Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Dare Me

Yesterday a poet named Matthew Guenette, young guy from out of town, read at Black Bear Bakery on a double bill with Rockwell Gray. Guenette is a social satirist -- currently a rare type of poet -- who knocks "things" like Katie Couric, and grocery stories so big "the aisles have storm drains." Audience laughed. I liked his work enough to buy his book Sudden Anthem (2007) from Dream Horse Press. He sold all the copies he brought.

My work also has a satirical streak and I decided in a flash to gallop out to my car, scoop my book Fierce Consent out of the trunk, run back and give it to him. I did, surprising him. I told him, "I'm doing this because we are alike. "

This was bold of me but I sensed that it was the right time and place. The day's horoscope ("there will be a small window of opportunity") and old maxims went through my head: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Would the book better off in my trunk? Hardly. I hope it'll make him laugh too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Yusef Komunyakaa: A Question of Taste

Yusef Komunyakaa is a presence: tall and rangy, very dark-skinned, with white hair now, and a beautiful warm voice. Saw and heard him read poems last night at Wash U. as a special guest of the Callalloo conference.

I went so I could try once more to appreciate his work as others do. Komunyakaa's poetry is eclectic but no component of it fully engages me. These components include jazz, blues, vernacular speech, maleness, blackness, the segregated Deep South, and service in Vietnam. He read a poem about off-duty GIs segregating themselves in different bars, but having the same women, whose brothers it is their job to kill. Another poem described a black GI throwing himself on a grenade, thereby saving the rest of his company. Komunyakaa said such an event happened at least 14 or 15 times that he knows of, and the poem asks why. In the poem, and probably in real life, the self-martyred soldier takes over, forever after, the inner lives of those he has saved.

Komunyakaa is highly honored -- Pulitzer Prize, Chancellorship at the Academy of American Poets, and countless other awards -- but the full enjoyment of his poetry requires steps up for me that I had not prepared myself to take. Is that what taste is?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Library Secret

Secret is out; someone made me admit that all my life I have visited the space my books would occupy on library shelves. For about 25 years I pined over the 811 shelves (Dewey) and the PS books, subset 20th century (Library of Congress system), with the books of Sylvia Plath and Philip Roth so near I could feel and almost see them breathing . Ultimately my books manifested (between poet Claudia Rankine on my left, and always a different author on my right) in the 21st century. They are titled Fierce Consent and Island Universe; two pleasing names.

Now at libraries I often visit my books. One of them may be out on the town. The satisfaction is immense. It'll happen again and again, as long as I live, and even longer.

Tip: Ask your relatives and friends in other counties and states to contact the acquisitions librarians at their local public and college libraries, suggesting they acquire your book. This can often be done by filling out an online form.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Creating a Title for a Book

Publisher informs me she doesn't like the working title on my book of interviews, Fame. It will have a subtitle but I worked hard to find this main title. Ideally, in my mind, a book's title should be
  • unique
  • memorable
  • short (A big marbly mouthful can work if it's fun to say, such as Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form, or What Narcissism Means to Me. Nobody would have read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius had it been titled Generation Y Male Discovers That Life is Hard.)
  • fun to say
  • intriguing
  • appealing (the sunny version of "intriguing")
  • convey the gist of the book
  • pleasing to the author
Publisher suggested calling it InterViews but that title doesn't meet my criteria.

My impulse is to keep my choice, but we'll brainstorm for something we agree on. I brainstormed and searched for my poetry book's title, Fierce Consent, for four solid months. The phrase was in the manuscript. The right title often hides out there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

News: 6 Samples of Video Poetry

Poets & Writers sent me a link to six samples of "video poetry." Yes, the day has come: video poetry. Check it out. Thylias Moss, if that name rings a bell, contributed two of them.

They look like YouTube videos. The best part is the poetry, if you can hear it (some poems are barely audible). The worst part is the visuals.

Video poetry is not very good yet. It's like those 1970s paintings that include the painters' "poetry" scribbled on the canvases. Like painters who write flaky poetry, writers are using flaky video images: blurry, trippy, "haunting" or surreal. I like it best when I can watch the poet reading his poem.

I sense that video poetry, to be appealing, will have to be short. I found I couldn't wait 4 minutes and 50 seconds for a poem. I wanted my poetry fix.

"Poetry is a mere drug, Sir." --George Farquhar, 18th-century playwright

Monday, March 16, 2009

"I Have Wasted My Life"

"I'm sorry you haven't had a happy life," my mother said. She was comparing me with my sisters, all homeowners, settled, and wonderful: blond brick, gas fireplace. Then she's got the writer, for godsakes, a-comin' by with red-rimmed eyes again.

"That's not exactly true," I said. "You mean that I haven't had a normal life.

"How could I have had a normal life? I was born with a talent. I assume that meant I should use it. So I use it. Anyone or anything that tries to stop me or get in my way, I'm gone."

"That's the problem," Mom said.

I don't argue with Mom, or try to explain things. So I let her think she stung me a little. That's the price I pay for having caused her so much worry.

Thank God that writers sent quotations down through the ages to help us. There's that shocking line by poet James Wright: "I have wasted my life." What shocked people was that the line expresses not anguish, but joy. Writers understand this perfectly.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Selling Your Books Via Bookmarks

Most "Sell Your Book" seminar speakers advise, "Have bizcards printed." That's sensible. But then they suggest printing a couple of thousand bookmarks, too. They should match the cover of the book you're promoting. Carry them, give them away.

Then, always, the speaker distributes (her; this is a women's thing) bookmarks to the audience. I mean, woot. I've never bought a book I've seen on a bookmark. Never got into the habit of bookmarks. I don't like how they feel. I leave books open, face down; or I dog-ear a page if the book is mine. People give promotional bookmarks as if this cheapest kind of freebie were a gift. Next time a bookmark is offered I will decline to see what happens.

But I just heard a bookmark strategy new to me -- Take Your Bookmarks to the Bookstore and Stick Them Into Books That Aren't Yours, But Are In the Same Genre. Logic: Reader of big author will buy book, find YOUR bookmark, & feel prodded to buy YOUR book. The chutzpah, logic, and business sense of this marketing move are beneath commentary.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Unfamiliar Thrill

My misery yesterday did know some bounds. Attended a seminar on “Marketing Your Book on a Small Budget.” Drank an unusual frozen-coffee drink. Drove to a cafĂ©, and while waiting for a client ate a pecan roll. Handed over her manuscript. It’s a cowboy romance novel, a good one. She gave me a check. At home, friend had left message, couldn’t visit or reschedule. Worked some, did laundry, but felt empty. Didn’t feel like eating except a marshmallow microwaved between graham crackers. The loneliness of the long-distance writer.

Then I get the mail. Oh glorious Saturday mail! To think that the Post Office wants to end Saturday mail! And what’s in it? A thin envelope from a strange place: Metro transit company. What did I do, lose my bus pass? Open it to find one of my poems (I sent three) won one of 15 spots in the Poetry in Motion competition. It’ll be designed into a poster that’ll hang in Metro transit cars and buses for a year.

This shocked me. A pleasure so unfamiliar it didn’t feel like pleasure at first. Good news, so specific and pointed – for me? I reeled. Felt tipsy. Felt bolts of lightning stutter in my brain. Oh so weird, so different! Had forgotten all about it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Literary Magazines Are For

I figured out what litmags are for. Like medical and scientific journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine, Glia, or Wounds (great name for a journal!), they publish discoveries – in our case, discoveries in literature. The best litmags bring to light new, surprising, well-wrought and fascinating things. They change our perceptions, even our lives. That's why we still talk about The Dial, transition, Perspective, and Ironweed, litmags long gone.

A “peer-reviewed” journal published mainly for specialists will never have a big subscription base. But like a medical journal, if a litmag's contents truly advance the cause of life, it gets into the news and attracts readers. And it is worth printing hard copies so people can read it anywhere and everywhere.

Ultimately a litmag is about service.

It's not about service when litmag editors publish mainly their friends’ work; try to canonize their own taste by publishing same-old-same-old, and derivatives of same-old; attempt to use editorship to enhance their status or careers; rule their litmags as their little personal empires; or if the editors don't like editing but can't or won't get another job.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rod Blagojevich Has a 6-Figure Book Deal

. . .and you DON'T? Me either!

Read all about it in USA Today. . . Rod says his book will "expose the dark side of politics."

LOL. I'm dyin'. LOL. Let me pour shots of slivovitz (knock-your-socks-off plum brandy, Serbia's national drink) and you and I drink to Rod's nose job, hair job, makeup job in that photo in the link, and his book deal. My stepfather, a foundry worker, now 89, met Rod's father, a steelworker, back in the day, when they both were new in America, about 50 years ago. My stepfather said, "Good he's dead; he would be so ashame' of his son."

Just what we Serbs need -- more good P.R. . . .Rod's real first name is "Milorad," in Serbian meaning "good work."

I actually drank the shot in this photo. . .and said, "Ziveli!" (a Serbian toast: roughly translated, "Let's seize and enjoy the life force while we have it.") Happy writing, Rod!