Thursday, November 29, 2007

Feed poems through your eyes

St. Louis is a feast of visual arts. Two local art museum treasures are just down the road from the office where I work, and occasionally they are my lunch break destination. They are contemporary, amazing, and ever-changing. Both have presented events that combine visual arts with poetry, dance, and other forms.

The Pulitzer -- the web site is just as amazing as the place itself.
The Contemporary -- currently showcasing a must-see exhibit by Maya Lin.

The Pulitzer site includes a set of links to many other cultural stops in town.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Poetry chapbook publishers and contests

Publishing your poetry with Cherry Pie, or any other chapbook publisher, is fraught with the usual limitations. What if you don't fit the basic M.O. of the press? For Cherry Pie, you need to be a woman and have some link to the midwestern states. What if you write great poetry but I (no, say it's not true!) don't like it? Or what if I love it but (it happens) your style is simply not what I can produce and promote, given the synergy I'm trying to develop among the Cherry Pie publications? (For example, if you're a language poet or a visual poet, I can't do you justice.) What if your work isn't suited for a chapbook, but would work better as a traditional poetry book, and you just haven't figured that out yet? What if I simply can't publish everyone who's good? And I can't -- I only print about two chapbooks a year.

There are a hundred reasons to check out other poetry chapbook possibilities. Here are some starting points. lists quite a few chapbook publishers and their websites. Notice that many of these have a clear emphasis. Another list, with some overlap of course.

Some chapbook publishers of note:

Finishing Line Press has its long-standing New Womens Voices series at

Concrete Wolf produces astoundingly beautiful chapbooks. Like many chapbook publishers, they are looking for chapbooks cohering around some central theme; check their submission guidelines.

Kristy Bowen's Dancing Girl Press is definitely something to look at. Kristy does the production work herself, specializing in hand-crafted chapbooks, so you'll find beautiful and unique covers, nice layouts, but perhaps spotty stapling and trimming. The work she publishes is excellent, fresh, frequently amazing, and all of it is worth reading. Spend some time wandering through her websites -- she is innovative and energetic and has lots of stuff going on. She's recently set up a studio space (this is in Chicago) and is apparently using it for workshops and sessions on both writing and producing chapbooks. Definitely someone to watch.

If you compare these three chapbook publishers, and Cherry Pie, you'll note we have obvious and unique leanings toward certain types of poetry, certain audiences. We all differ in what kind of marketing support we provide to an author. Look for a publisher who fits what you want to do for and with your own work. Look also for what you are offering the publisher. (If that one's over your head, skip down and read Chris Hamilton-Emery's article from Salt.)

Think of a chapbook as one more way to get your poems out into the world. A chapbook is not instead of a book or other publication. A chapbook is something unique, offering a special format and different audience and marketing possibilities. The chapbook you publish today will follow you forever. I picked up Frannie Lindsay's recent book, Lamb, mostly because I had read an obscure chapbook she'd published with Pikestaff Press over 25 years ago. You've probably never heard of Pikestaff but the founders, Bob Sutherland and Jim Scrimgeour, are friends from far back and provided me with a vision and example of poetry as a moral and creative force, long before I could have imagined such a possibility on my own. ( So I tend to pay attention when I see a name that has passed their scrutiny. Evidently Perugia Press, who published Lamb, agrees, and I'm glad. I read many of Perugia's titles (always remarkable) but might not have tried Lamb if I hadn't remembered that older chapbook.

Here are some thoughts on how to pick a publisher, how to figure out if a chapbook is really what you want, and general good advice on writing and getting published: Happenstance is a Scottish chapbook publisher with a loaded website. (The graphics are simple and wonderful!) Follow the link above to the document called "Bluffer's Guide" for wise and helpful advice. Also well worth the read (but maybe not worth the download time -- you'll need to be patient if you want to see this one) is the DO's AND DONT'S guide.

Salt Publishing has a great article on publishing. This is an excerpt from Chris Hamilton-Emery's book, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell: The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published. It's an excellent, witty and humbling article that any poet wanting to publish anywhere, in any format, needs to read. The language here is direct and blunt (and entertaining) about the truths of poetry in the marketplace, and what you as a writer can do to influence that. And it talks forthrightly about the importance of reading and reviewing. (How many new poetry books / chapbooks have you written reviews for lately? Even on Amazon? Come on, 'fess up...) Much to ponder here. The complete book is available through the website. (Keep in mind that due to our weak dollar, the price of 10.99 pounds will translate to a bit more than 10.99 U.S. dollars.)

For many writers, the do-it-yourself route is an excellent option. You control the production and the marketing. The chapbook can be elegant or simple. You have books in hand to give away or sell at poetry readings. You can market them through local bookstores too, or via a blog or website. (But poetry readings will always be the best and main place to sell or distribute your work.) Here's an entry point into the do-it-yourself and micropress world of blogs and website information:

Chapbooks are only one way to print and distribute your work -- don't forget broadsides, bookmarks, postcards. The possibilities are endless. A small item with a sample poem and contact information is inexpensive, useful, and generous to the reader.

Keep your poems safe

After pouring your heart and soul into your poems, do yourself a favor and make sure you don't lose them. A few basic steps can prevent tragedy.

There are various ways of making a backup copy -- copy to some external media such as flash drive or separate hard drive, or for some people a printed copy will work just fine. But what happens if that copy goes AWOL? Backups are as likely as your primary copy to develop technical problems and become inaccessible. Consider a worst scenario -- if your house burns down have you lost your primary copy of your work AND your backup copy? Big-time ouch.

So pick a backup method that will survive a worst scenario occurence, and keep your backup current. I back up to a flash drive, and am considering an external hard drive as a faster and more reliable way to do that. I also back up to an online secure area - I used to copy everything to but have recently found to be easier to use, and just as free. An added bonus for online backups is that my poems are now accessible anywhere I can get internet access. Most online backup services also provide a way to share specific folders, so you can keep your backup private but copy poems into a public shared folder and define who gets access to that -- great if you need to collaborate with someone.

As a publisher, I have the same (or greater) backup concerns with my contact list, sales history, and copies of any chapbooks published or in process. Online backups are perfect for this. And a public shared folder (where I control access) is handy for backing up a cover image and also sharing it with the author while we're making final production decisions.

Ok, backups done. What else? Basic security. My day job is at a large publicly traded corporation, and since I work with computers and am responsible for supporting some of our traveling / consultant financial advisors, I can sometimes find myself on the bleeding edge of security concerns. Laptops out in the field will run into the same security issues you and I run into at home, but on a larger scale since an infected laptop can (I kid you not) bring down a significant portion of the whole company. They aren't as easy to lock into the tight security network that the in-office computers are corralled in. So let's just say I've grown paranoid, with good cause, about computer security. And I know that even some of the security whizzes at my company will confess they've been hacked or phished or otherwise faced security risks on their home personal computers despite their deep knowledge of security and despite following all the "best practices" for preventing such problems.

So whatever you are doing for security, do just a little bit more. If you're already keeping your operating system and your virus scanner and your firewall updated, great. (If you're not, go back to GO, do not collect $200, and you're already a lost cause, sorry.) Take one more easy step and go to, and in the left column under Software Inspectors select the "Online" option. You'll go to a screen that will offer to scan your computer for any security risks caused by out-of-date software. Yes, this is important. Outdated software versions in something as innocuous as iTunes can let a hacker or virus plow through your system with a backhoe. So select the "Start" button and wait for the bad news. (If the Secunia software won't run, you most likely have a terribly outdated version of java, and you should take a detour to and ask it to check if you have the most current version of java -- if you're outdated that site will let you download the latest version.)

Secunia will present a list of software that you should upgrade, and it will describe the security risk each presents, and give you a link where you can update to the latest version. I thought I was in good shape until I tried this Secunia scan -- my version of java was totally obsolete (it doesn't automatically prompt you to update like some other software), and once I'd fixed that I had a list of half a dozen programs that had turned my system to Swiss cheese despite all my care with virus scanning, firewalls, and backups. I had to update iTunes, RealPlayer, Adobe, Adobe Flash Player -- it was really really embarrassing!

Secunia is reasonable in its reactions too -- it will only flag an outdated version if there's a risk associated with it. So you might find you can keep an older version of your browser or some other software, as long as there's no security risk.

Alright, poet, now you can sleep at night...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Call for Submissions

Doors are open once again. Cherry Pie is looking for 2008 chapbooks.

If you are a woman poet with roots -- literary, biological, or metaphysical -- in the midwestern U.S., please look at the Submission Guidelines (right column of the blog -- down, down, under the picture of the pie, there!) before sending your work.

Or, click here for a copy of the submission guidelines.

Postcard poems

Sometimes it's lonely out there. Oh heck, most of the time it's lonely. Of late I've been involved in some "poetry postcard" projects that set things back in balance. I have a list of names -- bless the organizers of this thing, Lana Hechtman Ayers and Paul Nelson -- and every week I write a quick poem on the back of a postcard and send it off to the next name on the list. Postcard poems are intended to be written quickly, not pored over, not edited -- hey, what's outside your window right this minute? Write it down!

And every week I receive, from some poet I don't know, a lovely poem on a postcard. Postcards range from beautiful to whacky, from commercial to fully hand-fashioned with scissors and glue. Poems range from the silly to the sublime, and are sometimes a response to a picture or poem received. A great idea, and in this lonely world of poetry this effort guarantees that for every poem written there is at least one reader.

Here's one of mine, with that thought in mind, and the postcard I sent it off on was a computer print of a nebula with red and blue and black gases from a photo found at the NASA website.

Audience of One

Go fling yourself, blue nebula,
into the red and black spin of the universe.
Go on, nobody you know is watching.
Follow the laws of your own
physics, the chemical command
you've no choice in.
From the inside, you must feel
so woozy, gases going in all directions.
Galaxies away from you, I see
who you were, who I
might be, if I stare
hard enough
at your vast
and passing

Putting your poems in a chapbook and passing them out to strangers is often like that, I think. The effect is immense and tiny at the same time. Awesome.