Monday, September 22, 2008

The Domesticated Writer

David Gessner's piece in The New York Times on his decision to take a job teaching writing is food for thought. He provides a guided tour of the last hundred and fifty or so years of possible means of self-support for writers, and shows how the job of teaching writing evolved from being seen as a sinecure to finally being a real job.

This topic is always interesting to me, as I have made a number of decisions keeping me away from a career in the academic world. Sometimes I regret that choice; most times I don't. Others exist there happily, and balance their creative writing with the teaching of it, apparently without terminal conflict. I would rather make a living in a world that is separate from the world where I write. Either way, it's a divided life of sorts--just a slightly different flavor of division.

Gessner talks about the need to have some kind of a job, despite the price you pay for that divided life.

It’s not just a question of success or even genius, but temperament and discipline. Young writers think all they need is time, but give them that time and watch them implode. After all, there’s something basically insane about sitting at a desk and talking to yourself all day, and there’s a reason that writers are second only to medical students in instances of hypochondria. In isolation, our minds turn on us pretty quickly.

Yes, sad but true. Every writer's fantasy about winning the lotto and plunging 100% into creativity without the ballast and worry of bills and obligations isn't all it's cracked up to be.

That said, now I'll go back to my world of cubicles, computers, co-workers who ride motorcycles for fun instead of read books for fun. After all, there are bills to pay....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Poetry or Eggplant?

Sometimes a poetry session unearths the unexpected. Last week a small working group I've been involved with--we call ourselves "Six on Saturday" because that is how many of us there are and that is generally when we meet--wandered into the garden of one member. Keith and his wife Danica have engineered a lovely garden of heirloom vegetables. We saw dark chocolate colored tomatoes, and I fell in love with this eggplant. At least as good as a poem. Maybe better.

The eggplant also doubled as an instrument of the imagination, and posed as some kind of a plump sea creature with an elephantine trunk...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Pleasures of Editing

Making jelly. That's the only thing I can think of that has all the pleasures of editing. You watch the fruit ripen, pick it, select the jars, the pots, the old and secret recipe to use. You sterilize everything -- patience, patience, and great care with the details. In cooking, it helps to measure exactly but the final decisions are based on your senses -- you have to know exactly how the jelly looks when it gets to the 'jelling point' and the sparkle of the smooth rolling surface of it is almost hypnotic. You learn from the successes, and you learn from the failures.

And when you're done you sit there and admire it, and know you didn't really do a damn thing but know what to pick and what to leave out, and how to package it. Everything else is up to the fruit -- if it's excellent fruit and exactly ripe, the jelly is wonderful.

Elderberry is the best, because it's dark and rich, a bit like grape but not as brassy. People try it and say, "Wow! What is this?" It tastes familiar but just a little interesting and strange. The mystery stays with you.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Needed in Late Summer: Hymn to Life

The Poetry Foundation has posted the entirety of James Schuyler's overly lush and essential poem (is my favoritism showing?), Hymn to Life, which includes everything, even the kitchen sink. Schuyler zips from high to low and back again in a way that ties all the unreconciliable bits of life together in a big bouquet.

. . . And just before the snap of temper one had sensed so

Strongly the pleasure of watching a game well played: the cue ball

Carom and the struck ball pocketed. Skill. And still the untutored

Rain comes down. Open the laundry door. Press your face into the

Wet April chill: a life mask. Attune yourself to what is happening

Now, the little wet things, like washing up the lunch dishes. Bubbles

Rise, rinse and it is done. Let the dishes air dry, the way

You let your hair after a shampoo. . . .

Life at its best and worst simultaneously, ripe and irresistable and startlingly real, always startlingly new. Read it here:

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Stranger Here Myself - more kudos!

Niki Nymark's A Stranger Here Myself has received a strong review from the Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Robert Cohn. The reviewer notes - "With bold brush strokes, sharply visible lines and vivid colors, Nymark is a modernist poet of the first rank, and her collection, A Stranger Here Myself, should have a place on the shelf of any serious reader of excellent poetry."

Read it here:

Monday, September 01, 2008

Alternate ways to publish a chapbook

If you want to publish your book, stay in control of the whole process, and (something I can't do for you, given Amazon's expensive on-boarding) get listed on Amazon and get carried by Ingram, self-publishing through an outlet such as is an alternative. See the details and costs for that, plus a few other alternate approaches, laid out in Reb Livingston's blog -- The blog doesn't seem to index individual entries, so start looking at the entries dated August 29 and keep going.

There are + and - to any publishing approach, and I think she lays them out well for the one.

Part of the question to answer when you decide to publish a chapbook (and that's after the question, WHY do I want to publish a chapbook, really?) is, What community does this make me part of? There are reasons to align with a contest whose end-result might be a chapbook, or with a small press with a small distribution, or to produce your own hand-made book (see the DIY blogging world), or to self-publish through a commercial outlet such as You get a different main course, vegetable, and dessert with each of these options.

And of course, like all hungry poets, we all hope for more than one supper. . .