Well, I was late to my own party

 

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My piece, “He Dreamed” was picked up this year for the Seattle Erotic Festival’s literary anthology. I always find it interesting what gets picked and what doesn’t.  Selecting what to submit is always a trial for me. I’ve never been accused of being sensitive to ambient emotional responses. One must be blatant in their displeasure, grief, or happiness before it pierces. I’m more aware of the chill in the air than I am in a chill in a human’s response to my behavior, words, or choices.   So you can guess how good I am at selecting pieces for an anonymous jury which has a rotating editorial board.

The advice always given to writers is to read what a publisher publishes… which makes sense if a publisher has a very specific “personality” in what they publish like Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse which embraced rants of all types did, or McSweeny’s wry and informed humor does. But otherwise, I find myself quite challenged in being able to describe a particular “Editorial” preference.

I, myself, can’t say I have a preference. I still love “The Cremation of Sam McGee” as well as Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan,” but have never been able to make it more than a few lines of “Howl” before I begin to wish for fewer words in the English language, or less ink, or the absence of paper, or something which would have inhibited the man from pratting on and on and on.  Give me Sexton’s “Live or Die” with its short lines and fricative language. Her anger strikes me as more alive than Kerouac’s “Boom” 

But what do I know? Nothing.  And then I read Neurda’s poem “I do not love you except because I love you” and think, “Ah-ha! Of course, I’d never be able to follow that. Of course, it would be picked up and published.”  And yet, I, too, select others’ work and can give reasons why one was chosen but not another. In my case, it usually has to do with technical problems, but if I were given the task to select my own personal “Top 100” poems of All Time Over the Entirety of Human History, there would not be a theme. Yet, I do group my own works into themes which I then organize into my non-existent chapbooks under separate folders in a cloud drive.

But here is one of the pieces which was not selected.  I’d have to read the anthology to see if I could find a theme to the selections. I just picked mine up last night, so I don’t really know. There’s no actual fucking going on in this piece, that could be a problem. Dunno… I walked in late to the reading, so missed my time to read aloud, but as I hate the way I read a poem, I don’t feel that was anyone’s loss. However, I do feel that about this piece, so I’ll share it.

Laundry Day

Where to Find My Work

I’ve been recently challenged about why I don’t pursue publication. I don’t have a published chapbook, not even a self-pubb’d one. Why bother? There’s few who read poetry, many who write – but they want you to read THEIR pomes. In many venues, the act of “getting published” is quite expensive; these days  submission costs for “reading” begin at $35. It’s rare that you find a source which recompenses your submission fees with a subscription or tickets to an event. And just trying to manage the submissions, researching the various publishers is exhausting. Have you ever hefted the Poet’s Market around before it became electronically available? It was heavier than a phone book.

And the readings, the slams… oh, nobody will buy the chapbook there. It’s not like a local band or busker where people will pick up your home burnt CD for 10 bucks and then share it on Spotify.  While some of the performances are great, I’ve never been admired for my reading voice or ability to “emote”.

What all this means is that I cannot speak to the “how” to get well-published or recognized. It’s a “thing” for sure. The annual Poet’s Market by Writer’s Digest has advice and addresses, so getting published happens. In my more jaundiced moments, it often seems to be the same old names – I mean, who doesn’t whip out a Maya Angelou or a Charles Bukowski. And cherished though they are, I wonder where are the new Sandra Cisneros? or a not dead Seamus Heaney? I miss Exquiste Corpse (1983-2015) and I cannot keep up with the variety of online venues. I’ve got a job to do and figuring that mess out isn’t it.

Fresh Nettle (Poets Who Aren’t Dead)

1-1240318699lvhmI read Patricia Lockwood when she was 19 and posted on a bulletin board in 2001 under a pseudonym. Her piece hit us all like a baseball bat striking a well-pitched summer tomato. Her newest release, Priestdaddy, is a memoire and a demonstration she grew to understand “the ways” “around, or through…” that I will never explore here on Nettlesting. Chaos & The Big Bang bless her and her “Rape Joke“.

Another writer who came from the poetry boards of the early 2000s and learned to navigate the realm of literary publishing is Jee Leong Koh. He’s been blogging consistently since 2005. He also unashamedly posts his own work there. And, as April is National Poetry Writing Month, you’ll often find his unedited work in those months.

Follow these two writers. Lockwood is particularly active on twitter and whose sexting gained notice in 2012 and you’ll see what work they put into building literary, poetic careers.

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So, if I don’t share my work here on this blog, where do I? Well, being as I’m inconsistent, it’s spread across a variety of boards, sources, and whatnot.  Currently, I’m working on a submission for Seattle’s Erotic Art Festival. I had five pieces picked up there in 2015, but as I’m inconsistent, it’s taken until this year for me to get my act together for another five to submit. On the Erotic Reader’s and Writer’s Association, I’ve several pieces which have been added to the Treasure Chest. I’ve even recorded a number of pieces while I was poetry moderator on the ERWA’s email discussion list. My soundcloud  account has 10 of my pieces here. I work rough drafts on another site as well, but take those off. I also respond to exercises posted the 6th of every month by Ashley Lister. Not only are they inspirational, but the focus he makes on the technical details of the craft mixed with the focus on erotic poetry is what I love to write about as well.

But here is one of the pieces previously published and to which the rights returned to me in 2017.

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Mowing Hay

The nipple popped from her daughter’s mouth. Brown
and seemingly round as a penny, it looked as long as the end
of his little finger. While he’d fondled his share of breasts
before, he’d never seen one with a drop of milk forming
at the crest of the tip. His mouth felt empty, dry after
working in the sun all day. He could not look away.

She looked up to see her neighbor stopped at the gate
of her backyard. He’d come around, must have finished
mowing the hay of her front lawn. He was frozen in his frown,
but golden and rough as her field; the hair on his chest glinted
in the sun. She stood, laid her daughter down beside the glider.
The shade of the back porch was warm with August.

She’d rocked the afternoon away as the baby fed, listening
to crickets instead of gates leading to back yards. She straightened,
pulled her shoulders back and stretched, for the first time aware
of the weight of being a woman as it pulled at her shoulders and back.
Her nipples grew erect at the hunger she saw in his face. She sat
back down. He kneeled before her. She was summer.

 

 

 

Two Years Later

Nettie Kestler Starts Over AgainEvery writer in the world blogs about The Absurdist Administration and the 2016 de-selection.  My NaPo 2017 was focused on harrowing through thirty days to describe what it is like in the middle of this shitstorm.  The Orange One consumed months, and weeks of synaptic capacity.  I’m just now coming out of a nearly two-week jag of outrage.

But now it really is time to leave the political writing to others much, much stronger than I and to my rants on Facebook.   I have to return to pornetry, and writing in general.  I’ve even pulled out paints.   My absence is not unique.  It seems though that everyone who was so hale and  is slowing down.  One of my faves – Remittance Girl – looks to have only one blog entry, and it’s this year, since 2016.

It’s so weird being on the internet.  I received notice I’ve had my Amazon account for 20 years this year.   The bulletin board I grew up on, Poetry Free-for-All, exists but with only a handful of pomes posted a day.   There was a time when it sped by like Twitter, or my Facebook page.  I see I still exist over at the ERWA.  They have to be over 20 years old as well.  Amazing.

Starting over again is a renewed commitment to working on writing, to think about writing again, to find words to describe what I’ve read and what I think about it.  This is not the first time I’ve started over again.  Like many writers, I’ve written since childhood.  Cleaning out my mother’s house when we moved her into assisted living, I found an illustrated story from the 7th grade.  And, of course, I still have my Girl Scout diary with its entries of dying pets and excruciating love crushes.

Writing stopped when I was consumed with writing term papers for classes.  After graduating with my B.A., I turned my attention to writing novels.  I started four of them.  The paper has rotted away leaving only snake-shaped letters in a box.  That’s what dead novels look like after they’ve decomposed.  Then nothing… nothing… nothing…

For maybe five, six years.  Then there were the tepid poetry workshops with their “only positive” feedback.  Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down to the Bones” which created a crest for passing waves until Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” gave me the concrete plan for three pages a day.

Writing three pages a day, every day, for years – one bores oneself to the point of desperation.  Luckily, I fell into the PFFA before I gave it up as an existential waste of energy.  The PFFA fever burned hot for a year.  Daily work writing critiques, reading about poetry, writing new work, editing old, workshopping, going from bulletin board to bulletin board, reading, reading, reading…

What interrupted the poetry community was the U.S. response to 9/11 and Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan, and worse – Iraq.  Friendly poetry communities exploded over the political situations.  Rivalries developed into cacophony.  Boards lost members and closed left and right, new ones opened from reformed cliques.  Time passed and I was not doing that much writing.

Then, I discovered erotica.

Rhina P. Espaillat on commenting on poetry

Espaillat is one of my very favorite poets.  She’s a formalist who is
a master of the modern sensibility, so her crafted work will surprise
many readers who think of formal writing as requiring the use of
archaic words, twisted syntax, or stilted phrasing.  Her pieces are
small gems of human experience.

work in progress” is such an example. Better still, it’s a wonderful
little tidbit of the balance between offering a well-considered
critique and a writer’s choice.

I’d suggest signing up for Rattle’s poem a day if you have an interest
in modern work.  They select excellent pieces.

To Post a Poem or to Publish

In her July 10th entry, Remittance Girl wrote about how publishing doesn’t matter to her any longer.  Coincidentally, a number of my favorite writers have stopped publishing because their novels don’t make sufficient income for support.  Articles are beginning to come out about the impacts of electronic publishing and the changes in contracts, the fall of income for writers.  We’ve seen the changes in journalism and now fiction is falling as well.

As someone who writes poetry, even as bad as this sounds –  I just shrug.  I call poetry the “lowest of the low” for art forms because every stranger on the street you meet says they write poetry.  Making a living supported solely by your poetry, uhm, well, I’ve just never seen an example.  Writers might win a MacArthur genius award, or win the Nobel Prize and gain income that way, but even the Poet Laureate of the United States was listed as earning only $35,000  in 2011 and that’s for work other than directly writing poetry.  Making a living from writing poetry has long been undercut by the very people who claim to be poets, but never buy another’s book of poetry.  Prose and journalism are falling to the flood of equal, easy access to publication.

While I don’t know how to fix “the system” of income production for other fields in the creative industries,  I do know that it is a painful time in publishing. In this case, prose readers don’t want to pay the premium prices charged for new novels, to buy the subscriptions for the magazines, or newspapers with at least somewhat-researched articles – thus cutting off the flow of income of which supported the writers.

Where this  Walmarting of the prose domains will end, I don’t really know.  I can commiserate though as poetry in my adult lifetime (80’s onward) has been about “Read Me!” It is only rarely that I’ve ever heard someone recommend another’s book.  Frankly, I’m the only reader I’ve ever met who has collected books of poetry as part of my library. And the comment about “Read more poetry

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is seen as an insult to the person waving their electrons in front of a critic’s eyes.

It is the rare occasion when a poem is so good that it sweeps my critical faculties away on the first read.  Or rather, I shouldn’t claim it to be rare because there are a number of writers whose work just leaves me breathless for the most part, it is just that they themselves are rare compared to the amount of poetry I read because it is so readily available on line.  Prose writers are only now beginning to feel this effect of unedited, unexpurgated, vanity-published spew building to a slush-pile of available, cheap content which makes they, the True Craftspeople, hard to find, much less compete against.

The disregard for the craft and the flood of “cheap goods” is part of the dynamic change in the publishing industry.  Trying to withhold content, or the mantra I continue to see “Don’t write for free!” reminds me of a small finger in the last section standing of a dam which was already washed away.

So if the point of being published is not about income production, then what remains?  To me, it is the introduction to a specific society of readers. That is the purpose of working to be published.  What this means then, for the writer, is not that you have a chapbook out, or an Author’s page on Amazon, but that your work shows up associated with specific arbiters of taste and culture, that it’s possibly reviewed by venues such as the Best American Poetry.  And if the arbiters of taste don’t appeal to you, well, then, make your own, but the point is that there is critical thought behind the choices, there are winners and losers, it is not a democratic process, but a selective one.

The internet poetry boards are flooded with the democratic process, the equal access, the all-accepting entrants.  And no one reads another’s words.  All those poems will pass as technologies change, servers die, codes obsolesce and the languages become unrecognizable.  The hard drives seize and are buried in the rubble of the landfill.  There is nothing physical left of those words, and no memory of them beyond that of the ardent “poet.”  The democratic access to publishing is transient and self-aggrandizing.  This is what we have learned from equal access to the publishing process.

It is only content which is self-consciously crafted which does have a chance at memorable, and more importantly, physicality.  The form of a physical book will become the highest standard of regard for the word simply for the fact that it takes more resources and more effort to produce.  The arbiters spots are changing, but making a thing from ephemeral words is going to resurge like vinyl is in music.

It’s no longer a matter of “getting published,” but being published or recognized by people or organizations which matter to you – whom you read.  So, get out there – And Read More Poetry.

 

 

 

The New Re-Purposed Purpose of a Book

What is the purpose of “the book” any longer?  I write this question while I have a IMG_1745library of my own in excess of 3,000 physical books.  I number nearly that many in electronic books.  My physical books cover topics from ancient architecture and city planning, The History of Beads, everything ever written by C.J. Cherryh, a few of my favorite Margaret Atwoods, a copy of every single religion’s “holy” work, a few biographies (not my favorite genre), a number of “science for simpleton” reductionist nonfics, every Alice Hoffman, most Marge Piercey’s, and then a scattering of male authors which are early and / or hard to find in the U.S.

Since I got my tablet, I’ve moved away from the paperback novel.  The only works I collect in their first printings (either trade paperback or HB) are those novelists 51uYjP94oALwhose work I’d miss if the electricity goes out.  It also turns out that I don’t like electronic versions of cookbooks.  Tech manuals in electronic form are fine for me, but absolutely nothing to do with craftsmanship.  These days, I buy hardback books where the photographic or visual element are the centerpiece of the work.  The problem I’ve got is that my walls are shelves and I’ve run out of wall space  between the artwork I have up and the bookshelves.

While my “disposable” reading is purely electronic – that is, nearly all my romance and erotica – I can’t imagine losing the tactile quality of the physical book.  And while I might not be an avid collector, I think about the future of the book, and how what a book “means” is changing.

While my biggest concern is the secondary paperback market and the widespread Image-1availability of 2nd generation books at a reasonable price, one of the “promising” side effects of the electronic / transitory movement of words off the papered page is that it returns “the book” back to its “roots” in that at one time books were not disposable objects, but treasures.

Electronic publishing, like blogging, or poetry boards, or just the internet itself is the means for verbal diarrhea to overspill the page.   While I am one of those who will call a book “defective” and ask for a refund if I can’t make it beyond page 1, there are many of my electronic books I do love, but would never buy in meatspace.  They’re just not good enough.

Poetry is in even worse shape than the novel.  Not only did no one ever buy poetry since the late 70’s, now all the “poets” slap their print on demand works on Amazon where their rank falls below the 1,768,234th position.  Then there are the hastily IMG_1755printed chapbooks which are shoved into coworkers hands, a flood of posts on a dead internet bulletin board, and people’s responses in the comments section of a news article written in some desperate verse.  The small poetry sections of the few bookstores left feature mostly anthologies or dead poets anyways, with only a few representative live ones.

But I cannot claim to be free of hubris myself.  Because I don’t really want to try and organize myself to muck around with traditional publishing for The Marriage Bed
I’ve decided to take the letterpress printing a step further, I’m going to hand-set the typIMG_1763e and print the book in a limited edition run.  I love my work.  I believe in the pieces.  I believe in them enough that throwing them into the spectacle of electronic transience, or acid-paged burn just isn’t inspirational for me.

Who has last fondled their book of poetry?  Read a work time and again?  Made notes written in the margins about what inspired you in the piece?  When was the last time you re-read a live poet’s work so many times you felt their words to be your own?  When was the last time you held a book of beauty in your hands?

This slow process of hand-setting the type is an act of paying attention to each and every letter within each word.  One observes the punctuation around the phrases, the length of each line.  In considering the physicality of the object itself, the exercise is a second meditation on the work. The book will not be traditionally bound, but will be a series of cards, each set with their own poem and artwork.  There will be a limited edition box created for the cards as well.

It distracts from my writing, but the process is the closest I’ve gotten to taking my work seriously.