Rusting robot poetics

Lots of stress on this bucket of bolts lately–family, health, and writing-related–but I’m tickled to report that my first poetry comic has been published by the gorgeously-redesigned Split Lip Magazine. My spouse Chris Gavaler and I created it a couple of years ago; he made the images and I wrote the words, although there was some cross-influence in revision, more or less as we’ve cross-influenced each other in life (“Go for it!”/ “Don’t wear that!”). To me, this comic is about a pretty-long-running partnership from a midlife perspective, very much inflected by the self-reassessment that happens when your kids grow up and move on (my daughter graduated in May and just returned home after a summer gig, and my son starts college in about 10 days). We’ve changed so much since we were undergrads together, and I love the way the images capture our disintegrations and haphazard rebuildings from odd materials at hand, bringing forward the idea of resourcefulness under constraint. Chris built these robots rather laboriously in an outmoded program; my constraints were spatial, meaning seven lines per poem, with the line-length controlled by panel-width and the letters of Chris’ homemade font. It’s so gratifying when you make something weird in a weird way, for fun, and other people like it enough to publish it!

Not much other luck in that department lately. Rejections are flying; I haven’t had a poem accepted in months. As I’ve said here before, though, I actually feel more philosophical about that since beginning to work on Shenandoah. You just have to keep trying, revising and targeting your work as intelligently as you can, but knowing there’s a heap of luck involved. Submission rates are very high, and chances of hitting the right reader in the right way at the right moment are low, so it’s a numbers game. I did some poetry revision/ submission work this week, though, and I’ll keep at it until the semester swallows me whole–I’ve also got essays to tweak and keep in circulation plus a difficult grant application to finish. The meetings and new-tech-training-sessions, all that late summer jazz, starts tomorrow.

I’m also sighing, but philosophical, about the timing of book edits. I’d hoped to have feedback in hand on two mss–or at least one of them–by early August so I could do at least some of the work before the term starts, and that no longer seems likely. Editors are heroes, and like me they have chaotic lives–so be it. There’s still a TON to do without waiting on anyone else, not least preparing my courses, finishing those submissions, and organizing all the book promotion work I have ahead of me during this very busy school year.

In the midst of all this, I followed a link yesterday to a powerful article in n+1 called “Sexism in the Academy.” ” Depending on the funding agency, the gender gap in winning grants is about 7 percent,” Troy Vettise writes in this heavily-researched and very persuasive piece, adding, “when women are successful in their grant applications, they usually receive less funding, about eighty cents to a man’s dollar.” Talk about constraints! Discouraging, but I was grateful for all the work Vettise pulls together here, documenting everything from discrimination in resources to the costs of harassment, and more. And the recommendations at the end are provocative in an exhilarating way, including radical structural changes to universities and foundations.

Our robot comic is, I think, also about ambivalence toward gender roles, both in Chris and in me. It’s hard to be your best self and do your best work with all the gender shrapnel flying–as if teaching and writing aren’t hard enough.

Well, “keep your skin on,” as the robots say. There’s change ahead, good and bad. My visor may be foggy, and my sensors all scratched up, but I just have to be a self-reconfiguring modular robot, slipping free of my programming and adapting to my own increasingly buggy hardware as well as the unpredictable terrain. I can do it. Right?

Pleased as punch (with recipe)

pudding

Maybe I need to blog about poetic self-doubt more often. As soon as I did, my luck seemed to shift under my feet. I had been doing math some of you have surely done, too: I’ve been showing the ms around for a while now. What if this poetry collection I thought was so great doesn’t strike any editors the same way? The poems have done well in magazines, but what would I do with the larger structure, with its support beams and fancy finials, if no press wanted I genuinely wanted to work with returned my affections? Keep trying while I write another one, I realized.

I don’t feel that way about literary criticism; blogging about poetry is fun and I care very much about boosting the poetry that inspires me, but there’s no way I’d keep writing footnoted articles if no one wanted to publish them. I’ll write the best poetry I can for as long as I can, however. It’s work I love desperately. Returning to it after occasional absences, with renewed interest, joy, and creative ambition–that’s been one of the deepest rhythms of my adult life.

Then a piece of fan mail popped up from Molly Sutton Kiefer at Tinderbox Editions, to whom I sent the ms a year ago. Submittable still said “In Progress” but I figured she’d given it a pass. Au contraire. She loved the book. Was it still available?

If you don’t know it, Tinderbox Editions is a small press based in Minnesota; their titles are beautiful inside and out, appealingly designed and carefully edited. I’d reviewed a couple of them and talked to one of the authors, Athena Kildegaard, about her publishing experience, so I’d long felt the press would be a good home for my work. When Molly contacted me, we talked about timing, too, which has gotten messed up for me in the past; if you don’t have a cover and galleys/ advance copies months before the official launch, publicity becomes much harder to do well. She had really good answers about a 2020 launch and working backwards from that due date through a nine-month process to make sure we get it right.

So I am all in, and wildly grateful. My poetry book has a home!

And there’s more! I’ve blogged about my role as poetry editor for the redesigned Shenandoahpublicizing the new issue and celebrating its contributors has felt really great. Plus I’m going to publish my first venture into poetry comics: Split Lip Magazine has just accepted a longish piece Chris and I co-authored called “Made for Each Other.” (Don’t go “awww”–it’s about decrepit robots, as I just told the generous blogger Bekah Steimel in an interview which will be posted sometime today.) The editors at Flockbless them, have nominated one of my poems for a Pushcart–that issue will be live soon, too. And even though I’m receiving my share of literary journal rejections, as everyone seems to this time of year, I do have another bit of loveliness I can’t reveal yet, and that’s dizzying. This middle-aged cyborg isn’t too old yet to pivot, but still, the good news feels overwhelming. Now, if we can just get Trump in prison and solve a few geopolitical crises, I’ll be outright cheerful.

Delicious Holiday Punch I Invented Last Night

*1 cup each pear juice, pear vodka, and ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton)

*1/2 cup simple syrup (1:1 sugar dissolved in boiling water; I add lemon peel)

*juice of a lemon or two

*ice and Asian pear slices for the punch bowl

Proportions can be doubled or tripled for a crowd. Add lemon seltzer or prosecco to each glass for celebratory fizz.