Category Archives: Book Review

My Review of Punishment in Main Street Rag

Main Street Rag just published their latest issue, and in it is my review of Nancy Miller Gomez’s chapbook Punishment.

I’ve had a lot of friends who have taught in prisons around the country, and so when I heard her collection was based on her own experiences teaching poetry writing in a prison, I eagerly signed up to review it.

Here is a copy of my review (starts halfway down the page). Click on the image to read more closely.

Punishment is a Rattle Chapbook Series selection, and you can find links to poems and how to purchase the chapbook here:

Chapbooks: Punishment

I’ll leave you with the first and title poem in the book.

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

Monday Update

My  review of Karen Paul Holmes’ poetry collection No Such Thing as Distance has been published in the latest edition of the esteemed journal Pleiades.

If you get your hands on this gorgeous issue, you can find out why I think there are commonalities in Holmes’ work and mine. OK, here are some hints ;). She is also from Michigan, and the sense of place–places, really–is very important to her work. Also prominent are family and family history. Her book is beautifully written and extremely accessible.

On another note, I’m having foot troubles. And I also had a very telling dream. But first the feet.

My right foot is the one that has a reconstructed navicular bone. That happened 13.5 years ago and was a big, big deal. Now I have to be really careful so that that bone doesn’t shatter. About nine months ago I developed plantar fasciitis in the left foot, and no matter what I do, the pain is not letting up. This puts pressure on the right foot, of course. Then Friday morning I dropped my cell phone on my right big toe. Please let me out of this nightmare.

MRI Prep

Speaking of dreams. Did you know that if you dream of a litter of kittens it means that you are feeling swamped and overwhelmed? The other day I dreamed that the shelter where I volunteer was closed temporarily. I went to check on it. Of course, it wasn’t that place at all, but an old-fashioned storefront with the store divided into three big rooms, all with glass windows in front. I knew right away why they were closed. They were overwhelmed–literally filled to the ceiling with kittens. There wasn’t even an inch between kittens. There must have been thousands in there. I wasn’t worried for the kittens because I knew the shelter would take care of them, but I was shocked at how many there were.

So do you see how overwhelmed I have been this month????????? I know in the end it will be ok, but I have never felt so overloaded with work as I have this month. I sure hope I get April to write poetry!

(Weirdly, I have worked on a little essay, but only the last couple of days, and I don’t know if it will turn out or not).

Sending love out into the universe. Please send back some extra minutes haha.

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Literary Journals, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

Review of Kin Types in Latest Issue of Main Street Rag

Alice Osborn has reviewed my chapbook Kin Types for the new Winter 2019 issue of Main Street Rag. 

 

I love how she calls the book a “labor of love.”

It’s a beautiful issue with fiction and poetry, an essay, and quite a few book reviews, and best yet, it’s only $6! Click this link.

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KIN TYPES IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON:

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Remember my kitty Tiger, star of The Bitch’s Tale? She has gotten a bit skinny, so I took her to the vet for bloodwork and urinalysis. Her kidney and liver values are now elevated, and she had to have an add-on test for pancreatitis. Please send positive vibes and prayers for Tiger that she just has slow aging issues and not a serious illness. I had thought Tiger was 14, but after recalculating and conferring with my son, we believe she is at least 15.

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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Family history, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

Suanne Schafer on the Writing of A Different Kind of Fire

When I attended the Stanford online writing program, I met fellow writers with whom I’ve developed a lasting bond. One of my favorites was not even in my nonfiction program, but rather a fiction specialist, Suanne Schafer. Before her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, was hot off the presses and in my waiting hands, I knew it would be a good read. I just didn’t know how wonderful a book it would turn out to be! When I finished reading this historical (women’s, LGBTQ, art, Texas) novel, I begged Suanne to write about the book for my blog, and she kindly agreed.

You can read my Goodreads review here.

MEET SUANNE SCHAFER, AUTHOR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE

A Different Kind of Fire began as an homage to my grandparents. According to family legend, my grandfather had vowed he would never marry unless he married his childhood sweetheart. My grandmother, though, had other ideas. She traipsed off to the Chicago Art Institute with the goal of becoming an artist. Several years later, she returned to West Texas—one child in tow, pregnant with another, and abandoned by a fellow artist, a European nobleman she’d had to marry. Steadfast Bismarck waited seven years for her husband to be declared dead before Bismarck could finally achieve his goal.

To disguise the fact that I was writing a family history, I set A Different Kind of Fire some twenty years before my grandmother went off to art school. Originally, I adopted the contemporary romance format of alternating points of view to reveal a love story. Eventually I realized I didn’t really want to write a family history—I wanted my story to be larger than that. The more I researched the Gilded Age, the less interesting Bismarck became. Back on the ranch doing the same thing day after day, he wasn’t as intriguing as a young woman suddenly on her own in a big city, encountering suffragettes, bohemian artists, misogynist professors, and handsome European nobles. I wanted to write herstory not history.

I chose a very close third-person point of view for A Different Kind of Fire because I wanted readers to feel as though they were Ruby. To accomplish that, I had to become Ruby, to see only through her eyes, to experience only those things she could directly experience. Showing Ruby’s world through an artist’s eyes proved to be a two-part task. As a teenager, I painted well enough to be expected to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. In an act of defiance, I became a photographer instead. Both art forms required an eye for line and color as well as a sense of composition, so I already saw the exterior world as an artist would. Thus, translating Ruby’s love for her West Texas home was relatively easy. For her, the drab landscape carried colors most folks never saw: “clouds turned scarlet and yellow against the cobalt sky” and “moonlight silver-plated puffy clouds … and gave an argent shimmer to the grasses below.” She sketched a bleached cow skull and “lightly penciled a copperhead wandering through the eyeless sockets, an insolent S snaked” over paper washed with a “venomous green.”

What proved more challenging was revealing how art permeated every aspect of Ruby’s existence. When she first saw Bismarck nude, her immediate desire was to draw him—she created precisely-detailed anatomic sketches guaranteed to shock viewers of the era. Art influenced even Ruby’s subconscious. I pulled an experience from my own life to illustrate this. I always knew when my grandmother occupied my dreams—I woke to the smell of turpentine. So, when talking to her friend Willow, Ruby confided that she “dreamed of art in the same way she dreamed of making love, awakening with the smell of turpentine and linseed oil in her nostrils, as rich and intoxicating as a lover’s scent.”

Line, color, and composition also informed Ruby’s emotions. When her third child was stillborn, she tailored his christening gown to fit his premature body, then “cradled his skull and, with her hand, fixed its geometry in her brain. Her thumb inscribed the arc of his brow in her memory. Her nose imprinted the scent from the crook of his neck on her dreams. The pad of a finger applied the burnished new-penny color of his hair to her mind’s palette. Her arms held him, awed by how his tiny body made her soul feel so heavy. Finally, she sketched her son so she would never forget his innocent face.”

Years later, when Bismarck became paralyzed by being thrown from a horse, Ruby saw him in terms of color: “His eyes, the new-denim blue now turned to faded chambray … By kerosene light, his skin looked yellow. The color of life giving way to death.” The intimacy of working with his frail body gave Ruby new insight into the Biblical scene of Christ in the Selpulcher as she painted “the blue-gray of lips no longer warmed by blood, the greenish cast to the face, the way white flesh hung slackly from bone when unsupported by functioning muscle.”

Ruby experienced the births of five children, the loss of three of them and her beloved Bismarck. At age fifty-four as she pursued another love in New Mexico, she still viewed the world through the filter of art, seeing the world’s highlights and shadows as if on a canvas, “With little atmosphere to filter the sun, New Mexican light blazed intense and harsh, blinding her. The effect was strangely unsettling. Brilliant daylight bleached important details. Dense shade obscured others. Salient information got lost in those extremes. The narrow range of mid-tones didn’t tell the full story.”

Through a close third-person point of view, I hope I captured not only the tastes, smells, and other sensations that made up Ruby’s life, but the sentiments that bound her to her family, her lovers, her home; the innate disposition and moral code that overlay her actions; and most of all the colors, lines, and composition that guided her art.

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Purchase the novel at Amazon by clicking on the book cover.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, History, Interview, Novel, Writing Talk

Author Kelli Donley on the Arizona Indian Schools

Recently, I read a suspenseful and engaging novel that gives context to a controversial piece of Arizona history: Counting Coup by Kelli Donley. I had met Kelli at the Phoenix MEET YOUR LITERARY COMMUNITY event in early October. I wrote about it here. My booth was right next to Kelli’s, and as we sat and chatted, I looked over her three novels. They all appealed to me, but Counting Coup is her most recent–and the first sentence grabbed my attention, as did the subject of the “Indian schools” in Arizona.

I asked Kelli to write a guest post about the Indian schools. If you are intrigued by the subject, you will want to rush to purchase a copy of Counting Coup. (If you like contemporary romance, you’ll love it, too!)

MEET KELLI DONLEY, AUTHOR OF COUNTING COUP

I grew up in a suburban ranch-style home in the middle of Mesa, Arizona, just off of Alma School Road. The neighborhood was like so many others. We had a basketball hoop in the front yard, a swimming pool in the backyard, and a series of colorful goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter. My bookshelves were marigold, lined with precious Nancy Drews my mother had collected before I was born. My brother and I would fight over the remote on hot summer days, arguing over “I love Lucy” or “Brady Bunch” episodes. When my mother was at the point of putting us on the curb in a box marked “free,” the calendar would switch to September and we would be shuffled down the street to school.

We were Astros, attending Alma Elementary. It never occurred to me to ask any questions about Alma School Road, even though our school had a different address. But when we’d go to Phoenix to visit my grandmother in her tiny, smoky apartment, we’d drive down Indian School Road. Indian School? I saw neither Indians nor schools from the backseat of my mother’s Chevy Citation.

I remember asking my mother and receiving a brief, vague answer that brought forth images of the trailer park-ridden, dry desert reservation we’d see from the highway when traveling to Tucson to visit our other grandparents.

Indian schools were where Indian children went to school.

“But, Mom,” I persisted, smelling a mystery, “Mom, we have Indian kids at our school. Wayne is in my class. His brothers are older. You know them!”

“Oh, well those kids live in our neighborhood. Of course they attend your school.” And then she did that little toss of her hand that meant, “Don’t bother me. We’re done with this topic.”

Was the Indian school like the one I attended, with chalkboards and globes and a music room where the recorders always reeked of Pine Sol? My questions went unanswered.

Some 25 years passed. I went to college, traveled, joined the Peace Corps, wrote a couple novels, and to everyone’s surprise, married a man in my hometown. I’d found my professional passion working in public health, and loved being a wife and stepmom in Mesa.

One cold December day, I was invited by two colleagues to visit their recent project at the Phoenix Indian Steele Park in central Phoenix. They’d been awarded a grant to restore one of the remaining buildings at what was once the Phoenix Indian School. They explained the school was opened in the 1890s, and at its biggest, was hundreds of acres of farmland that students were expected to tend. The school closed in the 1990s, and the land was purchased by the City of Phoenix from the federal government. Too quickly, city officials bulldozed buildings, dug lakes, and created the modern-day park—all with very little input from the local American Indian community. Three buildings were saved from destruction.

We stood in front of one of them.

I followed the women into an adobe building so old the window panes were wavy from time. Cobwebs kept aging beams above woven together. Missing floor planks made navigating the long narrow walkway a game of hopscotch. Two steps into the doorway, taking in one long look of the now empty rooms, goosebumps rose on my arms and my stomach began to ache. I turned on my heel, retreating outside.

They followed, confused.

“What happened in there,” I asked rubbing my arms and trying to calm my breath.

“What do you mean?” one of the women asked.

“Something terrible happened in that room,” I blurted, feeling my cheeks turn red from unexpected emotion. I felt crazy, but only momentarily.

The women’s heads nodded. We sat together in a clump on the concrete stairs leading into the adobe music room. It was here, sitting next to them, I would learn that for more than 100 years, American Indian children were placed at boarding schools, and not just in Arizona, but across the United States, Canada, and Australia. The initial motivation was to break Indian culture and create new Christians. “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” was a commonly repeated refrain.

It is a complicated history, but eventually, children were no longer taken against their will to attend the schools. Instead, many attended in later years because there was no other option on their tribal lands.

One of the women shared a story about how her grandmother, from a northern Arizona tribe, had been kidnapped at age 5 by federal employees and brought to the school. She hadn’t been able to return until she graduated at age 18. By then, she no longer spoke the language of her parents. This would forever impair her ability to connect with family, tradition, and culture.

The same colleague went on to then tell me how her parents divorced when she was in junior high. Her mother struggled. She sent her two older daughters to the Phoenix Indian School until she could care for them herself. They spent two years together at the school.

I had a thousand questions. First, how could I have spent more than 30 years in Phoenix and never known about the school? This history wasn’t included in our education, or field trips. It wasn’t on any test. There was no day of honor or remembrance. In the shade of a date palm, I looked up at the haunted adobe music room, and realized the park was sacred earth. Children died here, their bones buried under the grassy lawn of today.

This chance meeting planted the seed for my latest novel, Counting Coup. This is the story of Avery Wainwright, a professor who uncovers a stack of 60-year-old letters. Written in the 1950s,

the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one had ever spoken of.

Today, the American Indian boarding school system remains, albeit voluntary. Health outcomes for American Indian children in the United States remain among the worse. These boarding schools allow children to graduate, but still keep student at a fragile age away from their families and home.

I have a thousand more questions to ask, and many more stories to write about my homeland. Thank you for reading!

For more information about Counting Coup and my other novels, visit: kellidonley.com.

Kelli Donley is a native Arizonan. She is the author of three novels, Under the Same MoonBasket Baby and Counting Coup. Inspiration for this novel was found hearing colleagues’ stories about childhoods spent at the Phoenix Indian School. Kelli lives with her husband Jason, children and small ark of animals in Mesa, Arizona. She works in public health, and blogs at www.africankelli.com.

Thank you for visiting, Kelli!

 

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Reading

How to Practice Your Poetry: Diane Lockward’s Latest Craft Book

After I tell you about a new book for poets, I’ll tell you where I was at the end of last week 😉 so keep reading. Hint: fabulous hotel in Phoenix.

Diane Lockward has published her third wonderful craft book, The Practicing PoetClick on the following image to find the book at Amazon.

If you have read her earlier books, The Crafty Poet and The Crafty Poet II you already know how incredibly helpful Diane’s “portable workshops” are.  Although the new book is third in the series, you can start with any of the books. They all offer tips, prompts, and sample poems, based on the prompts. There is also a connection with the free newsletter that Diane publishes. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

I will tell you that one of the sample poems was contributed by moi. The prompt, which I first encountered in one of the newsletters, involved choosing a home you once lived in and returning to it after a long absence. I wrote about the house of my early childhood in “Finding the House on Trimble Street.” I wrote it in the form of a haibun (a prose poem that ends with a haiku), although the prompt had not asked for that form. This is one of my favorite parts of the poem: “Sometimes it was a tornado with its green sky, and sometimes it was a bomb with its puff of smoke and a white rabbit in the magician’s hat.”

I’ve loved Lockward’s first two craft books more than any other that I’ve used in the past, so I can’t wait to practice my poetry with this one.

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This past Thursday-Saturday was the NonfictioNOW conference that was held in Phoenix at the gorgeously reconstructed Renaissance Phoenix Hotel. My friend Kimberly is a cohort from the Stanford creative nonfiction program we were in, and we were able to spend time together. I also saw local friends at the conference, as well. Some good sessions, one not so interesting to me, and all in all a good experience. I want to give a lil shoutout to the Renaissance. They were positively amazing. They had plenty of smiling staff to help, from parking our cars, to helping us find our way, to serving breakfast and beverages and so on. I have never had a hotel experience with such attentive staff. Unlike the AWP in Tampa last March where I was parched and couldn’t get to water between sessions, water stations were set up and refilled frequently. If you are a nonfiction writer, this is a conference you might want to consider for 2019 or 2020. 2019 will be outside the U.S., but I believe 2020 will be back in a location here.

When entering the Renaissance . . .

A sitting area in the lobby

Upstairs

A massive ballroom light fixture

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Poetry, Writing, Writing prompt

Memoir and the Construct of Race

My maternal grandfather loved to tell stories to whoever would listen. His stories were all based in fact and never ventured into the realm of fantasy. He never tried to catch our attention with a bold and unsubstantiated claim. He just told about the past, as he knew it or had heard about it.

So when he told me that we had African ancestry, I believed him. I grew up thinking that my white family was, in fact, “part black. I found this information fascinating. Maybe it was one of the seeds that led to me studying history and race in literature.

Imagine my disappointment when I got my DNA results and found zero African ancestry among my genes. Could Grandpa have been wrong? Could he have lied to me? I think he told the truth as he understood it. My theory: one of his cousins was married to an African-American man for a brief time, and that meant that her ex was now part of our family. Grandpa telling me that we were a “biracial” family of sorts was the greatest gift he ever gave me–even better than his stories and the family’s antique photograph collection. Growing up as a white kid in the sixties, yet thinking you have African ancestry, is a helpful antidote to the effects of racism floating around you in society.

Now think of growing up as a white girl in mid-century America, with a father given to racist expressions, and only learning as an adult that your mother was (legally) a black woman passing as white and keeping the secret from everyone! That is the case for Gail Lukasik who wrote a memoir, White Like Her, about her search for the truth about her mother’s roots.

The woman on the cover of the book is Gail’s mother.

Gail’s story was first showcased on Genealogy Roadshow, and afterwards Gail, a mystery writer, began to write this memoir. The book details the genealogical research she and others did to find Gail’s family’s quintessentially American story. I was fascinated in the story because I am so interested in family history, American history, genealogy, and mysteries. What a great text to introduce to those who do not know the one-drop rule and other stupid laws in the history of Jim Crow.

I did wonder a few times if some people might be put off by the who begat whom, but it’s presented in a very cohesive and interesting way. I’m not sure how the book is structured, although her appearance on the show is the glue for a large portion of the book–and then the final section is about meeting her “new” family members and building a relationship with them. What one comes away from the book with, more than anything, is that race is a construct, not a real thing.

This book reminded me of another book I read over ten years ago. Carol Channing’s memoir Just Lucky I Guess might seem to be as far from the story of introverted Gail Lukasik as possible. But it’s not because very early on in the memoir, Carol lets her readers know that she has biracial heritage. The way she found out was kind of shitty. When she was leaving for college (at the impossibly young age of sixteen) her mother told her that she was “part Negro” because her father was black, born in Georgia. Her mothers says she is telling her now “‘because the Darwinian law shows that you could easily have a black baby.'” Then she made some statements about the large size of Carol’s eyes and her dance ability that were racist, at least by today’s standards. This happened in 1937.

Although a few readers rob Carol Channing of a star or two in their reviews of her book because the book is uniquely structured, I think the structure follows Carol’s personality. I found it an enormously fascinating and satisfying read. You can’t help but adore Channing after listening to her voice for any length of time. What a warm, witty, sweet, generous person. I had no idea until I read her memoir that her ancestry was biracial. After all, she made her living as a blonde! I wonder how many others don’t know this part of the Carol Channing story. If you want to be charmed, read Just Lucky I Guess.

I’ve been doing little bits of writing almost every day. I had two travel days, and I couldn’t write, but made up for those omissions on the other days. Woot! #amstillwriting A little poetry, a couple of short creative nonfiction pieces.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Book Review of Jen Payne’s “Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind”

To help heal our planet and ourselves, we first have to look outward to go inward. Jen Payne’s new book of poetry and photographs inspires us to do just that. Using the unique and cohesive symbol of the pocket dental flosser, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind explores nature and our place within our environment.

While it is not unusual to find a book’s theme related to nature and loss, Payne’s book turns loss personal and unnecessarily tragic by showing the wastefulness inherent in our actions. Payne directs the focus on the environment by her obsessive collection of photos of discarded dental flossers which serve to remind the reader of our most common actions and the consequences of those actions.

Shaped like little coping saws, the flossers are depicted lying where they were found—on pavement, pavers, dirt, concrete, and rock. Such common objects become centerpieces of individual works of art, but in their careless beauty, there is a glutted feeling of unwellness as if we, in our thoughtlessness, are too much for nature.

Payne’s poetry is the nuanced, living force of the collection. What drives that force is a love of nature’s beauties, a love that Payne wants readers to experience.

I will preach from the pulpit,
soar reconnaissance with the pileated,
nursemaid a wood duck’s brood,
survey the marsh with an egret,
meditate with the painted turtles
on a rock or the pine felled in a storm,
no matter, my profit immeasurable.

Though readers can feel the redemption of going inside ourselves to be at one with nature and the spiritual force, Payne continues to remind us how close we are to losing it all by our wastefulness.

On a personal level, once I finished reading Evidence of Flossing, I felt more in tune with nature and more mindful, but also began to notice what I had never spotted before: little plastic-framed flossers lying on the ground. Here is the flosser I spotted in the parking lot at the bank the morning after I finished the book. That was the first of many.

Soon after, I visited my dentist and told him about Payne’s book. He said that when we invented the flosser (and he did say “we”), we thought, as with much technology and “progress,” that they were an improvement over pieces of dental floss, never foreseeing that they would add to the waste on our planet. He wondered if birds get their bills caught in the flossers. Since I have been cutting apart plastic six-pack rings so that wildlife do not get stuck in them my entire adult life, I saw he was right about the dangers of the design. At least loose dental floss can be used by birds as material for their nests.

Look how Payne’s book got me thinking about the environment and sharing with others. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is inspirational, lyrical, instructive, and not to be missed. It is a book to be shared with others in a groundswell of caring for Earth and all our planet’s inhabitants.

Click on the book cover to purchase through Amazon.

Photo Credits:

 

Book Cover, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind (Flosser No. 007-1214 – Diner, Connecticut, December 2014, by Jen Payne)

About the Author:

 

Jen Payne is inspired by those life moments that move us most — love and loss, joy and disappointment, milestones and turning points. Her writing serves as witness to these in the form of poetry, creative non-fiction, flash fiction and essay. When she is not exploring our connections with one another, she enjoys writing about our relationships with nature, creativity, and mindfulness, and how these offer the clearest path to finding balance in our frenetic, spinning world.

 

Very often, her writing is accompanied by her own photography and artwork. As both a graphic designer and writer, Jen believes that partnering visuals and words layers the intentions of her work, and makes the communication more palpable.

 

In 2014, she published LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, a collection of essays, poems and original photography. Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind is her second book.

 

Jen is the owner of Three Chairs Publishing and Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993, based in Branford, Connecticut. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Branford Arts and Cultural Alliance, the Connecticut Poetry Society, Guilford Arts Center, the Guilford Poets Guild, and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

 

Installations of her poetry were featured in Inauguration Nation an exhibition at Kehler Liddell Gallery in New Haven (2017), and Shuffle & Shake at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven (2016). Her writing has been published by The Aurorean, Six Sentences, the Story Circle Network, WOW! Women on Writing, and The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health.

 

You can read more of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing, http://www.randomactsofwriting.net.

 

A big thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for including me in this blog tour! 

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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Essay, Nonfiction, Photographs, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection

An Interview about Poetry and Genealogy

Jorie at Jorie Loves a Story interviewed me on the topics of genealogy, poetry, and Kin Types. Her questions were so thought-provoking, and I really enjoyed where they took me!

Check it out if you can.


Also, Amazon has 19 reviews up for Kin Types if you’re still on the fence about reading it.

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Book Review, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Interview, Kin Types, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

Submission Advice from Robert Okaji, author of FROM EVERY MOMENT A SECOND

Today I want to introduce you to Robert Okaji, poet and the writer of the new Finishing Line Press chapbook From Every Moment a Second. Robert’s poems are relatively short and seem simple. I said seem. Each polished gem is the kind of poem you fall into, without worrying if you will “get” it or not, and an array of meanings will wash over you without effort on your part, but the reward is great –an emotional and intellectual payoff.

Robert is published regularly in literary magazines. So I asked him for advice for readers about submitting to magazines. This is what he wrote for us.

 

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Newer poets occasionally ask me for advice on how/where to get published. What follows expands a reply I made to a comment on my blog in August, 2014. I can speak only from my experience, thus any advice I offer should be taken with a huge grain of salt. But here goes:

Determine who you are as a writer, and where your work has a realistic chance of being published. What, you say, how do I do this? Think about your favorite living poets, those poets you’d most like to be associated with, whose work has influenced your writing, and with whom you’d like to “converse” through poetry.

Where does their work appear? Look at their lists of publications, choose the smaller, lesser known literary journals first, and read them cover to cover. When you find in these same journals other writers whose work appeals to you, examine their publication lists. After a while you’ll notice that certain journal titles repeat. Compile a list of these, and consider them your “targets.” Read them. If your sense of aesthetics meshes, send them your best work.

This is not a quick process, but sending your poetry to publications that publish the poets writing the type of poetry you like is much more effective than haphazardly scattering your work across the poetic landscape. In other words, be selective. Think. And always read submission requirements. If a journal says “no rhyming poetry,” don’t send them any. You get the picture. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste theirs – most lit mags are labors of love. The editors earn no money, often, if not usually, bearing all publication costs. Be kind to them.

Also, look for newer publications calling for submissions. They may be more amenable to your work, and the competition may be a bit lighter. How do you find these? Read Poets & Writers. Check out New Pages‘ calls for submissions. Facebook’s “Calls for Submission” group is worth joining. Follow Trish Hopkinson’s blog. Join various writing communities on social media. Look around!

You might also consider subscribing to Duotrope, if only to determine what certain publications’ acceptance rates are. For example is it worthwhile to submit to a publication that accepts only 1/2 of one percent of submissions? Or would your time be better spent submitting to publications accepting 5% to 20% of what’s sent to them? One can over-think this, of course, but knowing the odds can increase your chances. Of course ego comes into play, and sometimes you just have to send your work to one of the “unattainables.” And hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Duotrope‘s “News” tab also provides links to new markets or those that have recently opened or closed to submissions.

When your work is rejected (and it will be – everyone gets rejected), look closely at it. Was it indeed as ready as you originally thought? If so, send it back out. If not, revise it. Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep sending.

I submit my work cautiously, as if editors are looking for excuses to NOT publish me. This means that I take my time and ensure that every piece I send out is flawless in appearance – no typos, no grammatical errors, etc. Unless a publication specifically requests more, my cover letters are brief and say very little but “thanks for the opportunity” and might at most contain a sentence or two regarding biographical details or previous publications. Anything else is superfluous – I don’t want to give them any reason to not accept my work.

Again, this is just my approach to getting published. I’m sure that other, more successful writers have better processes. And of course I ignore my own advice from time to time. Send out those poems. Good luck!

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From Every Moment a Second can be found on Amazon.

 

The son of a career soldier, Robert Okaji moved from place to place throughout his childhood. He holds a BA in history from The University of Texas at Austin, served without distinction in the U.S. Navy, lived the hand-to-mouth existence of a bookstore owner, and worked in a library and as a university administrator. He lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs, some books and a beverage refrigerator stocked with craft beer.

He has never been awarded a literary prize, but at age eight won a goat-catching contest.

Recent publications include the chapbooks From Every Moment a Second (Finishing Line Press), If Your Matter Could Reform (Dink Press), two micro-chapbooks, You Break What Falls and No Eye but the Moon’s: Adaptations from the Chinese (Origami Poems Project), a mini-digital chapbook, Interval’s Night (Platypus Press), and “The Circumference of Other,” a collection appearing in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks (Silver Birch Press). His work has appeared in Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, Boston Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Panoply, Eclectica, Clade Song, Into the Void, High Window, West Texas Literary Review and elsewhere. Visit his blog, O at the Edges, at http://robertokaji.com/.

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