Small Betrayals

Many months ago The Rumpus posted an open call for essays that examined the topic “mothering outside the margins.” I thought about the prompt for a few days and then early, around five am, one Saturday morning I sat down and wrote a 1200 word essay about my experience as mother in the first few months of my son’s life.

It came out quick and fervent and I admit, I was a little surprised, but I also knew I had a lot to say. I spent about a week or so tweaking it and then sent it off before I could think too hard about it.

Ultimately, though my little essay made it the final round for the “mothering outside the margins” call, it didn’t make the final cut, but I was encouraged by how close it came to publication, so I sent it to a few other places and soon enough the editors at Utterance sent me an email letting me know they’d decided to publish it (you can read it here).

To say that I’ve been surprised and humbled by the response to this essay is an understatement. So many women have reached out to me share their stories and I am so grateful for the dialogue.

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The beautiful artwork that the editors included with my piece. 

Earlier this week I learned that the editors nominated my essay for a Pushcart Prize, which is a tremendous honor and truly means a lot to me in light of the response I’ve received. Admittedly, I was nervous about sending these words out into the universe. It’s an intensely personal piece of writing and I wasn’t sure if I’d done the subject matter justice, but the fact that it seems to have resonated with readers has helped immensely. I suppose this experience just reinforces what I’ve been telling my students for years: if you have something to say, say it. For me, the best writing always feels like it has something at stake, so if you feel it in your bones, don’t be afraid to open your mouth. Someone is ready to listen.

 

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National Poetry Month: A List of What Made Me Happy This Week

1. Reading submissions for our next issue of The Indianapolis Review. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook. If you’re a poet or artist, send us some of your work! We read on a rolling basis

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Original artwork by our EIC Natalie Solmer.

2. The Art Fair at my community college. It’s a fundraiser for the Fine Art’s Department Art Club and it was amazing. What does this have to do with poetry? Look at the journals I bought!

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3. Meeting with The Blank Page. This is our student creative writing group on campus that I started when I was still an adjunct. It’s a small group but mighty and I always leave our meetings feeling energized even if sometimes we talk more than we write.

4. An acceptance of two poems. I’ve been in the drafting and revising stages with a lot of my work for the last year and half or so (I know because the last acceptance I had included a poem I wrote when my son was about four months old and he’s going to be three in May), so I’m so thrilled to have two brand new poems out in the world. I’ll post here when they go live.

5. Out of Wonder. I read my son poems from this book on a regular basis and it makes me happy every time.

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6. Writing with my students. This week in my creative writing class we wrote poems using the haibun form (Thanks Two Sylvia’s for introducing me to this form!) In my poetry class we talked sestinas and they’re working on groups on their own. It’s fun to draft with them and keeps me writing during the semester.

Don’t forget that in celebration of National Poetry Month I’m sharing a poem a day on FacebookInstagram & Twitter. Let’s read some poems together!

National Poetry Month 2018

 

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For National Poetry Month this year I’ve organized three events on the campus of my community college. These include a visual poem workshop, a poetry workshop & we’re closing out the month with Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 26th.

I’m also writing & revising & submitting. I’m not doing a structured 30 for 30 this April but I did subscribe to Megan Falley’s lovely website. Check it out here and sign up for the excellent prompts Megan supplied for National Poetry Month. My students and I wrote over #3 this morning with some really interesting results.

I’m also sharing poems via Facebook, Instagram & Twitter, so follow me for a poem a day!

Happy National Poetry Month, lovelies!

Fledgling

 

This summer two wrens built a nest in a bright orange begonia that I hung out on my front porch. I spend a lot of time out on my porch during the summer months, especially in the morning. I like to go out first thing, with my cup of coffee and my laptop and write or grade or watch my neighborhood wake up.

I have a great fondness for birds. Anyone who knows me, knows this love to be deep and true. I write about birds. I collect feathers. I own clothing printed with birds/feathers. I grew up with my grandmother and grandfather pulling me towards windows or sliding glass doors, whispering blue jay, cardinal, sparrow & chickadee. Winters my mother trudged through deep drifts of lake effect snow and filled her feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. She’d come inside, cheeks red from cold and exertion, and immediately curse the fox squirrels who hung precariously from her window feeds, gorging themselves on seeds that speckled the snow below.

This week, as always, The Academy of American Poets shared a bunch of wonderful poems as part of their poem-a-day project.  Among this recent batch, “Fledgling” by Traci Brimhall:

…You take down the hanging basket
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart,
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch, 
you instruct our son who has already begun
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes,
wanting to touch the world.

Read the rest of “Fledgling” here.

This reminded me of my own poem, also titled “Fledgling,” that I wrote the summer my son was born. I drafted the poem while sitting on my couch in my living room, staring out the large window that looks out onto my front porch. I spent much of the first weeks of my son’s life sitting on the couch, holding this tiny baby (who came three weeks early), wrapped in a fuzzy blanket against the chill of the air conditioning. I knew it was white hot summer outside my window, but I couldn’t feel the warmth. One day, while the baby dozed, I caught a tumble of brown feathers our of the corner of my eye: a baby wren. I watched him teeter on the ledge of my porch, eating worms his mother swooped into his gaping throat. He sat on that ledge for quite awhile before he finally gathered the courage to follow his mother, half falling, half flying out of sight. I sat staring for a few minutes after he’d gone and then I shifted my sleeping baby, picked up a pen and my journal and started to write.

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New Madrid Summer 2016

That poem is the only poem I wrote that first summer as a mother. It came quickly and underwent minimal revision before I sent if off into the world. I remember when I got the acceptance from New Madrid I was so happy because, for me, it proved that yes, I could do this. I could keep my poetry and be a mother. Intellectually, I’d known this to be possible, but when you’re in the weeds of no sleep and bottles and crying and diapers and formula, it’s hard to be rational. It’s hard not to be one raw, gaping wound.

It hardly seems possible that it was two years ago (my son turned two this past May) that I sat on my couch, exhausted and freezing, watching a fledgling waiting for his mother to show him how to  fly.

 

Summer Bones

Typically when people go to a flea market, especially one of the biggest flea markets in the city, they pick up vintage dresses or comic books or a jar full of glass marbles all colors of the rainbow.

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What did I buy? A cow skull. To be honest, I was between cow and coyote, but ultimately, the cow seemed more impressive.

I have a thing for bones. I don’t know where it comes from, but I’m a bit of a scavenger of the natural world anyway. I have several, what my husband calls, curiosity jars that are full of seed pods and birds nests and stones of all shapes and sizes.

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I feel like I spend a lot of time “collecting,” whether it be physical items or just cataloging images, ideas, thoughts in my head. This is often how a poem starts for me, from one of “my collections” I pull something out and start to draft. I don’t really feel like there is any consistency to these collections while I’m cataloging items, but when go back and look at the drafts I’ve generated I realize that there are definitely common themes or images. Sometimes an item in my collection will sit in my brain or journal for a really, really long time before I do anything with it, but eventually it makes it way out onto the page.

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The last few months I’ve only drafted, sometimes badly, and not revised much. I wrote poems in April for National Poetry Month. I wrote poems in May and March and February. All drafts are rough, but they exist and now it’s time to figure out if they’re ever going to move beyond being an item in a collection. It turns out this past fall/spring semester I was thinking a lot about children, which isn’t surprising given as I have a two year old of my own. These drafts contain items from many other collections as well: lines from Elizabeth Bishop poems, red sweaters, blueberries, salt water, olive trees, sparrow, lines from Sappho, and on and on and on. I don’t know where a lot of these drafts are going or truthfully, if they’re going anywhere, but I suppose failed drafts are just another collection, right?

National Poetry Month 2017

So I didn’t write 30 poems for National Poetry Month this year. I wrote about 20 and I’m thrilled. As my officemate said to me yesterday morning, that’s more poems than you wrote last April, right? Exactly.

So now I have a  ton of work to revise, which is super because I haven’t send much work out into the world in the last year or so. I’m very much a fits and starts poet. I always have been and probably always will be. I don’t have designated writing times. I don’t have one specific place where I write. I don’t have a specific journal. I have about three journals going right now. This doesn’t include all of the notes I have on my phone. I definitely have a process, but it’s messy and constantly changing and it suits me just fine.

Could I be more prolific if I had a steady routine? Maybe. I used to worry about my routine. I used to worry about whether I was writing “small poems” that anyone would read. I used to worry that I had nothing to say. I used to worry that my point of view wasn’t fresh or sexy or whatever.

I used to worry about my poetry a lot. I still do in the quiet hours of the morning when I wake up at 4 AM and can’t turn my brain off, but then I remember that ultimately, for me, poetry is a selfish exercise. I write poems as way to process the world. Ultimately I keep writing and reading poetry because I want to get better at channeling the human experience into words. That’s what we (poets) are all trying to do, and I think many of us, are trying to do it with love and with great care. We’re not perfect. I’m certainly not, but perfection isn’t really the point anyway, or at least it has never been in my world.

I like the drafts I wrote for National Poetry Month and I was pleased to share some of the prompts with my students during the month of April. Yesterday, during one of my portfolio conferences, a student brought a draft of a poem she wrote from one of our shared prompts. We chatted about it for around 15 minutes and ultimately she decided to include it in her portfolio even though she thinks she’s “terrible at poetry.”

Special shout out to Two Sylvias Press for providing excellent prompts and just being awesome overall.

Also, to all my poet/writer friends, I’m involved in a brand new venture: The Indianapolis Review and we are currently open for submissions of poetry and original artwork. Please check out our website and send us some work. We’d love to read it!

 

National Poetry Month: Days 2-4

The last time I did a poem a day for National Poetry month, I solicited prompts from people. It was part of Tupelo’s 30/30 project, so folks made donations and I wrote poems. I churned through the prompts that came in, but for probably about half the month, I found myself writing without a prompt.

It’s not that I need prompts. The one thing I’ve yet to have trouble with in my poetry life is finding a subject. Whether or not I write successful or interesting poems about those subjects is something else entirely, but I can usually find something that’s knocking around in my brain.

What I’ve discovered so far this time around (and it is early days yet) is I like writing from prompts. I also like the advice that came with one of the prompts from Two Sylvia’s Press, which is to set a timer. Whatever you have after you timer goes off, that’s the first draft of your poem.

I’m a full time faculty member at a community college where I teach five classes. I’m lucky in the respect that only one of those classes is comp, but I still spend a crazy amount of time reading and commenting on student work (can I get a hell yeah from my fellow teachers?), so finding time to write is always a struggle. It’s true that if I get an idea I might let it roll around in my head for a bit before I try to put it down on paper, but if I can just get a draft down in a 10-15 minutes, at least I have something tangible to work with in revision.

This is all to say that I took a fifteen minute break from grading this afternoon and wrote my poem for today. It’s not a perfect draft by any stretch of the imagination, but as I often tell my students, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to exist.

Subjects covered in my poems for days 2-4: mobile therapists, mental health apps, siblings, lemons, class discrepancies, trapper keepers, shells, cracks in plaster ceilings, dolls and trips to the mall.

 

National Poetry Month 2017

It’s April 1st. The tulips that I planted last fall are starting to bloom despite being ravaged by squirrels. The flowering trees are out in a full force and we’re in the final month of the spring semester. It’s also the first day of National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day. Again.

This year I’m writing with prompts supplied by the wonderful and excellent Two Sylvia’s Press and I’m going to try to keep updates flowing through my blog.

This morning I woke up to this prompt: “Write a persona poem from the point of view of a historical figure that has time traveled to this year and is shocked by what he/she sees.”

The idea for this one came pretty quickly as I’ve been thinking about a poem that already kind of fits these criteria. I doubt subsequent poems will come as easy.

The content of poem number one involves a college classroom, grass, geese, a magnolia tree, fluorescent lights and a man with one excellent beard.

Guest Blog: A Letter To My Community College

It is true that in recent months social media has become a bit of a minefield, but today I was reminded of why it can be a really lovely tool as well. I’m neck deep in prepping for the upcoming semester, so it was nice to see this post from 2011 pop up in my Facebook memories. I’m still grateful to my community college and if anything, my feelings have intensified.

A Poet's Ponderings

I’m a guest blogger over at A Librarian’s Lists and Letters. Here’s an excerpt from my post. To read the rest, check out Shannon’s blog.

To My Community College:

If you had asked me ten years ago as a graduating senior from a private liberal arts college what I knew about community colleges, I would have said absolutely nothing. However, this would not have been a true answer because I knew one thing about community colleges: I knew they were looked down upon. How did I know this? Because occasionally when I would tell people unfamiliar with Allegheny College where I went to school they would pause and then say, “Oh,” you go to CCAC.” CCAC stands for Community College of Allegheny County. The first few times this happened, I corrected the questioner but didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know anything about CCAC and I’m not a…

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