Poem-Making, the Process

Note: This was originally posted on 4/16/08 at the Scribes' Tribe Scribbings blog as part of an April poetry workshop.

pen.bmpWhat is your process for writing poetry?

I’ve only recently started thinking about process. Maybe that’s because I’ve only recently had folks interested in my work enough to ask. At first, I really had no clue how to describe my personal process. I’ve come to realize that process for me is a fluid entity, something that remains constantly changing.

For example, last year I wrote a lot of narrative poems and political/socially driven poems. So whenever I wrote in my notebook, I’d tuck away the random phrases and metaphors that came to me for future use. Whenever I was struck upside the head with a complete idea, I would start writing, and then go back to my notes to see if anything I’d written before “fit” within the piece I was working on. This worked well at the time. I knew where I wanted to take the reader, and then added in images and descriptions from my notebook that correlated with that concept.

Lately I’ve drifted from the conventional narrative of my previous poems, and toward something less linear, more disjointed. I wouldn’t call it fully abstract, but definitely not as organized as my previous style. This style shift has impacted my process. No longer do I just store things away for future use – sometimes I take a phrase I think of and run with it in order to see where it takes me. I no longer feel like I need to always know where I’m going with a concept before I start writing.

I mostly write free verse, so I rarely have the constraint of remaining in a certain pattern (unless it is of my own creation). That is a personal choice, but I can see myself trying some forms, such as sestinas or villanelles, in the future.

When I think of process, I feel the following things are important:

  • Realize that your process can be fluid and remain in flux. You can change from what you “have always done” and still be a good writer. The only thing holding you back is fear.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might find a different voice yearning to come out of you…or a voice that was always there, but you never bothered to listen to.
  • Make sure what you are doing works for your style and personality. I have friends who write using their own methods, and can cookie-cutter a whole poetry manuscript in a single night if they so desired. However, if I employed their methods, I wouldn’t write a single word.

Guest Blogging at the Scribes’ Tribe Scribblings Website

litera1.gifAs part of National Poetry Month, I will be guest blogging over at the Scribes’ Tribe Scribblings website. I’ll be talking about poetry in general and the intersection of poetry and prose in particular. It’s intended to be a poetry workshop where people can ask questions and advice.

Click here to check out the poetry workshop page where I’m featured. Right now they have posted an interview with me where I answer various questions.

The rest of the blogging for the month will work like this:

April 16 - Poem-making, the Process
April 21 - How Poetry Influences Prose, and Vice Versa
April 23 - Spreading the Word: Getting Your Work Out There Through Publishing and Readings
April 28 & 30 - Critiquing poems from those posted on the website

Big thanks to Candace and Amy of the Scribes’ Tribe for this tremendous opportunity.

Do Work

dowork400.jpgI have work in the inaugural edition of Imagine, the Arts Ministry Journal of Imago Dei. My poem Conversation with an Atheist appears in this new magazine dedicated to expressing Christianity through the written word, visual arts, and creative arts ministries.

I also have new work – three poems to be exact – in the third edition of MO: Writings from the River. MO: Writings from the River is the journal of the Montana State University - Great Falls Literary Guild, published annually.

I’ll have work later this month in the upcoming first edition of a new online journal, Asphalt Sky. When it is online, I’ll post up a link.  Also in May, I'll have a poem in the online journal Prairie Poetry.

More of my work will appear in Talking Stick later this year.  My poem Minnesota and my micro-fiction piece False Hope have been selected to be part of this Minnesota literary journal.

As far as my goal to write 100 works in 2008, I am right on pace. I count 26 poems, 2 short stories, and 1 ranting piece in various states of disarray. I’ll keep on the grind, I suppose.

Finally, in the coming weeks, I’ll be doing work as a guest blogger (somewhat ironic, considering the erratic pace of the posts I make on my own blog) at Scribes’ Tribe Scribblings ), a unique and helpful writing website/blog that was spawned by a writers’ critique group. I’ll post more a little more about this guest blogging stint tomorrow. Until then, be good…

New poem in What Light: This Week's Poem

what_light_button.jpgMy poem Mistakes is the featured poem this week for What Light:This Week's Poem

Mistakes will appear here, on the Magers and Quinn website, for this week only.  It will also appear here, on mnartists.org, where it will be archived forever...I think.

The What Light reading on Sunday was uber-cool.  I was one of four poets who read work, and there was a lot of energy and diversity in the poetry that was shared.  And the (free) wine samples from Artisan Vineyards were terrific.  Good times, good times.  I can only hope that I get lucky enough to be part of What Light again in the future.

Upcoming Reading - What Light

If you are in the Twin Cities on March 30, and you are a fan of literature, wine, or both, consider stopping by the What Light reading.  It will be from 5-7 PM at Magers and Quinn Booksellers on Hennepin Ave. in the Uptown area of Minneapolis.  I will be one of several poets reading work there.

Magers & Quinn Booksellers, The Wine Company, and the Walker Art Center’s mnartists.org are presenting this reading by the winners of this quarter’s poetry contest: “What Light--This Week’s Poem.”

Refreshments will be served.  A wine tasting will accompany the reading.  It should be a good time - hope to see you there.

Survival Notes now available!

SurvivalNotes155x247.jpgMy first fiction chapbook, Survival Notes, is now available!  Survival Notes was the winning manuscript in the 2006 Cervena Barva Press Fiction Chapbook Prize, and it contains much of my best short fiction to date.  Much thanks to Gloria Mindock and Cervena Barva Press for making this chapbook a reality.

Most of the pieces in this chapbook have been contest winners and/or published in fine literary journals.  It's 42 pages of page-turning goodness for the nice price of 7 bucks (plus $3.00 shipping).  If you enjoy my writing, please buy a copy and support me and Cervena Barva Press.

This is a huge step for me in my writing career.  Because I started mainly writing poetry, I never imagined I'd have the chance to compose enough respectable prose to assemble a chapbook like this.  Since I truly look at myself as both a poet and fiction writer, this is an important milestone to me. 

Click here to read about Survival Notes and, if you are so inclined, to buy a copy.  And thank you for your support!!!

Poem to appear in Asphalt Sky

smallskybutton.jpgJust got word that my poem Last Call Confessional will be published online in the inaugural edition of Asphalt Sky.  Sweet.

According to their manifesto, Asphalt Sky is committed to publishing emerging artists and giving a place for thoughtful and engaging poetry, prose, and art work.  I am looking forward to being a part of this new exciting online publication - thanks to editor Jessica Fox-Wilson for giving me this great oppotunity to reach more readers.  I'll be sure to post a link when the first issue Asphalt Sky is up and running!

Acceptance to What Light: This Week's Poem


Great news. My poem Mistakes will be part of What Light: This Week's Poem. A a result, the poem will be published online at both http://www.mnartists.org/ and http://www.magersandquinn.com in the near future (circa 3/31/08), along with a pic, a bio note, and a blurb about my poetry.

This acceptance means a lot – Mistakes is the first poem that represents my recent subtle style shift. I’ve moved a bit away from the rant poems and narrative verse that dominated my writing last year, towards something a little more fragmented, less linear. I discuss this in the blurb that will appear in What Light.

What Light: This Week's Poem, sponsored by Magers and Quinn Booksellers in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, spotlights a poem each week by a Minnesota poet, selected by a panel of writers and publishers. I’m excited to be included in this series of What Light, and plan on attending and reading at the next reading for the series on March 30 at Magers and Quinn. Thanks to all those involved with What Light, especially Lightsey Darst and Jen March for deeming my work worthy.

You may have noticed the lack of blog posts on my part lately. That is partially due to Mistakes being my first accepted piece of the year. Yep, after a red hot 2007, things have started a lil’ lukewarm for my writing so far in 2008. That being said, I have been writing a lot – more than 20 poems and a short story in the past month alone – and submitting a lot of manuscripts to various places, so it’s only a matter if time before things heat up again. I hope.

Oh yeah, Survival Notes, my first fiction chapbook, is still available through Cervena Barva Press. Buy a copy for each of your personalities.

Put a stamp on it. If you can still afford one.

usps.bmpYes, the USPS is now the official front runner in the glamorous world of extortion. 

I just felt the pinch of the latest news from the United States Postal Service. That's right, people: We can look forward to yet another postal rate increase! (It felt like just the other day that the cost of a first-class stamp went up to $0.41, right?)   This bothers me because I send out so many submissions to contests and magazines via snail mail - which makes the economics of being a practicing writer even more depressing. 

The new rates take effect on May 12.  So there is plenty of time to stock up on those "Forever" stamps.  But still...damn.

New work published online at Cherry Bleeds

My poem, What the Dealer Didn't Tell You About Heroin, was just published over at the super cool literary magazine Cherry Bleeds.  Go on, check it out - you know you want to.  Click here to read that poem.

While you are there, read some of the other great writers in the February '08 issue, too, including Michael K. White, Scott Casale, and Daniel S. Irwin.  Click here to check out Cherry Bleeds - it's like no other online lit mag you've ever read.

Survival Notes reviewed in the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene Blog

Survival Notes received its first review in the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene Blog!

Many thanks to Doug Holder for reviewing my chapbook.  His review focuses mostly on the story that he found most interesting in the collection, Domestic Silence.  Quoting Mr. Holder's review, "In this story, an unfortunate neighbor to a loud and argumentative couple, tracks the jazz music the abusive male in this unfortunate coupling plays to mute the loud protests of his many domestic brawls." 

Click here to read the full review of Survival Notes.

Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - January 21, 2008


Ten quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. -- "Stride Toward Freedom," 1958.

2. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. -- "Strength to Love," 1963.

3. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. -- "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963.

4. Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. -- "Strength to Love," 1963.

5. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. -- "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963.

6. The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. -- "Strength to Love," 1963.

7. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. -- "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963.

8. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. -- "I Have a Dream," civil rights march on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963. (Source: The New York Times)

9. Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals. -- "Why We Can't Wait," 1964.

10. The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. -- [Referring to U.S. Vietnam policy.] Address at Riverside Church, New York. (Source: History Today, April 1998)

Poem Featured at Poets for Human Rights

p4hr20banner.jpgIf you didn't catch my poem Why I Believe in Monsters the first time I mentioned it, it is now also featured on the Poets for Human Rights website.  More exposure is a good thing for a writer, right?  Click here to give this poem a read, if you haven't done so already.  It is a strong social commentary on today's crazy world.

Not much else going on, which is why I haven't blogged lately.  I just received my first two rejection notices of the new year.  I'm actually glad to get that unpleasant (yet necessary) evil out of the way.  Now I am just waiting (impatiently) for the first two acceptance notes and the first two contest wins of the year - yeah, I'm greedy.  Be good...

Goal Setting and Other Overrated Activities, 2008 edition


The obligation of every writer is to give some reflection on the year past when it's December/January.  It's lame, but true.

Last year was one of my more successful in writing. I placed in several contests (including two first place finishes in poetry competitions), had a fair amount of work published, and started to find my groove as a writer. I originally set a goal to write 100 works in 2007. That was a lofty goal that I did not meet, but I did write nearly 70 pieces of fiction and poetry, my most productive year yet. There’s nothing wrong with not meeting a high level goal if it still pushes your boundaries, right?

I also had tough experiences. For one, I severed ties to the press that was going to put out my manuscript My Own Brand of Blues, leaving the book with no publisher.  This was after the publisher decided that she wanted to focus on being an author herself rather than a publisher, despite my three years of patient waiting.  Sigh.  Also, a professional exam that I took in October left me so drained that I did not participate in the Nanowrimo challenge (write a novel in one month - November) like I had planned. And the unfortunate crash of a trusted USB drive left me scrambling to recover two years of work that I had been less than diligent about backing up. These and other setbacks have left me humble, which is good. I realize I might have some talent and am willing to put in hard work, but becoming a successful writer is not my birthright – I have to earn this. And I will.

So now, my goals for 2k8: I am going to try again for 100 works written – we’ll see if I can get that goal this time; if not, it sure makes me write a lot, so it’s a win-win for me. I want to find a home for my poetry manuscript – I think it has an urgent message that needs to be heard (by the few people who actually read poetry, lol), and getting a full length book published is a step I need to climb. Finally, I want to take part in Nanowrimo – which may take better planning than I had in 2007, so that I don’t find myself punking out when November rolls around.

I look forward to making my mark in 2008, and hope that you’ll be around to read all about it.

Why I Believe in Monsters...

p4hr20shackles20banner.jpgMy poem Why I Believe in Monsters recently won third prize in the 2007 Anita McAndrews Award poetry contest, a contest put on by the organization Poets for Human Rights.  It has been a good December. 

The Anita McAndrews Award poetry contest was established in 2006 by Anita's seven children to commemorate their mother, a poet, artist, journalist and human rights advocate whose 82 years of life epitomized the spirit of Poets for Human Rights.  I'm honored to place in this contest that brings human rights to the forefront; thanks to Stazja McFadyen for the contest opportunity and Dr. Marvin G. Kimbrough who judged the contest and deemed my work worthy of commendation.

If you'd like to know more about the organization Poets for Human Rights, click here.

If you'd like to read my 3rd place poem Why I Believe in Monsters, as well as the other winners in the Anita McAndrews Award poetry contest, click here.

I'll be spending my day getting my life together in anticipation of 2008 - just can't bring the new year in dirty or cluttered.  Bet many of you will be doing the same.  Good luck...

"Details of an Author's Divorce" now up at Six Sentences

6s.jpgHope you are having a happy holiday season. 

I have some new work recently posted at Six Sentences, a very cool literary blog.  You should go read it, along with some of the other pieces that are all exactly six sentences.   

Details of an Author's Divorce is one of those pieces that straddle the subtle void between micro-fiction and prose poem.  Therefore, it fits in well with the rest of the innovative work at 6S.  I already have received a few comments by readers, and I'm really happy with the positive feedback - as a writer, I need praise to bolster my ego. 

Click here to read Details of an Author's Divorce for yourself.  Feel free to shower me with faint praise...or condemn me. :)