Tag Archives: #writerslife

Poetry Ancestry

Last week I went to see three grande dames of literature at Arizona State University: Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, and Sandra Cisneros, hosted by Natalie Diaz. These are writers whose works I taught to college students for years, but this was the first opportunity I had to hear them talk in person. They were seated on stage in a conversation area–a couch and armchairs. What I hadn’t realized was that they are all graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which has long been considered to be the top place to earn an MFA in writing. These women all know each other–and Harjo and Cisneros were friends in grad school. I felt I was eavesdropping on their conversation with each other.

Since these women are all poets, but have published prose as well, I was fascinated to hear what they had to say. Their voices come from disenfranchised groups–Harjo is Native (Muskogee Creek), Cisneros Chicana, and Dove African American–so it’s important to listen carefully and sympathetically in order to hear things from a variety of perspectives. They were also talking about timing, and how timing was very helpful to them in achieving the level of success they have had. You can look them up if you want the deets. In fact, Dove mentioned that when she was a grad student she didn’t know the work of a lot of poets who were mentioned in her classes. She would surreptitiously write down the names so she could find them in the library and read their work. In that way, she was partially self-taught.

I’m leading up to something here.

Of all the wonderful ancedotes and tips I heard that Saturday afternoon, the one that stood out the most to me is one from Harjo. She said she teaches a course about poetry ancestry. It’s studying the genealogy of your poetry writing. You look at the poets who most influenced your own writing. Then you see who influenced them. And go back as far as you can, studying the work that turns up in your research!

I wanted to see where I could go with this, but it will take time. I’ll just start by mentioning some of my poetic influences. Keep in mind this is NOT an exhaustive list by any means.

  • Sylvia Plath: there is no doubt that I found her big mouth and aggressive imagery very liberating
  • Emily Dickinson: her spare and sometimes wry writing appeals to me, but the downside is she keeps herself out of most of her poems, and that is too convenient for me
  • A. R. Ammons: I so admire his oneness with nature and spirit and his very smart use of language
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins: his spirituality and fresh imagery speak to my heart
  • Linda Hogan: like Ammons, her oneness with nature and spirit inspires me
  • Adrienne Rich: she broke the ice at the top of the ocean she dove into in Diving into the Wreck
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay: maybe the first poem not written for children that captivated me was Millay’s “Renascence.” When I was a kid, I took an LP record out of the library and listened to her read it over and over and over and over and over again.
  • classic children’s poetry of the 20th century, as well as nursery rhymes: these are what first instilled a love for poetry

Do you notice anything about my little list? Lots of women, not too much diversity (except Hogan who is Native and Rich, a Jewish lesbian). But what else? The poems I read that first inspired my writing were written mainly before 1980 all the way back to Dickinson who was writing before and during the Civil War! Of course, I’ve read a lot of contemporary poetry over the years, but poets who first influenced me were not my contemporaries or even those just a little ahead of me. They were considered masters when I read them, except for maybe Hogan.

I’m thinking I need another list of poets whose works next influenced me–people writing after the poets listed above. That might then offer more of a platform for the “family research.”

Do you know who your first influences were for your own writing? Have the type of influences changed over time? For instance, if blogging is your main writing format, who were your first influences?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Silly Happy

Blogger Theresa Barker has been posting about what she sees when she looks up (and down a bit, too). We were chatting about not noticing some things that we pass regularly and how we tend to miss seeing the same things over and over. I commented that I want to pay more attention to what is up and down and in the gaps.

That made me think of those things that I actually do see over and over and continue to appreciate. These are the things we miss when they go away.

For years I’ve been passing a house with a big cactus out in the big front lawn. It might be an organ pipe cactus. In the Sonoran Desert where we live, it can sometimes freeze at night in the winter. We usually get warnings, and then we have to cover all our flowers, flowering bushes, and cacti with sheets or other covers. Because this cactus is so large and has so many stems, there are many tips that can freeze. When I first saw this cactus it was in the winter, and each tip was covered with a styrofoam cup, which is the usual remedy.

Then the owners decided to put Santa hats on the tips, and my life was enriched. I love driving past the cactus that has been transformed into many little Santas. My face opens into a big grin.

Last year the house was vacant and being remodeled. I was worried that with a new owner, the Santa hats would be gone. It’s funny how empty I felt when I would drive past the house, thinking it was the end of an era.

But then last week the hats were back. Actually, these are new hats, not the same ones by the previous owner, and I like them even better.

I wonder if the owner realizes how happy people have been made with this simple and whimsical twist on a necessity.

Is there something that you have no control over that you see every week or every day that makes you happy? Something very small that seems to make life a little better.

 

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Fall Book Review: “Kin Types,” by Luanne Castle

Hope your Thanksgiving holiday has been a lovely one, if you celebrate.
Robin gives Kin Types 4 out of 4 stars!!! Check out her review.

witlessdatingafterfifty

Weaving newspaper articles about

family events, photographs shown by

her grandfather, stories shared

through family members

and research sifted through

these sources comes an

extraordinary book!

“Kin Types” is hard to put

down and also difficult in parts

to absorb the everyday tragic

lives depicted within these pages.

I was drawn in by both the

Beauty in the love of a young

woman to a man whose hands

smelled like herrings and the

tendency to flinch and wish to look

away from the Horror of fire and flesh.

I wish to encapsulate the poems,

prose and summaries of lives,

while still encouraging and

enticing you to read more

vignettes for yourself.

~ Lessons from family are

varied in Luanne Castle’s first,

“Advice from My Forebears.”

Here’s an example,

“Sit on my finger,

nobody ever

fell off.”

~ Second entry will catch

you, grab you, make you wince

as you hear…

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Savvy Verse & Wit Review of KIN TYPES

Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit has given a lovely review of Kin Types. Her favorite poem of the collection is mine, too, about my great-grandmother Cora, “What Lies Inside.”

Go HERE for the review.

 

Cora DeKorn Zuidweg

I hope everyone who celebrates has a person or persons to be with tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Here’s a photo of another woman in Kin Types, my paternal grandmother–with her son, my father’s twin brother, at our house for Thanksgiving in the early 70s. She is the one who owned the mailbox marker in A Sign to Remember

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

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Checking Out A Silver Lining

Before my father passed away, he and my mother wanted to get rid of their vacation club membership, but they couldn’t figure out how to do it and started to get all stressed out about it. They asked if we would take it, so the gardener said, “Sure.” Later, I told him I wasn’t very happy about that :). I didn’t like the idea of planning a vacation based on where I could stay for free that I had been paying for monthly all along, if that makes any sense.

It didn’t to me.

But it made them happy and, as it turned out, sometimes it’s very useful because the units always come with a kitchen, which is important for dealing with the celiac disease issue. That is what we did in New Orleans last year, and it worked out perfectly. You should see us moving into a regular hotel room with two coolers and four bags of gluten free foods. Not to mention, the air purifier and humidifier the gardener uses to deal with symptoms of his auto-immune troubles. No fear that I might be able to travel light, which is my dream.

We wanted to go on a vacation this year because we visited mom for her surgery this summer instead of taking a vacation, so we decided to use our “points” and visit somewhere on the vacation club map. We settled on Reno and Lake Tahoe in The Silver State (Nevada). The Reno portion was mainly to acclimate to altitude before reaching Tahoe because before the gardener was diagnosed and still eating gluten, he would get very sick at altitudes like Salt Lake City, which is only 4,226 ft!

We spent a few days in Reno, traveling to see Carson City (the capitol of Nevada) and Virginia City. We also had dinner with my cousin (who lives in Carson City and works for the State of Nevada) and his wife at a Persian restaurant. I’ve mentioned before that Persian is usually safe for celiacs, if they avoid the bread and the desserts. This restaurant turned out to be a bit “nouveau” in its cuisine, and while I thought the food was particularly delicious, the gardener was sick overnight. There was probably cross-contamination.

Carson City has a darling Capitol Building. They allow visitors to walk through, looking into the offices of the Governor and other dignitaries. I won’t share the photos I took past the entryway because it seems unsafe to me. But, gosh, it was so nice to be able to take a look at all that beautiful history on our own.

Sorry if one or two of those are a little crooked (@#%^&). The statue when you enter the building is of Sarah Winnemucca who wrote the first autobiography by a Native American woman (Northern Paiute), so I found that pretty meaningful.

I was shocked that Reno is such a casino-driven city. Maybe you knew that, but I didn’t. I don’t like casinos or cities with lots of casinos, but it was interesting to watch the motel outside our window. It was directly across the street and had a reputation for stabbings, shootings, drugs, and prostitution. The new managers were supposedly trying to clean up the property, but it was still a sad and fascinating site for me to observe.

The gardener dragged me to the casino three times, but MEH. I don’t like the cigarette (and cigar!) smoke, the glazed looks on the faces of people who might be ruining their own lives and the lives of their families, or the unnatural outfits those poor servers have to squeeze into.

Judgmental, moi? OK, I am judgmental about gambling, but not about the gamblers. I’ve seen the harm it causes, and I don’t like it. At least the gardener didn’t lose much because he didn’t fall into the trap.

What I did enjoy was the Zombie Crawl one night we were in Reno. The parade of costumes in the streets and inside the casinos was a lot of fun. And Reno has the best gluten free bakery I’ve ever experienced. Wherever we go, we look for gluten free bakeries; many cities have them now. But this one had baked goods and other foods that were the most like what I grew up with. Their frosted sugar cookies were like those of the bakeries of my childhood. All gluten free though! If you’re in Reno, stop by Haven on Earth at 10855 Double R Blvd., Suite A. Here’s their website: www.havenonearthbakery.com. They even have lasagna and chicken pot pies in a freezer case.

To make up for the casinos, I dragged the gardener to a lovely performance of the national tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. We saw it at this cool-looking theater.

Nearby is the Riverwalk.

And a gorgeous old building. I looked it up and now I can’t remember the name of it.

We were happy to move on to Tahoe when we did. What we found there was gorgeous. And October was a wonderful time for visiting because there weren’t the crowds they see in the summer months and during ski season.

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Lake Tahoe is the purest body of water in the world, and it looks it. Just stunning. I could have walked on the beach in my sweatshirt every morning for the rest of my life. The gardener, on the other hand, thought it a bit chilly. He’s more the Caribbean type. While I prefer more deciduous trees in my dreamscape, I couldn’t get over the beauty of this national treasure.

And they had a great burger place that doesn’t get a celiac sick! They have a “dedicated fryer,” which means only gluten free foods go into that fryer. That is important if you want fries with your gluten free burger. I loved their veggie burger, too. CALIFORNIA BURGER COMPANY. Remember that if you go to Tahoe.  They feature live music and art on the walls. And gourmet casual food. Yum!

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BETA READER SHARING? On another note, I have been tinkering with the ole memoir a bit. It’s gone through a lot of versions already and may still have a lot of versions to go through. But it would be helpful to have 2 beta readers look at the dang thing as it stands now as I have too many versions in my head and can’t really “see” what is here any longer.

Do you feel that you have the time, inclination, and a bit or a lot of experience with a full-length manuscript (I think a novel would be fine, as well as memoir)? I’ll warn you that it’s approximately 280 pages.  I am happy to trade manuscripts with you and give yours the same careful reading with comments.  I am only interested in reading complete manuscripts in draft, though. No manuscript where you are sure you are done and just want confirmation. No manuscript that doesn’t have an ending yet. If you are interested, please email me at luanne.castle[at]gmail.com. If I get more than two offers, I’ll choose the two that seem the best fit, but will save names for the next version haha. If I get no takers, I’ll try to find readers through some other channels. Thanks for listening!

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A New Review Brings Up a Topic for Discussion

Today, a new review of Kin Types was published here at Jorie Loves a Story. 

This review is very cool in how she interprets so many of the poems. She shows a wonderful sense of what each piece is about.

Then at the end, Jorie inserts what is essentially a caveat, what she calls “Fly in the Ointment: Content Note.” She takes exception to my inclusion of a case of animal cruelty and murder in the poem “Once and Now.”

As you might guess, I really “get” her complaint and her sensitivity to harm to animals. Animals mean the world to me (in a literal sense, as well as figurative).

The poet in me, though, felt a need to not turn away from where the poem simply had to go. It’s a poem about war, in this case WWI. And it’s about zenophobia, a fear of foreigners, which showed itself as cruelty to immigrant Germans. That a dog suffers is typical of how war can work. What happens to the animals, both wild and in homes and zoos, when battles are fought?

But it’s not a poem about the dog. The dog is a very real dog who suffered, and the people are real people who suffered, and the dog is also a metaphor. Ok, that’s my “defense.” But I can truly see her point. It’s kind of like Facebook, who wants to go there and see petition requests with photos and comments about animals being harmed? (guilty)

What is YOUR opinion? Should I have left out the dog?

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Review: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

A new review up todayfor Kin Types.

Diary of an Eccentric

Source: Review copy from author

Kin Types is the newest poetry collection by Luanne Castle in which she recreates the stories of her ancestors. (Read the collection’s opening poem, “Advice from My Forebears” and the inspiration for it here.) She draws you in right away with lines similar to what many of us have heard from our elders, like “Quit scowling or your face will freeze that way” (“Advice from My Forebears,” page 2). I soon found myself immersed in the poems about Dutch immigrants who made their way to Michigan and forged a life, often difficult, judging from many of the poems, but hopeful as well in that these lines are written by their descendant.

From a mother who rushes into a house fire (“An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete”) to the fast-forwarding and rewinding that recounts the ups and downs of a…

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Celebrity Story

Every family has its stories. The ones that cause us to post links and odd comments on the social media of our family members. Nobody else “gets” it because they don’t know the stories we’ve developed over the years.

One of our private stories (no longer private with this post, I guess) may or may not be apocryphal. I’m going to tell it as I know it, but maybe somebody else might have a different take on it.

Years ago, before I had kids even, it was very special to be able to tour Burbank Studios (now part of Warner Brothers). They only allowed a handful of people to tour each week, and you had to have some sort of connection to the industry. They were private tours.

When the gardener and I visited Los Angeles, I decided I just had to go on the tour.  So I had to come up with an occupation that had some involvement in the film biz. I told them that I was a writer. That did the trick. Hahaha, this was before I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer, but if wishin’ were horses, I’d have my own stables.

On the day of the tour, the southern California sky turned a very opaque gray and hurled a deluge at us. The lot at the studio had turned to mud and it splashed at my ankles as I ran from the car to the building. I remember what I was wearing. My good blue and green striped cotton Polo sweater and ivory cords. You know what mud does on the back of ivory cords? Brown spatters up to the knees. It’s a good thing those cords were ruined. Nobody dresses like that anymore. I hope.

My hair was medium length by then, no longer to-the-waist. And I’d gotten a perm to try to replicate marcel waves, a look I’d always loved. My hair had turned a golden color from the perm. OK, it was positively brassy, but shiny and twinkly and not too ugly under a strong overhead light. Because I was young I looked pretty good, but if I had been any older I think the hair and the outfit would have DONE ME IN.

We toured some of the facility by golf cart, but most of our time was spent inside the sound stages because of the rain. They were filming T.J. Hooker, and William Shatner was hamming it up for the cameras. The four of us (a screenwriter and his wife, the gardener and moi) and our tour guide sat on the far side of the sound stage to watch the action. Fifteen minutes into this, a “runner” came to our tour guide and whispered into her ear. She whispered back and the runner ran back to the Hooker set. Our guide caught my eyes and raised her eyebrows, then pursed her mouth in a way that said I’m impressed.

When we left the sound stage, she told me that I had caught Shatner’s eye and he’d sent the runner to find out who I was. Maybe he assumed that I really was a writer, maybe even one cooking up a good story for him to star in.

This blog post is the best I could do for him, I’m sorry to say.

The gardener kept the story going for years, assuring the kids that I could have married the TV star before they were even born. Because the kids grew up with that story, my fate as almost-Shatner’s-wife became family lore.

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Perry’s bloodwork came back negative, so his heart must be ok. And I #amwriting, no kidding. Maybe not what I intended (the memoir), but still writing.

Go write one of your family stories, a page out of your family lore. If you post it on your blog, let me know!

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