Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gemini Ink, Malvern Books, and Other Adventures

Let me just begin this post by saying how incredibly blessed I am to 1. have such amazing writer friends and 2. have the ability to travel and see said friends. How fortunate am I to have found a home here in the Texas literary community? Very.

The past week was a testament to that. I've been on the road reading, learning, and exploring, and it's been so refreshing. Let me give you a quick rundown of my literary excursion with some pictures.

Last Thursday, Bruno and I left our humble little abode for the wide and open road. I had a few things on my "to do" list, and some spare time for, well, let's call it inspired travel. We spent Thursday on the road, heading up to San Antonio from Edinburg. On Friday morning, I was scheduled to speak on a panel at the Gemini Ink writer's conference, so I was a little nervous.

Friday morning comes around and I arrive at the Tropicana Hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The first thing on my agenda is to get settled in and check out the keynote address, given by the publisher of Trinity Press. His talk opens up the conference on an exciting note, framing the recent changes in the publishing industry as not apocalyptic as many might call them, but instead as groundbreaking and exciting. Being an eternal optimist, I'm intrigued.

I was fortunate enough to speak on a panel about Suffering and Sentimentality from an editor's perspective with Robin Carstensen and Odilia Galvan Rodriguez. The panel ended up being a conversation, which I love, love, love. I added that I think a lot of editors/publishers tend to see sentimentality as a negative thing rather than a positive, but also, perhaps it's a way of excluding voices that don't fit the "norm" -- the voices of women, minorities, LGBT individuals, and differently abled peoples. We heard a lot of different ideas and thoughts, and the ending sentiment (hah) was really inspiring -- as writers, we should be open to exploring that line between passion and sentimentality. Carol Coffee Reposa, who was in the audience, approached me afterwards and noted that all the "Great" poems flirt with that line -- come right up close to it. So maybe that's the key to writing great rather than good work -- to risk sentimentality?

Anyway, I ended up learning a lot from our conversations.

Afterwards, I attended a panel on book marketing, which, as a writer, isn't something I think about all that often. I know I should, but it's tough, you know? Bryce Milligan of Wings Press added that, for poets, the most important way to market your work is through giving readings and hand selling, which I'm much more apt at (I think...).

Anywho, after the panel I needed some space to empty my brain, so I called up B and we headed over to the riverwalk for some lunch. We went to one of our favorite places, The Guenther House, and spent a bit of time exploring the old flour mill. Good times. That's me, pictured at the left, on the balcony of said restaurant. I really love their ambiance! It was a perfect place for a little peaceful lunch.

I had another panel scheduled for later that afternoon, so I head back to the conference at around 3. I attend another panel on writing trauma with Wendy Barker (wow!), but ended up ducking out early to prep for my own discussion.

Our afternoon panel was on the process of how to develop and put together a poetry manuscript. Since this is something I've recently struggled with, I felt particularly apt to talk about my own process. It was really enlightening, too, to learn about the processes of my fellow panelists, Carol Coffee Reposa, Edward Vidaurre, and Celina Villagarcia. My main advice was that every book has to have some sort of an argument, a central message to it. And I talked about how I had to narrow that down for my forthcoming book, The Lost Chronicles of Slue Foot Sue. There we are, pictured below. Don't we look smart? That's because we are.

That evening, although there was an amazing reading planned, I decided I needed to skip it and take it easy. B and I went out for some sushi at this really neat place and I had, err, maybe a little more sake than I'm used to. It was delightful :)

The next morning I was scheduled to attend a workshop with Tim Seibles. How fortunate am I??? I learned so much from the workshop. Even though a lot of it was advice I had already heard, it was really great to hear about the process of another writer. The workshop focused on incorporating specific details into your poetry. I ended up leaving with TWO poem drafts and a super useful process for revision. I really liked how "real" Tim was about how difficult and time consuming the craft of poetry can be, but also he was just so inspiring and encouraging. There were poets of all levels in the workshop -- from Bryce Milligan and Liliana Valenzuela to brand new baby poet undergrads, but I feel it was relevant to all. I also just read today that Seibles was named the Virginia Poet Laureate, and to be honest, I'm not surprised. I feel incredibly blessed to have spent the morning learning from him. There's a picture from the workshop. I'm on the left, soaking up Tim's amazingness.

Afterwards, I had a book signing at the conference author's table where I had the chance to chat with some young college students about the writer's career, meet San Antonio writers and even a few publishers and editors. I also sold a few books! There I am, left, hanging out with two buddies, ire'ne lara silva and of course, Edward Vidaurre. Didn't I tell ya I had cool friends?

I would have loved to have stayed longer, but I was on a bit of a time constraint. Later that evening, I had a reading and book signing in Austin, so after a quick and delicious lunch at The Cove, B and I headed up there. We checked into our hotel before making our way to the bookstore. I'd visited the bookstore last spring when I was in town for the Texas Institute of Letters meeting, so I was already at least a little familiar.

Don't we look happy? I was more nervous than anything else in that picture since it was just before we were about to get started. The reading was a book launch for my friend Nathan Brown's new collection of poetry, My Salvaged Heart (Mezcalita Press, 2016).  He was kind enough to invite me to join him and share a few poems in celebration. Allyson Whipple also shared a few poems, too, from her chapbooks. It was a nice, intimate event. Attendance was a little, let's say light, though, but it might have been due to the fact that the US Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, was reading but two blocks down the street. Competition much? Oh well. I had a nice time regardless and met a few wonderful Austin poetry fans. You can view my reading here:

After that, B and I were both pretty exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel for some much deserved rest. The next morning, we went to a few places in Austin, including the Texas State Cemetery and a cat cafe (we're odd tourists, ok?), before deciding to get the hell out of dodge and head for our favorite place, New Orleans. For the next two days, we existed in a bliss of beignets, live music, and good Louisiana beer. My favorite places on this visit were a trip through the Ursuline convent, which had some surprisingly interesting takes on women's history, and a tour of Frances Keyes' home. And of course the FOOD, which kinda sorta still has my stomach in a tizzy.

Today I'm recovering, trying to come down from the marvelous cloud that comes with travel, writing, and community. Hopefully I'll be able to settle back into my routine before the semester and reality hits again in a few weeks. I have so much to look forward to in the fall, but right now, I'm still relishing summer.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Manuscript Update

There's my manuscript. There she is in all her neat and pretty glory. Oh, oh, oh, she is a deceptive little turd. I made this image using word cloud, a neat little website that makes a design out of a word or pdf file. I decided, what the heck, I'll pop my manuscript in there, maybe it'll take my mind off the craziness it's become. And it spits out this pretty little neat thing that looks so simple.

Chaos. That's what she is. Chaos!

I spent today futzing with the book again, the order and the structure, and, well, I think I broke it.

And I'm having this crisis as I'm gathering my notes for a talk I'm giving in San Antonio on how to put together a manuscript. I'm going to walk into the conference room and be all like, hey everyone, I have no idea what I'm doing, but here's some advice


Actually, this is a perfect opportunity for me to reflect on the process of putting together a book. This latest collection has posed a few challenges for me, and I feel like it's close to being in good shape. It's original state was like a two-faced book with two separate themes -- personal poems about my recent illness(es), and then more of the whole revisionist mythmaking thing but with Texas legends.  I was going to slap the title of Slue Foot Sue on it and call it a day, hoping the reader would take that leap with me across the chasm that having two separate tones/voices/messages created. It was going to reflect the pastiche of identity, the chaos of being a woman, I told myself, trying to make it sound good.

But really, that was a bunch of bull. I was being lazy and didn't want to admit that all along, I'd been working on two separate books, and that in order to make it work, I was going to have to scrap half and write a shit load more.

I eventually came to my senses after chatting with my mentor, Jan. She pretty much told me as such and, though it took me awhile to accept the truth, I agreed and split the manuscript in two, telling myself the other half could wait until my next book.

And so I got to work on my Slue Foot Sue book, because it felt a little fatter and more developed. Yay. That's what I'd been doing this summer, adding to it. I ended up writing two whole new "Texas legend series" poems to accompany Sue in her book -- Lobo Girl, a feral child case, and Sirena, a Native American Legend of a mermaid in the Guadalupe River. Sue was going to be the anchor story, her poems sprinkled throughout the manuscript, the chapter titles adhering to major events in her narrative. Lobo Girl's was kinda sorta gonna follow suit. Sirena was a little different -- her poems were too connected and needed to be together, uninterrupted, so I placed them in a chapter, but they felt like they didn't quite fit there.

Now I had three controlling narratives, and the manuscript felt, well, a little confusing and out of control. Today, I sat down with B and we chatted about it over lunch. B is not a poet. Quite the opposite, in fact, he's a computer geek. But, I trust his judgement on things in general, and he's always up for some straight talk. I asked him, do you think I should have three chapters, one for each narrative, rather than sprinkling all the poems throughout the book?

That makes so much more sense, he told me.

I groaned. This was going to mean a major overhaul. Ok. Ok. Ok...

So today I tried doing that. Now I've got a Slue Foot Sue chapter that focuses on her narrative, yes, but also imperfect love poems, a Sirena chapter that interrogates the male gaze and the objectification of women, and a Lobo Girl chapter about wilderness and rebellion. And a fourth, tiny chapter about the moon. Because the moon is what all these women have in common, but of course.

So some poems no longer fit -- cut them out. I looked through my "other" manuscript and found a few of the ones I'd originally discarded now could go back in, so I did a little swapping there too.

This manuscript keeps evolving and changing and it's hard to keep up with what's going where and why :-/ Good thing I save versions of stuff.  This weekend, I'm going to follow that old advice, to print out all of my poems and arrange them on my office floor. Would you believe I'm actually excited about it? :)

It's almost there. It's almost there. It's almost there. I have a feeling this book is going to be really good, once I finally figure out the chaos. I don't think I've ever struggled so much with ordering a manuscript -- the other two were much easier, a straight up narrative sequence. This one resists that. Fortunately, the poems themselves have been fairly easy to write because I've just been feeling so inspired and energized. I keep having ideas and I can't shut the faucet off. Not that I'd want to, of course.

Anyway, long story short, I think I'm getting somewhere with this, and I know that in the end, this book will be much stronger through all the struggling it's put me through.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

In the Works! A Book Release Party!

I'm excited (And a little nervous) to announce that I'll be putting together a book release party for my good friend, Edward Vidaurre, in early August at Schneider's Gasthaus. My neighbors recently purchased the restaurant from the previous owner (who also allowed me to host readings there from time to time), and have been asking me to put together an event with the local poets since day one. Being a little preoccupied with life, I'd been putting it off, until a couple of weeks ago, while sitting on the Gasthaus patio enjoying a beer, the owner approached me again with a frown on his face. "You ever going to bring your poet friends, Katie?"


Ok, ok, ok, you twisted my arm, not that it really needed much twisting.

Depending on how this reading and release party goes, I'm toying with the idea of making this a semi-regular thing. Maybe a Books and Beer quarterly reading, celebrating new books released by local authors. Dunno. I get super busy and during the summer, I always have a little free time and dream up new work for myself to do. But whatever. This is kind of important, especially the part about supporting other writers and helping to create a cohesive literary community. And there's nothing like a little alcohol to do that, am I right?

The last time I hosted a reading at Schneiders, it was a resounding success (IMHO of course). I was celebrating my students' accomplishments that semester, and the local poetry community came out to essentially usher them into our circle. It was well-attended by writers, students, and even my colleagues from the university. I hope to replicate that atmosphere in this coming release party; we shall see how it goes. 

Anyway, I've let Edward chose the special guest readers, because it is HIS party. And we're going to also have an open mic to allow everyone an opportunity to share their ideas and works. I'm really excited to see how this pans out, and hopefully, it will be the first of many events I organize at Schneider's Gasthaus.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Laughs with Friends

From Light, 2015

On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to attend a little gathering with two poet friends, Julieta Corpus and Rodney Gomez, to write and chat about humorous verse. These are two poets whose work I admire greatly, and it was a wonderful opportunity to just chat, write, and maybe most importantly, laugh together.

Our discussions got me thinking a little bit on the idea of humorous verse, so I'll share some thoughts here just for the sake of recording them. First of all, Julieta, who organized the little get together, said that, in her little research for our workshop, she'd found that there was really a dearth of humorous poetry written for adults. A lot of the silly poetry was written for a younger audience. Secondly, humorous poetry tended to be more formal in that it adhered to conventions of rhyme and meter more strictly than more serious poetry, in general of course.

Julieta was left wondering -- why don't more poets write silly poetry, get in touch with their silly side? It's a good question. I think there's a bit of a stigma to "light" verse as being frivolous, and I think we as poets tend to stick to heavier issues. But who doesn't like to laugh? I think, especially when it comes to public readings, lighter poems tend to go over well with audiences, particularly audiences with nonpoets.

So, I think it's worthwhile for poets to get in touch with their silly side. That's the sentiment I was left with after our fun little workshop. Julieta guided us to write a few poems or to generate some seeds for poems (for me, it's more about just getting ideas... I'm really bad at writing on the spot). I left inspired to write more, and to be open to the silliness.

For the past few days, I've been mulling over our conversation, which is of course a good sign. It was thought provoking. I thought about some of the different "light" poems I'd read in the past and what it was about light poetry that made it stand out and be successful. And how can I incorporate these elements in my own work to make it more accessible. I think "light" poetry, too, can add texture to an otherwise heavy manuscript of poems... that's where my mind is lately as I'm wrapping up Chronicles.

I think the best "light" poetry, or really, the best poetry period, plays with the mixture of light and darkness, of shadow and light. So, when writing light poetry, maybe the key is to make it easy and breezy on the surface, but still have some heft, some purpose to your work. I think a good example of a poet who's able to achieve this is Julie Kane. I like how her work deals with gender issues, but does so with a sheen of light that makes these difficult and sometimes taboo topics of female sexuality easier to talk about.

There's a really great discussion of her work here at Light, a journal of light verse.

Anyway, over the past few days, I've written a couple of light-hearted poems, though they're really more exercises than anything else. I don't think I'd include them in my manuscript, not yet anyway, until I get a better hang at this whole balancing act thing. That's not to say that my work doesn't incorporate any humor -- I think I've been doing that all along, I have a certain playful strain, too, in much of my work -- but I'm just not comfortable with the label "light" I guess. Maybe I just need to get over myself :) Maybe I just need to "light"en up.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts about humor and poetry. I think this is a great example of the power of conversation, of meeting with other poets, and ultimately, of community. That seems to be a common theme -- we learn and grow by our interactions with one another. No one writes alone. I'm no exception.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Open Mics... Keepin' it Real

Image taken by Edward Vidaurre

A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of attending an open mic poetry event in Harlingen at The Prelude. This venue was totally new to me, and in the end, I'm really glad I took the plunge and headed out.

I typically don't do open mics -- they often are an odd assortment of readers, and you never know what kind of tone or environment you're stepping into as a poet. The opposite of an open mic, I suppose, is a curated poetry reading with poets invited by a specific host who sets the tone, theme, and mood. Open mics are a mixed bag, a chance, but the result can be really wonderful (or really shitty for that matter).

This event, though, was far more on the wonderful side of the scale. It was hosted by Julieta Corpus, who is a good friend of mine from back in my MFA days. I was feeling pretty lousy that day -- I know this is becoming a constant on my blog, but I'd been struggling with some health issues again this week. Harlingen is also about an hour drive from where I live, but at the last moment, I was lying on my sofa, I looked over at B and asked, well, should we get out of the house tonight? He nodded his head, said, sure, if you want, and of course the spirit was willing. I packed up my tablet and we headed out the door. 

We arrived a little late, and there was standing room only, though an employee brought B and I a table and some chairs, I guess because I was limping around, coughing, and looking utterly pathetic. I got cozy and listened in to the poetry to get a feel for the event before deciding if I'd chime in with a poem or two of my own. There were a few brand new baby poets who'd never read before, poets who were new to me, and of course, some old friends like Edward Vidaurre, Linda Romero, and Jim Griswald. The topics ranged from body image issues, cancer, and love. A good range of a slice of life, indeed. Feeling inspired, I tapped on Julieta's shoulder and asked to be added to the list.

I looked through my tablet, deciding what to read, and settled on a single poem I'd been working on lately, one I felt I'd finally finished but I wasn't quite sure. This reading would give me a clear idea, I figured. And it seemed lighthearted enough to read in front of strangers. Then, I ordered some coffee for B and I, and sat back to enjoy the evening.

When it was my turn, I hobbled up to the stage, read my poem a little nervously, but the audience seemed to like it, so that helped me feel more confident in it. I now feel like the poem is "done" and I'd be comfortable reading it in front of any crowd. In fact, I think I'll read it at my upcoming reading in Austin :)

I left a little before the night was over -- my back was achy, my cough out of control, and I had work the next morning. B and I slunk out into the night and made the drive home, debriefing and discussing the works, settling on our high points of the night, and determining that it was, indeed, a success! I'll be back for more events at The Prelude in the future.

So here's why I think poets, at any points in their careers, should attend open mics:

1. They keep us grounded. There's something totally democratic about being #12 on a list to read, of following a complete poetry virgin and having the opportunity to congratulate them for a job well done.
2. You never know who you're going to meet -- at this event, I didn't meet anyone new, but I did see some good friends from a side of the valley I don't often venture into. So, for me, it was more of a reconnecting.
3. Open mics are PERFECT for trying out new material. There's no expectation there -- if you bomb, people probably aren't even going to remember your name. 
4. You'll get to hear a hodge-podge of different poetry styles, maybe even listen to types of poetry you typically shy away from. And that's a good thing. It opens the mind.
5. They're fun. I had fun :)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Journals that Pay for Poetry Book Reviews

Aside from being a poet, I also write book reviews. I think reviewing poetry collections has helped me to see how they work, how they come together, what makes them gel and maybe not gel. So it makes me better at what I do.

In the past, I've written reviews for Inside Higher Ed, and it was a paying gig. That's kind of dried up, but I've continued writing book reviews for free, mostly to just finish up any commitments I'd made to review certain books. And plus, I read a lot anyway, so this practice of reviewing helps me to not only plow through books, but also reflect on them. It slows me down.

And plus, it's good literary citizenship. And maybe I get karma points?

Anyway, aside from all of this, it's time consuming. To think about what a book DOES and how it works doesn't just happen. I'm not that smart, people (I know, I know, big shock right?). To write a decent review, I typically have to read a book at least twice, and I have to mull it over, agonize a bit, and then of course write, revise, edit, submit...

It'd be nice to get paid, ya know?

So, over the past couple of weeks, I've been scouring for literary journals that will pay reviewers. Because it's a labor of love, sure, but it'd be nice to justify this work with, say, a budget to buy more book :)

Here's my list!

1. 32 Poems -- $25
2. Agni -- $20 per page for prose
3. Antigonish Review -- $50 (Canadian books only)
4. Bear Deluxe – negotiated
5. Blunderbuss – modest 
6. Capilano Review -$50 per page
7. Cascadia Subduction Zone -- $10
8. Cincinnati Review -- $25 per page
9. Flapperhouse – $0.01 per word
10. Georgia Review -- $50 per page
11. Grasslimb -- $10-25
12. Gulf Coast -- $50 
13. Impressment Mag -- $25
14. LARB 
15. Kenyon Review
16. New Letters -- $35 and up
17. New Myth -- $30
18. Room -- $50-$120
19. Shenandoah
20. Southern Indiana Review -- $50
21. Sycamore Review -- $50
22. Three Penny Review -- $400
23. Virginia Quarterly Review -- $500 
24. West Branch -- $200

A big shout out to Jessica Piazza's Poetry Has Value, which I used to help narrow my search.

Do you know of any other journals that also pay for book reviews? Please let me know in the comments, or email me at kghoerth at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Manuscript Musings

I have to say, I've been enjoying my summer vacation so far. 

I know, I know, I'm only about a week in, but so far, so good! I've been writing everyday. Every. single. day. I get up, make coffee, write. And everyday that writing has been fruitful. What an amazing feeling! Most of what I've been doing is sifting through and cleaning up my Napowrimo poems from last month, but also generating some new material along the way. For the past two days, I've been working on a new mini series of poems about Lobo Girl, the feral child legend of southwest Texas. I think her narrative will fit nicely into my Slue Foot Sue narrative, braided together so to speak. They're both feminist reimaginings of masculinized folklore, that celebrate "wild" women who defy the rules. 

Speaking of my book... this week I've also taken a critical look at it, reorganized it, and trimmed it back a bit. I like its new shape. I decided to take out the "body" themed poems from the mss. and save them for the next book entirely. That way, when I finish "Lost Chronicles" I'll already have a little head start on my next book, "Love Poems to Desdemona". So, I've rationalized this move to myself, and I'm fairly satisfied with the results. This sets me back a bit on the "Chronicles" project, but I still expect to be done by the end of the summer, and, well, I think it will make for a more cohesive, stronger narrative arc to both books.

So the state of the manuscript? Pretty darn good.