Friday, October 30, 2009

Day

It occurred to me a few days ago that I still didn't have a physical copy of my second manuscript in a binder.

So Immediately printed one out, took out the old version of Ghost Lights that was in there, hole-punched it and stuck it in.

The first flip through I immediately noticed some small things that needed to be fixed. This is after looking at it way too many times on the computer. Since I've done so much work on it, however, I'm glad it took me this long to get a physical copy, as I would've had to replace many single pages after changes to the poems.

But alas, I have a physical copy. There's something about throwing that sucker in my bag and carrying it around all day that makes me like it more. Now it feels real I suppose.

And I sent it off about thirty minutes ago to four more places. It's now at a total of seven.

By December 31st it'll be at about five more.

I hope folks like it.

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The time has arrived. Who's going to join me in creating their arduously constructed 100 Favorite Movies List?

Those who need not apply:
  • If you have Citizen Kane as your #1 movie (and though this is a personal rule, you probably shouldn't make one if it's on your list at all. But hey, that's just me.)
  • If you're including too many movies with attached names like Truffaut, Malle, Bergman, De Sica, Antonioni, etc. without having seen the movies, because people do that. And let's face it: like me, you probably want to see more classics than you've seen thus far. Don't be that guy.
  • If you don't have a passion for movies. This probably goes without saying. Too bad.
  • If you don't have the time to spend, because it takes a while, though it's certainly something you should be proud of when you're done.
Remember, this is your Favorite Movies List. If for some reason you could watch Gigli 1000 more times after the 100 you've already seen it, then you shouldn't be shy about putting it on there. Though you should probably make fun of yourself for such a thing.

For those who've already done one, the rule is that you can't go back to your old list. You have to make a new one.

So far two of my best friends from high school (who know their shit, most of the time) and my oldest brother (who also certainly knows his shit) are participating. Any other bloggers want to participate? If so, post your list to your blog by 2010...

You can find my old list in a previous blog post if you feel the need to try and make fun of or applaud mine. Go ahead, I say.

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You should get the new Lymbyc System record, Shutter Release. It comes out Tuesday.

Instrumental, complex, and beautiful stuff. Their songs on the former EP with This Will Destroy You are incredible, and those ideas have finally been expanded to a full length. Check them out if you haven't.

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I almost forgot. If you're sending out a book to contests and open reading periods, Kelli Russell Agodon has been ruminating about any and every topic you can think of as related to such an endeavor. A lot of good information, so if you're new to the whole ordeal and want to get a sense of it from someone who's willing to share a lot of insider information, if you will, then don't hesitate to start combing through her blog.

Though I've shared bits and pieces of my experience, Kelli's much more thorough and insightful, so read away if you're interested.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

North

A few weeks ago, after a ton of headaches with our ex-landlord, Jess and I decided to send a complaint to the Virginia Fair Housing Office.

If something came of it, cool. If not, well, we're unjustifiably out $200, but the world goes on, and we tried.

However, a nice woman from the aforementioned Fair Housing Office called today and said that though they can't do anything about it, the issue resides with Consumer Affairs, and she forwarded all of the materials to them.

Glad to know something at least got done from the initial step. We'll see what happens from here.

*

Had six contests and open reading periods originally for October, but I decided to wise up, for a few reasons, and get that down to four, which I think is a good number.

I've done some good work on it in the past month I think. I've been looking closely at a lot of things I was never really cognizant of before, and I think it's helped. I also don't understand the complete hatred of gerunds in poetry. I've heard it all before... but when a gerund needs to be there, it needs to be there. Simple as that.

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I found some pretty awesome paintings that feel like they could be a cover for Ghost Lights, but I'm not getting my hopes up, since I have no idea about the workings of obtaining cover art. But it's still fun to start looking around and having paintings, colors, and fonts in my head.

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Luke has given me a shout out before for getting a good number of poems accepted in a relatively short amount of time, and he certainly deserves the same right now.

I'm sure you'll be seeing his book around soon enough. All signs point to it.

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Speaking of which, I got two good rejections ("These made it to the last round, but we decided against them") in the last week or so for the last three unpublished poems in the second manuscript. Usually that means, at least in my experience, that sooner or later they'll get picked up by someone else.

Rejections, though many would disagree, can sometimes be a great thing.

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The new Doveman record, The Conformist, is one that will most likely be spinning for a while. It's a record that one can immediately attribute to other bands and artists as far as influences, but it has its own great thing going on. Check out Footloose too if you haven't, especially if you're a fan of the original soundtrack.

Also been enjoying the new Tegan and Sara disc, Sainthood. They're damn good at writing short pop songs that stick in your head, but there's more to each one upon each subsequent listen.

*

I don't understand the hype around Paranormal Activity.

Has anyone seen The Gate? Yes, with Stephen Dorff. From 1987. 22 years later, that movie still freaks the shit out of me.

I guess Paranormal Activity pisses me off mainly because it's one of those "Let's take aspects from 25 different movies and try to claim it as our original film," and the comparisons are obvious if you've seen enough horror movies.

Once you understand the gimmick, and how it's clearly going to escalate each time the camera sits there and fast forwards until the, you guessed it, paranormal activity, it just becomes tedious to sit through. Though I applaud trying to make their relationship have a seemingly deeper element to it as related to all that's happening around them, it's another obvious plot point that you can see through from the very beginning.

*

As far as hyped movies go, I thought Up was pretty incredible. I was actually kind of blown away. I love when hype's warranted.

How the hell they came up with that script is beyond me. I still think there had to have been illegal drugs involved. Either way, Pixar continues to kick ass.

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We had a brief stint of snow a week or two ago, but nothing since then. The leaves are falling as we speak, and I actually have the window open near me as I write this.

I'm enjoying the fresh air now, because I have a feeling this weather's going to change soon. And quickly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Drill

Jess has been at work for twelve hours now.

Two days ago she had to drill into some guy's brain. Late last week she had to operate on a woman's husband, and when the doctor was telling her what was going on in the waiting room, she was screaming hysterically.

Though I'm proud of what I'm doing and all I've accomplished, I'm starting to have more respect every single day for people who work in the medical field. The true people in the medical field I'm starting to think are destined to do that work. I don't think there are many fields that can claim those words.

It makes talking about poetry seem, well, not that important. But alas, I do it anyway.

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I brought in two poems from the new manuscript into workshop last time, one which is published, and one which is going to be published in the next issue of a journal.

Before you say or think anything, keep in mind I understand that turning in a "finished" poem into workshop makes everyone a critic.

However, my goal was to hopefully prove something, and after a few weeks of thinking about it, I did.

I've mentioned before that many of the poems in this new manuscript have been seen by no one thus far except myself and the editors who (somehow) decided to publish them. That's certainly not dangerous, but it should make you realize that you need to show your poems to others, especially others who may know what you're going for. Or not.

At any rate, these two particular poems also lead off the manuscript. I've changed them up, and I think they're much better. And a lot of the specific advice for those poems I've been able to use as I've been revising other poems.

So each day I'm happier, it seems, to work on this manuscript, with hopefully a much keener eye.

A handful of contests I'm sending it to in a week or so.

I decided that if I end up sending to about 15-20 by the end of 2009 and I don't get even a pull on the poetic line, then I'm going to get restructuring and writing again.

The first time I sent out Ghost Lights over two years ago, when it was, quite honestly, a pretty horrendous "book," it was a finalist. I think this one's better, so we'll see if I have any clue in the least.

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I started reading for Harpur Palate today. Considering I'd only met three PhD poets in the program officially before then, I figured it was time to meet others and get involved with our graduate journal, something I really didn't do at VCU.

Already, after just two hours of reading today, I want to make a How To Not Make An Ass Out Of Yourself When You Submit Poems To Journals list...

Here are a few things I'd mention to folks, in no particular order:
  1. When you clearly haven't read over your cover letter, and there are a bunch of repetitions and misspelled words, you're not going to get someone excited to read the poems.
  2. When you name the journals you've been in (of course that's fine, and I think editors like to see that), 6-8's a decent number, and some may even say more than enough. But seriously, 19? 19! I kid you not. I wondered if I should write down her name and call her out on my blog, but I decided not to. Not cool probably.
  3. No one cares about "anthologies" you've edited (or "interned" for).
  4. No one cares about residencies you've been to (especially if you have to name way too many of them and still don't have a book to your name).
  5. Under no circumstances should you include a long blurb from an "established" author about your work as the bookend of the cover letter. You shouldn't do this even if you have four books out. Seriously, I was absolutely blown away by this, and never thought I'd see anything like this. Ever.
  6. The more your build yourself up, almost always unnecessarily and inexcusably, you're giving readers and editors more of a reason to immediately shut down your work. If readers and editors don't like your work, most of the time it doesn't matter who you are or what you've done: you'll be rejected.
  7. If your work's good enough, it'll find a home. Read more journals. Send out more. Take advantage of the journals who accept submissions electronically. Etc, etc, etc.
I've been sending out for a while, and as someone who hopes to be an official editor of a small magazine someday, this is what I adhere to, and this is what I'm looking for on a cover letter:
  • The date
  • Name and contact information on every sheet
  • Titles and number of poems
  • A handful of the journals who have published you
  • Books you have out or books that are forthcoming
  • Briefly: what you're up to now
That's it. And then you don't waste ink either.

Considering this has already been a learning experience, I'm looking forward to getting more involved, and I'm also looking forward to meeting and hanging out with more of my fellow classmates.

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Finally, if you read this blog, you may also read my First Book Interviews blog.

I've been thinking about this during the past few weeks, and I decided to ask some questions here and see what people think.

I've had some poets with great books recently get a hold of me and ask for an interview, and the books are, of course, piling up at this point, especially when you add in the ones I've received in the last year or so.

Considering the semester is not getting any easier with time constraints, here's my question to potential readers: Would you be opposed to seeing more "stock" questions in the full interviews if that meant they were posted more on a regular basis?

As much as I wish I had the time to sit down and read through these first books, while giving them the attention that every single one deserves, I have a lot of reading I need to do while I try and keep my funding here and whatnot, which is at least slightly more important. The books will be read, but I feel like the more time I spend trying to gather questions and hone questions to each particular book, the less interviews that are posted. And I'd rather have more for people to read. That's what I continued Kate's project in the first place.

Not to mention that four poets, who have all the interview questions, still haven't given me their interviews, and they've had plenty of time to get them back to me. That frustrates me at least a bit, because I did spend that time reading their books and getting questions ready for them for nothing at this point, when I could have four additional interviews posted right now from four other poets.

I think the point of First Book Interviews is to ask about the first books. The site isn't dedicated to Third Book Interviews, after all.

I guess I'm wondering if you trust me to trust the poets to answer even the questions which go out to everyone with care and attention and not clipped and one-sentence answers. I'll still read through the books, and there will be questions tailored to each book, but I just won't have as much time, and I really do want to keep them going and start getting them posted again on a regular basis.

Please please please let me know your thoughts if you'd be willing to share them on any of the points above.

Thanks in advance.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Check Signal Cable

I was going to wait until tomorrow to write what will most likely be lost to you in my own incomprehensibility, But Seth Abramson's words, as related to the MFA and beyond, always make me want to put my own experience and thoughts on the table. And most of my words are a springboard from what he says, mostly, I would imagine, completely off course from his initial statements.

This was from a link on a recent Facebook post of his: Thinking of getting your MFA?

You have to pay for it, but if you're interested, $4.99 probably won't break the bank. It might also be in the new Poets & Writers, though.

There's also this link, which gives you the "top 50" programs. And there's an extended link too, which names, I think, every "other" MFA program.

I guess what I'm most interested in is a comment made by someone on his Facebook thread: "Read the article 'Confessions of a TA' and had a visceral reaction, realizing that since I have zero interest in teaching, I can't spend half my time in a traditional MFA program doing something I don't like and don't plan to use (even for funding)." Now from what I gather, this is not someone in their 20s, 30s, or 40s (this person said something about their age that would make me think this). Maybe 40s, but maybe older, so that's the first thing, since this person alluded to the fact that they're not your average 20-something wanting to explore the MFA option.

But I feel like there are many others who are 20-somethings and are saying the exact same thing. Maybe the Rhet Comp class I'm taking right now—which I have to take before I can teach composition, even though I've taught nearly 25 sections of composition classes in the last five years—is making me realize that it's also an issue with the Rhet Comp programs regarding TA positions, wages, "low pay," etc. Meaning that since TAs usually teach composition to earn their stipend, this is why there are so many essays regarding TAs these days, and all those issues like wages and "low pay."

Wait a minute, people, I'm not complaining here. I'm really not. Because I understand something: this is how it works at most places if you want to get your MFA or PhD and want the TA gig. Would I rather get free tuition and get paid X-grand a year for just taking classes so I can write all the time, get out in three or four years, and try to get a job and support my family and all of that? Why yes, wouldn't we all in some Utopian society that doesn't exist?

Maybe it was good I went into VCU when I was 22—I was more naive (if you can believe it) than I am now, and I kind of had no clue what was going on. They could've told me I had to teach four sections of composition comprised of thirty students each for my stipend, and I would've said, "Seems a little much, but OK!" And yet for what I had to do at VCU, which was two English 101 sections of 25 students each, it still doesn't even seem that bad right now, and it wasn't then either.

This is what happens when I write these "posts": I don't really go anywhere.

But I guess I would ask you, as a fabricated and wraithlike future MFAer, is all the money in the world going to help you write better poems? Is it going to help you learn about becoming a better writer? Is it going to help you develop indispensable relationships—if you're lucky—with friends in your program who will become your go-to readers, the ones who can take your awful fifteenth draft and make it into something worthy because they, somehow, seem to know your work better than you after a while?

I come back to asking, "Where was all this stuff when I was applying?"

I say that because I'm beyond exponentially ecstatic that this information on MFA calculations, rankings, etc., wasn't available then.

I'm not sure about the rankings or calculations or legitimacy of programs anymore (not that I ever was to begin with), but I think, like many now, that I would've been bogged down with so many questions at that point of the application process, so many questions that would've led me to try something else, and I wouldn't be sitting here in Vestal, New York, of all places, a few months into a PhD program, with an amazing woman who somehow decided to say yes when I asked her to marry me, and a first book of poetry coming out next year.

Sometimes it pays to suck it up, live on what you can, and be passionate about something. Sometimes it might be better to leave those other questions for later.

But doesn't it always come down to passion? Or, better yet, shouldn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rush

I keep forgetting that it was probably halfway through my second year, but really at the start of my third year, when I actually wrote a decent poem (or draft, maybe) at VCU, something I felt good about reading at workshop, something I felt good about writing.

That really hasn't happened yet in the Binghamton workshop setting. No matter how the poems are received, I really don't like what I'm writing at all.

That said, we're not even halfway through the first semester. I need to chill out, and I think that's one of the problems.

I was inspired by this recent post from Oliver, who always seems to write wise blog posts. I guess I put myself in a weird position right now, because I feel like if what I'm writing isn't furthering this second manuscript, or going onto a third project, then there's no point in writing it. Clearly I shouldn't be thinking like that, but if you know what it's like to put much time into big projects, then you know how hard it is to break away from that mode. And that's what I've spent the last three years of my poetic life doing (though you also have to include all the PhD applications I suppose).

Or not necessarily that certain mode, as much as feeling like I need to move on, and since I don't have a new project, and all these workshop poems seem to be rehashing former, better poems, or they're this nebulous mess of words that I would never want anyone to see. If I don't like the poem, I don't care who does. And if I really like a poem that I write, I usually don't care who doesn't, because that's always another step in the hopeful ladder-climb of building something better. That sounded horribly clich├ęd. Oh well.

I guess what I'm telling myself is that I don't need to rush right now, and hopefully for good reason. I have to write poems for workshop, and so they're getting written. Even poems I don't like hopefully and eventually get me writing poems that I do like. And though I feel like all my energy right now (aside from course work of course) is best spent in trying to get this second book out into the world, there's no harm in letting the new project, whatever it may be, come to fruition as it presents itself, instead of trying to force something that just isn't there right now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mesh

An interview with Brian Teare, one of my favorite young poets. Still need to get Sight Map. Maybe this post gives me an excuse to order a few books I've been wanting for a while.

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I found seven more journals I'd love to be in, somehow, that I haven't sent to already. Those are journals, however, that accept submissions online or through email.

I'm saving the cash right now for the second manuscript. And there are five more contests and open reading periods where that will be by the end of October.

Three poems from the manuscript have yet to be published in its current state, and I think it'll be nice this time around to have a small batch of three, since I usually have the number of poems make them into four or five. Like Ghost Lights, I really didn't expect to have all the poems published this time around either, and even though my new manuscript will undoubtedly change, because that's the way things go, it's always a good feeling to know that editors are liking your words.

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New Tunes Worth Spinning:

Richmond Fontaine - We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded like a River
Qwel & Maker - So Be It
Lisa Germano - Magic Neighbor
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - White Lunar
Califone - All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy

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Weekend-intensive workshop this weekend with Maria Gillan. Second of the semester.

I was going to go with Jess to a wedding (her freshman roommate from college), but there are only three workshops a semester, and I can't miss one. (Sorry, Celeste!)

Since I've been doing a ton of work with my second manuscript over the last year or so, it's been tough for me to get out of the, for lack of a better term, complacency I've been in while writing these poems. Stylistically. Thematically. Structurally. Everything.

What I'm saying is that I need to move on, or the same thing's going to happen in workshop, and I don't want to take all this time for granted I have to discover some new things in my writing, not to mention working with a new crop of talented writers. I guess we'll see what happens this weekend...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Marble Game

I'm not going to deal with a lot of corrections here, or going back. This is a post of excitement, vicarious excitement, which usually should be the case anyway.

I found this post from almost a year ago, and if you look at the folks mentioned at the bottom, it should also get you excited. And if it doesn't, well, that's OK too I guess.

Here's the deal.

Blake Butler has signed a book deal with Harper Perennial, and Shane Jones is having his first novel made into a movie. And it's being reprinted by Penguin. Oh yeah, the dude who made things happen: Spike Jonze. Check out the link. Big things around the corner.

It would be easy to cry a river and say, "I work hard. Why not me?" And that's what annoys me about many, many folks writing poetry these days (because I can't take the term "poet" seriously, and probably never will be able to). It would've been easier to get an MBA if you wanted to rack the greenbacks.

This isn't a post bashing poets, because I myself, if you didn't know, am a writer of poetry. And I'm guilty of being frustrated by writing poetry also. See my last post. Or many of them before that. But come on, people.

Let me finish by saying that I'm thrilled for Shane and Blake (if you couldn't tell).

If you've read their blogs, you know that they're indefatigable writers. They don't fuck around. They made these things happen for themselves. And it's completely inspiring. Because people are reading, and people do care about art. We're in this horrendous economy right now, only composition jobs seem to be available for PhDs, and people are getting guns and murdering each other, so it's easy to bitch and moan and want Vinny Chase's life. Or you can work your ass off and get people to read your work. It's not "bragging." It's believing. It's about hope. It's about inspiration. Effusiveness required.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lift

Jess calls a kind of malaise that sets in during periods of moving and transition, fittingly enough, "Transition Keith." I can get irritable, depressed, and annoyed at stupid things. I'm usually not like that at all.

And it gets worse because I know I'm acting like that and have a hard time combating it. I think it was delayed this time around; it's almost been two months since we got here, and I think it set in at the end of last week.

I also keep forgetting that there's been a bit of a whirlwind the last three months, so the delay makes sense I suppose. I guess I had too much to think about, so much that there was no real rumination.

But the first semester at a new place is always tough. And considering I remember how awful my first few months at VCU were, that alone is able to take me away from the funk a bit, because things have been much better than that here.

*

The Giants are 4-0 for the second year in a row, but the injury bug seems to be biting again. Here's to being healthy and the streak continuing.

*

I'm looking to work on a new project as far poems go, but right now I'm not sure what it's going to be. Sometimes when I'm not writing I feel, probably unnecessarily, guilty. It's silly, but it happens.

There was a period after I felt Ghost Lights was completed where I pretty much knew it was either going to get published in a handful of years or I'd burn it and forget about it. I knew that because I wasn't writing poems that would fit in that particular book, and I felt like I couldn't write poems that would ever fit in that book. Poet maturation? Not sure.

But the same thing has happened now. What I mean is, once you start parodying yourself unnecessarily, or you're writing watered-down versions of better poems that you immediately know are better, that seems like a good sign that it's time to move on to a new project. I'm repeating what I did for Ghost Lights, though I don't think I'll burn this one if it eventually keeps floating in the poetic void. I have more faith this time around.

At least it seems to be my litmus test so far. But there's nothing wrong with relaxing and letting stuff swim around in your head. I feel like forcing words right now will just make me lose a little zealousness, and I don't want to do that. But I say things like that a lot, and then the poems seem to arrive. Maybe I just jinxed myself.

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Thinking about the job market also has me a little crazy. I know I have four years until I really have to think about that, but there's still a lot of pressure. Hopefully good pressure.

There are folks that have many more credentials than I do, and there are barely any 5/5 teaching load non-tenure track composition jobs available that pay less than $40,000 a year. Would I do that if I had to? Of course. I know I'm not going to get something fantastic right out of school, if I get anything right out of school.

And though I do tend to be pessimistic, hopefully things are on the upswing in academia and the economy and the tandem of both working together. Four years, though not a long time really, tends to be pendulous in the ways it can swing in a small amount of time, especially in academia.

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A lot of music. A lot of movies. I'll try to post something coherent about what you should be listening to and watching next time.