Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Poem about Peonies

One of my personal favorite poems over the last few months comes from Keith Byler, who is part of a writing group I've been with for several months now. This poem won a place on a St. Louis bus, along with one of mine, in the Arts in Transit contest here this spring, so if you're lucky enough to be from St. Louis you may have seen it during your morning ride. For the rest of you, here it is:

Dog Days

Flat blue-pale parchment sky
hangs blank

save for still life blazing sun.

Peonies weep in their beds
shoulders sagging,

heads bent into leafy hands.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lorna Dee Cervantes - where the poet dwells

"That's where the poet dwells: in conditions and relations." So says Lorna Dee Cervantes in an interview from 2003. She's talking about the real human element, underneath the niceties your mother taught you, and underneath the highly encoded language of blues and folk music that contains -- once you unlock the history and language -- more than you think you can bear.

If you want to cut through the abstractions and little prides of your life (all our lives), through the often-academic priorities that poetry sometimes gets too lost in, and get right down to the bone, go read the interview. Count on spending quite a bit of time with it, as Lorna Dee Cervantes speaks from the heart, direct, with both feet firmly planted on the ground and with her arms embracing all of humanity and naming it her own, even after calling out its horrid contradictions and meanness and stupidity. She finds, in the end, the true meaning of being a poet, in some advice from mentor Hayden White: Follow your obsession. And she does that, digging into the history of songs by Memphis Minnie. Follow that trail back to me, since the songs uncover history of the 1917 riots in East St. Louis (a stone's throw from Cherry Pie Press, and with no small influence on current life in St. Louis). It is all personal, it is all in the relations between us, and the conditions we experience and must write from.

Where does the trail find you?

This is from the Michigan Quarterly Review, and is an interview with Alex Stein: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=mqr;cc=mqr;sid=e05280ee21429c514e8a7b2be607a265;q1=Cervantes;rgn=main;view=text;idno=act2080.0042.406

And for some poetry, here is her expansive blog: http://www.lornadice.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"The Language of the Heart" - a poetry contest

Calling all St. Louis area poets! Gitana Productions is sponsoring a poetry contest for poems that touch on the teachings of Rumi. The contest is based on the premise that art can heal ethnic and racial divisions (and St. Louis, like most places, has its share of those). Feed your optimism and hop on board for this!

There are cash prizes as high as $300, and poets will read their winning poems at an event at the Regional Arts Commission on October 18.

Contest information, plus stories about the fascinating work of Gitana Productions, can be found here: http://www.synergy-pr.com/media/GitanaProductions/24/303/1. The contest deadline is October 10, so you still have time!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To poets interested in publishing a chapbook --

Publishing a chapbook is very different from publishing poems in journals. With journals and magazines, the publication has a ready-made audience and your poem is introduced to that audience. With a chapbook, there is no audience but the one you already have in hand and the one you are willing to expand through your own efforts. Cherry Pie will do its best to help – send out review copies, send out announcements, place the book at the best independent bookstore in St. Louis (Left Bank Books). Ideally, your chapbook will benefit from prior and future Cherry Pie publications, sharing those existing audiences, and expanding that audience for other Cherry Pie authors. However, with chapbook marketing you – the author – are the bottom line.

Here are some questions to help you determine if you are ready to publish and support marketing of your chapbook. Don’t let the questions overwhelm you but do allow them to push you. The marketing of a chapbook has much more to do with author effort than it does with the quality of the poems. (There you have it, the dark but true underbelly of chapbook publishing.)

If you don’t already have an established audience or faithful reading friends, a chapbook gives you a good chance to build that, if you are willing. If you are not willing, then the chapbook will sit on a shelf and be read by very very few people. It will not be worth your effort, or mine.

If you are merely looking for the satisfaction of seeing a small collection of your poems nicely printed, please go ahead and do that yourself. If you think having a small press name on the book adds some mysterious air of legitimacy, then make one up. (I’m not being sarcastic – I applaud this approach. It will encourage you to regard your work more seriously, and that’s a good thing.) Your local copy shop or a good desktop printer can accomplish this cheaply and you will be in total control of the effort. Consider giving out copies free to all your friends. Consider giving it to strangers. You will gradually build an audience, and you will have a small collection of poems to be very proud of.

You don’t need me for that.

On the other hand . . . If you have read some of the poems from Cherry Pie authors, and you want to be associated in the reading public’s mind with those authors, and you feel your own work is equal to or better than their work, and you feel you have something to say or show about U.S. poetry that is bone and root part of the Midwest experience – its rivers, its cities, its world-blend of cultures and histories, its plains and its Ozark mountains that are more ancient and more worn and therefore smaller than the Rockies – then let’s talk.

The following questionnaire is intended to help you think through the reasons for and implications of publishing a chapbook. The answers you come up with are not for me, but for you. They will help you figure out if this is really what you want to pursue. And they will help you ensure your work, if it published as a chapbook, does get read.


Title of chapbook: _________________________________________

What response does the title elicit? Would it make a reader want to pick up your chapbook and open it? Is the title about tangible things (objects, senses) or is it about an idea (to be pondered)? Is the title simple and memorable, or would an interested reader need to write it down to remember it? Have you checked Books In Print or Google for books or songs or anything with a similar title? Did that search turn up anything you don’t want to be associated with?

About you and the background you can bring to the effort of marketing your chapbook --

URL of any blog or website you might use for publicity:

Present occupation (your day-job):

Previous jobs:

Educational background (traditional or nontraditional):

Principal cities and states in which you have lived and in which you still find memories and personal relationships:

About your poetry and your work within the world of poetry --


Please list other books you have written, including publisher, year of publication, and type of book (i.e., poetry - specify book or chapbook, or fiction, how-to, essays, children’s book, biography, etc.). Include any anthologies your work was included in. Do any of these books share a potential audience with your poetry chapbook?

If you listed any books in the item above, describe what marketing was done by the publisher and by yourself. Tell if the book was adopted by a book club, reading circle, academic class, workshop.

Have you ever edited a publication? Have you ever served as a reader or on the board of a literary publication? (Literary journal, anthology, etc.)

Have you done community service work related to poetry? Poets in the schools, poetry workshop organizing, any volunteer or officer or board role in an organization supporting poetry, etc.

What local poetry groups do you participate in, and what is your role in each?

What local poets have you openly supported – by attending readings, buying their books, asking a local library branch to order their books, writing reviews for them or recommending their work to others?

List any reviews of your work, with place of publication, reviewer’s name:

List any poetry book or chapbook reviews you have written, with name/author of work reviewed, place and date of publication (web or print):

Publications (specify web or print) where your individual poems have previously appeared:

Poetry readings you have participated in within the last 3 years (place, date, solo or group reading):

Poetry readings you have helped organize within the last 10 years:

Honors, citations or prizes you have received related to poetry:

Why did you decide to collect your poems in this chapbook instead of printing individual poems in a wide array of web or print journals? Or instead of putting together a full-length poetry book? Or instead of making a website or blog where you could post all your poems?

What is the theme of your chapbook or your mechanism for ordering the poems?

Are there groups, other than other poets, to which your book would have particular appeal?

How is your chapbook unique?

With which published poets do you feel your work has resonance? (A different way to state this is, If you like to read poet X then you will also probably like to read my work.)

As a poet, what are your strengths?

Does your chapbook have something in common with other Cherry Pie chapbooks? Does it solidify or does it extend (no wrong answers here, folks) the kind of poetry Cherry Pie has published?

Have you investigated other chapbook publishers (how many?), or self-publishing?

About your ability and willingness to market your work --
Are there any well-known people (locally) who should see an advance copy of your manuscript for purposes of giving a pre-publication promotional quote? If so, list their names, their contact information, and describe their relationship to you and/or the book. Indicate whether you think it would be more effective for Cherry Pie or for you personally to contact each one.

Please list any local or specialized media that should receive review copies of your finished chapbook. Indicate if you have a professional relationship, or previous reviews, with a reviewer or editor at the publication.

Please write a brief biographical sketch appropriate for the general news media and to be used on press releases.

Do you regularly attend any major conventions or conferences related to poetry, writing, academic studies, or any subject area related to your chapbook?

Have you read any of the previous chapbooks from Cherry Pie Press? What could you offer in terms of publicity for your own chapbook that would help get previous Cherry Pie chapbooks into the hands of new readers? What might you expect other Cherry Pie authors to do for you?

What do you expect your publisher to do in publicizing your chapbook?

Thank you!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Stranger Here Myself - kudos received

This praise just in to Niki Nymark on the release of her chapbook, newly available now through Left Bank Books:

Jerry and I celebrated a warm (as in not hot) Saturday afternoon by trekking to the Central West End. I had Barry [of Left Bank Books] dig A Stranger Here Myself out of his office so I could buy it. Then, as we waited on a shady sidewalk for our turn on Duff's patio, I read your poems out loud to Jer. What nice moments you provided!...

Huzzah to you, and to your publisher. I am also Greatly Impressed that the suitably flattering back cover blurbs are by Richard Newman and Steven Schreiner. Whoo hoo.

A gorgeous book in every aspect.

gaye gambell-peterson