Watercolor postcard painted by me!
I just finished taking part in the 11th August Poetry Postcard Fest. It was the second time I signed up to send original poems on postcards for every day of the month of August. That’s 31 days, 31 poems! For a poetry project, the postcard fest is a bit rule-bound. There was a Facebook page for making connections during the fest, some people loved it, others felt it hindered the pure snail-mail experience. I checked in every once in a while and posted some pics of cards going out. The major ‘rule’/suggestion which I was unable to adhere to both times I’ve taken part in the fest involved composing directly onto the postcard. It’s not that I worry about my handwriting, though the few cards I wrote out by hand were near illegible. I did compose directly onto the first few cards this time around, but abandoned it in favor of getting some real poetry-writing done. A personal and artistic decision. I just couldn’t waste an opportunity to produce a handful of poems that might live to see the light of day. This may be antithetical to the Fest’s aims, but it’s what worked for me. Here’s an example of how subsequent cards went out, my post solar eclipse card and poem:
Every morning I composed an original poem directly into a Word document, no revising. I printed each poem in 9 or 10 point font and taped it to the back of the card. I took a photo of each day’s card front and back, but the poems are saved in a future chapbook file. Here’s the thing, about a year ago I began a project I called ‘Missives’; a collection of prose poems written as letters. I had about eight poems in that file going into the Fest. I woke up on the third or fourth morning realizing that the Poetry Postcard Fest would be the perfect opportunity to write more poems toward ‘Missives’. I chose this rather than producing a few throwaway (for me) handwritten lines. I approached my first postcard fest a few years ago in the same way. A handful of poems from that year’s cards made it into my second collection. I find the matching of poem to postcard image or vice versa to be profoundly generative. Some days I wrote the poem first and searched my copious postcard collection for the perfect image. Other days I wrote a poem specifically for the card.
After all was said and done (or printed, taped and posted) I had 10 to 12 poems I felt were strong enough to add to my ‘Missives’ project, which has changed focus slightly and been renamed. A theme emerged through my month-long writing exercise, so even the poems I don’t feel are strong enough to hold their own seem to be in dialogue with the others. Of course, this is the beauty of poetry. The themes dominating my psyche and spirit would have remained shadowy or subterranean. The writing made them real and I believe it was the meditative writing practice that achieved this. For me, dwelling on the themes that began to emerge was the only way to participate in the Poetry Postcard Fest. The Fest, as it did the first time around, gave me the reason and motivation to write poems. Being a sender and recipient of poems kept me on task. I understand the immediacy of handwriting directly onto a card, the logic, connection and aesthetic behind it. But, overall I think poets taking part in any lengthy writing project (MFAs included!) should make the project work for them. Rules are malleable and writing poetry isn’t like learning a language or writing code. What works one day may not work the next. And what works for 1 or 100 poets may not work for you! Finally, a big thank you to my Group 5 compatriots. Thank you for your poems and cards, so many of them handmade. ‘Til next year!
Postcards I received from Group 5 participants
After a short hiatus, I am once again offering poetry manuscript editing services. View the Manuscript Editing page for full details. In short, the three options include Chapbook Critique, Full Manuscript Critique, and a detailed Ten Poem Packet Critique, MFA-style. Check page for rates and testimonials. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Queen of Cups has ended its one year run this month as an alternative mini lit mag delivered weekly to subscribers’ inboxes. Over the past year, QOC has featured 53 writers, 53 original writing prompts, 53 tarot cards and around 100 tarot readings! 100 because nearly every issue included a general reading as well as a reading specifically for writers and artists. Check out the last issue featuring poet Courtney LeBlanc and The Empress. The full year of back issues is archived and available for viewing. Thank you to all subscribers and occasional readers alike. It’s been a surprising journey from quirky idea to fruition and such a learning experience.
Join me (and the stellar line-up above) at the 2017 Massachusetts Poetry Festival in downtown Salem, Mass May 5-7. This is the 9th annual Mass Poetry Festival, my third as a presenter/reader. Tickets/buttons can be purchased, and the schedule viewed, at the link above.
I’m taking part in two events this year:
May 6, 2-3 p.m. Massachusetts Cultural Council 2016 Fellowship Awardees Reading, Peabody Essex Museum. I’ll be reading work from my forthcoming collection, See the Wolf, slated for publication with CavanKerry Press in spring 2018. This event is scheduled at the same time as Kazim Ali’s reading so if you attend you could quite literally have our undivided attention. If you don’t come, I’m sneaking out to see Ali read:)
May 7, 1-2 p.m. ‘History’s Inspiration: Poetry Out of the Past’ reading and panel discussion with Andrea Stone and Ellen Dore Watson, Peabody Essex Museum. We’ll be discussing history as inspiration for poetry, reading from our own work, especially poetry that deals with the history of New England, and opening up for Q&A. I’ll read from my second collection Split the Crow
Early May in Salem isn’t exactly balmy but it’s better than early March in Salem! Plus, the festival is small enough that you could find yourself walking back to the Hawthorne Hotel behind Mark Doty and chatting with Marie Howe while she waits for an elevator in the lobby, both of which happened last year. There’s a great mix of poetry super stars and little guys (like me). The outdoor book fair will mess with your good intentions to leave with no more than three books. In short, the vibe is great and if AWP is too overwhelming for you, MaPo will probably be just right. This year, Louise Gluck is reading right after my last panel. My heart is already skipping beats, I’ve never heard her read!
One feature of my mini lit mag Queen of Cups is a weekly writing prompt. Sometimes I base the prompt on the week’s tarot card, other times I’m inspired by the featured writer, or I come up with something out of left field. As a poet, I’ve found prompts invaluable in generating new material. Here are four of my favorite from Queen of Cups back issues, all are accessible to poets and prose writers alike.
1. Write a piece that takes place in a structure, dwelling, or shelter. Think of Shirley Jackson who suffered from agoraphobia and wrote ghost stories and psychological thrillers where houses are not only haunted but become malevolent main characters imprisoning their inhabitants. Conversely, look to Rumer Godden who wrote at least five novels with the word ‘House’ appearing in the title. Godden’s dwellings also rise to character status but are more benevolent, becoming meaningful because of the accrual of inhabitants over the course of history. Like a beloved and ancient oak, Godden’s houses take on personalities of their own and tend to stand both within the passage of time and beyond it. Houses symbolize safety, nurture, and personal and family identity, but can also work in the opposite direction and quickly convey danger, imprisonment, and stultification. Your job is to write something with a physical structure in it, see where it takes you and what your structure reveals to you through the writing of your piece.
2. Write a piece titled “Grief Hallucinations” which incorporates the sentence: “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.” (Epictetus)
3. The tradition of lachrymatory dates to Greek and Roman times, but was popular around the Civil War. Wives and sweethearts would collect their tears in small vials, called lachrymatories, in hopes of showing their returning soldiers how much they were missed. Lachrymatory was a common ritual in the elaborate Victorian mourning process which also included: ‘deep mourning’, ‘half mourning’, and, my favorite, ‘slighting the mourning’ the moment when scratchy crepe dress trimming could be removed. Mourning in dress was observed right down to the smallest detail: I own a small box of antique stick pins with black heads labelled ‘Mourning Pins’. Women collected tears shed over death into lachrymatory and would leave the uncorked vials on loved ones’ graves; uncorked so the tears would evaporate over time. Write a poem or prose piece where lachrymatory (or ritualistic mourning) appear.
4. Write a micro essay/story (about 500 words), or a prose poem about consciously throwing something special away, or about getting rid of something in a bizarre or unique way.