Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell, 2011!

It's been a pretty fantastic year for Katie the Poet!

And before I get all excited about what next year will bring, I think it is equally important to kind of meditate on what this year meant, what I've accomplished, and what I could have done better as both a writer and as a person.

I remember at the beginning of this year, I was less than enthusiastic. I was feeling terribly nervous about my MFA thesis, and I was just worried about the general uncertainty of my future.

Anyway, let's flashback to January 2010 where I reflected on this:

 What creative projects to work on this year?
Absolutely 100% focus must be directed towards finishing my thesis. All other noise must perish...

Once my thesis is completed, I plan to continue editing it and prepping it for submission to publishers. I'm really hoping to be able to do this by May. That would be nice :-)

Another goal - do more readings! I need to get more involved in the poetry community. Lately I've been letting myself create excuses. No more.

How did I do on this end?

Well, pretty damn good if I may say so myself B-)

My MFA thesis was finished by mid April, and I graduated a month later into the big fancy world of post-MFA. To celebrate my success, I took a trip to West Chester for their annual poetry conference, met a bunch of new friends and decided that my goal for the rest of the year would be to brush up on metrics. Which... I did! :)

As the summer finished, I decided to take another long look at the thesis manuscript. It had sufficently rested, and I had that necessary distance from it. After some polishing and with the addition of my summer writing, I was able to get it into tip top shape and start sending it out to publishers. As you know, it got picked up! I only submitted it to two publishers; it was snapped up remarkably quick.

And how about my "getting more involved in the poetry community"? I did that, too! I mean, going to West Chester was absolutely a step in the right direction there, as it opened up the world beyond just Texas to me. But also, I've kept my roots -- I'm still a Valle Poet and I've been active (but not too active!) in the poetry scene, maintaining about one reading per month. December I slacked, but really, there just wasn't much going on down here in December. I also began participating in Eratosphere, which I should probably do more of come to think of it.

Other than my planned projects, I had a few other creative projects, too. I've had the wonderful opportunity to work as an Assistant Poetry Editor at Fifth Wednesday Journal, to write book reviews for BOXCAR, and how can I forget my NaNoWriMo endeavor??? :) :) :) Creatively, I've been quite the busy bee.

Could I have done better?


I missed out on a few great opportunities (the first annual Beat Poetry Fest, and Flor de Nopal to name my two biggest regrets), and I think I could have focused a bit more on the actual creation of poetry. Also, I've got so much going on, I think I need to have better "focus" to make sure that nothing, nothing, falls to the wayside.

Next question, please!

What is taking time away from my writing?
Ugh, too many things. I love to blame work, in particular - my 2nd job. I spend so much mental energy preparing for my Saturday classes that it leaves just the scraps for poetry. This is on the chopping block. It might need to go - but not until I've put in a full year.

This I did end up chopping, but it was replaced with a lecturing position at STC. I'm still holding down two jobs, and finding time for my creativity somewhere in between. Somehow, I'm making it work! I don't see quitting either job in the near future. I actually love love love both my jobs :)

World of Warcraft.
Hah! This one went out the window. I'm not playing video games anymore. For relaxation, I've been working on my novel. LOL I've gotten pretty good at "cutting the fat" in this sense.

Exercise - believe it or not - gets in the way of my writing. Running is becoming a new obsession of mine.

Eh. I'm still running. I took a little break during November, but I've since started back up and run about twice per week. It feels good, and I actually think it helps me to clear my mind and refocus on my writing. So this, I plan to keep.

My sickness and the general atmosphere of saddness gets in the way of my writing big time. What to do about this? I'm really not sure :-

I've been really blessed with health this year. Phew!

Who supports you, and who doesn't?
My family supports me, Bruno supports me, my community of writers is great. BUT... sometimes, although it's not intentional, family drama, sadness, depression, ect in other people gets in the way of me writing. How selfish, when someone I love is in pain I only think about how it affects me. But it does. And I don't know what to do about that, either. Move away? Hell, this actually doesn't just get in the way of me writing, but me LIVING, GROWING as a human being. Sometimes I just wish I could run away from everyone, from everything, and just be myself - not a person in relation to others.

While this doesn't BUG me as much as it used to, it's still an issue. As perhaps unhealthy as this sounds (or maybe completely healthy) I'm learning to not be so... tied up in the emotions and lives of others. You're depressed? Ok, I'm here for you -- but I'm going to live my life, too. I think it's particularly difficult for women to do this, but... I'm learning. I have to!

What can I do differently this year?
Geez. Ok, well here goes - my new and improved Katie for 2011.

Katie will regiment her writing. She will write for at least an hour everyday - not including blogging.

I may not have kept up with this EVERYDAY, but I know I AT LEAST have been working on writer related things for an hour a day (most days, though, it's more like 3 hours of working on this type of thing, whether it's editing, musing, writing poetry, working on my novel, commenting on another's work, reading poetry, writing reviews...).

Katie will learn to block out negative feelings and influences, banish them from my thought processes. How will I do this? I don't know. I have a year to figure that out.

I think I kind of have this bit figured out. Anyway, it's a learning process, and I'm getting there :)
Katie has already given up alcohol. It's bad for my health, and I'm beginning to think maybe all of my health problems are related to alcohol.

Heh...heh... heh... no comment on this one. I have my health back!

So that was 2011. 2012? I'll outline my goals for you tomorrow!

Goodbye 2011! Thanks for all the fun. It was a wild wild wild ride.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Never Ask a Woman How Much She Weighs...

And never ask a writer how many times they've been rejected B-)

Though, to give you a teaser -- both will be revealed by the end of this blog post.

Ah Facebook -- colossal waste of time?

Well, today a post on facebook by my good friend ire'ne lara silva , a poet I admire, got me thinking about 2011 and beyond.

As writers, we're always quick to celebrate our successes, share them with our friends and family to gain encouragement and for those oh so valuable "congratulations." I thrive on that sort of thing :) :) :)

But what about the rejections? Those I usually tuck away in the back of my mind. Somewhere along the road, I've thickened up my writerly skin and have decided to not let them get to me, really. I mean, as a poet, you really do indeed have to be that way. Otherwise, well... you won't last very long!

So anyway, let's get back to ire'ne -- she was brave enough to tally up her rejection/acceptance stats for the year and share them on her facebook page, which I found absolutely commendable. How could she make them so public? I didn't even want to know my own stats, to go through the pain of counting up rejections... much less share them on facebook? My poet friends will see me for what I am -- a loser.

But, but... while munching away at my veggie sub, I started thinking about it. Why the stigma? Everyone gets rejections. It's just something we don't talk about, because, as much as we don't want it to, it always hurts. I've become pretty numb to the pain over the years, but ah... it still pricks everytime I open up my mailbox and see that ominous envelop, everytime my email dings and I see "Re: Katherine Hoerth Poetry Submission" in the subject line.

So I decided, in the spirit of ire'ne's amazing courage, that I, too, would tally up my rejections and share them with the world. Perhaps we could get a little laugh, right? I pop into duotrope, and go to my tracker. And, here are my 2011 stats:

92 rejections, 9 acceptances. (if we count book submissions, it ticks up to 11/92)

Wow. LOL! 92 Rejections? How did I NOT kill myself after 92 rejections?

A few days ago, I thought I would do an "end of the year" Katie triumph post about all of my achievements. But you know what? I think the greatest achievement I've made this year is surviving those rejections -- not letting them get to me.

How about my 2010 stats, you ask?

7/21 -- though, let's be honest, I wasn't submitting to pie in the sky places like AGNI, or Tin House.

So there they are... I feel so utterly naked. My stats... it's almost as embarrassing as sharing my true weight (in the spirit of full disclosure, I weigh 124).

Oh my.

So how do you feel about your rejections? Are they dirty little secrets, or badges of courage?

Since the New Year is just around the corner, I'll start off with one of my many resolutions.

May 2012 be the year I break out into triple digit rejections :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Contract!!

On the eve of Christmas Eve (hah!), I got an early Christmas present.

I signed my book contract with Slough Press!


Now I had always imagined contract signing to be a very... mmm... scary ordeal. Someone is out to screw someone, right? And it's legally binding and and you have to negotiate and such, right?

But this experience was nothing of the sort. Editor and I met at Starbucks for coffee, chit chatted a bit, and he explained to me what was in the contract. I had done a bit of reading on what to expect from a book contract (on the poets and writers website).

So everything sounds good to me, and I am feeling very comfortable and confident about the project. One reassuring aspect of this process is the fact that my editor and I are both active participants in our local poetry scene -- which means that we know each other already! Phew, so having my precious project in the hands of someone I know and trust? Well, that makes a big difference.

I am very happy to report that my book will be available of course on Amazon, and at Barnes and Nobles stores across the country (likely by special order only, but still -- super cool!). Editor also tells me to clear summer schedule for possible book tour around Texas. Aye.

And what's the next step? I ask. Let's get back to reality, and think short term goals.

Nothing! He says, you just sit back and let me do the hard work. I can totally do that :) Especially since I've already begun working on my second book
In a few weeks, I will be expecting some "requested revisions" and edits. I told editor that I'm actually pretty open to suggestions. For some reason (and I think it's because I've already begun work on next book) I'm ready to relinquish creative control of my book, and let someone with fresh eyes take a look at it. I wasn't feeling this way a few weeks ago, but I've had a bit of a change of heart.

And beyond that? Well, next up comes the task of requesting blurbs and possibly an introduction, looking for cover art and and and...

LOL. Ok, so I've got some hard work ahead of me, too. But for now -- please let me sleep off my Christmas hangover, and get to eating some of BruBru's delicious delicious Swedish pancakes.

Oh, and a lunch date with another poet this afternoon to discuss all things musing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

I was recently asked by a good friend of mine for some assistance with assembling her poetry manuscript. Apparently, she's heard that I'm pretty decent at it. Where she heard that? I haven't a clue!

But it got me to thinking -- how does it all come together?

It's kind of a mysterious process, but it doesn't have to be so mysterious! Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to share MY process. Maybe it'll work for you, too?

So for my first poetry manuscript, The Garden, Uprooted, was actually a real challenge to assemble. I had a pile of poems on my lap. And they were precious poems to me, they were really all I had as a writer. You see, when you put together your first poetry manuscript, you're pouring in years of learning the craft. These are the poems I grew with, learned from... they are the ones who chronicle my journey from wannabe to... well poet!

Luckily, I had a lot of support when it came to pulling it all together. This manuscript was actually my thesis for my MFA. I had my thesis adviser holding my hand through the process, teaching me what he'd, too, learned through years and years of being a poet. He was actually very helpful, reading through my countless drafts. My adviser never told me HOW to do it, but he did help me to understand what was working, what wasn't, and even more importantly, he was there to kind of "talk" things through with me. He'd ask me -- "Katie, why did you put this poem/section first?" and I'd have to explain. So a lot of thought went into the process, which I think is essential. Each decision you make needs to be for a reason, a purpose.

So that leads me to piece of advice #1:

Have a reader, other than your mom.

For me, I was fortunate enough to have a little team of readers (my thesis committee!). Now, The Garden, Uprooted, isn't an exact replica of my thesis manuscript (which, actually, carried a different title). Some of what my profs told me I followed in my thesis, but then when the manuscript was in my hands only, went back and changed. For example, adviser told me he didn't like particular poem. Fine. It's out of the thesis, no biggie. But guess what? In The Garden, Uprooted, it's going to be there! Unless, of course, editor shares the same opinion as adviser....

Other changes include many added poems (this summer, I worked a lot in meter, so I included a metrical element throughout the script) revisions of poems, and I ended up taking out some poems, too, that no longer had a place. 

Having a reader isn't everything, though. You're going to have order your own storm, to borrow a metaphor here. No one else can do it for you.

My next piece of advice:

Study the first books of poets you admire

Before I started assembling my manuscript, I went on an amazon shopping spree ordering other poet's manuscripts. One in particular I read over and over again was Anna Journey's If Birds Gather in Your Hair for Nesting. I think that book taught me a lot :-)

Try to disect their work -- how does each poem speak to one another? What works, and what doesn't? How are they sectioned off, if at all?

Now as a reviewer, I'm reading a lot of first books. Some of them work, some don't. But I think this teaches me a lot more than any MFA could!

Which brings me to my next piece of advice.

Print out your poems, feel them in your hands, and spread them across your living room floor.

You will, indeed, look like a maniac in front of your family. That's ok -- your family should be well aware already that you're a maniac if you're this far along in putting together a manuscript. Poets have strange habits, and families learn to deal :)

This is what I did -- I laid all my poems out on my (actually office) floor, and stared at them for awhile. When they were all spread out, I could piece poems together that I knew were related, spoke to each other. I started by grouping them by common themes/images/tones/obsessions.

Now how do you do that?

Good question, glad you asked!

I would jot down little notes on the corners of the pages, central images and themes. For example, reading through my poems, I noticed a good chunk of them were about fairy tales. Fine. I write fairy tales on the corner, or more specifically, red riding hood, or Repunzel, or the frog prince, or whatever. With these poems, then, I found an overarching similarity -- they were all about the complex relationship between innocence and sexuality. Great. This later became a section -- Germination, along with other poems (non fairy tale related) that were still meditations on this theme.

My other sections included my "eve" poems, my "procreation" poems, and my "feeling out of place" poems. That's of course way oversimplifying things, but you get the general idea, I hope.

Once grouped, then it would be easier to order them. I started thinking of the individual sections as chapbooks, about 20 pages in length each. This was really helpful for me. I'd try to begin each section with a strong poem, and end with a strong poem, too. The first poem had to really stick with the "theme" of the section, to help the reader get the idea behind my madness, to introduce everything. And what goes in between? I don't know... I tried to tell some sort of a narrative. Let's look back to my "fairy tale" section.

Here, I started off with a very clear poem that referenced little red riding hood (actually, you can read it here.)

My next poem, while not clearly adhering to the fairy tale/red riding hood theme, did, instead echo similar images, and the theme of innocence lost. So it kind of opened up the section, in a sense. Throughout the section, there are more fairy tale poems, they're pretty evenly spread out, so my reader will not forget. The last poem of the section speaks very significantly to the first poem -- it's about red riding hood overcoming the wolf, and becoming a being of the forest, a being of her own woman, comfortable in her bare feet, her strength. In the end of the poem, she rushes off into the forest, the dark forest -- which becomes a metaphor, actually, for the next section!

So you see? Direction. No choice can be made haphazardly!

Are you starting to notice a theme? I am. Assembling a manuscript requires a very intimate understanding of your own work. Without that, you won't get very far.

So let's recap Katie's "expert" (ahem) advice on assembling your first poetry manuscript.

1. Have a reader, or several, that you trust. Works best if this person doesn't love you :) You need for them to be honest, and love has a way of making liars out of even the most honest of men.
2. Study the first books of poets you admire.
2. Gain an intimate understanding of your work. This takes time,and simply cannot be rushed.
3. Group your poems into groups, either by theme/tone/image... something needs to bind them centrally. You might learn that you don't want to have sections at all, and that's ok. But explore this, it will make your manuscript that much stronger.
4. Choose the order of your sections -- make sure there is a method to your madness
5. Order the poems within your sections. Make your first poems strong and introductory in some manner, setting up your reader's expectations. And choose your last poems just as wisely. Leave your reader with something to ponder and meditate on.
6. Understand that these things take time. And that you will go through many many drafts. And that's ok. My first manuscript was five years in the making. That was a lot of years of writing, but I've been in the "assembling" stage for at least a year and a half. And you know what? I was constantly poking at it, changing it, making it into the beautiful beast it is today.
7. I'm told that your 2nd manuscript is much easier to assemble :) So let's hold out hope together, ok?

I've just begun work on my "2nd born" myself. She's coming along quite nicely, if I may say so. This time, I'm starting out with the big picture in mind. I'll let you know how that turns out for me :)

So there, my two cents. Of course, there is some required reading and places you can read and learn from people who probably know a lot more about this than I do.

This article from AWP was very helpful to me.

Ordering the Storm is another good resource, I've heard, though I've never read the book myself. Maybe you should read it, and let me know how that goes for you :) :) :)

So go forth, and make your poems sparkle!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Poetry Community... How Important is it?

So, I had a pretty lovely weekend.

My new editor (oh how I love typing this... not that I don't absolutely love old editor, who isn't old at all... who is actually still my editor, but now I have two... oh man this is wild) invited me to his home this weekend for a poet's dinner. I had such a wonderful time! I wish I had taken pictures, but I didn't want to be, you know, that tacky girl at the end of the table throwing peace signs and giggling on about Facebook y mas.
Anyway, I mean, it's not a big deal, right? Getting together with a small group of friends, sharing a meal -- it all sounds pretty standard. But... you know, there's something magical that happens when a bunch of poets get together and talk, and... er... drink. Our discussion topics started off pretty prim and proper, but quickly got into the nitty gritty silliness about maracas, naked Saturdays, and tequila. It was really nice to get together, to get to know some of the poets in my local community, and to feel free to just talk.

Poets, I think, tend to be pretty social beings. I mean, some of us are. We have to be! We go out and do readings, we have to promote our books, build relationships with editors/publishers/reviewers/etc. And many of us are teachers, too -- so our lives are filled with conversation. I know it's an essential part of the "job," but sometimes, I feel horribly socially awkward.

But you know what helps?

Belonging to a community of poets who are doing the same thing alongside you.

Anyway, as a poet, I think I've really benefited from belonging to this "valley" poetry scene here. It's pretty modest, sure, but through word of mouth and just the friendliness and willingness of the poets in this community to reach out is making all the differenec in the world. I've made a lot of friends along the way, and I think I've come a long way since the shy girl I used to be before I started reading out in public. Sometimes, I feel like an absolute hermit, sure. And when it's been too long since I've done a reading, my poet buddies will remind me, encourage me, ask about my writing...

and really, I think that's made all the difference in the world, especially now post MFA.

Ok now I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

But anyway... do you participate in your local poetry scene?

When do we make the leap from colleagues, fellow poets -- to friends?

I think it's after you share a lovely glass of wine ;)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Maybe It's the Weather

But today I was having one of those days.

You know the type -- when you have an exuberant amount of crushing self doubt? It happened to me today as I was driving home for lunch. You see, I'm working on this poem, and... I started thinking to myself -- ugh, I'm nothing but a big ugly ball of cliches. And when I write poems, I'm doing nothing but piling up a big ol' skein of words that have already been written, and regurgitating them, Katie style.

How utterly depressing, right?

And then I started thinking about my NaNo manuscript. Who would ever want to read it? It's pathetic, and stupid, and also a bunch of plot cliches all wrapped up together and spit out mixed with my very acidic stomach fluid. I wanted to throw my USB drive in the toliet in one big emo temper tantrum.

Ack. Self doubt. I hate it.

But I'm working through it.

How about a sexy tidbit about trees? You know you love it:

But even trees rejoice the snow’s

arrival, leaves of oaks fall to
the ground like satin lingerie.

Let’s stand like January trees
and celebrate the naked limbs

Oh my... oh my oh my oh my.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wrapping Up My First Semester Teaching

Ok, so it's not completely my first semester TEACHING, but teaching college students.

Tomorrow's my last day with the kiddos -- they're turning in their final writing portfolios and it will definitely prove to be bittersweet.On the one hand, yay, I did it! And I feel amazingly proud of what I've accomplished. I came into this semester slightly unsure of myself. I was nervous, mainly because I've been working so hard to get to this point, to be a college instructor. And what if I hated it? What if it was hard, and horrible, and what if the students were awful and mean to me and made me cry?

But... in the end, I had a wonderful semester. I got to know my students, and I hope they learned a thing or two from me! But perhaps moreso, I learned from them. I learned that I am capable of doing this, and that teaching is something I'm good at -- something that makes me feel alive. I love being in a classroom. I'm an attention whore -- all eyes on me please! :-)

And I love constructing lessons -- bringing my creativity into the classroom to try and get my points across. I mean, this semester I kept it pretty basic just because I was still getting the hang of things, but planning my lectures was actually something I looked forward to.

So after tomorrow, my students will be Katieless, out in the world, hopefully better able to articulate their thoughts into beautiful little tidbits called essays. And I will miss them -- but you know what? Next semester, I do it all over again with an even bigger course load. I'm looking forward to that!

Today I was browsing The Chronicle, feeling excited about all the opportunities out there in the world. I can't wait to have a few more years under my proverbial belt, and to someday (someday) be able to teach creative writing to a classroom full of students who need their talent brought out and encouraged. I'm excited -- this life is going to be one Hell of a ride :-) And it all has to start somewhere!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Big News!

Today there was cause for dancing in my office...

I have just received word that Slough Press will be publishing my first full manuscript of poems!

I had to read the email about fifty million times before the news sank in.

And then, I couldn't breathe :)

Tenetively, it's titled The Garden, Uprooted. I'm not married to the title, so let's see what editor has to say.

Oh my I'm just so unbelievably excited!

But you know what else I feel?

Suspiciously empty.

This manuscript's been in the works since 2007... that's four years of writing, crafting, editing, musing, loving, and hating. I've gone through about a million zillion drafts... And now... it's off in the hands of a very able editor... but it's out of my hands...

I'm having some type of... seperation anxiety from my poems!

I totally need to get over it.

Back to the happy dancing! :D

You know there will be many more details to come!

Friday, December 2, 2011


Victory! Victory! It tastes so unbelievably sweet :-)

Ahhh... so I did the mad dash to 50K words, and my novel isn't done. Here are a few things I learned from NaNoWriMo:

1. Writing a novel is very, very different from a poetry manuscript

How so? Ugh... writing a novel is all about consistancy, about keeping the creative energy flowing.

Poetry, on the other hand, is about bursts of brilliance, and then expanding on them. When I was working on my novel, I never had that frustrating "writer's block" I get with poetry. I'd just meditate on my novel's central images, and the words would keep flowing.

2. Noveling is like writing poetry!

LOL don't you love the way I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself ;)

No, but in all seriousness, at times I would treat my prose like poetry, and that's when the magic would happen. I think poets can make great novelists. I'm a poet, but certainly not a "great novelist," yet anyway. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Noveling takes a butt load of time

And I mean, a butt load.

But you know what? It feels so damn good to write, that I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

4. You can fall in love with your characters.

I had to kill off my MC's wife just because I was jealous of her. Benjamin Brutus is so unbelievably dreamy... :-)

5. It is utterly impossible to write a novel in a month


But it was one hell of a journey. Will I be back? You betcha!

I've learned a lot about myself along the way, and produced a manuscript that, yeah, needs a lot of work, but someday, someday, I'll be damn proud of it.

So, back to poetry? Or do I keep going with this novel?

Isn't it wonderful to have choices :-)