Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Semester

During my last year of high school, I had the greatest class possible: an independent study in which I did nothing but write.

I was 17 years old and working on a novel. (Yes, I was overly ambitious; to this day, that novel remains unfinished for many reasons, but I hope to complete it in the near future.) Somehow, I managed to talk an English teacher into signing off on the project, and she made a permanent hall pass which allowed me to travel to and from the library during third period each day. While she taught an introductory creative writing class, I sequestered myself in a quiet corner of our high-ceilinged media center--in the literature section, where few students dared to stray. For fifty minutes each day, Monday through Thursday, I wrote, by longhand, until I filled my personal quota (three hand-written pages). On Fridays, I went to the school's business office and Xeroxed my manuscript, turning the copies in for credit while retaining the original so I could work over the weekend. 

That semester was one of the greatest of my academic life. It also helped set the stage for later creative writing study. I remain grateful for the opportunity and remember those days fondly. I'd like to start writing like that again. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Poets

This post won't be much more than a list, but I feel compelled to share with you the names of some poets I love (in alphabetical order, because that's how I roll).

Anthony Abbott
WH Auden
Joseph Bathanti
Ron Bayes
Robert Cooperman
Beth Copeland
Robert Creeley
e.e. cummings
Ann Deagon
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Ted Enslin
Becky Gould Gibson
Thomas Heffernan
Nancy Henry
Denise Levertov
Susan H. Maurer
Scott Owens
Sylvia Plath
Donna Pucciani
Carlos Reyes
David Rigsbee
Wallace Stevens
Walt Whitman
Fred Yannantuono

Check on them. They've never let me down, and I'm sure you'll find they have something for you, as well.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I Read, and Why

As writers, we should all be readers first. 

This isn't idle sermonizing; rather, it's a fact of life. Without reading, you have no hope of becoming a successful poet, novelist, memoirist, et cetera. You must know what came before in order to forge a path forward. 

You can see the types of things I read in my own life by checking out my reading list on the tabs below the header of this blog. But that only covers two years of my literary life, and it only shows you the books I read--not the magazine/newspaper articles I encounter every day, which take up a surprising amount of time. But I'm happy to do all of it. I read like my life depends on it, because my writing life does.

Poetry. Biographies. Memoirs. Novels. Short stories. Essays. Picture books. Histories. Articles. I take everything in, and I urge you to do so, as well. Absorb everything. Ruminate on it. Enjoy it. And then go out into the world and write your own works using the lessons you learned by reading.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Adventures in Rejection: Poem Length

Like any other writer out there, I spend a great deal of my time sending out submissions to chapbook contests and literary magazines. Most rejection letters come back without comment, but I received one a few weeks back that had a handwritten note on the bottom: "Poetic observations: consider lengthening your poems and/or doing multi-section poems."

I understand that short poems do not adhere to everyone's aesthetic desires. However, I also know myself as a poet, and short poems are kind of my thing. I'm not saying this to be stubborn. Long poems do not come naturally to me, and I cannot force myself to write them. In fact, the longer my poems are, the weaker they become. This is a fact of my writing life that I've had to accept and embrace over the years.

My friend Ed called this rejection "a load of buffalo bagels," and I'm inclined to agree. Any good editor is sensitive to the fact that poets and story writers come in all varieties, and what should matter is the quality of the content, not the length of the piece. (Full disclosure: I feel safe saying that because I work as an editor myself.) 

I've written this post more for my own edification than to make any kind of definitive statement on the issue, but I hope it will help those of you out there facing suggestions that seem outrageous.