Friday, November 30, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012 -- Consider Yourself DEFEATED!



I did it! I did it! I did it!

::Cue Victory Dance::

I really didn't think I could pull it off this year. My darkest moment was last night, staring at my blinking cursor, needing 10k more words to go and giving up, wallowing in my own self pity. "I'm just too busy, being a professor sucks nuts..." I wined... and whined...

But then, today? With a burst of renewed creative energy (and, ok, an extreme amount of coffee) I sprinted to the finish line.

This month I wrote a novel. I. am. awesome.

All awesomeness aside, as per expected, my novel needs work. It took me about 10k words in the beginning of nonsense to get a handle on what this crazy plot would look like (it's two stories, about the same woman, woven into one... and it gets a little trippy), another 20k to really relate to my own protag, and I'm JUST ABOUT at the climax of my book when... when the two folks that you KNOW shouldn't get together are just... just.... just about to... if only...

So naturally, I'm not done yet. This novel needs work. Lots of it. But you know what? I believe in it. I truly, truly, really believe in this novel. That's not enough, I know. It's a start, though. This is an important story. I'm going to live to tell it :) :) :)

In other news, my house needs cleaning, I need a shower, and I need to consume some serious alcohol in celebration.

I bid you -- adeiu.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why November is My Favorite Month

Happy November!

Yes, yes, ten days late. But whatever -- I've been busy.

There are a few things I LOVE about November, this time of the year.

First, it means the year is winding down. We've only two months left of 2012, and that tends to get a fire under my butt to reach my annual goals. This month has been no exception.

I've only got two months left to get rejection letters, and I'm currently short by 13! Ah! I need to send some submissions off to some quickie publications. On that note, I did send off a submission today :) One with a low acceptance rate, which means a high chance of rejection. Yay.

I HAVE been getting a few acceptance lately, too! A nice side effect of my rejection mission is that sometimes, sometimes, things work out. Three in the past month. Booya.

What else do I love about November?

It also means the semester is fixing to finish. My first semester as a full-time instructor has been great, but I'm so looking forward to a break. I'm starting to see the "fruits" of my labors, so to speak, in my students' writing. Yay. I feel important.

And then, of course, there's NaNoWriMo, that one time of the year when everyone cheers each other on to finish an insanely ambitious goal. My November novel is a little slow going. I'm behind on my word count, but I REALLY believe in my plot, my stories, my characters. It started off as a humorous type story, but it's morphing into something important (I think). So I'm excited about the prospect. Will this be my first FINISHED novel? I hope so. Anyway, I love Nanowrimo because it's all about goals, about motivation, about writing without second guessing yourself. Starting a novel is scary, but nano takes away my excuses and makes me just... write.

November is also my birthday month :) I'm turning twenty-six. Birthdays are always a time of self-reflection for me. What have I done with this time?

Plus there's pie.

And beards... mmmm... Novembeards.

X-D

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thick Writerly Skin

You know your panel is awesome is Jan Seale attends. Thanks, Octavio Quintanilla, for the photo!
Remember?

My 2012 goal was to amass 100 rejection letters? Well, I'm not there yet. But! There is SOME good coming out of my rejection mission.

This past Saturday, the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers held their annual conference at UTPA. I was invited to talk on a panel and share how I survived and thrived in an MFA program. I gave tips on how to grow that thick writerly skin -- you know, that thin layer of awesomeness that comes between me and chronic depression? Yep. That nifty stuff X-D

Anyway -- I thought up four tips:



1.       Understand that all writers get rejections, whether they talk about them or not.

Why is there such a stigma behind talking about your rejection letters? As writers, we all get them. It’s like farting. We all do it. We just don’t talk about it.
But rejection is a healthy and natural part of our lives as writers. I’m trying to do my part to break this little stigma, and it’s helping me see rejection in a healthier way.
You see, at the end of the year last year, a writer friend of mine decided to post her acceptance/rejection stats on Facebook. At first  I was really shocked – how… dirty!  But then I thought about it – why did I think it was dirty? I went home, counted up my stats, and posted them alongside hers. It inspired others to do the same! Albeit, my stats were probably the most ridiculous of the bunch (I’m a serial submitter, guilty as charged), but it still felt good to see I wasn’t the only poet getting rejection letters.

So I decided to take the next step. This year, 2012, I decided to do a blog series on rejection letters and have my readers follow along on my quest to amass 100 rejection letters. The main reason behind doing this was to help ME celebrate each rejection and to keep submitting. I have a little counter on my blog, which I update every time I receive a letter. So now, I get a little excited every time I get a rejection letter, because at the very least, I’m working towards this lofty and ambitious goal.

Plus, even the so-called-greats get rejections. Billy Collins was rejected from Poetry the first time he submitted. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was turned down numerous times by publishers. Here’s one that was posted on Harriet the Blog:

Final rejection:


This is an ill-conceived, poorly written novel, and we would be doing neither ourselves nor the late Miss Plath any good service by offering it to the American public. The heroine of the book lacks depth, sensitivity and self-knowledge — she is, in short, a rather naif prig — and thus the reader can hardly be expected to become deeply concerned with the girl’s struggle with insanity. Moreover, the author fails to make clear the psychological motives behind the heroine’s plunge into madness.— Her boyfriend is a “drip”; and she’s frustrated at not being admitted to an Advanced Writing course at college … but these are hardly grounds for suicide. Or if they are, they are hardly interesting grounds.


2.       Understand that rejection ISN’T personal.

Editors get a zillion pieces. A zillion GOOD pieces. And naturally, not all of them are going to fit into a journal. I’ve come to understand that a no from an editor doesn’t mean a “no” to me as a poet or human being. Instead, it means just that – “no” to these particular poems at this particular time for this particular venue. That’s all it means. And once I figured that out, all of the sudden, rejection is very small. 

3.       When rejection IS personal, that’s a good thing! (Here, talk about the different tiers)

As poets and writers, we’re some of the few people who SHOULD celebrate our near hits. Have you all ever heard of “tiered rejections?” It exists! They even have a wiki for it. 
Most of my rejection letters are those typical form slips, “Thanks for submitting, unfortunately these poems aren’t a good fit. Sorry we can’t respond personally” etc etc. But once in awhile I’ll get a personal note that encourages me to submit again (which I do!), and once in awhile I’ll even get an encouraging note about why editor liked poem x, and then there’s the most golden of all rejections – the critique! I’ve only gotten one of those, and instead of being sad about the rejection, I rejoiced that an uber busy editor found my poem worthy of spending time giving feedback on. 

4.       Understand what happens on the other side of the desk

For the past year and a half, I’ve become an editor myself. I’ve learned that even poems that I love might not make it into the magazine, because we receive so many. I edit for Fifth Wednesday Journal. We accept less than 1% of the poems we receive. And we’re certainly not the most competitive magazine out there! So editing helps me see the process in perspective. Whenever I can, I try to include encouraging notes to submitters, but sometimes I’m in a hurry and just don’t have the time.


Anyway --
The panel was a success! Other participants included Myra Infante, author of Combustible Sinners, Brian Carr, author of Vampire Conditions, Andrew Hollinger, a fellow lecturer at UTPA, and Robert Moreira, another lecturer at UTPA. And yes, Jan Seale, Texas Poet Laureate, was in attendance. I was nervous and giddy, but I'm always nervous and giddy. It's kind of becoming my MO.

I've got lots of exciting writer news to share, but it'll have to be for another blog post.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Confessions of a Book Screener

This summer I was invited to take part in a panel of judges for a poetry book contest. OK ok ok, that sounds all official... it wasn't quite so glamorous. It went a little more like this: This summer, I got to scour the a publisher's slush pile of contest submissions and toss a few up that seemed worthy of a second look.

And you know what? I think I learned a thing or two about contest submissions and judging in the process.And wouldn't you know it, I'm a very generous person, so I'm passing that oh-so-sagey wisdom on to you (no, not saggy... though... hmm).


How the Process Looks:

We've all heard those horror stories about poetry book contests, yes?

They're just big scams set out to make publishers more financially solvent. Their secondary function is to tack a fancy award title onto a special person's name, the crowned winner, who is probably just publisher/judge/book god's student/friend/lover.

Sound familiar?

Well, being on the inside ::gasp::, I learned that at least in this case, this wasn't the case at all. Our panel of judges was pretty enormous. Each book, regardless of how stinky it was, got at least two full read thrus by "esteemed" writers. Ok ok ok, I was deemed an "esteemed" writer, so we know how prestigious that title is, but whatever. It got two looks by two people.

When I got an inbox full of manuscripts, the author's name, of course, was nowhere on the manuscript. It just so happened that I recognized two scripts from the poems themselves. I promptly let Publisher know. Publisher sent me two replacements and discarded my vote on those two manuscripts. Blind, through and through.

 From each set of, oh, twenty manuscripts, I'd select about fifteen or so to eliminate. The other judges would do the same, and the scripts that received two or more votes were tossed out. I think I looked about three sets of manuscripts in round one. It was some exhausting reading, but I remember doing some of it while on the beach in Galveston ;)

We ended up having to send the books through another round of eliminations, though, because I think some of us were softies. I was a softie. I fell in love with far too many to count and had a hard time narrowing down my choices.

In the final round, with the ten or so manuscripts remaining, we were asked to pick a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. I read the manuscripts and sent in my votes. It wasn't too tough narrowing down my three faves, but it WAS tough deciding which one placed where.

And then, the books that received the most votes were sent to the contest's guest judge to look at.

You see? Nothing too scary.

What I learned from my experience

There are a lot of fantastic poems; however, there are far fewer fantastic manuscripts. You see, every manuscript I read had at least one or two poems that took my breath away, poems that I fell in love with. But... then rubbing up against it would be a sloppy poem. And, well, that left an ugly taste in my poetic mouth. There's something really admirable about consistent genius, and most books, ok just about all books, simply don't have it. Moments of brilliance are exciting, true, but ummm... I'm really going to remember the sloppy poems as a reader. A bad poem can make someone just want to stop reading your manuscript.

So the lesson I'm taking away from this is that if I have a stinky poem, I'm going to axe it from my manuscript. It just dilutes the book. And yes, as a reader, I remembered the great poems and skimmed over the mediocre ones, but the bad ones? Ugh. I'm sorry, but there are just some things I couldn't let pass my editorial eye. I remember one manuscript in particular taught me this lesson -- it was really original, deep, interesting, and funny. The first three sections were brilliant. I was along for the ride. But when I got to the forth section? It almost seemed as though the author got tired and gave up on her book. And so, well, I did too.

I like to think I'm pretty intelligent and adventurous, but there is something so comforting about a themed book. Cohesiveness. I'm drawn to it as a reader. I wasn't consciously thinking about it, but the books I ended up advocating for were ones that were tied together as a unified book. And that took some pretty different shapes. One book I loved was an extended narrative of poems that together told a story. Another were a collection of poems about wildly different subjects but deep down, they could be tied back to the theme of aging and mortality. Another book was about landscapes -- all of the vastly different ones and how they shape our identities. I wasn't consciously reaching for those books, but they drew me in as a reader, I think simply because I could wrap my brain around them. That might be the book reviewer in me, though, looking at how these books exist in the greater discourse of poetic conversation. And if I could articulate it, I could write about it, and if I could write about it.... you get the point.

I'm a girl with motives. I want to champion women's poetry, feminist themes, formalists, regionalisms, revisionist myth making, etc. And as much as I wanted to serve these motives, I just couldn't bring myself to letting them into my supposedly objective judging. I voted out an amazing revisionist myth making manuscript that I LOVED because of its sloppy moments. It was hard. I didn't want to. But it just wasn't ready. And I stayed true to objectivity as much as a passionate poet can.

Above all, though, what I learned from this experience is that there are some really good books out there making the contest rounds. It also made me feel encouraged that my manuscript, when it's ready, should join the ranks and try its hand at a few contests. There ARE good, honest, fair contests out there. It's not a hopeless case.

I'm a nobody, and I got to take a look into this always-illusive process, and advocate for what I think good poetry ought to be. I feel honored. It was many an hour reading, but in the end, I'm really grateful I had the opportunity to make my little mark and cast my vote.

And on that note, I've sent What Plagues the Goddess off to another chapbook contest.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Conversation about Publishing with Karen Kelsay Davies



Oh the wonderful people you meet as a poet! Below is my conversation with poet and publisher Karen Kelsay Davies, the founder and publisher of Kelsay Books, which is a publishing company with four different imprints. Kelsay Books is fast expanding, which is so exciting! I met Karen through Victorian Violet, the journal Karen edits. And since she's a champion of formalist poetry, well... she's kind of a hero!

Be sure to check out our interview. Karen's a terribly insightful person, not to mention generous with her time. There aren't many presses out there doing such wonderful jobs promoting the art of poetry, and I was fortunate enough to spend some time talking shop with her recently.




First off, maybe you can tell me a little bit about Kelsay Books and your four imprints, just so we can get a general idea about your projects. What makes Kelsay Books different from other poetry publishers?

Hi Katie, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my new company! The first imprint was White Violet Press (my baby), which I launched last October. It was created to showcase the work of mid-career poets who write formalist poetry. Six months later, I began Aldrich Press, for poets who write free verse. Just recently, two other companies evolved:  Alabaster Leaves—sort of an over-flow company for repeat business, and Daffydowndilly, a press that publishes poetry for children.

My main desire when I started the press, was to be a different type of editor. I wanted to improve on the “wait time” connected with the publishing process, and make it less painful for the poet.  So far I think I have succeeded—response time to a manuscript runs from 3–7 days, and the entire book is usually finished within 3 months.

The Heart Knows Simply What it Needs by Martin Willitts Jr.

Those ARE some amazing turn around times. I don't know how you can manage it all, but you do, and all of the books turn out so wonderful, each one a unique piece of art, both in terms of visual representation and content.

Can you tell us a little about the format you use for publishing chapbooks (binding, length, format, etc)? One thing I really admire about your books are the beautiful covers!

Thank you! I think the aesthetics are extremely important, and I spend quite a bit of time trying to match the “mood” of the poems with the cover of the book.  

All the books are a 6x9 size, perfect bound, with glossy covers.  I have recently (over the past few months), started publishing full-length collections, under 100 pages. Most of the submissions are now coming in with an average of 60-80 pages. I design the covers, although a  few clients have sent me their own designs to use. In general, I work with a high quality picture that is sent to me, or I find one myself if I know what the client has in mind. The quality of the books is outstanding!
 
Sonnets in a Hostile World by Gail White
I know that in the past, you’ve turned out some wonderful full length collections, but the majority of the publications are chapbooks. Why chapbooks? What makes them appealing to you as a publisher?

Chapbooks are great to have for readings and promotional use. Most of my clients are prolific writers, and it allows them to publish more frequently. The books are now running anywhere from 24–100 pages.

Personally, I like the smaller collections to be based on a theme or style. For instance, Catherine Chandler and Gail White both have written chapbooks comprised of sonnets. For larger collections, I lean toward non-theme based books because I like a variety of poems, long and short, lyrical and otherwise, all mixed together.

Have you ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a chapbook manuscript (could be from another press, too)? If so, what do you think makes you feel that way?

My first love is formalist poetry, so when I get a submission for White Violet Press I'm usually a little giddy.  I love lyrical lines and poetry that sings. If I had to list a few of my favorite poets I have recently published it would probably be: Annabelle Moseley, Philip Quinlan, Catherine Chandler, Sally Cook and Janet Kenny. They all “paint” their words with a rich, musical quality that I enjoy.

Poet and Editor Annabelle Moseley

 Have you ever had to turn down a chapbook manuscript you loved? Maybe because it wasn’t right for your press, or any other reason?

Yes, there have been a few I really thought were well written and clever, but they just didn’t follow the guidelines closely enough. I absolutely hate to do layout work on experimental poetry. The lines need to be justified to the left and in a traditional manner. I will let a few slip by if they look like they won’t be too much trouble, but I will refuse the manuscript if it is filled with crazy lines going all over the place.

So I know that Kelsay Books has undergone quite a change recently, and you’re expanding! I find that really exciting, and I imagine it might even be a bit overwhelming for a publisher. Where do you see your press going in the future? Are you planning to continue focusing on chapbooks?

I am continually trying to streamline the publishing process so I can be more efficient with my time. I have made my acceptance letter as detailed as I can, to prevent misunderstandings, and to help authors become familiar with how everything works. In the future I see the press becoming much busier over the next year, and I plan on doing more marketing of Daffydowndilly, the children’s poetry press.

So many start-up presses don’t make it, but it seems like Kelsay Press is really thriving! What do you think is the key to your success?

I can think of a few reasons. Like most people who run small presses, I started doing it out of a love for poetry, and a desire to work with other poets. It takes a lot of time and effort to get a small press off the ground, and if the press only does a few books a year, the “love” part tends to wear off after a while. You have to make money at it over the long haul, and the only way to do that, is to make it a full time venture.

I currently spend 30 hours a week designing covers, doing layouts, answering emails, reading manuscripts, and trying to market the company. I’m pretty tuned in, my phone gives me instant emails, so if I have a client with a concern or question, I answer promptly.

Unfortunately I don’t market the books as much as I would like, but by choosing mid-career poets with a need to send out books for reviews and to do readings,  it becomes more of a partnership between us. I respond quickly to their needs, and they make a good profit off the books they order.

My motto is to make publishing a pleasant experience. This past year I have produced 30 high quality books from excellent writers, and hope to increase that number next year. 

Any advice for the hopeful poet putting together her first chapbook?

Please follow the guidelines!  

The more previously published poems you have in the collection, the better your chances are of being accepted. Submit work that is as “print ready” as possible and doesn’t require a great deal of editing. It takes a considerable amount of time to do the layout and pull the entire manuscript together, adding clip art to make the book stand out. They become unique works of art in their own right, and I prefer to spend the time enhancing the book’s cover and overall beauty, not
changing lines that should have been dealt with prior to submission.

And yes, there is a reading fee, but if you want an answer in one week, it is definitely worth it!

Karen's Latest book! Available now!
And finally, Karen, I know you’re not just a publisher, but a poet as well. Care to talk about your current writing projects? Or maybe you can tell us a bit about your experiences with your most recent book “ Amytis Leaves Her Garden.”

I have had a very slow year, as far as writing goes. I thought reading and publishing poetry would help inspire me with my own work, wrong! However, I managed to win the Fluvanna Prize at The Lyric this year, and that helped ease the pain a little. I decided to put a collection together, recently, consisting of mostly formalist work. All the poems in the collection have been previously published in journals and magazines. A friend of mine commented on the book after reading it through and said this:  “…your poems are portraits. They are so warm and full of emotion for particular people.

I love that I can switch from writing to reading poetry whenever I choose to do so. And that so many poets trust me with their books. Thank you, Katie, for the interview.  It has come right at the one year anniversary of Kelsay Books, and I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate it on your blog.


Karen Kelsay Davies is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the editor of Victorian Violet Press, an online poetry magazine that encourages formal poetry. Her poems have been featured at The New Formalist, and have recently been accepted for publication in The Raintown Review, The Flea, The Lyric, 14 by 14 and Lucid Rhythms. She lives in Orange County, California. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Goddess Goes Suspiciously Silent

Howdy folks:

I know, I know...

no blog posts in awhile. I've been adjusting to my new schedule, trying to find a way to fit everything important into my life again. You see, this whole teaching a million students thing is going wonderful, but it's kind of consuming me (and my brain).

It happens, right?

My very first year teaching I think I wrote like, one poem. My SEMESTER as a prof (albeit adjunct) my writing slowed to a virtual halt as well. And now? as a full time lecturer with overload courses? yeah, you can guess the time I'm having.

I'm enjoying myself, but I'm having a hard time making "brain space" for anything not teaching related. Does that make sense? I have time, yes, time at home where I'm in my bathrobe by noon, but it's time to do other things: plan projects, dig deep into readings, give my students meaningful feedback, catch up on my class' blogs, etc...

And poetry? It's... well, getting dusty.

I don't know, I'll figure it all out eventually, I'm sure. I need to keep writing, publishing, reading because it makes me the person I am. I know that my activities as a poet make me a better professor (ok, they probably seriously helped me get this job in the first place). I'll find the balance. I'm searching for it. It's... just a little illusive at this very moment.

On a brighter note, I do have a few events coming up.

I'm organizing a reading and celebration for the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers annual conference here in Edinburg. It's been fun planning; we'll have an open mic and feature the Slough Press authors. If you're in the area, please stop by and say hello (info on the sidebar).

Another bright spot -- UTPA's PR dept wrote up a little piece about the conference, in which I get a nod. Yay nods!

Anyway, please stay tuned. Tomorrow (promise) I have an exciting blogpost planned. I interviewed a very special guest, and am looking forward to posting our conversation.

Until then...

it's a happy Friday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

So Begins the Fall Semester

It's been a good long while since I've felt this exhausted, but it's a good exhausted. Adjusting to my new job as a full time prof and the new schedule's a bit of a challenge, but I'm managing (well, I think so anyway!).

Today was really wonderful. I got my own set of keys to MY office, so I finally feel at home. It's starting to sink in that I belong in this department now, that I'm a part of the university, and that I have a place/purpose here. All good feelings indeed.

This is where the goddess writes, or errr... here's my office.
And there's nothing like being in the classroom. I always feel so alive when I'm teaching. There's really no feeling like it. My teaching load is pretty extreme, but it's kind of nice, in a way. The only thing I'm worried about is making the time to continue working on my own writing projects, not getting absorbed into my students' writing. I've been pretty good for the past few years juggling being an MFA student, working full time, and being professionally active. I just need to make sure to keep writing and publishing a priority, lest I want to remain at a 5/5 teaching load for the rest of my life (which, my twenty-five year old self kind of likes, but maybe my future fifty-five year old self will not appreciate).

So, with that in mind, here are my Fall 2012 goals. By the time the new year ball drops once again, I will:

1. Have survived my first semester as a full time prof. No, I'll have THRIVED, being the best damn teacher possible. I hope to finish the semester smiling, in need of respite, yes, but ready for another set of kiddos.

2. Poem. I want to keep writing  I HAVE to keep writing. By the end of 2012, I want to have written a total of 30 pages of poems for the year, which means I need about nine new ones.

3. Submitting. I still need to keep submitting to reach my goal of 100 rejection letters. I'll keep at it.

4. Fiction. I want to try NaNoWriMo again this year, though it falls at a really difficult time. I've got a novel idea swimming around in my head: Juno's Midlife Crisis

5. ... Scholarly writing. I need to get serious. Like, for reals.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh Summer! Where art thou?!

I'm a poet in transition; transition isn't easy.

I enjoyed the peace of mind that summer provides, the seemingly endless days, the inherent laziness that comes along with it. I wrote, I had the mental "space" to focus on my writing throughout all of June, and produced a good amount of (nearly polished) poetry -- about twelve new poems.

What Plagues the Goddess, my chapbook project, is in a very happy place. I'm pleased enough with her to call her complete, and to begin working on a new project (or really, expanding on this old project into a larger book-length manuscript). And of course, the fact that it cleared at least the quarter-finalist round of the Casey Shay Press annual competition makes me a bit more confident in my efforts.

Speaking of chapbooks, I also, of course, mused on the form. And the fruits of my labor? Why, this just came out: Katie Reviews Black Birds : Blue Horse for Fifth Wednesday Journal! 

This summer was also a time for self-promotion, going out of my comfort zone, putting myself out there as a poet. I went to numerous readings, both locally and far away. It was all good fun.

And of course, The Garden Uprooted was published.

But all good things must come to an end.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been very prolific lately with my blog. The same's true with my writing. My mind is occupied, completely, with my new job. So much theory to learn, books to read, people to meet, things to prepare for... it's all so scary and exciting at the same time. When I'm stressed, I get sick. And... ::sneeze:: oh dear...


Monday, August 6, 2012

Katie on Public Radio

So I sound like a twelve year old girl and I giggle a lot because I got nervous, BUT...

Here's my interview about poetry with Brenda Nettles Riojas!

Enjoy :-)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Gentle Asking: A Review of Eve Asks

A Gentle Asking: A Review of Eve Asks by Christine Redman-Waldeyer
Muse-Pie Press, 2011 (50 pages)
ISBN: 9780918453235
Christine Redman-Waldeyer’s chapbook, Eve Asks, is a lyrical journey through everyday life that highlights both the quiet beauty on the surface and the complexities that exist just beneath. The poems are carefully arranged to take the reader by the hand through love, marriage, child-bearing, mothering, and beyond. With emotional honesty, they hit close to home. These poems celebrate who we are as humans, and ask us to dig deeper and examine how we perceive the world around us.

The collection’s first poem illustrates this succinctly. The title “Breast Cancer Survivor” is heavy, but the language of the poem is light, airy, and lyric:

She stays every summer at her shore house

Warm weather in the spring brings her weekends

Her dog waits in the car while she chats

I stop at hello (5).

But as a reader, we can’t just “stop at hello.” We know that beneath the surface of this poem, there is a complicated existence, and that contrast permeates through this entire collection. Waldeyer’s poems show us that the big, heavy topics can be handled with simplicity, honesty, and grace.

Another example of this contradiction is the poem “Endless Summer.” The poem describes “roses // that bloom all summer -- // Hydrangea. Blue or pink,” a flower without thorns that seems to just bloom solely for our enjoyment. A lovely thought, right? The poem ends with a biting conclusion: “…when I cut their precious heads off / arrange them in a vase” (43). With such delicate lyricism, the poems in this collection keep the reader digging deeper and rethinking preconceptions about beauty, gender, and humanity.

Throughout the chapbook, Biblical characters, especially Eve, are introduced and recast through the lens of a contemporary woman. As a reader, I found these characters to be multifaceted and refreshing contrasts to their Biblical counterparts, which, of course, were portrayed through a more patriarchal point of view. In the book’s title poem, “Eve Asks,” the speaker explores the gender roles in the relationship between a modern day Adam and Eve. Adam is asked to “wash and fold the laundry” to “tend / / the children when they cry,” and to “remember / each curve” of her body (18). One cannot help but smile at this thought! It seems as though the gender roles of the past are antiquated, and it’s time to reexamine them. Like “housemaking out of dung,” oppressive definitions gender really need to go (18).

Perhaps my favorite poem in this collection, though, is “Swans in Flight,” a longer poem that meditates on the short life of the “you” the poem is addressed to. The speaker watches a swan on a lake and recounts past memories, imagining “Saint Peter / weighing your good deeds with your bad” and wondering “where … the anchor (laid) of your sexuality?” (36). The poem describes, in exquisite detail, a “lone Swan take flight” as a metaphor for the friend’s afterlife. The swan “hisses like the question hisses now.” The poem ends with a lyrical reflection: “I love her for her slender out-stretched neck, / for her flight in motion” (38).

Though this is a chapbook, Eve Asks asks a lot from its readers. I now look twice at all the surface beauty that exists around me, the big heads of flowers, forbidden blackberries, pieces of driftwood. The best poems ask us to dig deeper into our conceptions of the world around us, and these poems do just that with a gentle, beautiful asking.

 
Christine Redman-Waldeyer founded the journal Adanna in 2011. She currently teaches creative writing, journalism, and literature at Passaic County Community College. She earned her doctorate with a Concentration in Writing from Drew University. Her book publications include Frame by Frame, Gravel, and Eve Asks with Muse Pie Press. She also has been published in Caduceus, Lips, Motif Magazine, Paterson Literary Review, Seventh Quarry, Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Texas Review, Verse Wisconsin, among others. In 2011 she was selected to participate in the Poetry Project founded by Dr. Mary Ann Miller at Caldwell College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Education with a focus on Higher Education at Rowan University.



Would YOU like to participate in the conversation about chapbooks? I'm currently looking for chapbook authors or publishers to interview about the form! Drop me an email at katherinehoerth@gmail.com if you'd like to join.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Great Hibernation

That's exactly what I want to do for the next few weeks, sleep, sleep, and sleep some more...

With my unofficial Texas book tour under my nonexistant belt (After this roadtrip, I don't need a belt...), I am now recovering from over a week of driving, reading, and celebrating. After my book signings, I had a family reunion to attend, which yes, was a great deal of fun. I have one of those marvelous, enormous, beer-drinking, jovial and loud Wisconsin families. There was much cheese to be had. But now I'm back in Tejas, back in my office, back at my quiet country home, ready to recharge for the craziness that will be my first year as a full-time professor.

This. This peace and quiet is exactly what I need.

So I'm off into hibernation. I've got a stack of books waiting for reviews, and a heart filled with poems and stories to write.

And some good news to share:

Katie Named a Quarter Finalist for the Mary Ballard Chapbook Prize!

Ovid, you will be wearing cowgirl boots before I'm through with you B-) And you will like it. Promise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On the Road Again...

This is going to be a quick and awkward blogpost -- sorry. I'm on the road, but wanted to update you all on recent happenings.

First, the reason for my roadtrip? Why a book signing of course!



Yesterday I picked up a big stack of books from Publisher (and finally got to meet him in person! Previously, we were just back and forth through emails and facebook. Chuck Taylor is delightful!). Anyway, yes, I will have books to sell and sign, so please come out if you are in the San Antonio area.

I also got news yesterday that I got a new job. At a University. Full time. Teaching English. ::BREEATTHEEEE::

I found out via email at 4am. I proceeded to wake Bruno, who thought I was insane and maybe I was temporarily. The dept. chair made the grave mistake of giving me her cell phone number... which I had to call just to hear it spoken aloud. I proceeded to pinch myself to further insure I wasn't dreaming.

I'll be teaching majority freshmen rhet and comp courses at the University of Texas Pan American. I'm unbelievably humbled and in shock. My brother told me, "Kate, you have found your way out of adjunct purgatory!" and indeed, I suppose I have, remarkably quickly and... I just don't know what else to say about it...

Hopefully I'll be more coherent at a later date. Tonight, it's off to my reading and then likely something romantic-y on the riverwalk to celebrate. Woohoo!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Maria Miranda Maloney Talks Chaps y Mas


Readers,

This is, what I hope to be, a first in a series of interviews and conversations with poets and publishers about chapbooks and... other things! To begin, I interviewed Maria Miranda Maloney, the founder and publisher of Mouthfeel Press. What a treat! She was kind enough to take some time out of her incredibly busy schedule as a publisher, poet, mom, wife, and gardener extraordinaire!

The lovely Maria Miranda Maloney!


First off, maybe you can tell me a little bit about Mouthfeel Press. I mean, I love Mouthfeel (I think every one of my blog readers already know that) but maybe give us a general idea about your team and your projects. How did it all get started, anyway?

Katie, thank you so much for including MFP. I love MFP. I love the name. I love the publishing mission. I love the authors that have courageously placed their work and faith into my hands. Mouthfeel Press started as a seed idea many years ago while I was working in journalism and public relations. That was before husband and children, and my own poetry training. Back then I was reading poets and writers like Sandra Cisneros,
Denise Chávez, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gloria Anzaldúa, and many other Chicana canon writers, but I always felt there were never enough women writers or poets to go around, or writers that a young Chicana like myself could relate to. Books were not being published fast enough, or not at all, to sustain me and my friends’ hunger for authors.  At some point in my life, I returned to school to become a fiction writer and it was there that the idea of MFP solidified. I also learned about the underrepresented of the publishing world pertaining to women, latina/o, and regional writing. However, not all was dark and gloomy, and thanks to professors like poets Rosa Alcalá and Sasha Pimentel Chacón, I was introduced to the works of women-of-color outside of the chicana canon. I fell in love with the work of Henrietta Mullen, Rita Dove, and Barabara Jane Reyes, to name a few. I discovered poets like Emmy Pérez, Dolores Dorantes, and Laura Solórzano.  I breathlessly embraced the experimental and conceptual works of Mónica de la Torre, Juliana Spahr, Bernadette Mayer, and so on. It was at this time that MFP began to take shape in my mind. I honestly thought MFP would concentrate solely on publishing women; however, I’m not one to hear only one side of the story, and I don’t like to be pigeon-holed-- there’s no freedom in that as a writer and publisher. There are so many male poets producing exciting work out there!  By the end of grad school, I knew I was going to launch the press. 

Visit Mouthfeel Press for more information!


And I’m so grateful that you did! I think our world needed a press like Mouthfeel, and you’re filling a niche in the publishing community that long needed to be filled. Bravo! On the Mouthfeel website, I see that the mission is to promote the poetry of the borderlands. Can you expand on this mission? Why do you think promoting the borderland voice is important, and how are the chapbooks your publishing helping you to do this?

The idea is to publish as much work from local and regional authors. And while that will remain MFP’s priority, it is evolving as I receive more and more manuscripts from writers from all over the U.S. and abroad. For me, “borderlands”  does not necessarily signify a geography, a specific place. That would narrow its definition too much.  A more liberal definition would be a point or space of rupture from pre-determined and predictable roles and circumstances, a point of deconstruction, and a space that Emma Pérez references in her book, The Decolonial Imaginary, as going “into the margins, to argue or expose that which no one will risk.” MFP’s mission recognizes this space and embraces this rupture through poetry. Having said that, however, it is no secret that a region as large as the TX-NM-AZ-CA is seriously lacking in presses that embrace the language and culture of the region. Again, we return to the underrepresented voices from this region in the publishing world. I want to make sure MFP fills in some of the gap. Furthermore, the act of publishing, for me, is political. A stance against the likes of folks from Arizona and anyone else, whose racism extends to our literature, our stories, our language, our culture, our way of life, as if the U.S. is composed only of one history and one people. The chapbook becomes a powerful voice to help promote our literature in a quick and efficient way. While not all writers submit work that is intended to be political, most writers' work selected for publication fall into the category of a borderland. 

Photo by Rosalba Miranda

I know Mouthfeel puts out some wonderful full length collections, but the majority of the publications are chapbooks. Why chapbooks? What makes them appealing to you as a publisher?

The chapbook is easy to produce and it is affordable. As I mentioned, it is a powerful and efficient way to help promote literature.  As a lover of books, I am especially interested in the earthy aspects of producing a chap. I love the hands-on aspect of it, watching the book take shape from start to finish. I love to select the paper, to hold it in my hands and feel the texture, to fold it, to see it to fruition. I try to stay true to its original form-- handmade, although I don’t hand-bind mine for lack of manpower, so a machine does if for me. As chapbooks have picked up new breath in the poetry world, many are now being softbound, making it more attractive for bookstores to carry. 

Post Pardon by Arisa White, one of Mouthfeel's recent chapbook releases


From a literary perspective, the chap challenges an author to produce a tight collection of poetry. Every poem that goes in a chap needs to be strong. I love to pick up a chapbook that is so tight that I feel its grip. Such a chap demands to be read in one sitting. I have a collection of chaps in many shapes and sizes, from many authors and publishers from across the U.S., and I love to read them over and over. These have become my favorite books.

passwords_ by Juan Manuel Portillo, another recent chapbook release


I agree with you, Maria, about the best chaps being read in one sitting! I find myself immersed in them. I think a chapbook is a good opportunity to explore poetic obsessions! Anyway, I’m just curious – you must get a lot of submissions, right? Since Mouthfeel does not charge a reading fee like many presses do, what makes a chapbook submission stand out from the rest? What do you look for when sifting through the submissions?

Submissions have increased in the past year. MFP is a relatively new press, and I have not addressed the idea of charging a reading fee. I think a reading fee becomes burdensome for many authors. I know it did and still does for me, and yet, I understand why a reading fee is necessary-- to help pay the readers. It makes sense! In the meantime, the manuscript is at the mercy of my time. Right now it’s taking anywhere between four to six months, and sometimes longer, to read and respond, and much longer to publish. So, if you submitted a manuscript and have not heard from me, please email me a reminder. I promise the waiting period is about to change as Laura Cesarco Eglin joins MFP as editor. Katie, I wanted to get this information out because I know that as an author it is frustrating to be waiting for a publishers’ response, and I do apologize for that. 

Laura Cesarco Eglin, new editor to join Mouthfeel Press


Returning to your question about what makes a manuscript stand out, I look at titles first. If a title is engaging and strong, I am more likely to open up the manuscript immediately and start reading. The first poem is the most important poem of the manuscript-- it sets the pace and voice of the collection. It is the bait that will determine the bite. Another thing that makes a submission stand out is when the author takes the time to address the publisher--a brief introduction will suffice-- and how well a manuscript is put together: Does it include contact information, table of contents, page numbers, one attachments versus a slew of pages?

Have you ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a chapbook manuscript (could be from another press, too)? If so, what do you think makes you feel that way?

I fall in love all the time! I’m more susceptible to chapbooks with textural qualities--surprising syntax, forms that swerve across the page, metaphors that are fresh, fragments intertwined, concrete images, unpredictable line breaks-- all of these within the themes embraced by MFP’s mission. I love to feel freedom in a poet’s work. I love to see manuscripts that go beyond traditional forms, or that use traditional forms in new ways like the sonnets by Bernadette Mayer. In other words, I like a little avant garde.

Have you ever had to turn down a chapbook manuscript you loved? Maybe because it wasn’t right for MFP, or any other reason?

Absolutely, and sadly. There are many wonderful writers that have submitted whose work does not fit with the mission and aesthetic of MFP. I think it happens to every publisher out there. I think it happens to every author.

What direction do you see Mouthfeel going in the future? Do you plan to continue publishing chapbooks? With the fast changing publishing industry, do you ever think about publishing ebooks, or maybe branching out into fiction, or publishing an ejournal (or maybe a paper journal, too!).  I know I heard something about changing the chapbook formatting. Anyway, long story short – where is Mouthfeel heading, oh fearless leader?

I’m very excited to announce that Laura Cesarco Eglin will be joining MFP as editor.  Laura’s editorial eye is brilliant and uncanny, and she embraces wholeheartedly the mission and aesthetic of MFP. I feel so much lighter knowing she’ll be part of MFP. The next few months will be busy months for MFP as we plan to release full-length collections by Robin Scofield (Sunflower Cantos), Amalio Madueño (Spider Road), and Gabriel Gómez (The Seed Bank)-- all before the end of the year. Four chapbooks are still pending for release. In 2013, we’ll be releasing a bilingual children’s book by Alejandrina Drew, as well as a collection of bilingual short stories by
Xánath Caraza, and a poetry book by Carolina Monsiváis. I’m also looking at a new book distribution and marketing plan. In other words, MFP is getting an overhaul. I’m not yet opening the press to short fiction until after I publish Caraza’s book. I don’t want to take on too much, but I think it’s a good start. E-journals are not my priority at this time.


And the Ass Saw the Angel by Robin Scofield

I think what you’ve got on your plate is absolutely plenty. I can’t wait to read the new titles, and I know Mouthfeel Press has been growing and has even begun winning awards! So many start-up presses don’t make it, but it seems like Mouthfeel is doing just fine, three years into setting up shop. What do you think is the key to Mouthfeel’s success?
 
I think the key to a small press is to take it slow, and to acknowledge your limitations. I don’t have the manpower, and I’m a for-profit press, which means I don’t have access to grants. For-profit, sole-proprietorship basically means doing all the work without paying myself, contrary to the popular notion of private ownership. It takes about five years for a business to get established, and I’m assuming it will take longer for a small press. Much of what I do now is purely out of love for poetry, purely out of hope. I’ve had the fortune to work with authors, like yourself and Ire’ne Lara Silva, Elisa Garza, Laura Cesarco Eglin, Robin Scofield, Nancy Green, Carolina
Monsiváis, Juan Manuel Portillo, and other MFP authors, who understand the limitations of a small press but feel as passionate about writing and poetry as I do, and are willing to go the distance to make this work. 

The Mouthfeel Press and BorderSenese team at AWP 2012


Also, having a focused mission statement is key to success. It may sound rather simplistic but the mission of the press is the pulse of the press. I know it sounds cliché, but I can’t emphasize it enough.

Any advice for the hopeful poet putting together her first chapbook?

A chapbook is an author’s calling card into the great world of publishing. Whatever happens after the chapbook is up to the author, as you well know Katie. Thus, it behooves an author to put as much effort into it as he or she would put into writing a full-length collection. This includes a tight, focused collection, a great title, a manuscript devoid of spelling and grammatical errors, and a good, professional presentation. A small press is just as likely to look at the latter as any large press.

And finally, Maria, I know you’re not just a publisher, but a poet as well. Care to talk about your current writing projects? Are YOU planning on publishing another chapbook in the future? Or maybe you can tell us a bit about your experiences with The City I Love?

Of lately, Katie, I’m mostly a reader and a publisher. As much as I love writing, I love publishing even more. Does that make sense? I think some of us were born to be poets, some of us were born to be publishers, combining both can be taxing, as I am quickly finding out. And I’m also a mother, wife, and gardener, and while that is no excuse not to write, I have to admit sometimes my own manuscript ends
up on the back-burner. Nevertheless, I am putting a second full-length manuscript of prose poetry that I hope to finish by the end of the year. It’s been in the works for almost a year.  I’m hoping to submit an excerpt to a couple of chapbook presses I admire in the next couple of months.


Photo by Maria Miranda Maloney


Thanks, Maria! 
 

 Maria Miranda Maloney is the publisher of Mouthfeel Press in El Paso, Texas. She received her MFA from the University of Texas El Paso. Her work has recently appeared in Xispas: The Journal of Chicano Art, Culture and Politics, Mezcla: Art & Writings from the Tumblewords Project, and BorderSenses. She is a contributor to the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum, and is a board member of BorderSenses Literary Journal.  She is the author of a poetry chapbook titled The City I Love, which was published by Ranchos Press.

Do YOU have something to say about chapbooks? Join in the conversation! Email me at katherinehoerth@gmail.com, or leave a comment below!