Sunday, March 29, 2015

Finalist? Finalist? Finalist!

So, this news just dropped

Oh. My. Goodness! ::Commence the dancing::

Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots was named a finalist for the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for the Best Book of Poetry in Texas from the Texas Institute of Letters.


How official and fancy does that sound? Very. Yes, indeed.

What makes this announcement perhaps more special is that Jan Seale is also a finalist. If you follow this blog, you know she's pretty much my hero. . Carmen Tafolla is the other finalist, who is another poet I genuinely admire. I think I'm the underdog in this race, but hey, it's an honor simply to be a finalist.

The winners will be announced on April 10th in Houston at the TIL annual meeting, and then on the 11th there's a celebratory banquet. Unfortunately, my AWP panel is the 10th, so I'm missing the reception on the 10th, which totally sucks. I'm flying into Houston on the 11th though, so B and I will at least attend the banquet together. I already have a dress picked out!

Anyway, I'm incredibly honored and humbled and giddy and nervous and more. Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots took me three years to write, and they were three wonderful years of poetic growth, exploration, and experimentation. I would be lying if I said that I was 100% confident in it; in fact, throughout the course of those years, I often questioned what I was doing, wondering if maybe my writing was too feminist to garner an audience, too cutesy to be taken seriously, too loose to be considered "formalist," too "formal" for contemporary readers. Bleh. The fact that this book was named a finalist for this amazing award helps me to know that I'm doing SOMETHING right, that I should keep trucking along, that I can keep being and writing as, well, me.

Wish me luck! I'm certainly going to need it...

And hmm... if I do win, how the heck and I going to spend that $1200?!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Poetry Challenge #5

My final Poetry Challenge post! Oh my...

For this post, I'm going to reflect on my spring break.

No, I didn't go to the beach. I didn't party. I didn't do anything crazy.

Well, except...


This week has actually been pretty wonderful for me. I've made some serious headway on my new manuscript, beginning to fill in the chapters I've planned out for it. I wrote 3 poems from scratch and have a pretty good draft going of a fourth poem. I had two wonderful critique sessions with other poets.

Spring break, I seriously wish you didn't have to end. I seriously wish I could give so much of my heart, energy, and brainspace to writing year round. Instead, I find myself in ravenous writing sprints in these little calms -- the week of Spring Break, the month of May (and maybe June, depending on my teaching schedule) and December. My progress is slow, but there is progress to relish in that will carry me through the next few months of craziness until I can do this all over again.

That's my life. ;-)

Yesterday, Linda said that she was considering doing NaPoWriMo this year. If I participate, it will be my third year doing so, though I've never been particularly successful at it. I always end up with about 10 shitty drafts of poems, two of which that will eventually amount to anything worthwhile. But you know what, that certainly is better than nothing. Last year, NaPo seriously helped me to tie up the loose ends with Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots. Maybe it's just the craziness I need to keep on trucking with this next manuscript...

Anyway, this morning, I read an interesting quote about running (something I'm trying to get back into) -- that long distance running isn't a sport for those needing instant gratification. Runners make gains slowly -- I've been adding one kilometer to my "long runs" each week. Progress has been slow, very slow, but it's there, and I feel my body adapting and regaining some of its strength. In order to make ANY progress at all, though, I have to be consistent, put the time in or else I'll burn myself out.

And maybe writing is like that too. It's the consistency, about making small gains each week, about setting goals and working towards them. Hmm... it's so difficult to do, though not impossible.

With my new manuscript, I feel like I'm still at the beginning, just setting the pace for the long, difficult, but oh so enjoyable run ahead. I can already feel the runner's high coming on.

Enough of that. Here's poem number 5!

The Grapevine

Every story is the same – there’s life,
there’s death, then life again, and now it’s spring –
the season where my husband tends his grapevine,
runs the newest tendrils through the fingers
of one hand and holds his pruning sheers
within the other. Green is everywhere –
the canopy, the stems, the tiny buds,
but most of all, the leaves, the size of palms
and fingers reaching out in offering.

These rustling limbs are shelter for the weary:
ladybugs that come like beggars, always
hungry, fireflies that need some respite
from the sun and wait for night to dawn,
to cover up their faces, set them free,
and me, who comes in curiosity.

His clippers shush the choir of kisskadees;
the thumping of a branch against the earth
resounds across the yard and takes my breath.
He snaps the branches to a naked trunk,
a lifeless shell of what it used to be.

It’s what you have to do,

he says, once done,
and turns the garden hose on when I ask,

If you want this water turned to wine.

I decided to post this piece because it began as a Napo poem last year :-) Through countless revisions, I'm now pretty happy with how it turned out.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Poetry Challenge #4

Today's going to be a bit of a quickie. Why? Well, because I'm meeting my partners in crime Linda Romero and Ileana Garcia Spitz for coffee chats. Yay girl time!

But before I scoot off to that, I wanted to talk about a little event that I attended to kick off my spring break, which is sadly now coming to a close.

Poetry Pasta and Vino (known as PPV by those who love it) celebrated its fourth anniversary last Saturday. Fourth anniversary? My goodness, I'm starting to feel old. I remember the first PPV reading back when there was a Johnny Carinos in McAllen.

So as we often do, the poets of the Rio Grande Valley gathered to share their works, good food, and drink. Though PPV has moved venues several times, what doesn't change is the spirit. It's all about community, about art, about celebration. This time, we had our reading at Sahadi's in McAllen.

It had been awhile since I'd attended a PPV event, and this time, I decided to read some new works. I read two poems about my illness, which probably wasn't the most celebratory or upbeat, but, well, I'm not always feeling celebratory and upbeat, so there.

B came out to support me, and we enjoyed two lovely beers. It was a laid back and nice evening. Odilia Galvan Rodriguez was the featured poet. Even children took the stage and read a few of their adorable pieces.

And, as promised, here is poem #4. Tomorrow's the last day of the challenge, so I'll be back on more time before my life gets complicated all over again :-)


You have to sweep them underneath the rug,
or chase them back into the crevices
they came from.  Colonies of sugar ants
creep in to catch the crumbs too small to see.
A silverfish has deemed my shower drain
his home, and can’t you hear the crickets sing
each night? They’re not outside. I try to sleep
as moths’ heads clink against the chandelier
I left aglow. The daddy long-legs feast
upon the crowds; I brush their webs away
each morning from the kitchen’s every nook.

A home is never free from creeping bugs
and it’s impossible to kill them all.
To live, sometimes you have to close your eyes,
pretend that everything’s ok inside
and make the ugly traces disappear.

I ask about your day or what’s for lunch
and not the chaos of what’s underneath
that placid face, the thumping of my heart –
a spec of flea dirt in the bed sheet’s wrinkle,

the cockroach nestled within the duvet.

Originally published in Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots (Lamar University Press, 2014)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Poetry Challenge #3

Welcome Back :-)

Today, I thought I'd reflect on my Festiba 2015 experiences. It was a wild ride, though slightly less wild than usual, which, come to think of it, was probably a good thing. 

Festiba our annual celebration of books and literacy over at UTPA. Way back in 2007, I had my first public poetry reading at a Festiba event, so it's a little special to me. Since then, I've always been involved in some form or fashion, and this year was no different.


On Thursday, March 5th, I had the pleasure of chauffeuring Pat Mora and her daughter, Libby Martinez. I was scheduled to pick them up at their hotel early in the morning and take them over to Emiliano Zapata Elementary in Mission for their reading and presentation. It was a pretty neat experience! Pat and Libby were so friendly and wonderful, so it was fun driving them around. Zapata Elementary is kind of in the middle of nowhere, though, and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little nervous taking these out-of-towners down some of those streets.

Anyway, we get there to the elementary school, and who is there to greet us? Vanessa Brown, poet extraordinaire and good friend of mine! I had no idea she was the assistant principal there, and so all of the sudden, this nice adventure turned into a great one :-) I sit in on Pat and Libby's presentations, where they read their children's book, I Pledge Alligence, about Libby's great aunt Lobo's journey to becoming a US citizen. Then, we're joined by Rene Saldana, and we all tour the school and had a wonderful lunch. How awesome is it to hang out with such amazing, interesting, and inspiring people? 

Me reading from Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots
After lunch, I had my own panel to get to, so I drop off all three authors back at their hotel and high tail it off to UTPA. Emmy Perez, my former poetry professor, had invited me to come to her class, along with other published poets, to share our work and talk about the publication and writing process. They even had food for us! (More food? really? What's a health-conscious girl to do?) I was the first up, and good thing -- the other poets totally tore it up and stole the show. So, going first, I wasn't too self-conscious. The other presenters included Isaac Chavarria, Rossy Lima Padilla, and Amaila Ortiz.

After the panel, I immediately have to scoot off to class, and after class I'm SUPPOSED to attend an author's reception at the Sekula Library, but... I make an executive decision to hit the gym instead. Because priorities. 


The following day, I had another panel to go to, which was an absolute joy. It was another installment of our Chicks with Words reading series. Linda Romero and I put the panel together and invited some new "chicks" to our little clique -- Myra Infante and MaryRuth Chen! 

Chicks With Words is all about women's empowerment, about finding our voices, about supporting each other through friendship and community. So that's essentially what the reading was all about. We had a small audience, but the panel turned out to be this really wonderful and inspiring space of sharing our work and talking about the wonders of writing.

I was really inspired by everyone's work, but most especially, MaryRuth's. I had never heard her read before, and she shared what I think must have been a piece of her memoir. It was really interesting -- about femininity, sexuality, and coming of age. Lately, I've been writing creative nonfiction myself about my illness and my body. So, for the first time ever, I decided to share a very personal story about coming to terms with being disabled. Through the lens of shoes :D 

The Vidas Cruzadas Panel

Saturday was, thankfully, pretty quiet. I decided to swing by the university for one last panel, this
time as an audience member rather than a participant. I'm glad I did! I checked out the Vidas Cruzadas panel lead by Linda Romero, Isaac Chavarria, and Emmy Perez. They talked about the importance of service learning, particularly through the program that Linda founded years ago for women. What important work! They have a writing therapy group, and students from the university go and mentor as writers. It's just a really amazing idea! I've always wanted to do something similar with my students, though working out the logistics is always a challenge. Anyway, I left the conversation inspired!

So that was my Festiba experience this year. I'll also be selling/signing books at the annual Jardin del Arte, which was unfortunately postponed due to the strangely cold and rainy weather. That's set for March 27th at the Edinburg City Hall. I'm looking forward to it!

Ok, as promised!

Here's poem #3 of the challenge. The theme of Festiba 2015 was "Entre Dos Mundos" so... maybe this fits, in a girlhood/womanhood kind of way. Also, it's in chapter 2 of Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots!

Seasons of Gold

There was a time when summer meant to lie
without a purpose in the fresh-cut grass,
pluck honeyed globes of grapefruit from the trees,
devour them, lick our sticky fingers clean,
to rush through sprinklers, cool our naked ankles,
when days blurred into nights, to weeks, to months
to seasons spent on porches letting night’s
maw swallow us. We’d watch the lightning bugs
illuminate the yard with gold and wonder
what it was that made the world go round.

The warmth of August cools into September.
I realized that days and months make years
that come, abruptly, to a simple end.
That’s why the fireflies dance, to live again,
you said, lit up a pilfered cigarette,

then let me taste forever on your lips.

This was originally published in Amarillo Bay in 2014. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poetry Challenge Post #2

For day #2, I'm going to share with you a poem from chapter 1 of Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots. 

But before we get to that, I'm going to update you on some things that have been going on in my writing life :-)

Lately, I've been having an absolute blast serving as Poetry Editor of Devilfish Review. I don't think I've ever blogged about it, so let me tell you how that came to be.

Back when I was a lowly MFA student, I was in a requisite fiction writing class, and one of the classmates was Cathy Lopez. We got along pretty well, connected over the usual nerdery, but what I remember most was how different her writing was from everyone else's. She wrote (gasp) "genre" fiction, which, ok, if you're in academia, you learn that it's kind of a dirty word. I'm putting "genre" in quotes, though, because that's what our professor said Cathy wrote. I thought they were just good, interesting stories about being a superhero or living in a magical word, but whatevs. 

Anyway, Cathy graduated, and we went our own separate ways, though kept in touch via Facebook. Yay Facebook. About four years ago, she founded Devilfish Review along with another MFA classmate, Sarah Gonzalez. I watched in the backdrop. Their mission? Unofficially, I think they were aiming to prove that speculative fiction can be just as smart, layered, and rich as "Literary" fiction. Coolness. I'm all about representation, and I'm a closet sci-fi nerd. Though, of course, I'm not a fiction writer.

They chug along successfully, publishing interesting and quality speculative fiction, gaining a reader base, and generally being awesome.

This past summer, though, I was at some book signing festival thing for the City of Edinburg, and what do you know, Cathy and Sarah swing by my table. We chat for a bit, and they invite me out to coffee the following weekend. "We want to pick your brain about poetry," Cathy says, though I'm suspicious.

And I had good reason! Over our little coffee chat the following week, I learn that they want to include more poetry in their journal, and they need someone with a good eye to read, select, and edit it. I agreed to help them out until they could find someone better, because, well, I didn't exactly have all the time in the world on my hands. "I'll help for one issue," I say, temporary.

I begin sifting through the poems in the submission queue, and you know what? It's fun! I also edit Amarillo Bay, of course, which is more ::ahem:: "Literary" BUT the submissions for Devilfish? My goodness. Let me tell you. I just finished reading an epic in blank verse about a computer that falls in love with a lady. And it was fantastic. I get to read Star Trek poetry, poems about fairy tales, unicorns, magic. 

So, needless to say, I did the first issue, the second, and, well, about a year later, I'm still on board. I'm hooked. I have an official shirt with their octopod logo! And, well, Cathy and Sarah have become good friends of mine. So, I'm here to stay, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We jive.

In the spirit of being speculative, then, I'll share with you a revisionist fairy tale poem that's about as creepy as I can muster. I'm a big baby...

An Empty Parking Lot at Night

Suddenly you find yourself alone --
the sky’s the color of an eyeball’s pit,
too dark for skipping shadows, and the moon
even looks the other way. Your car’s
across the parking lot that, by the minute,
looks more and more a forest, every sidewalk
crack a bramble, every sound a howl
and every empty car’s a shrub the hungry
might lurk behind. You know the fairy tale –
tonight, you didn’t wear your short red dress,
meet strangers’ gazes with your eyes, or stop
to smell the moonlit lilies at your feet.
You tongue the rouge off from your lips and palm
the cell phone in your pocket, clutch your purse
to your hip. But dear, there’s nothing you can do;

the wolf is always after girls like you.

Speaking of which, we're currently running our first contest, The Kraken Awards! I bet you can write a better speculative piece than me, and I can't wait to read it. Submit!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Poetry Challenge Post #1

Why hello there, dear readers.

No, I haven't died.

Actually, to the contrary! These past few months have been wonderful for both my body and spirit. I am doing well, dare I say, thriving? Anyway, I've had "priorities" to attend to. Work? Writing? Taking care of myself? All of that. So blogging fell a little bit to the wayside. But never fear, I'm alive, well, and in good spirits. Can't you tell from my picture? That's me, last Thursday, celebrating some wonderful news that I can't wait to share with you (soon!), and, also, the beginning of my vacation.

Life's been pretty good. Right now, I'm thoroughly enjoying my spring break, which is my calm before the storm. Today consisted of chatting with my good friend and fellow poet, Linda, about all things writing, meeting for sushi with the awesome gals from Devilfish Review, and an online poetry critique session via Skpe with two new friends. Today has pretty much been perfection. I'm enjoying it while I can.

Once my spring break ends, though, my life is about to get a lot more complicated (in a good way, of course). Naturally, I return back to work, but I've also got a boat load of events lined up, including an AWP panel to moderate in Minneapolis, a banquet to attend in Houston for the Texas Institute of Letters the very next frickin' day, a friend's wedding that I've promised to read poetry at the following weekend, and then, to top it all off, the Valley International Poetry Festival at the end of April. 

I am going to be a busy bee right until the semester finishes. So right now, I'm just enjoying the calm, the peace, the time to focus on the things that matter most to me.

Which brings me the Poetry Challenge. Rodney Gomez tagged me on Facebook to participate, to post a poem a day for five days. I get to tag other poets to do the same, and one of my tagees, Linda, suggested we take this to our respective blogs. Isn't she smart?

So, here's my first poem. I'll be back everyday for the next five days to share more.

In the Beginning

She made an ocean, ocher, filled with yolks
and gloss, a splash of milk as white as bone,
a sunray stream of butter, clumps of sugar
dissipating into amber swirls.
Then, she sifted what was dry: the dust
of flour, rising up like bits of ash
when poured, a scattering of salt, a drift
of baking powder, altogether formed
a snowy mound she leveled with her spoon.

She poured the flood of batter in the flour,
sprinkled midnight chocolate chips like stars
scattered in a golden, cloudless vault,
spooned her fist-sized worlds onto a pan
and formed then with her hands. When she was done,
she slid them in the oven, licked her sticky
fingers clean and knew that it was good.

Poem originally published in my latest poetry collection, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots