Last year I convinced Monsieur Big Bang that we should be listening to Great Courses on the way into work. He wasn't keen on this nerdy idea but we got wrapped up in etymology classes, one of which lead us to the entertaining and informative Slate podcast called Lexicon Valley and we've been working through something like 99 podcast episodes that have been airing since 2012.
Last week, we came upon the 2015 "The Many Lives of Anna Karenina with Masha Gessen" episode which is a great, succinct outlining of the issues surrounding creating translations using Anna Karenina as an example, how different translators are making different word choices based on meaning and tone.
The official show blurb:
Last November saw the publication of two new translations—by Marian Schwartz with Yale University Press and Rosamund Bartlett with Oxford University Press—of Leo Tolstoy’s epic love story Anna Karenina. But why does a novel that already has at least six or seven English-language editions need yet another update? Journalist and author Masha Gessen discusses the difficulty of translating a literary masterpiece and argues the more the better.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorry near I did not look,
U waken’d was with thundering noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadfull voice.
That fearful sound of “Fire! And “Fire!”
Let no man know is my Desire.
This excerpt is from “Upon the Burning of Our House” (1666) by America's number one Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672). This year I took a course in Puritain poetry from HarvardX. I took all their classes. More on that later. One thing I learned was that Puritan poets weren't only writing about their Puritan hangups. They weren't even all Puritan. But they all had a pretty tough time of it there in New England with disease, bad weather, angry indigenous Americans and those creepy, scary woods everywhere. Imagine showing a Puritan the Blair Witch movies. They would have lost their minds. Anyway, Bradstreet was the wife and daughter of two governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and her poems, the card says, were “steeped in ‘the Puritan darkness." She wrote 400 pages of poetry, (you go, girl!), and not all of them were “starkly religious.” She is "considered the first poet of consequence in the American colonies.” Her poems show a “suppressed emotional life" and, sadly, only one of her books has survived (The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America), the one that was "published in London in 1650 and posthumously in Boston in 1678."
Week two stats:
1 white French male
1 white female American colonialist
1 1800s poet
1 1600s poet
In the summer 2016 issue of the poetry journal Rattle, there's an interview with Alan Fox:
Rattle: What impact has the Internet had on poetry?
Alan Fox: I think you’ll get very different answers from different poets…I just had a conversation with a poet I can’t name, who was very angry because they felt that the internet was flooded with lots of mediocre poetry. Now that anyone can put a badge on their shirt that says “poet” and communicate with other poets and have all this great access. The world, the media, the “readers” are overwhelmed with bad work, and thus can’t find or recognize where the “good” work is. That is a paranoia I don’t share. It’s an argument I’ve heard, over and over, that bad poetry somehow diminishes our joy and plight. That if the “bad” poets are allowed to publish, it destroys connoisseurship. I don’t see that to be the case. I think that every great artist, like every great art critic, will die ignorant of most of the good art of their time. That’s been true of virtually every generation. I mean, why else does it seem that half the work that ultimately “comes to define a generation” is discovered posthumously?”
Now I read that at the very same time I was reading the book Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance: The First Ten Years of Poetry (1912-1922) by Ellen Williams (1977) while researching local Santa Fe poet Alice Corbin Henderson (who was the assistant editor during that time). From the book:
William Marion Reedy acknowledged a renaissance in writing Harriet Monroe on June 1, 1915, and remarked that he felt Poetry was responsible for it…Reedy visited the annual banquet of the Poetry Society of American in New York, and the sleekness and propriety of the assembled poets made him feel grubby…He felt irritated by the sheer volume of verse poured out: "Never before were there so many pleasant, well-phrased, melodious poems written as there are today, and at no other time has there been such a dearth of really distinguishable poetry.”
Alan Fox is right. This was the era of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost, among others. Nothing distinguishable as it turns out.
While working on a novel about landscape, I decided to quit my sporadic library education on New Mexico art history and actually take a class here at CNM. I was on a quest to learn about the ways other artists describe the landscapes here.
Grabbing library books was great but taking a class can give you a more comprehensive overview and lead you to some art subjects you might not normally investigate. A broad history could even bring in international elements of the story, which my class did. Not only did we touch on prehistoric and modern Indian art but colonial and modern Hispanic art tracing its roots back to the Islamic Moors in Spain, as well as immigrant European influences.
So much was mind blowing in this class.
We watch a Hung Liu Video from a Kansas City museum, not this one but a similar one. In the video we learned:
You can see how some of these ideas might benefit a writer.
We also watched a video about making manuscripts by hand, an amazing video if you love books as objects.
My main focus in taking the class was to learn about modern New Mexico art, but I ended up really getting into colonial and territorial Spanish pieces and ended up doing my class paper on a tinsmith named Higinio V. Gonzales. I picked him because he was also a local poet and a local museum exhibited not only his tin pieces but one of his poems painted out as an object of art. Turns out he has an interesting poetic legacy in territorial New Mexico as well, having published poems about how the state should be named, poems about relationships and local Las Vegas, NM, politics, and one reminiscent and far predating in structure the Beach Boy's "California Girls."
His lifespan was also incredible in how he brushed against many iconic historic New Mexico figures. He was a teacher, an artist, a writer, and served in the military during the Civil War. To read more, visit:
I also veered off at one point reading about painter Agnes Martin, who left the art world and came to New Mexico to lead a monastic life of painting. Agnes wrote poems, too, but I haven't been able to find very many of them.
In the class also fell in love with straw applique, colcha embroidery and bultos carvings (along with retablos and reredos paintings), all colonial Hispanic carved Catholic pieces made predominantly in New Mexico in the 17th century for homes and local missions. Coincidentally around this time I came across Dana Gioia’s poem about a bulto,“The Angel with the Broken Wing" which was published in Poetry magazine.
And you may think none of this ties back to landscape painting, which set me off on this class journey in the first place. But it does. All these pieces were devised locally in response to the landscape, the distance of the New Mexican community from either Spain, Mexico City or the United States and the shortage of gold, silver and other materials with which to create art objects. These forms wouldn't exist without the harshness of the landscape and its remoteness from civilization at the time.
Tin frame made from railroad delivered tin cans:
Bultos (or Santos), Retablos, and Reredos (for Church altars):
I was on vacation in Pennsylvania last month helping my parents clean out stuff. I found a bunch of books I loved as a kid and this stack of poetry-related cards, Poet’s Corner Knowledge Cards published by Pomegranate Publications. And you know I love conspicuous poetry products!
“It’s time. Old Captain, lift anchor, sink!
The land rots; we shall sail into the night;
if now the sky and sea are black as ink
our hearts, as you must know, are filled with light.
Only when we drink poison are we well—
we want, this fire so burns our brain tissues,
to drown in the abyss—heaven or hell,
who cares? Through the unknown,
we’ll find the new.”
The back of card shows the source of the quote, which is “The Voyage” from 1957, translated by Robert Lowell, followed by the name of the poet, Charles Baudelaire with his birth and death year and a thickly justified paragraph called a Life Sketch, which compares the ever expanding Les Fleurs du Mal with Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. But rather than poems of rejoice, Baudelaire's were poems of revulsion with life. The card also notes how Baudelaire is a great French literary figure who has served as a mentor to many modern poets.
So conceivably, you could learn about a new poet each day for 48 days. I'll go through the cards every few weeks here and we'll keep track of the demos.
Week one: White French Male, 1821-1867
Pomegranate Press has lots of cards for sale including some esoteric decks like Famous Animals and another called Canadian Literature and even a deck of One Letter Words (which could be useful for something I suppose): http://www.pomegranate.com/knowledgecards.html.
However, the poetry deck only seems to be available now on Amazon.
The book Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy came out in 1994. As a young girl, poet Lucy Grealy had a large portion of her jaw removed due to Ewing’s sarcoma. Her autobiography covers her childhood hardships, college experiences as Sarah Lawrence College, her beginnings as a poet and her time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop where she lived with poet Ann Patchett. Grealy's book experienced great success in the 1990s. Unfortunately, various reconstructive surgeries led to addictions which led to Grealy's death by overdose in 2002.
The book Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett came out in 2004, two years after Grealy's death, and looks at the challenges and qualities of their friendship from Patchett's point of view.
Read the Grealy book first, then dive into Patchett's take. Or for more information on how the two books play together, read a review by Joyce Carol Oats from The New York Times Review of Books.
Every time I encounter a cool do-it-yourself project someone else has done, I feel an almost irresistible urge to want to do my own version of that project. Take for example the board game Monsieur Big Bang game me for my birthday last week, The Collector Game. It was created by a hobby board-game maker using the tool BoardGameDesign.com. More fun than the actual game is the idea of designing my own game! All my trivial hobbies could be brought to bear on the designs for various board games!
I’m also taking an online Electronic Literature class and every example sparks the same bubble-cluster of ideas for programmed lit pieces. The list of things I want to try has gotten a bit overwhelming, frankly, especially for potentially time-consuming projects.
Podcast envy is yet another consuming type of endeavor that always sounds so appealing. Like, wouldn't it be lots of fun to start a restaurant?
For the last few years I’ve been dipping my toes into the podcast subscription world and I have a library of political podcasts, poetry podcasts, the Serial podcast was infamous last year and I too was engrossed in that first crime solving season. Lexicon Valley is also a favorite word-nerd podcast that has been very educational and entertaining.
I even finished a brief how-to-podcast class this summer from Treehouse and I learned Podcasts are not impossibly hard to produce. Theoretically anyone can do it. Technically I could do it. But the big challenge about producing a podcast isn’t the technological barriers, it’s the mental ones. It's hugely taxing and overwhelming to produce the content week after week, month after month. Planning, editing and promoting podcasts takes more time than you’d imagine, which is why the majority of podcasts don’t last longer than three months!
But here are some tips from the class if you'd still like to try launching a poetry podcast:
I was trying to access The Missouri Review's Soundbooth podcast a few weeks ago. All the latest episodes are not dowloading to my iphone for some reason and when I opened an older episode from 2015, the sound of the guest was so low and hard to hear I gave up in less than two minutes.
Most people listen to podcasts while they're multitasking: driving, walking, cooking, getting ready in the morning. A good, loud sound recording is the bare minimum.
You can then promote your podcasts on your website, iTunes or SoundCloud.
Lifehacker can tell you step-by-step how to start your own Podcast show.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Quotes and aphorisms can be very helpful little teaching moments for writers and other creatives, basically all of us thinkers. They’re also really good reality checks. Many of these are again from the Bo Sack’s marketing newsletters I get on my day job and they all involve skills you need as a writer, especially as a poet.
"Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins. Facebook is ego. Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed." Reid Hoffman
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas A. Edison
"I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process." Vincent Van Gogh
Both Maya Angelou and Edith Wharton read books as children even before they understood the meaning of the words printed in them. The loved language and they loved it pre-meaning. “You can only become great at that thing you can really sacrifice for.” Edith Wharton
"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." Benjamin Franklin
"Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi
"Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change." Thomas Hardy
"If it's free, it's advice; if you pay for it, it's counseling; if you can use either one, it's a miracle." Jack Adams
"Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it." Lao Tzu
"Success is really about being ready for the good opportunities that come before you. It's not to have a detailed plan of everything that you're going to do. You can't plan innovation or inspiration, but you can be ready for it, and when you see it, you can jump on it." Eric Schmidt, University of Pennsylvania Commencement Address, 2009
"Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty- five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things." Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
"Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there's got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you're at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together." Yo-Yo Ma
"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. Thomas Jefferson
"To condense from one's memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me [...] a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another." John Updike
"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations." Steve Jobs
"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." Steve Jobs
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." Upton Sinclair
"It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." Alfred North Whitehead
"Any time scientists disagree, it's because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I'm right, or you're right, or we're both wrong. And we move on. That kind of conflict resolution does not exist in politics or religion." Neil deGrasse Tyson
"Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle." Ken Hakuta
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." Scott Adams
"The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try to understand the present." John Naisbitt
"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." Francis Bacon
"If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." Bruce Lee
"Don't ask me who's influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he's digested, and I've been reading all my life." Charles de Gaulle
"The best intelligence test is what we do with our leisure." Laurence J. Peter
"In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson." Tom Bodett
"Data is not information, Information is not knowledge, Knowledge is not understanding, Understanding is not wisdom." Cliff Stoll & Gary Schubert
"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us." Marcel Proust
I wanted to end on how we think, how we process and how we write in order to list a few new articles on processing and keyboards. This first link is an insight graphic from an analytics blog I follow.
Next up is an article dealing with the fact that handwriting initiates thoughts in ways typing on a keyboard does not. From The New York Times, Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age. And what about that keyboard? Why are the letters scattered around like they are? And who was thatfirst writer to think with it? The New York Times also published in their daily digest about the history of the keyboard.
The layout of the keyboard you use today has a lot to do with a machine that you very likely haven’t used — or maybe even seen — in years. That invention, the “Type-Writer, 1868,” was granted a patent on this day. With its ivory keys, it looked like a mini-piano and took up an entire table. It wasn’t very successful, partly because typists couldn’t go very fast. The keyboard was laid out alphabetically, and the keys would lock up if letters that were close together were struck too fast in succession. The solution that the inventor, Christopher Latham Sholes, came up with in the 1870s was to spread out the most commonly used letters across the keyboard to prevent the jams. It was called the Qwerty keyboard, after the first six letters of its top row, which also has all the letters needed to spell “typewriter.” This may have been done so salesmen could more easily type the new word. The Qwerty keyboard has long been criticized as inefficient, but it has been the most popular form of English-language typing since Mark Twain typed out “Life on the Mississippi” (1883), by some accounts the first time an author handed in a typewritten manuscript to his publisher. Early on, typewritten messages were seen as impersonal. Anyone who has received a handwritten letter is likely to say that still holds true today.
Here are some step-by-step guidelines for you.
Step 1: Take a look at your poems and classify them by:
Different poetry journals cater to a variety of these possibilities.
Step 2: Research poetry journals to find ones that match these poetry styles. There are two ways to go about this:
The best way is to visit the periodical section of your local libraries or bookstores (if you have any) and read some of their poetry journals. If you don't see any that match your work, don't worry about it. Your poems might fit a niche journal the library doesn't carry. But this will give you a good idea about current popular poetry journals, the top tier to aim for someday.
The old school way was to buy a copy of Poet’s Market but you’ll have to do this every year or two to get current listings (things change fast out there in poetry land). I found this was not a feasible option for me long term. Plus, what to do with all the old issues? Your library might have an up-to-date copy.
Create a list of possible journals from this research.
Step 3: Create your cover letter. You can list previous publications here or note that this would be your first publication. Different journals aim for different kinds of writers. Some want established writers and some want to find the next new discovery.
Everyone has differing ideas on the details needed in a cover letter. Feel free to experiment but keep this in mind: journals have seen it all. Literally, they’ve already read thousands upon thousands of “creative” cover letters. Don’t pour all your creativity into this. It’s a functional document.
Step 5: Submit
When you find journals to submit to, peruse their websites for submission information. Sometimes I search Google for "[journal name] + submissions" to get a link directly to the submission information page (because some journals hide the stinker pretty far into their site).
Pay special attention to how they want submissions submitted. They're all different. Determine what format they want the submission to be sent: printed and mailed, attached as a word or PDF or Word doc, or included in the body of an email. And note the maximum number of poems they will accept.
Many journals these days only take submissions through an online service called Submittable (http://www.submittable.com/) so go ahead and sign up for an account there. It's free and the site helps you keep track of every place you've submitted poems and what the result was so you don't have to create an XLS Spreadsheet or other document to keep all that straight, although maybe you should create a spreadsheet or notebook anyway for the few email and mailed submissions you might also send out.
More information on submissions: