Friday, January 28, 2011

My Love-Hate Relationship with AWP

AWP 2011 is next week, and I'm not going. I've been reading a lot of snippets here and there about what people are looking forward to and what they're dreading, and they remind me about what I love and hate about AWP.

The first time I went to AWP was in 1995 in Pittsburgh. It was a tiny little conference then, intimate. As I recall, the book fair was in a room smaller than my high school's gymnasium. I went with a bunch of people from my MFA program, and we roamed the place in various smaller group combinations. The whole weekend felt like we had crammed weeks' of experience into just a couple of days. It was amazing, exciting, thrilling, but the main reason for that was the classmates I was with.

The next time I attended was Chicago 2004, held at the Palmer House Hilton. The event had grown enormously, but I was still able to run into people I knew just by chance. The book fair spanned several rooms and had grown much larger. I remember I had just gotten a poem accepted for publication the week before, so it was great to be able to be able to talk about what I was working on. I had just graduated the year before and I was no longer in academia, so it made it easier to feel a part of things.

The last time I attended was Chicago 2009. It was Hilton Chicago, which is much larger than the Palmer House Hilton, one much larger than before. The entire conference seemed to be a maze of packed hallways, completely overwhelming if one just stopped to watch the crowds rushing by. It struck me how young the crowds were, and I realized that probably a huge number were in MFA or PhD programs as I had been my first AWP. I met up with friends, but only because I knew what booths or panels they were going to be at. Even though I spent most of my time there at the book fair, I didn't manage to visit all of the booths. There were just too many.

I had thought I might try to attend Denver 2010, but when it came down to it, I didn't have enough reason to go, and the crowds the year before had been just so overwhelming. I think might go to Chicago 2012, and I have a year to make it worth my time. I love talking to people about their projects, seeing all of the magazines and publishers putting out great stuff. I love the sense of community that is generated there. I'm so isolated from a creative group in my daily life, and it's great not just to see individual projects but to hear about how things have changed, what's new and exciting. When I was a PhD student in the early 2000's, I remember being told that publishing online was throwing your work away, that that kind of publishing credit was without value and no one would respect it. At AWP 2009, I kept hearing that wasn't the case.

AWP has always been a chance for me to recharge my networking batteries and learn as much as I can about the poetry market. In some ways, I wish I were going to do that next week, but I can't feel too disappointed, either. Right now, I'm selfishly obsessed with reading as much as I can and working on my own writing. AWP is great for meeting people and learning stuff, but not so good for soaking up creativity. I need quiet and introspection for that.

Are you headed to AWP? What are you hoping to accomplish there?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Confession Tuesday

Oh my dear readers (if I even have any), I confess that I did not realize that people could not post comments on my blog, which is pretty darn stupid because I've had that exact problem with other people's blogs. It's a bug, I guess, and while I have no idea how to fix it with blogs that I am reading, I can at least (I hope) fix it with my own. So now hopefully people can leave comments, and if you can't, well, I don't know how you're going to tell me. I guess this is a problem, huh!

I confess also that despite my promise to myself that I was going to send out at least 3 poem packets on my Friday off (every other Friday, which most recently was last Friday), I did not have the things printed out I needed to. This was because there were huge printer server problems here at work beginning last Thursday, and most everyone spent the day without a working printer. Some people still do not have a working printer, in fact, but ours was back up on Monday, at least. So I waited until yesterday to print out my poems and cover letters and got the envelopes stamped and sealed up to go out this morning.

I've been taking a hard look at the work I'm sending out, trying to take advantage of downtime I might have at work, rather than throwing away hours and hours reading useless websites. I've been sending out Some of the poems for a number of years, and I'm wondering if they're worth continuing. Some I think I need to go back to revision on, especially if they're part of a series or if there's a few lines I still actually like. I think too that some of the old poems I have and maybe never sent out at all need to be sent out. And yeah, maybe I wrote it 15 years ago, but I have enough distance that I think if I saw it in a magazine having been written by someone else, I would like it a lot.

This is part of thinking about my own poetic style and what I'm going to put into a 70 page manuscript. I see different styles I wrote over the years and I'm thinking about how that relates to what I've written recently. It is a challenge to look at old poems with new eyes, but I think also that I might have tools now that can solve problems I didn't see before. There are new options, and I'm still learning.

What do you think? At what point do you stop submitting a poem that has been kicking around for years? Do you stick it in a drawer and forget about it or do you attempt a revision?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who's Getting Published?

Tuesday is usually confession day, but I'm thinking I will pass on that, because I'm thinking of some other things.

I've been plowing through books of poetry lately, some good and some bad, but I've enjoyed soaking in the interesting voices. Finished John Ashbery's Planisphere yesterday, and while it wasn't quite as delightful as I wish it was, I'm still turning it over in my mind. Hoping to finish The Eternal City by Kathleen Graber tonight, which I'm liking a bit more.

Reading books of poems makes me think about the qualities that got them published in the first place, especially since I sent several batches of poems out and submitted to several chapbook contests last week. I honestly think my chapbook, both the pieces and the sum of the parts, is good and I'm hopeful about it finding a home somewhere this year. But then I look at Planisphere and feel like Ashbery is resting on his laurels because, well, he's Ashbery, of course, and he's put out books that are freakin' genius and if you read poetry, like him or not, you know who he is. No magazine editor or publisher in their right mind would turn him down because having his name there will guarantee sales.

And I think about Billy Collins, too, and I don't know how he got to be so famous, except by being accessible to people who don't read poetry much, maybe haven't read a poem since high school or a lit class in college. Reading Nine Horses made me think not so much that it was bad, but it was like reading with training wheels. Each poem does one thing, but it does it completely and thoroughly, and when you finish reading it, you're quite certain what the point of it was. I wonder if it would be possible to study Billy Collins's work and teach yourself to write like him, and thereby become famous and frequently-published. I don't think people read him because they think he is unique. His name and brand are recognizable, so his work sells. Who is going to be the next Billy Collins, and are they going to sound just like him?

Monday, January 10, 2011

A New Challenge, Because Clearly I Don't Have Enough to Read

One reading challenge I heard about around the middle of last year was Poetry x 12. I really wanted to give it a try, but for whatever reason I wasn't motivated to start it in the middle of the year. So maybe I'll be the only person in the world doing this challenge, but it sounds interesting, and it should get me out of my comfort zone in my reading selections. Here's the breakdown:

January — Read a poetry collection published the year you were born
February — Read a poetry collection recommended on a blog
March — Read a poetry collection written by a poet who has been featured in a movie
April — Read your favorite poetry collection from childhood
May — Read a poetry collection from another country
June — Read that classic poetry collection you never read
July — Read a poetry collection you find on Good Reads
August — Read a chapbook
September — Read a poetry collection you would not typically read
October — Read a selection from a local book club
November — Read an award-winner
December — Read someone else’s favorite poetry collection

It took me about an hour to find a poetry collection published in the year I was born. So many of the lists I found online were inaccurate in that they weren't actually published in that year, or they were out of print and the only apparent copy was on for $500. (Seriously.) but finally I settled on James Tate's Absences , which I requested from my library. The library system in the Chicago suburbs is actually easier and faster than ordering from Amazon, though the selection is not quite as complete.

Since I'm the only person doing this challenge this year, I say I don't have to post my book titles in advance. (Right, sounds like an excuse to be noncommittal and possibly lazy.) I do have a few titles in mind, but I'll Looking forward to reading the James Tate book, and I'll post a review of it towards the end of the month. Until then, I'm still working on the 5 books of poems I have out from the library right now. I'm finding Billy Collins' Nine Horses rather dull. Lighthead by Terrance Hayes is incredible, the most interesting poet I've stumbled across in a very long while. Fantastic voice, really interesting jazzy-smooth rhythm to his lines, yet he uses form, too. I've got to learn more about this pecha kucha form he uses. I feel like I could study this book for a year and still be learning from it.

How does your reading list look this year? Any surprises with overrated or underrated authors?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Bookshelf is Crushing Me, or I Can't Resist a Challenge

My "to be read" book pile is out of control. Truthfully, I don't even have a pile. I have an entire "to be read" shelf, which is not only full but it has books stacked horizontally on top of the vertical ones. It is also a problem that despite the large number of books on that shelf, I can't stop myself from getting new books. Some of these are from the quite handy Paperback Swap and some are from the library (right now I've got 5 books out that are due in a week, and I've finished none of them), so at least I'm not spending money on all of my new ones, but that's still too many books coming in and not enough being read.

So I'm going to tackle the 2011 TBR Pile Challenge, in which I pledge to finally read (sorry, split infinitive) 12 books from my "to be read" pile, within 12 months. Truthfully, I culled out 20 books from my shelf that absolutely have to be read and get off of my shelf in 2011, but those extras will be my little secret. (Yeah, the titles are just too embarrassing to publicly fess up to.) Here is my list:

The Twelve to Be Read:
1) Songs and Stories of the Kojiki by Yoko Danno
2) Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
3) Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
4) Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffengger
5) Seven Poets, Four Days, One Book by Dean Young, Christopher Merrill, Marvin Bell, Tomaz Salamun, Simone Inguanez, Istvan Laszlo Geher, Ksenia Golubovich
6) Lucky in the Corner by Carol Anshaw
7) In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams
8) After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima
9) The Shadow of the Sun by A.S. Byatt
10) A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem
11) Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
12) The Best American Poetry 2003, edited by Yusef Komunyakaa

The Two Alternates:
1) The Anxiety of Everyday Objects by Aurelie Sheehan
2) The Fifth Book of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston

My understanding of the challenge is that I don't go to the 2 Alternates unless/until I give up on a book in my original 12, so I think I won't get to those unless I end up using them or my original 12 are finished, whichever comes first. I will post reviews here as I finish the books, and I will also keep track of my progress on Goodreads.

As I look over the list, I'm looking forward to tackling it. It's mostly fiction, though not all. I'm sure Pynchon and Eco will be the most challenging (they're also the longest), but I also have some poetry and essays to break things up. I am going to get to one of these before January is over, though I've got about 8 books on my "currently reading" shelf, as well as the 5 library books (4 books of poetry and a novela)!

Anyone else up for this challenge? What does your "to be read" pile look like?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Confession Tuesday

I confess I have been very bad about blogging here. I've actually begun all sorts of posts but for some reason never finished them or perhaps just changed my mind about wanting to post them at all. For 2011, I will concentrate more on getting something down, rather than trying to get everything down that I'm thinking.

I confess I started a paper journal on January 1, something I haven't done in quite a few years. It's nice to talk with people and let them know how you're doing and what you think, but sometimes you just need to put some thoughts down where no one will see them, if only to work through them yourself. I used to write thousands of words a day. I'm hoping that by writing in different places, for different purposes, I will generally write more.

I confess last night I cooked a couple of lobster tails that my father-in-law had bought us for New Years but we hadn't had time to have until now. The meal took 2 hours to prepare, and it really wasn't all that good. It was tough and not all that flavorful, even though I cooked it in plenty of (probably too much!) butter. Maybe I'm not so good at preparing sea food in general, or it might be that I'm not such a big fan of lobster in particular. I did find an excellent scalloped potatoes recipe, though, and I'll likely make it again, even if it does take a long time to make.

I confess I haven't written a word of poetry yet in 2011. I will definitely correct that today.