Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Mundane Life

When I finished grad school, about a year and a half ago, I was so burned out on writing fiction that I more or less quit doing it for awhile. My immediate fallback was poetry, and I'd like to think I've produced a decent number of poems in the past 18 months. But one day, I decided to try my hand at personal essays.

This was new territory for me, although I've since finished a handful of pieces and read several memoirs along the way. My main frustration during this process has been encountering a goodly number of pieces in which the author is 1) boozing constantly, 2) bed hopping like it's a contest to be won, or 3) both drinking and fucking.

There's nothing inherently wrong with either of these things, as long as you're not damaging yourself or anyone else (everything in moderation and all that). Almost everyone I know has a secret stash of liquor for emergencies, or else someone they can call when they're feeling, ahem, restless. But I'm starting to wonder if everyone with a book deal is an alcoholic nymphomaniac. 

Perhaps in an effort to push back against this, I write about pop culture, family, home,  tattoos, and my mental health. This may not be compelling in the same way a binge drinking-fueled orgy is, but everyday life is not necessarily extraordinary, and people need to know that their experience is valid. This is part of what's great about social media. People say stupid stuff on Twitter and they post really banal things on Facebook. Maybe it's annoying sometimes, or spectacular in the "Thank God I didn't say that" kind of way, but it's also comforting to know that other people get as bored or as silly or as outraged as you do. And so this is the beauty of a non-drinking, non-sexyfuntimes essay: you see that someone out there GETS IT. 

No disrespect to the authors who've sprung to mind (and shall remain nameless) while I write this post; they are often good writers, and I'm sure they're not bad people. And God knows I've done my share of stupid shit. But I can't help wondering how they function if they're always in bed with a hangover or else a new partner. I have way too many things to do with my life to spend it like that. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: How Long the Night Is

Christine DeSimone
Lummox Press, 2013
80 pp/55 poems
When Christine DeSimone writes about everyday life, it feels like she means it. There is nothing forced in her descriptions, whether they are bright or painful. We see this early on in her collection, How Long the Night Is, when the speaker ends a friendship in "The Penitent" as equally as we see it when a parent experiences a peaceful moment with his daughter in "Man Returns iPad Because He Missed Being Bored." The way DeSimone crystallizes these moments is, in fact, one of her strongest assets, and she does it again and again throughout her 55 poems.

The reason I am so drawn to that as a reader is because I see myself in these poems. "If I Was a Poet" brings to mind the hours I've spent on highways: seeing people others seem not to notice and finding myself intrigued by the things they do. "You take what you find, wherever it's found," a line from "Misplaced," speaks to the writing life. The final stanza of "Quitting Smoking" makes me think of being far from home:
     but perhaps it's like the redwoods
     you've visited: between the acres of dense,
     silent trees, there are sudden patches
     of emptiness, and maybe you are alone,
     but maybe someone is thinking of you
     as they exhale into the cold between the stars.

At the same time, DeSimone is able to slip into various personae and draw me into those voices, even if I find nothing of myself in them. "Letter from Zelda," an imagined missive from Mrs. Fitzgerald to F. Scott, is the strongest of the persona poems in this collection, thanks in part to its attention to detail. Similarly, when she steps into her mother's voice in "Mother Fills Out the Restraining Order," DeSimone sheds light on the reality of abuse in a way that official paperwork never can, as evidenced by the clinical, bureaucratic excerpts presented in the poem.

The best display of DeSimone's poetic prowess, however, is "Spellcheck Suggests the Following Replacements," in which she shifts from one subject to another effortlessly based on incorrect words alone. As writers, we of course know that there is nothing effortless about it, but the fact that the poet makes it feel thus speaks volumes about her abilities. This sense of ease can be found throughout the whole collection, which is worth the read both for phrases like "My telephone rings were wolfwhistles," in "Inheritance," and for poems that are at once personal and universal.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Adventures in Rejection: Finding the Right Fit

I've been on a submitting marathon recently. Without consulting my submissions log, I can't tell you exactly how many poems have gone out or to how many venues, but I can say that the number is significant enough that I shocked myself.

On the one hand, it's easier to submit than ever before, given online tools like e-mail, Submittable, and Duotrope. On the other, it can be more emotionally grueling, since you have to choose from an ever-expanding number of literary journals and have more faith that someone, somewhere will enjoy your work enough to put it in print. As I mentioned before, the worst thing about all of this is that you can receive an onslaught of rejections, which can be soul-crushing.

For many years, I was opposed to the idea of online literary journals, because I felt they were too ephemeral, too fake. But over the last year or so, I've come to see how many passionate people there are in this world who are just waiting for the chance to support writers, emerging or otherwise. So it takes some of the sting out of reading, "We are unable to accept your work at this time," because I'm more aware of the fact that some journals are a good fit for me while others are not.

This is one of the things I have to keep in mind when I receive the battle scar of another rejection. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to keep going, and that would mean that all of my hard work up to this point would be for naught. And we can't have that, can we?