Catching Up On Reading

Away for writing retreat at Seal Rock, Oregon, I’m working to catch up on a stack of literary journals that I subscribe to. Reading new work puts me in the writing place, for sure. Today I dug into Crab Orchard Review’s Winter/Spring 2013 (Vol. 18, No. 1 — which I don’t understand how I missed, since I already read/enjoyed Vol. 18, No. 2, but, whatever).

CoRCOVERCOR is one of my favorite journals because of the variety of work and the fact that I always find stuff I like by writers I haven’t heard of before. In this issue, as always, there was much to enjoy, but I’d like to call out a few SUPER SPECIAL favorites. Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s “Lovers in the Age of Airmail,” which I thought made really smart use of couplets and concluded with a bang-on image — “rivulets of water gliding / off the blades of a swimmer’s shoulders / when he steps from the sea.” Al Maginnes’ “Elegy for a Name” was a gorgeous and fitting tribute to the late poet Jake Adam York and his important work about the history and memory of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Ashley Anna McHugh’s facility with the sonnet — especially with full and slant end rhymes — had me rereading “Memento” and “Omen” several times. Aisha Sharif’s writing about the hijab in “The Fitting Room” and “To the White Boy Who Pulled Off My Hijab in 7th Grade Gym” was so memorable — both her poems begin in anecdote but end in a more expansive place, definitely in conversation with the world as well as with the self. Finally, Ocean Vuong’s “Daily Bread,” which interrogated itself and its reader and was well-fueled by sound & senses.

Of the writers above, Vuong and Maginnes were the only ones whose work I had read previously. I am so happy to have some new writers to read and I look forward to reading more from them. Thanks, Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble, and all the folks at Crab Orchard Review, for delivering me regular doses of great reading. If you’d like to check out any of the work I mention above, the issue is available online HERE. If you like what you see, consider a subscription!



If It Quacks Like A Book….

It’s January, the winter session where I teach, and since I don’t teach during this span, I try to reserve some of this time to send work out — individual poems and the two book-length manuscripts I’m currently circulating. A couple of months back, I was reading my Poetry and noted in the back an announcement about the Emily Dickinson First Book Award. It’s a $10,000 cash prize — wow! — but also publication by Graywolf Press, which made me swoon a little bit. AND (my favorite bit) it is a prize for a poet of forty or over. A refreshing moment in the age of the prodigy, dontcha think? And yes, I am, age-wise, qualified for this award —  so I filed this opportunity in my January pile; the deadline is in February.

Today, I got around to visiting the link provided in the announcement in Poetry — and I saw mostly what I had expected to see regarding page lengths, format, etc. But — D’OH — I’m in trouble. Here’s why:

“Writers who have had chapbooks of poetry printed in editions of 300 copies or more are ineligible.”

My first chapbook, A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, won the 2008 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Prize and was published in a numbered edition of 500. ATTPM is, uncontroversially, a chapbook — a lovely hand-sewn saddle stitch, a smallish number of poems, a letterpress cover with a die-cut window. Sixteen poems, twenty-four pages. But published in a (generous!) edition of 500. I don’t think anyone (okay, anyone who cares about such distinctions) would dispute that it’s a chapbook. (You, sir, are no chapbook!)

My second chapbook, Luck, was published in an edition of 250, but its twenty-four poems end on page 48, and because of that particular number, I have been disqualified from submitting to a different “first book” competition. I could argue that since the text of the poems begins on page nine of the chapbook, it’s not, strictly, 48 pages of poetry. But, um, really? No. Hell, Luck‘s not saddle-stapled — it’s got a SPINE just wide enough to have WORDS on it AND a glossy cover with a picture of me on the back. If it walks like a book and quacks like a book…..I think that someone (whether or not they cared about such distinctions) might call it a book. I might call it a book. Hey. Can I just call it that?

Seriously, though. I am a little disappointed at not being able to send my book-length (it’s fifty-two mss pages) work to the Dickinson First Book Award, but I’ll get over it. Am already mostly over it. Just as I got over not being able to submit to, er, “younger poets” opportunities. In fact, let me take a moment to further soothe my mild and passing disappointment by reminding myself of the following fact: editors selected two smallish manuscripts of my poems (mine!) to publish. And by publish, I mean: attentively and lovingly steward my poems into bookish form; help me edit/shape the work further; help me share my work with a larger audience. These are poetry loving people, and they have loved my poetry well.

Beyond the ephemeral disappointment, though, is the (equally ephemeral?) matter of semantics, numbers, the “biz,” etc. I think that stuff is kind of interesting. I have blogged previously about what “published” means, (here, briefly), (here, too, sort of) and I find myself today ruminating about what a “book” is, to various audiences, for various purposes. A book has its materiality, its “thing-ness” (witness my giddiness above about things like letterpress covers and spines), but it is also a symbol, a sign, a signal. Ditto chapbooks, yes? Are chapbooks JV? Are they hipster object d’art? Does the Poetry Foundation assert, via its first book award guidelines, that I have already published a “first book?” I have come to no new or crystal-clear conclusions about the (chap)bookness of (chap)books, not today, not yet. I continue to be a long-time lover of the chapbook — from my few years as a publisher of them in the mid to late 1990s (Ultima Obscura Press), my fifteen years or so avidly collecting them, my use of them in the classroom, my teaching friends how to sew basic saddle-stitches and Japanese stab binding, etc. And of course, I also foster deep love for book books. I just finished reading one today and am going to dive into the pile for the next one to keep at bedside. And there’s the audiobook I’ve got going on the iPod for getting through the ninth circle of treadmill. Speaking of which….

About Writing, Publishing

Poetry Publishing, BlazeVox Drama, “Vanity,” Internet Discourse

Yesterday, the internet (okay, my internet anyhow, maybe not yours) was lit up with a conversation about BlazeVox soliciting donations/subsidies connected with accepted mss. If you’d like to get caught up, start here, then go here and then probably here. I imagine there will be other posts as well. [Update: Yep. Here’s one with some calm & useful language for various kinds of publishing.] [Update II: Here’s some really great thinking about the roles of publishers and writers and a better articulation of some differences between publishing and printing than I fumbled through below.]

Reading the blog posts and comment threads has me thinking about a couple of things:

1. The handy speed with which we may now respond — off the cuff — to things we read that  frustrate/enrage us often does disservice to discourse. (I know I didn’t discover this or anything — I am just seeing a good example.) Lots of reply-lobbing, lots of dramatic accusation, all nearly instantaneous. Much of it — not all — anonymous, and then there’s the incivility that is sometimes — not always — fostered by anonymity, especially when it is combined with instantaneousness. (Word Press alleges that instantaneousness is not a word. It is okay with simultaneity, but that’s not exactly the word I wanted…) I’m reminded of when I was learning how the telegraph — a speedy new technology being used by folks who were used to diplomacy existing at a whole other, much slower pace — may have been a contributing cause of the Great War.

2. “Vanity Press” used to mean, didn’t it, that if you had the MONEY, you’d pay someone to publish your mss. You were paying (I think) for access to the means of production, and for the (appearance of) “legitimacy” the existence of your mss in book form (with pages/spine/etc) would convey. Therefore, they were called “vanity” presses because they seemed to cater to vanity above literary quality. Am I wrong about that?  That’s a history I need to read up on.  Anyhow, it seems to me that vanity presses were about supplying access to the means of production. Maybe you were paying to be “printed” and maybe there’s some difference between “printed” and “published.”

Nowadays, many (all?) of us have access to the means of production. No typesetting required. Print away. As one commenter at HTMLGIANT suggested,

“If I were being asked to contribute $250 to the publication of my own book I’d do that by learning InDesign, signing up with Lulu and Amazon, and buying Project Wonderful ads myself.”

I was going to link here to Bill Knott’s poetry blog, but it’s down! Anyhow, Bill learned the technology and has been passionate about offering most of his work for free and/or P.O.D. via Lulu.

The commenter continues: “At this point I’m not sure what the difference is unless (of course) you’re trying to get a job in academia—but even then, I’m sure the committees would look askance at a publisher that’s earned this kind of reputation.”

Ah, yes, the “job in academia.” THAT’S who cares about the difference between your book being “printed” and your book being “published.” Because, of course, the academic cv has NOTHING to do with something as lowbrow as “vanity.” 🙂 And maybe because what we think of as “published” (not just “printed”) has traditionally involved an editorial & promotional apparatus, and that is where the “legitimacy,” if you buy that, resides or is created. The promotional/connections piece of traditional publishing is important, I think — just because you have had your book printed doesn’t guarantee that anyone will buy/read/review it. Although the access to those means (social networking, book fairs, book “trailers” on YouTube, etc.) has also shifted, hasn’t it? Anyhow,  my last post (hardly a post, really, when I’m just pasting together what other people post, but I’m doing what I can) linked to an essay about legitimacy and publishing and tenure/promotion in academia. Check it out.

3. An idea that has come up in this conversation in various ways, an idea I’m chewing on, too: poetry in the U.S. doesn’t appear to have the readership to support the traditional publishing biz/model. A painful and scary and exciting moment as publishers (BlazeVox among them?) struggle into new models, or attempt to create hybrid models to keep themselves afloat. I followed an interesting conversation at Brevity last summer about the notion of charging authors to submit work; Ploughshares charges non-subscriber authors $3 to submit electronically (still no charge other than postage to submit via the post). I bought a “subscription” from Pilot Books last year — I like that idea. Recently, I was invited to “pre-order” a friend’s chapbook to help ensure the first print run at a certain number of copies.  I was happy to do both of those things.

So, that’s the news from Surly Acres this Labor Day. That, and, oh yeah, THANK YOU LABOR MOVEMENT for making it possible for me to have weekends and health insurance and safe working conditions.