Saturday, May 9, 2009

Taking a Long, Long Hiatus

As much as I love blogging about poetry (he says with only the slightest bit of snarky irony), I'm a a full-time freelance writer now and paying the bills in this economy is becoming more of a challenge every day. I'll try to drop a piece on this blog every once in awhile, but don't hold your breath. Now if someone wants to PAY ME .15c a word, I'll handle five pieces a week. But until then? It's a steady wait-and-see (unless I win Powerball, which a fortune cookie recently suggested might be in my future). Hooray!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Careful Language

Why don't people just learn the difference between "literally" and "figuratively"? Last week, I watched Jerry Jones (the owner of the Dallas Cowboys) say about troublemaker Adam "Pacman" Jones: "After this latest incident, he's literally walking on a tightrope now." Really? What's it stretched over? Can I come see?

It reminds me of the days when I taught freshman composition and some poor girl wrote about how she went that Fall with some friends to a haunted house that "was so scary I was shitting my pants. Literally." Ewwww.

Perhaps I'm too fussy when it comes to speaking clearly. There is no Grammar Police (other than those folks who seem to take pride in correcting people who misuse "who" and "whom" in front of large crowds). But what's the other option? Speaking so un-clearly that you end up saying absolutely nothing? I know this is one of the major complains for presidential candidate Barack Obama. He speaks well and looks confident in front of crowds, but his words are elusive to the point of being completely emptied of meaning.

And don't get me started on the "it's" vs. "its" issue. It's one of my biggest language bugaboos ever. It drives me bonkers. Its the God-honest truth (Cringing at the misuse of "its," even for the effect).

Maybe we should get together and hire a couple of out-of-work ex-English teachers, arm them with Tazars, and send them out to improve America's vocabulary (with force, if needed). Literally. Or maybe just figuratively.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Press Published First Book

Well, it's done. The first official title from my non-profit press, C&R Press, is out. It's Michelle Bitting's GOOD FRIDAY KISS. The press started nearly two years ago, and the journey has been eventful, to say the least. But we've hit our stride now, and have our first poetry anthology coming out within a month(BREATHE: 101 CONTEMPORARY ODES), soon to be followed by Stacey Lynn Brown's CRADLE SONG and Jon Veinberg's THE SPEED LIMIT OF CLOUDS. Did I mention that all of these will be out within the next six months? We got to the point where it was either surrender to the ongoing hiccups in starting up a press or tough it out through the problems and actually start publishing. You can see which we decided. (PS--It's the right choice).

The reason I'm writing about this all here is not to brag that I've helped create a new poetry book for the world (well, maybe a little), but to talk about the process of editing someone else's literary baby. Having honed my editorial skills over the past fifteen years at a half-dozen lit mags and a number of different university positions, I felt quite capable of the task. But like most things worth doing, it was a heck of a lot harder than I ever imagined. Knowing how short-sighted editors in the past often unjustly railed about word choice, imagery, and line breaks in my own work, I didn't want to become That Editor. You know--the one you want to chuck off the Empire State Building, only you don't because their incredible thick head would probably take out a bus at ground level.

What I finally did was go through it a couple of times, line by line, making notes on a Word document. When I was done, I went through and came up with the most pertinent pages of comments I had. Some were tough. Some were hair-splitting. Some were just plain grammar issues. A few were tough to classify--call it "listening to my own ear." But here's the part I love. Bitting was gracious and thankful and happy for the comments which I worried might make her hate me forever. That's what C&R was based on--being an author-friendly house where we're all on the same team. I'm incredibly happy that Tom Lux picked GOOD FRIDAY KISS to be our first De Novo winner because Bitting is our type of writer--someone who cares as much about a quality contribution to the world of literature as we do. And we thank her for it

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Relationship Between Writing Poems and Writing Movies

I've been getting lots of questions about how my past fifteen years as a poet--eleven of those as a teacher of poetry--feeds into my new career as a writer of movies. Oddly enough, I'm not sure I could have had any better training. As a poet, I've always thought visually (in poet-speak, "imagistically"). This type of attention to ocular input is hugely important to a screenplay. Brevity? Same thing. Tight, focused writing that has layers of nuance? You got it. Well-thought-out ideas that have gone through some revision and peer feedback? Again, yes.

Writing a poem allows you the freedom to find your own way. 2 lines or 2,000, you can handle it however you want. Part of the challenge for me in writing screenplays is that I'm working within some fairly strict conventions. 100 pages (plus or minus a few). Three acts. Present your "hook" within ten pages. A host of other "must-dos." Since there's real money at stake in the movie business, a lot of the decision makers don't dare go with anything but a sure thing. This is why many movies are sold with a single sentence like "It's DIE HARD on a plane" (PASSENGER 57), "It's DIE HARD on a train" (UNDER SIEGE 2), or "It's DIE HARD in the rain" (HARD RAIN). With poems, there's really no money for anyone at any stage of the process, so editors are willing to take chances, go with their gut, and help support innovative work.

This isn't to say that I'm a creative genius and that Hollywood better damn well sit up and pay attention, even when I'm breaking the rules. It's just that a different mindset is required for one to be successful in writing screenplays. When writing poems, I think about making it the best poem it can be. That's job #1. With writing a movie? Job #1 is audience, audience, audience. That's not saying that audience doesn't come into play with a poem, but there are plenty of poems being published today where audience seems, at best, an afterthought. Try that with the movie business, the 21-year-old from Vassar writing treatments for $50/day will toss your work into the garbage and laugh about it over Pabst Blue Ribbons with his two dishwasher buddies.

I'd go on about the poetry/movie relationship a bit more, but Steven Spielberg is calling. No, wait--that's my neighbor on the phone to say I left my trash can lid off so the raccoons tore all hell out of everything again, and he wants me to get out there and start picking it up. "You bet," I tell him, thinking the raccoon fiasco isn't good material for a summer blockbuster, but maybe there's a poem in it somewhere. . . .

Thursday, August 28, 2008

First Book Contest Scamming Stacey Lynn Brown

I heard about Stacey Lynn Brown's fiasco with a first book contest when she contacted me directly at my non-profit press, C&R Press, to see if we would be interested in helping out. We have a full schedule of authors already set to go for the next 12 months. Our first DeNovo winner, Michelle Bitting's Good Friday Kiss. Our 2007 Open Series winner, Jon Veinberg's The Speed Limit of Clouds. Our first anthology, Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes. And we're already taking submissions for the 2008 DeNovo (first book) contest as well as the 2008 Open Series. Plus even though we're not actually asking for unsolicited work, it's coming in by the truckloads and some of it is so good, it's hard to say no too, even though we're not yet operating in the black.

But we were moved by her story, and most importantly, moved by her fine book which already came with terrific blurbs from Naomi Shihab Nye, Major Jackson, and Rodney Jones (which we will use in full, without rearranging, cutting, or altering in any way). In short, we're taking it and we'll squeeze it into our already overburdened schedule in order to have it out around January 2009 such that she doesn't have to cancel her readings and other engagements that were made back when she thought her prize-winning book was coming out. She's incredibly brave for taking on a publisher--any publisher--in the small po-biz world where it feels like the poet has a water pistol and the editors have M-60s. And I feel incredibly lucky that my press was recommended to her and that she felt good enough about C&R Press to trust us with Cradle Song, a powerful work that we are proud to publish, promote, and support.

Thank you Stacey.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

MIA for too long

Geez, you'd think moving wouldn't take it out of you for a month, but it does. The good news is that I've been writing a lot. The bad news is that it isn't working out. The project? A historically-based poetry book with persona poems. I had about fifty-five pages done but decided it simply wasn't coming together as much as I'd like. A few years ago, I'd have made the book work, or at least put enough time into it to make it "work." These days? I don't know if it's publishing sense, maturity, practicality, or something else, but I'm okay now with trashing it. I used to be desperately in love with every word I wrote. Now? I freed up some hard drive space and felt good about it.

Try it yourself. Take a piece of writing that isn't going well and trash it. Crumple it into a ball and throw it at the furthest trash can you can see. Or put the file in a folder marked "Do Not Open Until Xmas." Or delete it.

Don't be afraid to start over. Don't be afraid to try something new. If you're not failing often, you probably aren't taking any risks in your writing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I'm in the middle of not one but two moves, so the blog will be down for a bit longer. I'll be back soon!