Blue/ jazzed

The other day we got up early and drove to western Augusta County because the hikes there are much quieter than along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where foliage is peaking and so are the visitors. On autumn mornings here, especially if the day is going to be sunny, mist hugs the ground, gathering most densely over water and other warm places, wreathing the mountains. As the car wound along the empty highway, past farms and Trump signs and gun shops and churches, we alternately dipped into foggy hollows and rose up into sunshine where dew spangled the trees and the last wisps of steam curled up from roofs and embankments. The drive was an obvious metaphor for this October. I have moments of shiny hope but I keep crashing into feeling bad in the most sweeping ways, fearing the election and many more months of isolation, losing faith in everything I’ve written, unable to concentrate on the work I should be doing now. I’m pretty sure everyone feels the same–unless you’re stuck entirely in the lowlands. Here’s hoping the view gets clearer soon.

I can’t write poems but I need to work on prose anyway, particularly honing Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a book of hybrid essays due sometime in 2021. It blends criticism and memoir in a discussion of literary transportation–meaning immersive reading or getting lost in a book–in relation to short twenty-first century poems. I was going like gangbusters last week, but I’m dragging myself through the work very slowly this week. That’s okay, I keep telling myself. The two weeks before the US presidential election were always going to suck. Even when the world isn’t in dangerous meltdown, writing is full of hills and valleys.

I traded messages with a friend last week about the discouragement we often feel about finding readerships. It’s damn hard work and doesn’t get you very far; luck and connections probably matter more. Yet it’s helpful to have camaraderie in frustration. I always read Dave Bonta’s weekly Blog Digest, and this week that struggle was a major theme, especially in Kristy Bowen’s amazing post about self-publishing. It’s awful but cheerful, as Elizabeth Bishop said, or at least cheering to remember that this is just the way writing goes. You’d better be doing the work for it’s own sake or as a gift to others, not expecting anything in return, not even attention–yet the gifts will come back to you sometimes in surprising ways.

Gifts of late: a wonderful, thoughtful review of Unbecoming in Strange Horizons and a poem called “Dragon Questionnaire” in the same magazine; participating in a warm and intimate reading series organized by Johns Hopkins professor Lucy Bucknell; word of forthcoming reviews of The State She’s In; and a local author talk on Unbecoming scheduled and promoted by W&L’s amazing library staff. The latter is Tuesday October 27th, 7 pm EST, and open to the public–just register here: https://go.wlu.edu/unbecoming. I’ll talk about the book’s origin, read a couple of spooky excerpts, take questions, and give a couple of writing prompts.

Late breaking, too: I just got tapped to read from Unbecoming at the World Fantasy Convention, virtual this year. I’ll be part of the Weird Fiction Cluster on Friday October 30th from 10:30-12:30 pm ET, 8:30 Mountain Time (it should have been in Utah this year). The timing: oy. I’m no night owl, but I’ll manage somehow. The opportunity: hallelujah! The readings will be recorded for registered participants to view for weeks afterwards, which makes potential audience reach pretty good. See? I should be pleased to have attained this little hill.

In local politics, there’s good news, too. No word yet on whether W&L is changing its name, but The Washington Post just called our next-door neighbor, Virginia Military Institute, to the carpet for failing to deal with its deeply racist campus climate, and the governor is launching an investigative probe. In a small town like this one you inevitably have friends who work there, and I’m more optimistic for them and the cadets than I’ve felt for a long while. All the little justice struggles do add up, even if it takes forever, with lots of ups and downs along the way.

In which the perverse poet is chuffed about rejection

yawnDespite the frigid temperatures, my winter so far has been poetically electric. My long-awaited chapbook arrived in early December, then several journals containing a poem or two of mine suddenly went live or hit print (here’s one), PLUS Poetry Daily honored me with a New Year’s Day feature, PLUS Amy Lemmon and Sarah Freligh at the CDC Poetry Project accepted and published my pissed-off ghazal almost as fast as a president can tweet self-serving lies.

The writing life is deeply weird this way. What the flurry of publications means is I was on fire and writing lots of poems a year or two ago, and diligent about sending them out 6-12 months ago. I actually produced very little new poetry in the last few months, “Hibernaculum” aside, although the words are coming back now. I was overworked, trying not to feel discouraged, and spending my limited writing time on a couple of prose projects with impending deadlines. I revised lots, however, and strove to give older writing its due by focusing on submissions. I sent 230 poems to magazines in 2017! Those were in batches of 5, often to 3-4 magazines at once, but still, that’s a crazy amount of Submittable action (and that’s not even counting book mss, essays, and other work I’m trying to keep under consideration). Nor are my stats brilliant. Most of those submissions were rejected, a few with encouraging notes from editors; 18 of those were accepted, plus a few more I’d sent out in 2016; other verdicts are still pending.* I’m kind of shocked, but sheer numbers mitigate the chagrin I’ve been feeling as I post social media thanks and humble-brags. If brute effort counts, I earned those publication credits.

I hope my appalling math gives somebody heart, because here we go again, trying to keep our little fires burning in another year’s chilly climate. The numbers are NOT what matters. I’ll write poems my whole life, I’m sure, but it wouldn’t shock me if one day I decide not to work so hard at finding readers, and if you’ve already made that call, I respect your sensibleness. But for the moment, I have the heart and chutzpah to keep trying, mostly failing, and very occasionally succeeding. I’m ready for 2018 to reject the hell out of me.

I’m much more glad, however, that I’m writing poems again. I’d missed it. The great collections I’ve been catching up on are replenishing the well–I’ll post on my 2017 and early 2018 reading soon. In the meantime, thanks to Donna Vorreyer, and her co-conspirator Kelli Russell Agodon, for a poke in the ribs and some publicity, too, for poetry bloggers committing to 2018 liveliness, including me. Check out her terrific list of participants here.

I won’t keep up with them: my three-prep term starts Monday, to be spiced up by tons of committee work and event planning and lord knows what ordinary-life calamities. But I feel game to try.

*As I wheedled my cat into a photo shoot that clearly bored him, Poetry Northwest just emailed asking to publish 2 poems from one of those 2017 batches. If it has this kind of cosmic influence, I may just blog about rejection all year.