/20 Winslow, Defying Gravity (by a friend)

8/25 Hancock, Cairns* (by a friend)

9/19 Gailey, She Returns to the Floating World* (reread for teaching)

9/23 H.D., Sea Garden* (reread for teaching)

9/26 Seay, To See the Queen (reread for her visit)

9/28 Lusby, Catechesis* (buzz)

9/30 de la Paz, The Boy in the Labyrinth* (fandom)

10/4 Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations (reread for class)

10/8 Eliot, The Waste Land (reread for class)

10/10 Giménez Smith, Be Recorder (awards nominations)

10/? McLarney and Street, A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia (I’m in it!)

11/10 Hong, Age of Glass (met her at conference)

11/19 Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred (reread for class)

11/29 Jones, dark//thing* (met her at a conference)

12/8 Sze, Sight Lines* (prize win)

12/24 Heid Erdrich, Curator of Ephemera (prep for a possible campus visit)

12/27 Parker, ed., Changing is Not Vanishing (friends’ rec, for teaching)

12/31 Graber, The River Twice* (fandom)

FICTION (36)

1/5 Miller, Song of Achilles (daughter’s recommendation)

1/19 Miller, Circe (daughter’s recommendation)1/27 Burns, Milkman* (book group)

2/9 Walker, The Dreamers* (reviews and Emily Mandel’s blurb)

2/23 Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night* (fandom)

3/17 Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird (friends’ recommendations)

3/31 Oyeyemi, Gingerbread* (fandom)

4/6 Martin, Passage to the Dreamtime (play) (bought at a conference)

4/19 Black, The Dark Part of the Forest (son’s recommendation)

4/25 Chambers, Calls for Submission (met at a conference)

5/3 Herriman, Krazy & Ignatz (teaching prep)

5/8 LaValle, Destroyer (teaching prep)

5/19 Garstang, The Shaman of Turtle Valley* (local writer)

5/28 McLaughlin, Bearskin* (local connections plus Edgar win)

5/31 Atkinson, Transcription* audiobook (friends’ recommendation)

6/17 Walton, Lent* (fandom)

6/22 Crouch, Recursion* (NYT review)

6/23 Cisneros, The House on Mango Street (reread for teaching)

7/1 Hubbard, The Talented Ribkins (gift)

7/7 Kim, Miracle Creek* (reviews)

7/12 Ginsburg, Sunset City (research)

7/19 Ray, Whiskey Tales* (translator is a friend)

7/20 Rosenberg, Confessions of the Fox* (daughter’s recommendation)

8/1 Adieche, Americanah (teaching)

8/3 Waters, The Little Stranger (fandom)

9/9 Horrocks, The Vexations* (preparing for her visit to campus)

9/16 Atwood, The Testaments* (fandom)

9/25 King, The Institute* (fandom)

10/16 Joukhadar, Map of Salt and Stars (preparing for visit)

10/? Pullman, Book of Dust* (fandom)

11/? Patchett, The Dutch House* (audiobook for travel, word of mouth)

11/28 Coates, The Water Dancer* (ads; sounded good but wasn’t very)

12/15 Stout, Fer-de-Lance (friend’s recommendation)

12/20 Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (had never read it!)

12/25 Hoffman, The World We Knew* (friend’s recommendation)

12/30 Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January (friend’s recommendation)

NONFICTION/ HYBRID (21)

1/26 Fennelly, Heating & Cooling (reread for class)

2/6 Harjo, Crazy Brave (preparing for her visit)

3/16 Traister, Good and Mad* (college colloquium)

4/29 Sacks, Sacks, Way Up North in Dixie (research)

5/? Gay, The Book of Delights (fandom)

5/21 Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (reputation)

5/22 Davis, Why Art?* (gift)

6/4 Hayles, Chaos Bound (research)

6/10 Atkins, The Laws of Thermodynamics (research)

6/10 Polkinghorne, Quantum Theory (research)

6/22 Darling, Je Suis L’Autre: Essays and Interrogations (research)

6/22 Kiefer, Nestuary (fandom)

6/24 Anker and Felski, Critique and Postcritique (research)

7/10 Vargas, Dear America* (teaching)

7/14 Moore, 16 Pills* (pressmate)

7/17 McSweeney, The Necropastoral (research)

8/7 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera (reread for teaching)

8/25 Rich, Permeable Membrane (gift)

11/27 Berg, Seeber, The Slow Professor (to co-lead faculty book club)

12/2 Hughes, ed., Sylvia Plath Drawings (fandom)

12/29 Slate, Little Weirds* (gift from daughter)

*published within the last year or so

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