Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Afternoon with the Texas Poet Laureate

I am blessed, that's really all I can say.

This summer, I am teaching creative writing for the first time, which is, of course, something I've always wanted to do, although I admit that I've felt a little overwhelmed with the task of piecing together a curriculum that actually encourages and fosters creativity in college students. On my first day of class, I entered the classroom thinking, Oh my goodness what the heck did I get myself into?!?! These students, unlike the freshmen I typically work with, wanted to get something out of the class, something more than a grade. They had expectations. I couldn't let them down.

Well, after a few days in class, I received a curious Facebook message from Jan Seale, the 2012 Texas poet laureate, asking me to call her. Now, I've been to a few of Jan's readings, we've exchanged polite conversation, and she's a bit of a literary celebrity. I called her right away, wondering why SHE would want to talk to ME.

She invites me over to her house, saying that she has something she'd like to give me. Hurriedly, I scribble down her address and she says to swing by her house after I finish teaching the next day. How can I refuse such an invitation?

I'm so nervous and giddy when the time comes that I ask my husband to take me, so off we go to her house. When Jan greeted us at her front door and invites us in for tea, the nerves mysteriously disappear.

For the next two or so hours, we chat about everything from love, work, the writing life, books, our families, and finally, teaching. Jan and I have so much in common; it's hard to believe we're from different generations. She, too, taught at UTPA, and for many years. She founded The Gallery, the student-run literary journal that I was the chief editor for back in 2007. She worked on RiverSedge, which I now work on, too. She's friends with the president of the university and we exchange stories about him. She, too, got her start teaching junior high. She, too, was a "child bride." (Ok, not "child" so much as we both tied the knot when we were 18)

Well, she asks me how my teaching is going. I tell her that I'm beyond thrilled to be teaching creative writing, though a little intimidated, lost, and overwhelmed. Jan smiles and nods her head as though she understands (I'm sure she did!). She tells me that's why she invited me over. How could she have known? It turns out, she didn't, it was a lucky coincidence and maybe a little bit of fate/ divine intervention.

Jan tells me that she wants to give me her "life's work" of poetry teaching and workshop materials. I look over at Bruno, wide-eyed, ecstatic. "Really? Are you sure?"

She explains that she doesn't plan on teaching much anymore, and that she wanted to pass all of her notes, examples, handouts, books and journals onto someone who could use them. She has everything neatly stacked in a box, organized, set out just for me. I can't believe her generosity and promise to give her collections a good home. We hug the most wonderful hug as Bruno packs up the car with the gifts. Jan watches at the window, a little sad to see her "babies" go.

I've begun going through the materials and they're golden, not only for myself as a teacher but as a writer as well. It's absolutely invaluable and I'm still in awe at how she's given them to me, entrusted me to continue this work. I'm really just beginning as a writer and teacher, and having Jan as a mentor and friend is just such a gift. I promise to visit, to let her know how my first semester goes and to keep in touch. Someday, I want to grow up to be like Jan, if only I can be so fortunate.  Someday, I hope I can pay it forward and help some lost, confused, and young creative writing teacher find her way, just like Jan's done for me.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rejection Letters, Redux

I feel like it's time for me to return to the subject of, well, rejection letters.

Let's talk.

With the completion of my second poetry manuscript, I'm now in what I like to call "submission mode" which inevitably means I'm also receiving heaps of rejection letters once again. Part of the process, I know, and I'm totally over it already.

On Wednesday night, I sent off a handful of submissions before bed. I'm using Duotrope again to research new markets, and found two that I wanted to try. I spent a little time reading their online content, figured, hey, looks like it might be a good fit. I sent off a submission of poems to each journal that I thought might fit with their aesthetic. The whole process took me about an hour to put together two packets and send them off. A typical evening.

Well, the next morning, I'm going about my routine. First coffee, then email. And in my inbox, there's a message from one of the two venues. I figured it must be one of those automated responses, maybe letting me know that they'd closed their submissions early, or something.

Nope. It was a rejection letter. A form rejection letter complete with "dear writer." Ugh. I had sent the submission like at 10pm, and at 8:32 I get a form response? Annoyed.

I posted about this on my facebook page, to commiserate with my fellow writers about the smelliness of it all. Some were outraged alongside me. Some said I should be happy to get a response. Some asked, well, what do you expect? :-/

Being a poetry editor myself, I understand, kind of. I mean, Amarillo Bay is awesome but I don't get boatloads of submissions, and I'm able to personally consider and respond to each submission I get. Even in my slush-sifter job at Fifth Wednesday (where we DO get a boatload of submissions and more), I try my damndest to spent time with each poem and leave some sort of comment to pass along to the author. I don't ALWAYS do that, but I'd say 60/40.

I'm probably just being a big baby about this (I know I'm being a big baby about this). We're in an age where tons of mags charge submission fees. We're in an age where there's too much bad poetry out there, some of it probably written by me. We're in an age where, like, no one wants to read poetry anymore. I should be honored that an editor looks at my work for a moment, makes a snap judgement, hits reject, and the process begins again.

Only, errr... I'm not. And that's my problem.

So I've decided to begin collecting rejection letters again. To celebrate the process. To celebrate trying. To celebrate learning. To celebrate the long and arduous journey from idea to creation to revision to polishing to submission and finally, one day, to publication.

In 2014, this rejection letter marked 23. And onward I go.

Feel free to chime in below with your thoughts on rejection letters, stories, coping strategies, or anything at all :-)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Amarillo Bay!

I have some exciting news to share!

First of all, I have a handful of poems up at Amarillo Bay

And second of all, I'm going to be taking over as Poetry Editor, starting with the next issue in August!

I couldn't be more excited about this news. I've been an assistant poetry editor before, I've been on editorial committees and have helped make decisions, but this time, it's all up to me. I get to read the submissions, decide what gets in, send out rejection/acceptance letters, copy edit, the whole nine yards.

So far, I've really enjoyed working with AB. The other editors are super nice and welcoming. And believe it or not, I like sifting through slush piles. For me, it's an exciting prospect, to dig through submissions, looking for gems. I even sent out my first rejection letter yesterday :D

So do take a look at the journal, and if it suits your fancy, send a submission in. My goal is to respond back with personal notes to everyone who submits. No form letters here! I want the process to be personal, not mechanical.

It's exciting just to think about. I can't wait!

Saturday, May 17, 2014


A few weeks ago, I was invited by Daniel Garcia Ordaz, the publisher at El Zarape Press, to write an introduction for their latest release. How could I refuse? Not only do Daniel and I go way back, but it was a pretty exciting offer because 1. the author of the book is none other than Edward Vidaurre, who I love and 2. I'd never been invited to write an introduction to a book before, and it sounded like something every proper poet should try her hand at.

So, away I went. I dove into Edward's book, and quite honestly, I was blown away by how smooth the book read, how the poems and their rich images just kept flowing, one after the other. I wanted to express that breathless feeling in my intro, but not only that, I wanted to give Edward's book context. I THINK that's what an introduction is there for, to give a collection some context and explain how it fits into the greater discourse of contemporary poetry.

So that's what I tried to do. I hope I was able to give Edward's book justice. Here's an excerpt from my introduction:

Above all, Edward’s voice is his own. These poems are also regional, poems that masterfully illustrate the quirkiness of life in El Valle through the eyes of a Barrio Poet. Come down the resacas of the lower valley with Rumi and watch “the rocks under [your] feet dance” towards their drowning death in its waters. Dream of a “raspa-colored heaven” where the “skies are blue coconut and chamoy.” Listen to the song of border-town barrios at night -- a barking dog, an opening door, “a mother’s heart” with her “mouth wide open / screaming into the dead night without a sound.” These poems illustrate what life is like when you live with your eyes open, bloodshot and always awake.

Want to read more? Well, order your bad self a copy! It's now available in both paperback and on kindle HERE

Friday, May 16, 2014

Welcome to Summer 2014

So it's time for a change of gears!

My grades have been submitted. I'm spending the majority of my days in my bathrobe. The air conditioner is blaring.

Yep. It's summer again!

And my goodness, am I grateful.

I've been on vacation for about a week, and so far, it's been pretty amazing, and believe it or not, pretty productive, in my own Katie sort of way. Of course, I had to decompress after the craziness that was April and early May, but I'm coming off of that now, and I'm in the mood to get things done, which is a good thing. I'm off of work until July 9th, and as always, I've got a good stack of things I want to accomplish.

1. My poetry manuscript. Very, very important. So, this is the same ms. I slaved away over last summer, and I thought I was done with it. I'd been submitting it a handful of places, got a few sniffs, and things are looking good. BUT, it's too short. So guess what I'm doing now? :D And believe it or not, it's been pretty smooth going. I'm really feeling good about this book, and I have high hopes for it. Keeping my fingers crossed (and typing, of course).

2. Reviews. I've fallen a little behind with my review column, so I'm spending my afternoons on that. Right now, I'm reading Frost in Low Areas from Zone 3 press. I have a little stack of books to review, and I want to the bottom of that stack by the time I go back to work. It's a good thing.

3. Plan a dynamite creative writing course for summer II. I'm seriously excited about teaching creative writing. It's my first time :-) :-) :-) 

4. Blog! Because I don't do that enough anymore.

5. Submit submit submit. Once I have my poetry manuscript in tip-top shape, I want to work on placing some of my pieces in lit journals again. I'm thinking of renewing my Duotrope  account so I can be a little more strategic than I've been in the past year. This is important.

6. Learn to somehow take it easy? LOLS. Not going to happen.

I've decided to put my fiction writing and big memoir plans on hold for now. My main focus is getting this poetry manuscript in the best shape possible.

So yep, my summer is looking pretty nice.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Napowrimo #23

Today's task was a homophonic translation. This is just ridiculous. I "translated" Rilke.

Die Mandelbäume in Blüte: alles, was wir leisten können, ist, sich
ohne Rest zu erkennen in der irdischen Erscheinung.

Unendlich staun ich euch an, ihr Seligen, euer Benehmen,
wie ihr die schwindliche Zier traget in ewigem Sinn.
Ach wers verstünde zu blühn: dem wär das Herz über alle
schwachen Gefahren hinaus und in der großen getrost.

The man delved in me, in blood, alas, was weird, kitten is six
On the rest of the zoo, the archaic men in the kitchen piercing them

Underneath the stone itch you’re on, it’s singing, ever been a man
The early swindler fears chugging in a vegan sin.
Awkward verses on Tuesday, you blew him: Denver was hers, all around
She watched him get far and he listened in their grossness and got lost.

Then, I fixed it up a bit, but it's still no less ridiculous:

The man delved into me, into the blood, into the weirdness of my being.
There were six kittens and the house felt like a zoo. An archaic man sat in the kitchen,

piercing them underneath the stone of his heart, satisfied his itch. I was singing, Ever Been a Man
to myself, wondering if I was that early-morning swindler, chugging my vegan sin,
wiping the white mustache from my lips. It was an awkward verse because there was a grain of truth
in the breadbox. It was Tuesday. You blew him. Denver was hers, and all around
she watched him grow more and more distance. He listened to their grossness, got lost in it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Napowrimo #22

Something super short and simple for this busy day.

I love it when air
smells like rain
and the earth moans
with thunder. Dust
kicks up with the wind
and the first drops fall
so hard they imprint
the thirsty earth
like the pocks of my skin
beneath the impassioned
tips of your fingers.