Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quickie

Back to Richmond tomorrow from Pennsylvania. Getting ready for some visitors for New Years. I thought that was a week away, but it's Wednesday. Yikes. Major chill and movie-watching time will be had post.

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My Mom has spent much time in the last years and months creating these amazing photo albums from the day I was born until I graduated college.

I don't really know how any gift could be better or more thoughtful than that.

She had to figure out all the years and months the pictures were taken, in addition to all the time and effort constructing them. And it was a very long process, as you can imagine. They're really something. It'll be amazing to have such fantastic thing to hopefully show my kids. Thanks, Mom. You're the best.

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A few movie updates:

Towelhead - Alan Ball is overrated. His direction's also pretty bad. Too much of a Happiness ripoff and not enough originality. Took the lasciviousness and raunchiness way too far. Aaron Eckardt and Summer Bishil were the only bright spots.

The Wrestler - I've been hearing things like, "If Mickey Rourke didn't play the lead, then you wouldn't have a movie." Or, "This movie was written for Mickey Rourke." Well, yes, obviously. Since when is the pleasure of watching actors act such a horrible thing? The story's fairly straightforward, but Rourke should win an Oscar. And not only is Marisa Tomei ridiculously hot, but she's believable as the stripper. One of my favorites of the year, and I can't wait to watch it again. I never thought watching someone walk through the back of a grocery store would be so engaging. There's an energy to this movie that's palpable for me, and the dirty Jersey landscapes sometimes are amazing to pause and stare at.

Frozen River - A hit at Sundance, and I can see why. I'm not sure how excited I am to watch this again, but I felt like I was actually seeing something new-ish at least, something with blood pumping through it. A lot to admire, and very pretty to look at, even though to many the landscapes are probably bleak.

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Picked up some books when I was visiting Jess in Pittsburgh at Half Priced Books, and one of them was Quan Barry's Controvertibles.

Does anyone else think that she's writing amazing poetry? Poetry that's putting many poets to shame? Am I the only one? So many poets are being talked about, but I never hear anything about Quan Barry.

The long lines and historical mash-ups in the book remind me of a balance between David Wojahn and Larry Levis. That's watered down. There's so much to take in every line.

Some of her titles knock me on my ass too. Even if the poems were bad. And Jesus are they not.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everyone. I'm in western Pennsylvania in my hometown, waiting for my brothers to get here while they're doing family things with their other family and soon-to-be other family. So I figured I'd catch up on some blogging instead of getting fatter by sitting downstairs and eating, which will probably come later anyway.

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Two new First Book Interviews are up, just in time for the Holidays.

#11 - Brian Brodeur


#12 - Mark Wunderlich

I have many more to get out once 2009 starts, and it's looking to be an amazing year for interviews, as many fantastic poets have books coming out.

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All of my Ph.D applications went our last Thursday, so now, officially, the waiting game begins.

Hopefully soon I'll have email confirmation (once I send my emails) from all the Graduate Coordinators that my materials have arrived successfully to the respective English Departments.

I've been consumed with it the last few months—as those who have applied and / or are attending a school now know—so it'll be nice to get back to teaching, reading, interviewing, and my own writing in 2009. Hopefully it'll be a great one for everybody.

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RIP Harold Pinter.

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To no one's surprise I imagine, I've consumed a lot of movies lately. Gotta love Oscar season. Here are some mini-reviews that probably don't tell you anything about the movies:

Seven Pounds - A complete waste of time. Too long. Contrived. Trite. And boring. Moral: Don't text while driving. It's something that probably many of your fellow students, teachers, have written about in argumentative essays.

Milk - Posted about it previously. Maybe my favorite movie of the year aside from The Dark Knight.

Choke - Another disappointment. I'm not sure Clark Gregg was the right director for this. I didn't read the book, but after seeing the movie, I don't really want to. I just didn't think a lot of it connected. Sam Rockwell makes it pretty tolerable, though, as he has some great lines.

Slumdog Millionaire
- Not as amazing as the critics are saying, but fairly enjoyable. The narrative technique's pretty easy to spot from the first scene and caters more to folks who like gimmicky devices in movies. But the non-actors and flashback scenes of the kids save it. Reminded me of The Kite Runner in that respect. Don't go in expected to be blown away, but it's worth checking out.

Gran Torino - The more I think about this movie, the more it kind of bothers me. Another one I can't say I didn't enjoy, but also one I don't think I'd see again. Clint has some funny lines, and it seems like this will be his last acting roll. But a lot of it seems less believable to me as I keep thinking about it, though I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be in the realm of believability. Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, a lot of the non-actors seemed a bit flat. Some of the scenes were way too forced, and the cymbal-crash ending was a little too contrived for me. Dirty Harry in the suburbs some are calling it.

Wendy and Lucy - Though Old Joy didn't impress me much, maybe because I had high hopes going in, Kelly Reichardt impressed me a lot with this movie, as did the acting of Michelle Williams, who plays a very different role from something like The Station Agent. There have been rightful comparisons to De Sica and Antonioni, but it was a movie I felt was comparable to many others, so much so that because of this is became it's own work of art. I thought it was so-so when I finished it, but it's worked its way into my skull so much now that I keep wanting to watch it again. Probably will be one of my favorites by the end of the year.

Baghead - The Duplass brothers are maybe a little too indie for a variety of reasons, but I have to say I liked this by the end. Again, I'm not sure I can watch it again, but there's a charm to this movie that you have to see. Some of the acting wasn't very good. And it could've been better. But a fairly different kind of movie, even though many viewers may wonder if it's a comedy version of The Strangers. But it's not.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss - More like an updated Manhattan (which is one of my favorite movies on the planet) than anything else, but the black and white is perfect for every scene. A good screenplay and an avoidance of falling into forced indie cliches. I'm looking forward to seeing this again.

Timecrimes - Apparently Cronenberg's already doing a remake in 2009, about two years after the original. Kind of weird if you ask me. Though I honestly said while I was watching it, "This reminds me of Cronenberg." Interesting overall, but too gimmicky with too many plot holes, and more for sci-fi nerds if you ask me.

Blindness - I was angered by the end of this at how good it could've been. I think Julianne Moore's amazing in everything she's in, and I like Mark Ruffalo a lot too. It's of course based on another book I haven't read, but unlike Choke, I need to read the book now. The cinematography bugged me the most. Too much sci-fi brightness instead of natural light, which would've made the movement a lot more compelling.

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The Giants
have clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. To win the Super Bowl two times in a row is unlikely, but we'll see what kind of run we can make at the end. The playoffs should be awesome this year, and I'm already getting ready for a few weeks down the road.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Milk

Though I didn't go to the theater to see it—along with many others who are seeing it the way that I saw it, even though that may make no sense—Milk is an amazing film.

Everything about it is enthralling. The scope. The acting. The music. The cinematography. And of course: the story.

You knew with such skilled hands in every cinematic department it wasn't going to be a bad film, but I don't think I fully expected, or was ready for, what I got in the end.

I'll be shocked as hell if it doesn't get at least a few Oscar nominations, as it's deserving of almost every category. Seriously. Every category.

See it. Go to the theater. Do what you have to do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New First Book Interviews and More

It's finally Ladies Night with the First Book Interviews:

#9 - Susan Settlemyre Williams

#10 - Suzanne Frischkorn


More in a couple weeks...

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I'm now super disappointed I'm not going to AWP. I was asked to read with the folks below, but since I won't be there, I unfortunately won't be reading. Should be great. Make sure you're there if you're going to AWP.

Here's the post from Steve Schroeder's blog:

AWP Offsite Reading

Anti- and diode are happy to announce the co-sponsoring of an offsite reading at the 2009 AWP Conference in Chicago. The reading will be Friday, February 13th at 7 PM in Curtiss Hall on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue (just a couple blocks from the conference hotel).

Readers include:

Jake Adam York
Joshua Ware
G. C. Waldrep
Steven D. Schroeder
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Ada Limon
Patrick Lawler
Bob Hicok
Paul Guest
Matthew Guenette
Brent Goodman
Noah Falck
Adam Clay
Mary Biddinger

Food and wine of some kind will be provided. Much gratitude to Patty Paine for doing most of the heavy lifting to organize this event, to the Fine Arts Building for providing space, and to the readers.

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Huge congratulations to Nicky Beer, whose first book, The Diminishing House, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in early 2010.

I've been a fan of Nicky's work for a while now, and anticipated great things happening for her.

Now she has a Ruth Lilly fellowship and a first book on the way.

Sometimes I do actually know what I'm talking about...

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I've been on a documentary kick lately, and I plan to keep devouring them.

I don't feel like writing much about each one, but all of these are more than worth seeing: The Gits, Man on Wire, and American Teen.

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Applications are almost done. I can't believe it.

Also I can't believe that applying to 8 schools will end up costing around $1000 when all is said and done.

Hopefully it'll all be worth it in the end.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Palindromes

Thanks to Redivider for taking a new-ish poem. I was in an issue a few years ago, and I was sold on the quality of their published work right away, so I'm honored again that they chose some more work on my end to be included.

I usually write in very long lines, which is something for whatever reason I haven't been able to escape from lately, but this is a more mannered, short-lined poem, I think, and I'll probably try to do some more experimenting with the shorter lines as new poems pop into my head.

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Congratulations to all the NEA Fellowship winners this year. A lot of familiar names, some bloggers, and much talent among the group.

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Just got an email that Gulf Coast has finally updated their website. It's had submission information and everything, but as far as contents and things go, it's been a long time.

That said, the new site's very sexy and user-friendly, and clearly they were putting a lot of time into in the last how many months, which is a good reason to not update the site of course.

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I can't believe I'm almost done with these Ph.D applications. Every day now more and more is coming together, and in a couple weeks or less, envelopes will be stuffed, and everything will be mailed out.

Then the waiting game...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Birth

I turn 27 today.

It may be weird or seemingly narcissistic or nonsensical or egotistical, but I find all I keep saying to myself is, "I have 3 years to get my first book into the world." Yes, my goal, like many of the folks under 30 who have a first manuscript floating around, is the age of 30.

But considering the state of the world, I'm lucky to have lived this long thus far. And now that I'm hopefully onto the second manuscript, or at least the seeds of it, there are many other things I should probably be worrying about or at the very least concerned with at this point in my life.

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Speaking of first books, I received Sean Nevin's Oblivio Gate in the mail today.

He's doing a first book interview in the future, and I'm very glad he agreed. He won the 2007 Crab Orchard First Book Award, for which I was also a finalist the first time I ever sent out my "book."

Learning of Sean Nevin as the winner, I immediately started Googling his name and checking out his work, and from what I could find, I was pretty blown away. And I'm flattered and flabbergasted my book, as it was then, was thought to be good enough to be in his company.

Not only that, but there's a reason (probably many, actually) why my book wasn't picked. It wasn't ready. It had a different title. Many different poems. I think the idea and structure's guts and circuits haven't changed much, but it was in a very early and rough stage.

Maybe I'll be saying the same thing in a year or two, but I don't think so. I hope not at least.

Without entering the contest, I'm not sure I would've known about his book. I think it will be getting its due in the future. I've started reading through it already, and it's making me want to sit down and write: always a sign that I need to trust that instinct. And not all first books bring that kind of magic through first reads.

Anyway, be sure to check it out.

SIU Press not only does beautiful books, but they're consistent with quality also. I think they'll be an important press as long as people are still reading contemporary poetry.

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Regarding this post a week ago, it looks like the faux pas has been fixed.

There's no reason to mention the journal, since it was of course an honest mistake, but the interesting thing is the next day I received an email from the Web Editor of another journal, who saw my post and contact the aforementioned journal about their security issues.

It looks like the problem has been fixed, thankfully, as I said. I was more worried about another email address getting out there and spammed more than anything else.

I did, however, take it upon myself to put the link in and grab all the other submissions that I could get that got through to Google. Many of the poets have books out and / or have been published in pretty prominent journals. It's funny how you never know who's sending work, and you never know what you're up against, since so many journals publish from the transom or slush pile and take around 2%-5% of the work submitted that isn't solicited.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving

Though Jess and I didn't get to see our respective families for Thanksgiving, we had a great time with everyone at Nick and Allegra's, and we are grateful they invited us for what may be our last Richmond Thanksgiving ever. Lots of good food, amazing bourbon chocolate pie and cheesecake for dessert, and many kinds of booze and adult beverages.

It was a pretty awesome evening.

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Just got my contributor copies of American Literary Review, and it looks great and, I say this too often, has a great line-up of folks. They didn't update their website yet, but not only are future first book interviewees Jericho Brown and the omnipresent Seth Abramson in the issue, there's also Dana Curtis, Rachel Dilworth, Patrick Carrington, B.H. Fairchild, Richard Lyons, Jennifer Percy, David Wagoner, and Charles Wyatt, among others.
When I first got to VCU and was learning how to submit and buying subscriptions to magazines and journals, American Literary Review was one that blew me away. I thought it would take me many many submissions to get in, and somehow miraculously, it didn't. It's also one of my favorite poems of mine, so that makes it even better when the contributor copies arrive with such poems.

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A few days ago there was a chicken-scratched makeshift letter attached to the door of our apartment building. Jess and I have been making fun of it since then. When I went down to get the mail, I found someone had thrown it away, and it's too good not to share here:

Hi—

I live in Kensington Court (the big building across Shepherd) and a friend of mine is mailing me a very important package. However, she got my address wrong and put 3000 — — instead of 2900. She needs me to feed her birds so they don't starve to death while she is gone, so it's very important that I receive this package. My number is — — —. Please text me or call me and let me know when you get it. I will be at work for the rest of the day, but I will get back to you if you contact me. I get off work at 11:15 pm. This very urgent. Please help! Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

— —

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Seriously? What the hell are those birds eating? Saffron and gold only from gold panning?

Anyway, I would've been nice enough to go ahead and text the guy or call him, but unless someone else did it in the building — and I think almost everyone's gone for the holidays — the package never arrived.

A day after it was still duct-taped to the door, someone put WTF? on the bottom in black magic marker.

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After years of wanting to watch the Stanley Kubrick documentary A Life in the Pictures that's always included in the now-always-revised-and-more-expensive-version of the box set, I finally got around to it, and at the very least it makes me want to write.

Kubrick was the opposite of the perpetually seemingly cocaine-snorting and if-not-filming-always-editing Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Though they're both legitimately heralded directors, I think it was interesting that Kubrick always wanted to be faster than he was. I think the cinema's better for how painstaking and beautiful his movies are, but I can see where he's coming from. And he seemed like a pretty warm and caring guy amidst the bearded exterior, always trying to get the most of his actors while always saying some pretty brilliant things. The kind of guy that seemed to make everyone smarter around him because of his work ethic and always striving to learn more and create better and more lasting images and films.

It's around two and a half hours, but it didn't feel like it at all, and I'd suggest seeing it, even if you're not a Kubrick fan, though I don't understand people who would say they are not.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

First Book Interviews #7 and #8 - Morgan Lucas Schuldt and Jon Pineda

Just in time for the holidays.

#7 - Morgan Lucas Schuldt

#8 - Jon Pineda

I figured two of them would give everyone some reading material post Turkey Day.

Many more good ones on the way, so keep an eye out.

The next interviews will be up in two weeks.

Hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Online Submissions Manager Faux Pas?

I recently found a downloadable file from a Submissions Manager of a journal I recently sent to -- via Google.

Yes, I Google my name every once in a while like everyone else does. Usually I'm able to find out what journals have been released via updated websites so I can gauge when I'll get contributor copies.

The said manuscript was withdrawn a few days ago, but I still feel a bit weird that it's technically public now I suppose, in older manuscript format.

And I was able to download the file. From the Internet. By clicking on that link.

Not a big deal really, but shouldn't Google not be reading these if they're from a Submissions Manager?

I imagine if I was looking for poets' work and that came up, I'd be curious enough to certainly click on it.

Did someone screw up?

Pretty weird, no?

The Giants are 10-1

In the past few days I got my contributor copies of Third Coast, American Poetry Journal, and Flyway. I forgot that's usually what happens in the later part of the fall or early winter. Not only that, but I think the subscribers are the folks who get theirs first, and then the contributor copies are sent out, which is something I need to remember.

Third Coast, as always, looks great and includes a great line-up of writers.

American Poetry Journal also looks great and includes a great line-up of writers.

In both of the aforementioned journals, Nick Courtright also has poems. Not only have we been in the same journals together, but a lot of the same issues in the past year or so. I told him I'm going to immediately send to every journal who accepts his work because of this previously unknown fact. Though I'm sure now that I actually know this, the rejections would come on full force. The poetry publishing world seems to be like that much of the time.

And Flyway, which seems to be a combination of I think three issues, oddly enough, almost looks as thick as Gulf Coast, but I don't think it's quite there yet. What I like about Flyway that I didn't know about the issue until I got it was, like Black Warrior Review, there's also a chapbook at the end of the issue, on different paper, which was a cool added bonus.

And Flyway sent two copies instead of one, which was great.

Hopefully I should be getting more contributor copies soon, and then I'll be reading over the holidays to catch up on everything I should be reading while I'm not.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that it's been over a year for some of these acceptances. It seems like just yesterday. And after the fact, the writers have it easy. Sometimes I don't think about all the hard work that goes into producing these issues, when you consider every aspect before it hits the printers, and in some cases, how many people have to work together to make it happen.

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I've said it before, but this has been one of the best years for ambient music in a while. Though that term is used broadly, I can't get into a lot of the more raucous and / or glitchy noise stuff, or haven't listened to anything that would bring repeated listens. That said, my definition of ambience is a bit different than other folks I suppose. And then what's the fine line with some of these ambient musicians and IDM or post rock? As long as it sounds good, I really don't care.

At any rate, the new Fennesz record, Black Sea, has been growing on me with every listen. I think it's his best solo work to date. There's plenty of glitch and atmosphere, but there seems to be more focus on the melodies, even if they're buried between weird guitar and computer manipulated sounds. A lot to discover with every listen. And as Venice seemed to be a summer record, Black Sea certainly seems right for the winter dreariness.

I'll probably have a separate best-of year-end list just for ambient / instrumental records, in addition to the regular list.

That's how good the year's been.

Speaking of, how about those G-MEN?

Playoffs? Certainly.

Anything more? We'll have to see what happens down the stretch...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vicki

November seems to be my month. I think everyone who submits has one, though I probably jinxed the future Novembers. So seems it shall stay. Thanks to Josh and Michael at Grist, though, for taking a poem for their next issue, which I believe will be Grist's second. The website is really nice-looking and user-friendly, they post content from their issues on the site (which I always like to see from journals), and it seems like it'll be making its mark as the issues keep coming. The poem is an older one, though it's not that old I suppose. It's a poem I always debated putting in GHOST LIGHTS, so I may play around and see if it can fit somewhere.

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Also was able to snag the pilot of Eastbound and Down, which I think got picked up by HBO. I think it's the masterminds behind The Foot Fist Way, even though I thought that movie was highly overrated. A bit different and entertaining, yes, but I don't know if I'd watch it again. That said, I've been hearing great things about this pilot, so hopefully it's good, and hopefully it'll be on HBO soon.

It's like David Gordon Green was a spider meticulously caring for his egg sacks, and then they gave birth and just set fire to everything. So many directors, cinematographers, producers, and actors are now working in Hollywood and Los Angeles and other places across the country and are getting projects green lit because of his support and his influence and friendship. It's great to witness. Now Low and Behold needs to get released, which I've been wanting to see forever.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Please Be Great, Bowtie Cinemas

I had the pleasure of seeing some pretty inspiring movies in the last few days: Following Sean, Billy the Kid, and Local Color.

FOLLOWING SEAN is one of those documentaries that felt like a Jóhann Jóhannson composition, slowly building and becoming louder and more complex, until it suddenly ends and you're kind of overwhelmed by this hugeness in front of you. Maybe not all his works, but the best. I didn't know what I was watching at first or where I was going. There are tons of momentum shifts, time shifts, but everything feels right. It's linear a way, but you don't really know how it us or why it is until the end. It's really a film that creeps up from under you. I found it to be ultimately... filmed by someone with a beating heart, for one. A friend who was describing a poet recently said, "It doesn't feel like a human's behind the words; it feels like ghosts." So many poems feel like that, and some on purpose I suppose, but this was the complete opposite. It reminded me a bit of STONE READER in the sense of the quest, and of CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS for its use of older footage, not originally sought out for use in the film. I felt I was a better person after seeing it. It sounds saccharine but it's true. It's a film that feels silly to even begin to describe, and if you don't get it you may turn it off. But it clicked for me. There's so much I could say about it, but I won't try. See it. Not only that, but I didn't know who Lori McKenna was, and her amazingly beautiful song, "Never Die Young," runs with the credits. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sally Ellyson from Hem, who also has one of the most amazing voices I've ever heard.

BILLY THE KID was a movie I'd seen a trailer for, and it didn't disappoint. It's basically about a kid who's a sophomore in high school and gets followed around by a camera. Again, the reviews were mixed, and I can see why, but ultimately I found it to be completely interesting. You can tell he's borderline genius with the things he says, and there were moments I wanted to be that age again. I think it's essentially a movie about young love, but through some alternate sense of anything most of us have ever known. He's not your average high school sophomore, and you can tell he's something special. It's another oddly inspiring movie by the end. I'm having a lot of trouble making any semblance of a connection with my own words, which is another reason it just needs to be viewed.

LOCAL COLOR, like SNOW ANGELS, is a script that could've been made into a shitty Lifetime movie in the wrong hands, and you may say it is, in fact, pretty much a Lifetime movie. I think despite the possibly maudlin and predictable nature, I found it all to be enjoyable because I seem naturally to compare all art to poetry: painting, music, fiction, everything. I think most poets are biased toward the notion that poetry can be found in everything, but no other art can singularly claim that as far as I'm concerned. I find myself relating to Trevor Morgan's character (who I saw something in in OFF THE BLACK, even though the movie was a watered-down -- with more narrative -- David Gordon Green flick, complete with stolen cinematographer Tim Orr): wanting to learn and knowing it may take a while to realize why I'm doing what I do. The script is predictable, but there's something I like about it so much, for all the reasons I won't be able to explain.

I don't know if this post makes any sense.

But I still feel like I not only have so much to learn, but there's so much I want to learn, before I get older and jaded and bad shit happens to the point where I don't want to think about art in the least. I hope that never happens, but unfortunately it does for some.

I've probably written about it before, but when Phil Levine was here my first semester at VCU a few years ago, he said, about Larry Levis, and I'm paraphrasing: "Even when he was going through awful things in life, he never stopped writing." I remember so much about that moment, even where people were sitting, people who I haven't seen since that hour in that room with no windows open.

I can't say anything else right now without sounding like someone who can't even tell you what time it is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chase Blackburn

I sometimes get to this point, at around 3 in the morning, and it feels like my body's passed the point of sleeping, as if I had the window when I could've and should've crashed, and I didn't.

Last time this happened I was up watching Snow Angels for the first time as the sun was rising and Jess's alarm was going off and she was getting ready to go to work.

But now it's because I'm trying to fill out Ph.D applications, trying to get applications in before the date of nullification mostly dealing with my GRE General Scores, and thankfully almost all of the schools I'm applying to are letting me submit my scores from November 2003. Only one said I couldn't even apply if I didn't take them again. So I didn't apply there.

Considering the time and money I'm spending on so much I didn't anticipate regarding everything application-esque, I think I made the right decision. I think my scores are fine.

I waited too long, I think, to get the recommendation forms and SASEs and everything else out to the kind and generous and influential professors recommending me. I hope they're not too annoyed with me. I just wanted everything to be set in stone, so there would be no questions and no screw-ups on my end. And everything with that now seems good to go, so in their mailboxes and in the mail everything will soon be.

I'm more nervous about the economy than I am about schools hating my work and all I stand for. I have more faith in my work and my drive and my work ethic and everything else than I ever did while applying to schools for my MFA. I just hope if any schools want me that they offer funding. If I can't get that, I can't go. It's pretty much as simple as that.

I don't know why I wrote a post about this. But it's here. I'm sure the real sense of trepidation will set in halfway through December, when the applications are out into the world and out of my hands.

And how good are the Giants looking?

It's pretty fantastic to be a Giants fan right now.

Weird way to end a post about Ph.D applications.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nocturnal

Thanks to Trey and the folks at Front Porch for taking two poems.

This has been a weird week for me.

But I'm happy to know the work continues to find editors who like it.

They're part of the same "series," if you can call it that, with the Nocturnes. And I'm trying to expand upon that with some new photographic ekphrastic poems. I'm so sick of reading ekphrastic poems about paintings. Not sick of it, but it just seems too easy maybe, and expected.

I have a bunch of photographers I'm trying to cull through to find striking photos, most which I've seen in the past years and haven't forgot about. That's a good sign, to me, that a draft should be written. Usually fire is involved in the photos. That's no surprise to me or probably anyone else.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jump in the Pool

I got an acceptance in the mail today from The Cincinnati Review, which I was thrilled about until I read that they wanted the poem Passages North previously accepted. I had emailed them, but this isn't the first time something like this has happened; sometimes emails get lost or deleted. I do keep good records, which is something on which I pride myself. None of the other poems in the batch have been accepted yet, so hopefully the editor will be willing to take a second look, since he did say he liked the rest of the poems too. If not, though, I'll keep sending. I like The Cincinnati Review a lot.

The thing is: the aforementioned poem I was thinking about ditching and not even putting in the batch I sent to those journals and others. It's a really weird and bizarre poem, and I thought maybe it didn't have a place to even be considered for submission. It clearly goes to show how much I know about my own work. Then again, I have a feeling the folks I trust with seeing drafts would've said, "What the hell is this?"

Then I got home from the store to a Hollins Critic e-mail acceptance, which was funny and welcomed considering the former events. It's also a newer Nocturne, if you can call it that, because I think most of the time I really don't know what a Nocturne is. But a semblance or seedling of a new manuscript I think keeps growing slowly, because I'm starting to recognize some similarities, and though the poems seem to be linked, they certainly don't belong in the first manuscript that's currently out all over the place at contests. I think that's a good sign. At least new poems are being written, and that's always a good thing.

At the store I was also greeted by a bigger guy who smiled at me and said hello. At first I was confused, but then I realized it was a guy who used to live mostly in the street near my old apartment a few years ago. He had these two vans and a car, and would always be working on them, and his car would be filled with empty Natural Light packages, and he'd usually be sitting in the front seat of the car if he wasn't working on the vans: batteries and wires and tools strewn all over the place. I always said hello to him when I was walking somewhere, and I can't believe he recognized me, but then again I end up recognizing people I don't even know and have never met at places like AWP, just from a photo on the back cover a book sometimes. I remember faces. Apparently he does too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spin the Bottle

Just got my contributor copy of the second issue of Makeout Creek today, and I have to say it looks great. Though the first issue looks great also, this one seems to have upped the ante. Everything about it seems more professional and physically tip-top, and there's some great photos, art, and of course writing within the pages. Bravo to the editors, especially Andrew, who I know work tirelessly on making this project what it's already become in a couple issues. Looking forward to what the upcoming issues bring. You should submit some stuff. They're not afraid of your trend-setting genre-bending either, so bring it on.

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RIP Mitch Mitchell


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I just realized that the first six First Book Interviews were all conducted with dudes.

Don't worry, there are some equally talented ladies making their appearances soon.

Also, if you know someone who'd be interested, or if you have a first book of poetry and you're interested in being interviewed, please let me know.

First Book Interviews #5 and #6 - Jason Bredle and Theodore Worozbyt

Here you go, folks:

#5 - Jason Bredle

#6 - Theodore Worozbyt


As always, more in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Center Field

Last Thursday I meant to write a post about Victoria Chang's reading at VCU, but clearly I am not getting to it until now.

As an added bonus, Jon Pineda got a hold of me, and he, Jess, and myself all got dinner before the reading. Jon graduated from VCU with his MFA in poetry, and he also did a First Book Interview, which will be running a few weeks. We got to share VCU stories and talk about the trials and tribulations of publication. He's not only a very talented poet, but in a few years I think he'll start dominating the poetry world, which he's already starting to do.

Victoria's new book, SALVINIA MOLESTA, seems so easy on the surface, and I think that's why she's becoming another poet to really keep an eye on. Though it may be breaking some sacred rule of closing the eyes and taking in the words, I like to follow along with the actual text of the poems at readings if I can. It helps so I don't drift off, which is too easy to do for me, especially since Victoria's poems seem so natural. So I bought a copy and did just that.

And like I said, I don't know exactly what makes them seem so easy on the surface, but these are poems that really take many readings to get to the heart, and thankfully I can keep returning to them now that I have my copy.

But what I kept noticing out of the corner of my eye was all the undergrads around. There were some current VCU students and professors and alums around, but it's a bit sad to me when the majority of the room is all undergrads that are forced to go because their teacher is either forcing them directly, in addition to the obligatory two-page write-up about the reading, or they want the A, so the extra credit is too enticing not to just show up to the reading.

I say sad because about two poems in, most were doodling away, already off in some other world. I understand this. I've been to enough readings. But it's frustrating to see, and it probably always will be for me. That said, I've always compared poetry readings to a kind of concert. Someone seeing MUSIC FOR 18 MUSICIANS for the first time, not knowing Steve Reich's tendencies, not knowing anything about minimalism, might be swept away by, or they might be dulled by it, but even if it's the latter, knowing the work always enhances the experience.

And when there's nothing to listen to but the sound of the human voice, it's tough to get the audience involved. We all know that. Which is another reason why following along, if I can, always helps me and enhances the experience. Not only that, but you get a feel for a poet really having a foothold on how they read their work. For example: Victoria seems to end many lines with articles, which is something I don't see a lot of the time. Many of those lines, however, were broken by her voice not at the enjambment, but the natural rhythm of the caesura, almost always right before the end of the line or right after. So how she interprets her work isn't the way everyone else would interpret it as far as reading it aloud goes. Something to think about I suppose, for all of us reading our work aloud, especially when considering most of the audience won't be using a visual aid while listening.

I also made sure to talk to her about this previous post, the core of it which still fascinates me to no end: The different from poem publication in journals to book publication. How much freedom does one have? Or should one have? I told her that C. Dale Young -- who I think published one of the best in the book, "The Professor's Lover," in NER a few years ago -- commented, and some other folks did as well, so I asked her how she gauges those kind of changes. She basically told me that she's always working on her poems, even after they're published, and to her the publications in journals don't really matter, as far as the final product in the book goes. Makes a lot of sense.

But I think for younger, more inexperienced poets like myself, that can be a dangerous thing, in the sense that the focus could be on publish publish publish now and worry about your book later. But what if the book never comes? That said, I sincerely doubt someone who buys SALVINIA MOLESTA will have read every single poem in the particular journal where each poem was published. Also, isn't it dangerous to never publish because you're trying to chisel your poems to the precision of Michelangelo? Especially if you want to be in the poetry world of publishing and possibly teaching?

Anyway, it was a good reading, and Victoria, for how smart she is (she has degrees in many fields), seems really cool and down to earth. I'm glad I went, and I really need to kick myself in the ass when it comes to not missing readings and taking advantage of the opportunities I have to go to them.

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Yesterday, because I had submitted my manuscript to the T.S. Eliot Prize last year, I received Victoria Brockmeier's MY MAIDEN COWBOY NAMES in the mail.

Contrary to possibly popular belief, I think it's great to receive the winning book in the mail if you're not the contest winner. If I'm going to spend the $25 for the fee, why not have a book to show for it? If there are other folks who didn't win feeling the opposite, well, suck it up, or move on to something else.

I did find it funny, however, to see they had a little postcard-sized notification of this year's deadline. Keep in mind that I received the book yesterday, November 10th.

And the deadline states: "We value your support of the competition. The next deadline is October 31st, 2008."

Hmmm. I wonder if they lost some additional $25 checks because of the lateness. Then again, I'm sure they didn't want to rush the book's publication. But still.

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For those of you who are "friends" with Richard Siken on Facebook, he recently put up a few photos in a section he called, "How Is the New Book Coming Along?" Now I know I'm not the only one who thinks CRUSH is one of the best poetry books (not just first books) of the last five years or so, and it also had me thinking that among the duds of the Yale Younger Poets in the years since she took over (Say what you want, but there are many), there's hope that she may pick another book this great.

But above all, that means Richard Siken is working on a new book. And that excites me to no end. I'm not sure if he can one-up CRUSH, but regardless, I'll be pre-ordering it as soon as I can, even though it's in the "spread out all over the floor in weird patterns with lots of things highlighted and crossed out" stage, which you can see from the photos.

But in-the-works and Richard Siken equals a pretty killed one-two punch as far as I'm concerned.

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I posted probably around a month ago a conversation I had with a secretary at a certain school to which I'd hoped to apply.

After about a month -- a month -- of calling, emailing, and bugging them, I finally got an answer. I can apply. It took a month for them to get around to basically letting me know the answer in about 180 seconds.

I'm not sure I discussed it, but there was a possible snafu with my General GRE scores with some schools, and it turns out that they're fine, thankfully. I don't have to take them again, which will save me a good deal of time and money when all is said and done.

So aside from all the ridiculousness of the last month with practically doing everything but driving up to the English department in the program a few states away, I finally got a positive answer.

Despite many people saying, "Just cross them off the list..." I'm persistent, maybe sometimes too persistent, but myself and others also held the school up pretty high, so I'm glad they'll be able to consider me, even if they end up saying no.

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Two new live records of interest, both recorded live at The Triple Door in Seattle, and both very different musicians, both for whom I have a great affinity: Greg Dulli and Helios.

The Helios record sounds amazing. I don't know how he got it sound that good. I'm pretty sure the drum machine tracks are set up and he's playing guitar over everything, but he may have a keyboard too. Songs spanning across the board from his albums, and sometimes some beautiful improvisation. I've already been listening to it like crazy.

And Dulli's record is more intimate than AMBER HEADLIGHTS -- his only official solo record, scrapped after Ted Demme unfortunately passed away, and then reluctantly released after the persistence of so many fans like myself -- with a lot of covers, and some recently recorded Twilight Singers stuff, some from POWDER BURNS (one of my favorite records of the last five years) stripped down with mainly guitar and piano and strings.

They're both great. I can't believe how many amazing records continue to come out, seemingly exponentially, each year. I couldn't live without music.

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Finally, there will be two new First Book Interviews posted tonight. I'll keep you in suspense for now, but I'll post them and post the update here when they're live.

Also, I got about six new interviews out to poets yesterday, with more books coming in, more questions being generated, and more interviews going out.

So get excited.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Cleaning & Searching

I think about a month ago I posted something about all the journals I've collected in the last four years. Most of the room in the hall closet is taken up by those journals. And as I was going through them, I was thinking to myself, "Wow, online maybe is the way to go." Could we ever see Paris Review, Crazyhorse, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, etc. go strictly online? Both submissions and publication? I just don't have the room.

I'm going to call the local libraries and see if they'd be willing to take them to possibly sell in a book sale. They're all in mint or near-mint condition, and frankly, most I'm not going to read anymore. And I know that if I were new to the scene, with reading journals being an important first step (at least I thought it was and will always think it will be) in the possibly of ever trying to get my work out there in the few hands of folks who will actually read it, I would be picking up tons of these for a few bucks a piece or less. I don't want to see them in a landfill, but I can't justify keeping rows upon rows of journals on my bookshelves. So I hope they find good homes once I get the ball rolling.

Another scare today was almost not being able to locate my 25-page Philip Larkin A-paper that I wrote a few years ago at VCU. Most of the schools I'm applying to are asking for around a 20-page critical sample, and since my laptop all but blew up on me about a year and a half ago, the sometimes idiot I am came through: I didn't have it saved anywhere. So all I had was the original copy, and I made sure to have it with me during the movie in August 2008. Jess and I looked through boxes and boxes of papers, old rejections, old syllabi, etc. and couldn't find it.

Then I checked on the bookshelf, and low and behold, crumpled and crammed into David Perkins' ENGLISH ROMANTIC WRITERS, was my essay, and I could breathe easier again.

I did a massive 38-pager on Coleridge and Stevens about a year after the aforementioned essay was written, but it was a mess, and seriously needed to be revised. Since it's now officially November, and time's not slowing for the deadlines in a few months, it was imperative that I find the words of Mr. Larkin.

And even though I have to transcribe it again, I can improve it along the way, and my headache will not even make an appearance.

And these journals will finally get boxed up and into the hands of new aspiring writers who can hopefully find some flashes of inspiration within their pages.

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As a little addendum, I wanted to point out posts by both Blake Butler and Shane Jones about the process of finding homes for their novels. Even though I'm not shopping out a novel myself, they're extremely honest and informative, so check it out if you have any kind of interest in such a thing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Road

I've been listening to THE ROAD now for the last few weeks, on my IPod after I put it on there, maybe a month, and I'm still not done with it. I've read it before, and you should too if you haven't.

I was hoping sometime late November I could go to a theater and watch it. But now it's been pushed back until early 2009.

People have seen the early screenings. You can read reviews. I wish I was one of them.

I'm pretty sure the movie is going to be amazing.

It was filmed mostly in western Pennsylvania. I'm from western Pennsylvania.

The landscape is beautifully chaotic and insane. When I go back to Greenville, my hometown, there are things I'm so ineffably in love with it clearly cannot be defined by words.

But there are other times the ugly and disgusting side comes out. And all I want to do is burn it to the ground.

Love does that to you.

The side where a girl commits suicide in high school and because the town is so small you know about it. Or there's a fist fight at the guard rail near the edge of the high school and there are so many punches thrown to the head and violently landed that it makes you sick, and when the guy who gets the shit kicked out of him is throwing up, you're throwing up too.

I always got sick at those fights. That's why I can't watch boxing maybe. I can't take it. And I'm always obsessed with it.

But listening to THE ROAD, I've had a chance to take so much in, beyond the novel readings.

Every single line and word. I said it in a previous post, but this is why Blake Butler's SCORCH ATLAS will be important to me (by the way, I won't stop talking about Blake's book -- and if you're reading this, you need to get it when it comes out); it refuses to give up on the words, on the situation, on the fact that in one second a bullet can slug through your cranium.

But it's odd that I know it's ending. I know how it will end. Everything with the beach.

I am looking forward to every scene and every word. I truly think this may happen to our world.

I don't know how someone can read it and not think that. I just always wonder about the father character. Everyone says, "This book is about a father and a son. And about a father who takes care of his son."

You can place your words there, however you choose.

And I understand them.

But the reality of it is there's a desolate landscape. And there's a good chance that neither one of them make it. And around them is ash and gray and trees falling and cannibals and people who will slit your throat at the drop of a hat. Whatever the hell that means.

When this movie is actually out at the theater, a theater around here, I'll be there.

And this might be a thing might be a thing might be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

R.I.P. Terrin Durfey

I saw this blurb on Pitchfork today and was kind of taken aback and of course very saddened to hear the news.


Boilermaker
was one of those bands that really gave me a sense of purpose when I was in my early high school years. Terrin's voice is incredible, they were doing "emotional" music before all of the egregious and pitiful bands considering themselves "emo" these days, and there was just something about the trio that clicked for me on every piece of music they wrote. They weren't afraid to get loud. But they seemed equally unapologetic about writing music that was beautiful amidst all the heavier stuff.

I didn't know Terrin was sick, but apparently he's been battling cancer for 10 years, something I can't even imagine.

A foundation has been set up to help out the family on Myspace.

It's amazing how you can be so affected by people who've you never met, and in some cases will unfortunately never get to meet.

I'll be blasting all of my Boilermaker records in his honor and memory.

First Book Interview #4 - Brian Barker

It's up, people. Just one this week. But many more on the way.

First Book Interview #4 - Brian Barker

I'm shooting for two more to be posted in two weeks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scorch Atlas

I'm thankful to finally be writing this post, thankful to be telling folks who may not know about Blake Butler's SCORCH ATLAS, which is finally coming to book form via Featherproof Books in fall 2009.

I'm not sure what I read of Blake's initially that made me so interested in his work, but I was. It seemed like we were interested in the same kind of things, if not obsessing about them. So earlier in the year, I decided to contact him about trading manuscripts, mine poetry, and his a novel in short stories. He agreed pretty quickly, and it was nice to get another pair of eyes on my work just as I was excited to see his.

I remember that time I had more than a few hours between my first and my second and third classes I was teaching that semester, so I decided to dive in.

I read for a few straight hours, cover to cover, the entire .doc file of SCORCH ATLAS, and was blown away.

There are folks who say, "I couldn't stop reading!" when they talk about books, and the reason I'm so skeptical of that phrase is from my experiences: Rarely does that happen for me and to me, and so when it does, it's much more of an ordeal. It's not that I'm terribly picky, as I admire many writers, many books, by old authors and by new authors, but SCORCH ATLAS literally had me trying to blink moisture into my eyes from having to keep them open from the computer screen and the horrid fluorescent lights in my office. But I couldn't stop reading it, and didn't until the end.

We traded comments and emails back and forth, and I like to think we both helped out each other a lot with our manuscripts. Mine, though still a manuscript, is better for Blake's advice and what he saw in it, and I like to think that even though I'm not even close to thinking of myself as any kind of an editor, I was able to give him some good advice.

The stories are, for the most part, voluminously and unapologetically throat-slashing, yet there's such a poetic beauty to the language that balances out such material (I liken this kind of comparison to some of the horrific violence of Suspiria centered around the candy-colored lensing, striking some oddly corporeal balance of opposite goings-on), making many of the bleak and apocalyptic landscapes seem like there's a chance that things could get turned around, something which you never actually see coming to fruition, but with the possibilities always indefatigably looming.

The characters seem destitute in the more narrative stories with initial reads, yet there's an underlying, deeply underlying, tenderness that comes through with more reads, things that seem to subconsciously fuse together as the novel takes on new meaning as a whole with the culmination of every story until the end.

And this is a book where every sentence matters.

Yet the words don't seem interminably chiseled or forced, but necessary, necessary for communication within such landscapes, within such oddly intriguing familial relationships that sometimes both eschew and embrace the idea that something may be worth saving in the end, and if all hope seems lost, the attempts at trying never cease to obtain it.

My words are not doing justice to Blake's words, the characters' words, I know this.

But this is a book I will be proud to own, proud to be reading, proud that such risks were being taken, real risks, without giving up the literary quality and merit of such work.

In another's hands, these stories could be a mess: full of bleakness, full of the forced apocalyptic and bizarre, to get a rise out of the reader, or strictly to shock. But there's so much more in these stories, more to be discovered upon subsequent readings, and more to be discovered by the many readers it will have.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Best Records of the Year So Far

What are yours?

On mine tentatively and quite maybe positively (not in order):

- The Silent Years
- Hammock
- Girl Talk
- The American Dollar
- Helios
- Near the Parenthesis
- TV on the Radio
- The Week That Was
- The Broken West
- Ra Ra Riot

Plaxico Burress

Though I think Steve might have some anger issues, I didn't mean for anything to come to fruition in that post except for the fact that the list poem is mostly an easy excuse out of putting yourself, the human writer, behind the poem. Few writers have done that successfully in the past with the list poem. Few continue to do it now. And I'm sure anyone can throw stock things into a list, call it a poem, and get it published. You've seen many in journals if you read them. But thankfully it'll never be me.

Two recent writers I can mention are Jason Bredle and Blake Butler, who actually seem human behind their work when they're dealing with the "list poem," or a poem involving lists, or Blake's lists of 50 that he needs to get on the ball with and finish. Slice it any way you'd like.

That example by H.L. Hix really bugged me particularly because it's a bunch of stock headline tragedies, and because there are a few lines like "So many names fit" and "Every breath / matters." Seriously? Destination: Cymbal Crash City. Plus I have some pride in the fact that my first manuscript is attempting, in many poems, to actually explore tragedy, many specific and revealed, and not be comprised of stock phrases. Maybe I don't succeed and maybe people don't like them, and that's fine.

But any poem that my name would be on that could've been generated by a computer (ForGodot anyone? And I mean real poems written like that -- not the fake ForGodot poems, though many of them probably could've been real, which is an entirely different story) I never want to be a part of. If you're going to write, write with some balls, some honesty, some blood flow, and show me that a human is behind the words. Even if it's a hilarious poem, because not all honesty has to be built out of tragedy of course.

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On an entirely different note, Entourage is finally kicking ass again. Since the beginning of the season, there's been a lot of disparate story lines, a lot of them kind of uncharacteristic for where the show seemed like it was going. I won't reveal any spoilers, but I can't wait for the rest of the season.

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And in a few days another First Book Interview will be up. Received some from other poets in the last few days, and now I'm working on getting a bunch out to other poets in the next week.

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GO GIANTS

Monday, October 20, 2008

Almost Halloween

Thanks to Carolyn Kellogg for the shout out in the Jacket Copy blog from the LA Times about the first book interviews.

As I said from the beginning, I'm hoping there's enough interest in this for the word to spread as more people find out about it, both at Kate's site and my continuation of it, without me having to spam people or make a Facebook group and bombard people that way for others to go to it.

Not only that, but I found out about Kate's interviews when she had already conducted around forty or so. You can image how thrilled I was when I had all that reading material to go back to in the archives.

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Took the GRE Lit Subject Test finally last Saturday. I always find the process and the dynamic so interesting and weird with these tests. We were in a room I've probably taught in before in the new VCU Business Building, and there were maybe 20-25 of us. Most were taking tests like Biology or Physics, and only a few were taking the Lit Subject Test. I wondered how everyone's future would go, how far some of them drove for a test, what everyone's reasons were for taking it, whatever the subject was.

There were a decent amount of questions I knew. Per the ETS policy, I shall not speak of such specifics regarding those questions here, but many of the everyone-talks-about-this-writer-or-this-poem-being-on-the-test folks were indeed on the test in some fashion. Either way, now I can focus on applications and the rest of the application process. High five for no more standardized tests. Borat style.

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The new Helios record, Caesura, and the new Near the Parenthesis record, L'Eixample, may just end up being at the top of my year-end best-of list.

Beautiful stuff all around, and perfect for the fall. Both of these guys have such a knack for writing gorgeous music, and though sometimes (in the best possible way) a band like Hammock can be sleep-inducing, there's usually more bass and background keyboards and computerized drums and drum machines and percussion sounds like that to make it listenable in so many environments. Reading, writing, road trip. But I think these records coming out in the fall months are melding into some ineffably perfect soundtrack for me.

They'll be getting a ton of plays as the months go on, and you should do your favor and check them out.

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There are a few manuscript contests coming up that call for about ten more pages than I have for the minimum to be considered. It's weird to beef it up for contests now that I trimmed so much off. Like putting deleted scenes back into a movie once you've already cut what you deem as the final print.

But I'm trying to figure out what I can put back in, since I really haven't written or published much new stuff that would fit with the first manuscript. Many poems have come and gone, as they do with the manuscript process, so I don't feel like the poems necessarily don't belong again, but it's just an odd feeling: putting poems back in when you haven't seen them for so long. Maybe some of them will make a case for a permanent stay. I'm not sure yet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Show Me the Money in... an MFA Program?

Ah, as always, Seth Abramson does it again. And I mean in a good way. He's tireless. He's vigilant. He loves writing about MFA programs. And I hope people appreciate what he does, especially those applicants that know exactly what I'm talking about.

The new piece in Poets & Writers is a great read, especially for those thinking of applying to places.

I don't really know where I'm going with this post, but I think at least that I do have a decent amount to say about it. Or beyond it? Or aside from it? Especially since I graduated from VCU with my MFA a little over a year ago. An MFA program of the many, I know. But may I comment from the pride I have about the program that it was great to finally see VCU's name in any article, with an added bonus in the positive light:

"Some of these programs (Arkansas, Florida State, Houston, Iowa, UNLV, and Wichita State) are known for their full or near-full funding for all students and also for offering a large number of pre- and/or postgraduation fellowships. Of these, two (Florida State and Iowa) offer assistantships with competitive stipends but only partial tuition remission included. Several of the programs in this grouping are known for offering a moderate number of assistantships with high annual stipends (Washington University: $16,500; Miami: $15,500; Virginia Commonwealth: $15,000; and Illinois: $14,000), while others offer a large number of assistantships with lower annual stipends (Georgia College & State: $7,600; Southern Illinois: $8,800; McNeese State: $9,000; and Montana: $9,000). University of Notre Dame offers full tuition waivers for all admitted students, but does not guarantee them stipend-eligible assistantships, and therefore cannot yet officially be added to the ranks of the fully funded programs."


One thing VCU was very good about, yes: the nice stipend.

That said, what came with it was a lot of teaching experience, at least for me. And now that I look back -- though of course it was a bit different in real time -- it becomes more valuable each day.

In my three years at VCU I was: in the Writing Center, an assistant (or as one professor, who shall remain nameless, called me: "a grader." I talked about it briefly in the past, and though the situation was awful for the entire semester, I learned a lot from it in the end) in two different large lecture classes (two different semesters), taught more than a few English 101 courses (a 2:2 load one semester, and yes folks, I survived and had plenty of time to write: teaching two courses a semester for a year ain't gonna kill you), a few English 200 courses, a 291 Creative Writing course (poetry and short fiction), and had two different internships co-teaching Creative Writing courses with two different professors (I was lucky to have these, and they were not part of the stipend: one was luck, and one I was asked to do and gratefully and gracefully accepted).

I couldn't have asked for much more experience during my three years.

And I wonder why so much emphasis is on, "Give me the money, but I don't want to any work or teach anything of any kind."

I know it's not that cut and dry, and I understand health insurance is a big deal. But just like not sending any poems out -- or even learning about how to do it -- by the end of your MFA is not going to help you get a job teaching creative writing (and you'd be surprised how many people think they're going to go on to amazing future teaching and publishing, within a few years, without having a single poem published, or knowing anything about the point of such a thing, etc.), why wouldn't you want to have all of that teaching experience?

I suppose that's my main gripe with what seems like a lot of folks are concerned about when entering a program.

But really, over three years, is $12,000 versus $15,000 really going to make a difference, when you're entering a field that's sometimes competitive to the point of lunacy, one that doesn't guarantee anything, especially some kind of job with a competitive salary?

And what about the creative environment? So much informs the creative environment.

Who's teaching there? Have you talked to past graduates? What's the area like? Is there stuff to do on the weekends? How big are the workshops? Are there areas where many MFAs live that are close to campus? Would you be living in a big city? Do you want that?

And what about you? Why do you really want to get an MFA? Do you want to end up teaching? High school? College level? Creative writing?

Paths change. Agendas change. But with all the questions revolving around health insurance, guaranteed and competitive stipends, and accurate dollar amounts regarding those stipends, what about the bigger picture? Aren't we there to try and further our artistic endeavors? Get better as writers? Meet new people?

What about competition? Is it cutthroat? Are people sending out poems like crazy? Do students already have books out? Is there pressure to publish? Are you not looking for that kind of pressure? Do you (masochistically?) want that kind of pressure?

So many questions to answer. And once you're there, signed up, registered, with an apartment, or a house, there's really no going back, unless you opt out and go to another one or cancel the whole experience altogether.

I feel like Seth could probably write an article that has dealt with all these questions, but I think more applicants need to -- and I hope they're doing so -- consider all of this: not to the point of nausea or over-thinking, but consider it at the least, amidst all the other financial questions abound.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another Reason Why People Probably Don't Apply for Grad School

Though I am applying for my Ph.D, I'd rather leave off all the schools I'm applying to for now. That really doesn't need to be public for reasons as such.

I just called a school that I'm planning on applying to. It took me three tries to get to the English Department. Then it took me another try to get to the Graduate Coordinator, who really wasn't the Graduate Coordinator and told me that the Graduate Coordinator had left already for the day (at 3:00 P.M.). The conversation was a bit disenchanting, very odd, and kind of confusingly combative:

"Hi, I'm looking for some specific information about the Ph.D Program in Creative Writing that I couldn't find on the website."

"OK."

"First off, Do you require the GRE Lit Subject Test?"

"Yes, we do."

"OK, I didn't see that on the website, but it's good to know. Secondly, I have scores that are on the cusp of being invalid as far as the GRE General Test [The scores are invalid after 5 years, for folks who don't know], and I want to make sure they're valid before they're used for the application process. Some schools have told me they're fine as long as I get ETS to send them the scores ASAP. Some schools told me that if I'm accepted, I'll have to take them again before classes start for accreditation. I just want to know what the policy is on that at your school since there seems to be different responses from what I've received so far."

"Well, what did you get on your GREs?"

"You're asking me my score?"

[Keep in mind that it's none of their business until they receive the application. My writing score was perfect. My verbal and math scores were not very good. I, like others, am for the most part unwaveringly terrible at taking standardized tests.]

"Yes."

"Well, I got a perfect on the writing. I know that. And to me it seems like that would matter more, since verbal and math scores really shouldn't either impair one's ability or increase positively one's ability to write poetry and take classes at the graduate level."

"We do consider them as we're looking at the applications."

"I understand that, which is why I want to make sure your school will take them, and if not, I need to know whether I'm going to have to take them again for your school and / or maybe a few others."

"Well, do you have a master's degree? Because you can't even apply for a spot in the doctoral program without a master's degree."

[Again, confusion here overtakes my ability to probably answer the question in a nicer way.]

"Uh, Yes. I have an MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University. Otherwise I know I wouldn't be able to apply and obviously wouldn't even consider it. And I'm sorry to bother you with all these specifics, but I really want to get my ducks in a row since it's already halfway through October and I have a lot more work to do with all of these applications."

"Yes, I understand that."

"And I emailed ------------------ to ask them about the program on two different occasions during the last week, and they didn't get back to me, which is why I decided to call about these specifics."

"Well, they're not the Graduate Coordinator anymore."

"That makes sense then I suppose, though an updated website would've helped me out a bit more in that case."

"I'll have them get back to you tomorrow if you can leave your email address and phone number."

*

Seriously. Seriously? I feel like I'm pulling teeth. Just for some seemingly innocuous specific information. I've gone through it for my MFA, all the applications, singular specifics, all of that, so it's expected.

But talking to an almost combative assistant that almost got mad at me for asking questions that I need to know? Just needless and frustrating. Hopefully I'll get a call back in a day or two; otherwise it's right back to trying to get simple answers to seemingly simple questions. And maybe at the rate I'm going trying to figure out more schools to apply to. Looks like my list of eight may have to be cut down, shuffled around, and back to eight in a few weeks as I look at others to apply to, since answers are a lot harder to get than I thought they would be.

*

Not only that, but another school has literally no information on their website (and after emailing hearing back from a former student, hasn't for some time now). The emails I sent to the Graduate Coordinator (also two in the last week) were returned to sender (me) via email -- address doesn't exist, undeliverable, etc. And apparently they have no phone.

So unless I drive to the state and go to the building where the English Department is, how am I going to get this information?

I just don't understand how -- with where we are as far as technology goes -- websites can't be updated, emails can't be updated, information can't be updated. It drives me nuts.

The day all the applications are completed and in the mail, I'm going to be celebrating. Just from mailing the applications.

Another Post About Submissions and Journals

When I was looking through my poems I was working on the other day, I thought to myself, "I think these are good enough to gather into a batch to get out into the world." Clearly I could be wrong, and I could get all rejections back, and if that happens, I'm fine with it. I would be anyway, but it makes it easier to be fine with it when so many journals now are utilizing the online submissions manager.

Print journals. Magazines. Online Journals. Everyone.

It makes it so much easier on the folks submitting. Of the aforementioned batch, every submission was to a place -- some print, some online -- that either accepted email submissions or uses the online submissions manager. I didn't have to go to the post office. I didn't have to spend any money.

Think about it. If you send a batch of poems out to ten journals that accept simultaneous submissions -- as I do, and have yet to really hit places that don't accept simultaneous submissions because I don't trust their response time (meaning it's a lot easier to accept a form rejection when you know it's at more than just one place) and want to follow their rules -- it can add up.

SASE stamp costs: $4.20
Business-sized or 8 1/2 x 11 mailer (benefit of the doubt at $.75 cents to mail): $7.50

Basically it's going to be at least $10, or around $1 per submission with the SASE, which isn't a lot, but over time it can add up, not to mention all the ink and paper costs, which, again, add up.

Journals are making it easy on us. Easy to know when the rejection comes, since I think it probably hits the in box right when they reject it. Easy to upload. Everything about it's easy.

There are some things that need to be tweaked, yes, like being able to withdraw one poem in house, rather than the whole submission, which has happened to me before. You can always email each place and let them know if something's taken, but again, it would be easier for them so upon looking at the submission again you could see what's available and what's not. And Fence actually has you upload one poem at a time, which doesn't take too much extra time and does make it easier to click any poems that have been accepted elsewhere.

Gary had a post about this (about halfway down), and I think literally, if you had a batch of five poems, it was November 1st (a good bet that almost all the journals are taking submissions, but not a guarantee), and you wanted to send to 50 places -- online and print -- that accept email submissions or use the online submissions manager, you could. I'm not making a list, as you should start to make your own if you submit yourself (though Gary has a good one started), but it's just so nice to know these things. And it seems every month a journal that I really like and really want to get into starts up the submissions manager or now accepts emailed submissions.

Clearly I get very excited about the little things. But that's cool with me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New First Book Interviews - Paul Guest and Christopher Bakken

New First Book Interviews have been posted: Paul Guest (Has anyone heard from Paul lately?) and Christopher Bakken.

Links are also on the side of this blog and the First Book Interviews blog if you're new to these or want to return to others. The blogger time stamp is all messed up, so don't trust the dates. I guess if you save drafts and post them later they can have the previous dates. Or something. I'm not sure. But I posted them today, the 14th, and for one it says it was posted the 13th, and the other says it was posted on September 30th. Oh well.

I decided to add two because Paul's is rather short, and Christopher's has some time sensitive material. Shows how much I stuck to my initial plan of one every two weeks.

I also want to apologize to all the folks that are still waiting for questions. I hate excuses. So I'm not going to give any. Luckily the first books I have are in a stack sitting here right in front of me on my desk, and the questions are being formatted as we speak. Soon, folks, soon. And I say that not having heard "Where are my questions?" from anyone, since I haven't, but I just feel bad about the delay.

Now that we're getting to the end of October, things are slowing down a bit, and soon enough folks will have questions in their email in boxes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Mixtape I Want My Manuscript to Sound Like

  • This Will Destroy You - "Freedom Blade"
  • Explosions in the Sky - "Your Hand in Mine"
  • The Twilight Singers - "Sublime"
  • The American Dollar - "Somnambulance"
  • Eluvium - "New Animals from the Air"
  • Hammock - "Gold Star Mothers"
  • Helios - "Halving the Compass"
  • Johann Johannson - "Fordlandia"
  • Howard Hello - "Giving Up"
  • Steve Reich - All of Music for 18 Musicians
  • M83 - "Teen Angst"
  • Matthew Robert Cooper - "Miniature 3"
  • The National - "Guest Room"
  • The Pilot Ships - "Pilot Suicide Theory"
  • Aerial - "My God, It's Full of Stars"
  • Caspian - "Asa"
  • Labradford - "I"
  • Port-Royal - "Spetsnaz/Paul Leni"
  • Sigur Ros - "Samskeyti"
  • The Six Parts Seven - "Where Are the Timpani Heartbeats?"

Night Diamond

I was thrilled yesterday to receive an email that Passages North wants a poem from the batch I sent out about a month ago. I love Passages North and have sent poems to them from the first batch I ever sent out until now.

Also got an email from another journal that said they lost some poems I sent about a year ago, but it's fine since all of them have since been picked up. The poetry editor said he liked the work, though, and invited me to submit again via email, which I appreciate. And of course I said, "If you don't like any of them, that's fine too." To have that opportunity to send work as an attachment instead of packing up the enveloped for the post office is something I'm grateful for. Not to mention I've sent work to this journal a lot too in the past with no luck. So we'll see.

*

This is kind of a random thought, but has anyone seen those commercials for the Yoplait Save Lids to Save Lives campaign? It's a great idea for a great cause, and Jess and I have been saving our lids and putting them in a plastic bag attached to the fridge. But here's what I don't get: all of the postage that's wasted by sending the lids could've been used to save more lives. Meaning I would imagine that putting some electronic code on the yogurt contained would've been a better idea. I'd be all about a 15-digit code with numbers and letters -- typing numbers and letters into a website ain't that hard. But to send the lids we have to spend money, which is fine, but it seems like all of the money for postage could've been used more for the cause of the campaign. Maybe I'm crazy. And I should probably be spending time thinking about other things, but alas.

*

Some of the schools I'm applying to for Ph.D don't even require the GRE General Test. I was kind of taken aback. Some schools want the GRE General Test and the Lit Subject Test. Some just require the General. Some just want a sample of work. I'm excited now to get everything going now that I pretty much have all the information gathered, and the eight schools I'm applying to are locked in place and won't change. Once the applications are actually out into the world, though, is when I'll be legitimately excited, and probably pretty nervous.