Thursday, April 10, 2014

How I Write: An International Blog Tour


The wickedly talented, generous and smart poet, Catherine Staples, invited me to participate in this blog tour which reveals the writing process.  Please click on the link above to read more about Catherine, her process and her work.  Catherine asked me, M.B. McLatchey and Dean Rader, friends as well as striking and inspiring writers and thinkers, to participate.  Please visit them, too.  Without further ado, here's a glimpse into my process.    


+


What are you working on? 

Like many writers, I have a few projects on my stove.  My poems tend to come in groups - or more like wild gangs.  Oftentimes, subjects choose me rather than the other way around.  These stories beg to be told not because they’re fun to tell, but because they need voicing.  Now I’m at work on what a manuscript of poems about the natural world - influenced by flora and fauna around my subtropical home.  Next is a group of poems about moms with cancer - a difficult reality for more than a handful of women I know.  Last are poems on beauty.  I live in a vain city.  If it’s not the plastic surgery capital of the world, it’s close.  I’m beginning to examine the connections between beauty and image, authenticity and fabrication, and the psychological ramifications of it all. 


How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

I should probably plead the Fifth here, but I won't.  My work is unironic.  Sometime after I had kids, I dropped my sharp New York irony - and all-black dress code - and started to write from an essential, true and naked place.  My influences are motherhood, nature, art and beauty and a curiosity about all things spiritual.  


Why do you write what you do? 

I write about what I love and what worries me.  I also write about things I don’t understand and may never, but sometimes through writing I can come to peace or to another question that shifts my thinking.  I’m also - for maybe the first time in my life - very aware of audience.  After starting the blog, which a few kind people read, I noticed a more immediate response to my work - and I felt a responsibility to those two or three readers.  I want to write work that’s interesting, readable and unobscure.  As much as I cherish the poets in my life, most of the people I know aren't poets.  I write for them as much as for the poets - as much as because I can’t help myself.  Many times I wish I could stop, but I can’t.  I wonder if scientists will one day find a poet gene?  


How does your writing process work?

Whenever I have time - which is most mornings now that the kids are in school - I make a coffee (double espresso latte), grab a pencil (old school, Ticonderoga #2) and open my empty book (kraft, Moleskine, unlined, large).  I almost always draft poems in pencil before moving onto a computer.  Most of my raw material manifests during National Poetry Month when I commit to writing a poem every day.  My summers are fallow (when the kids are home).  I edit in the fall (when the kids are back in school) and submit in the winter (also in school).  Generally, it takes many months for my poems to move from drafts to publishable poems.  A sociologist may say my work habits are a product of my environment - one with three young kids and all their effluvia (doctor appointments, school projects, sports, music lessons, etc.).  I’d have to agree.

+

Up next are two incredible Miami-based poets: Jen Karetnik and Michael Hettich.  Their posts will be up by 4/17.  Please click on their links to learn more about them and their work.  

Jen Karetnik is the author, co-author and/or editor of eleven lifestyle and poetry books with three forthcoming in 2014: Prayer of Confession (Finishing Line Press, poetry), Brie Season (White Violet Press, poetry), and Mango (University Press of Florida, cookbook).  She holds an MFA in poetry from University of California (Irvine) and an MFA in fiction from the University of Miami.  Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Black River Review, The Greensboro Review, The Nebraska Review, North American Review, River Styx, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Sou'wester, Seneca Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and elsewhere.  The recipient of two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prizes for a lyric poem, she won the 2008 Portlandia Chapbook Award.  Jen is the the Creative Writing Director at Miami Arts Charter School, and she’s a food and lifestyle columnist for many local and national publications.  Jen lives in Miami Shores, FL on the last remaining acre of a historic mango plantation with her husband, their two children, three dogs, three cats and fourteen mango trees.


Michael Hettich was born in Brooklyn, NY, and grew up in the city and its suburbs. He has lived in upstate NY, Colorado, northern Florida, Vermont, and Miami, where he currently lives. He has published over a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, including LIKE HAPPINESS (Anhinga, 2010), THE ANIMALS BEYOND US (New Rivers, 2011) and the chapbook THE MEASURED BREATHING (Swan Scythe Press, 2011). His most recent manuscript, SYSTEMS OF VANISHING, won the 2013 Tampa Review Prize and was published in April, 2014, by University of Tampa Press. His other awards include three Fellowships from the Florida Arts Council and The Tales Prize (for SWIMMER DREAMS, 2005).  He teaches at Miami Dade College.



Monday, March 17, 2014

The Countdown to NaPoWriMo!

Two weeks and counting.  I'll do it again. Write a poem a day, I mean.  I don't debate it anymore, I just do it.  30 poems in 30 days.  The poems started speaking this month, so after a few years my creative body is accustomed to the writing season.  Up with the bulbs and buds, new poems will rise!

This year's challenges:  Besides living in a very distracting environment (Miami Beach - Hello, Spring Breakers, Hello, Sunshine!), I have three growing distractions at home and a husband who is sometimes here as well.  Apparently, they need help with homework (children, not husband), fresh food and a clean living space with clean clothes in it.  This happens every day.  Then they get sick, break things and break down.  Said husband travels A LOT and I work.  One child celebrates a birthday in April and another has off from school for a week and a half.  And those are the knowns.  It's all the unknowns which will make this challenging.  (And it's the unknowns I hope to mine in my writing.)  You see, there's the writing challenge and then there are life challenges.  When they all happen at once, it gets a bit crazy over here. 

Thank you for reading the poems; I promise to write my best and to post with info & pictures to keep things interesting.   (And if you can take my kids for a few hours or leave food at the door, it would be loved & appreciated & I'll write a poem for YOU!)  

April 1, here I come!  


Click here to find more poets brave & foolish enough to accept the NaPoWriMo challenge!







Friday, November 15, 2013

Clearing the Decks


Where have all the cowboys - I mean, poems - gone?
Several people (which to this poet means more than one) have told me to take down the poems, edit and publish them.  The thinking is if the poems are “out there,” in any form, they might not be desirable to an editor who wants the first-look, first-read, first-print option.  
My first reaction was who would bother to find them anyway?!   Would a poem of mine really be rejected and thought previously published if found on this blog?  I don’t know.  What I did realize, however, is that this thinking is (kind of) negative and defeatist.  I want editors to accept my work, and if taking the poems off the blog after their month-long run will help their chances of being published, I should do it.

Beyond that, there’s something cleansing about taking the poems down.  This way the collection of April poems seems more like a temporary exhibit (which it is) than a final product (which it is not).  The sixty or so poem drafts I’ve posted over the past three years are not finished pieces, just beginnings.  All of them have been tossed or edited.  They way I see it  now I’ve made room for more beginnings.  (Come on, April!)  And I’ve taken away a reason (even if a superstitious one) for seeking/not seeking publication.

One last note, one poem from this blog circa 2012 ("LTMD: Letter To My Daughter") was recently published in an anthology of poets with a connection to South Florida - Tigertail: A South Florida Poetry Annual: Sunstruck Matches edited by poet, writer, teacher, mom and virtuoso Jen Karetnik

To celebrate the anthology there’s a reading at the Miami Book Fair International on Sunday, November 24th at 5:00.  The writers are all fabulous.  The pieces are all engaging.  I’m honored to be a part of it, and I’m happy as a helium balloon to join the Book Fair again this year.  If you’ve followed this blog (thanks, Mom!), you know how I feel about the authors’ tent.  Hope to see you at the fair!

Thanks for reading!


Monday, July 29, 2013

What's going on: Relocation, Rejection, Redemption - or Any Writer's LIfe :)




*Forgive this entry.  It's long.

What's going on: Relocation, Rejection, Redemption - or Any Writer's LIfe :)


Last month we moved to a new house.  It’s enormous - by our standards - and it needs an enormous amount of care.   As with anything, it needs tending - fixing, updating (eventually) and rethinking.   And it took all the energy we had to get it up and running - and everything but the kids fell behind.  It also required a new way of working (for me).  Most writers I know are creatures of habit - if only in their writing lives.  We like to write at the same desk, with the same mug and pen - or in my case, pencil.  This is comfort.  It works. 

So, my writing table is now our single-use dining room table and there’s an office with a desk in it for me.  It’s almost right, but not quite.  It works, but it’s not habit yet.  Which is a long way of saying, I’m writing agin - almost.  

(With the mosquitos and no-see-ums, the poetry bug came biting again this month, so I’m working hard to catch it.)

+

I wrote through April (new poems) and May (revising new poems), and during this time of intense creativity, I received a slew of rejections - poems, essays, the manuscript...everything.  

It was one of those moments when I thought - for the first time in a long while - maybe this isn’t the path.  

Maybe I’m supposed to be a jewelry maker or a plumber or a carpenter or a photographer - anything but a writer.  

Maybe I misread what I’m supposed to do with my life?  Then I panicked.  I did anything but write.  Things got dark.

+

Then, as only happens in movies, the phone rang. 

My yoga teacher invited me to read a poem at a kirtan event.  I wasn’t feeling so hot about my work, but I showed up.  

I read a poem (about kirtan), and a drummer named Dharma threw beats behind it.  And it rocked.  

The poem was made so much livelier, I could almost dance to it.  And people liked it.  Another yoga teacher created a small broadside of the poem.  And it was gorgeous.  It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done with a poem of mine.  I was floored.



+

In June, I received an email about a collaborative project called SWEAT, which joins poets and visual artists together to make broadsides.  

I’m working with an incredible artist, Lea Nickless, who shares a reverence and curiosity about the natural world.  Instead of using an existing image (hers) or poem (mine), we’re creating something new.  

I’m learning how to speak about mangroves and coonties, and she’s examining plant roots and leaves.

Surely something good will surely cook up between us.  

+

The SWEAT meet up led to an invitation to read this July with poets Micael Hettich, Adrian Castro, Geoffrey Philp and writers Nathaniel Sandler and Arlo Haskell at The Betsy.  It was a treat to read in such good company, to share such resonant words and imagery.  The reading was followed by intelligent conversation with poets and artists on a rooftop with a view of the ocean.  It hardly felt like Miami Beach, but it felt more like the Miami Beach I want to live in.    

+

And then more emails arrived about readings in the works for Tigertail’s poetry anthology this fall at Book Fair and Books & Books, which I’ll be a part of.  

+

All good things, right?

So what about those rejections?  They happened (and they kept happening), but I kept showing up for poetry.  

Sometimes doubt crept into my voice and cracked a line or fumbled a word; sometimes I stumbled over a stanza I didn’t think I could write through, but I did.   

My teacher threw me a lifeline.  And I showed up.  And people listened.  And the poems kept coming.  And I wrote more.  And I read more.  And I listened more.  And I loved it more.  

Summer’s almost over - not in the meteorological sense, but in the school-year sense - so I’m back to work soon.  I'm putting my flimsy armor back on, and I’m ready for another fall of submissions - whatever they portend - but more than that I'm ready to be part of a growing community of poets down here, which may be a writer’s ultimate lifeline.  

And, right now, I’m sure this is the path.  I've chosen it by showing up to the page and in person, and it has chosen me.  




Monday, March 18, 2013

Two Weeks and Counting

 
(Click on this image to check out Maureen Thorson's awesome website & invaluable resource for NaPoWriMo!)



After much internal debate, I made it official:  I will write a poem a day for NaPoWriMo.  

Even though some editors will not consider work that has appeared anywhere online (Bah!).  Even though my family may not eat a home-cooked meal for 30 days (Whoops!).  Even though I’m going away at the end of the month and will miss the last five days (Hooray for me!  But I’ll try to make this up during the month; so, although the month will end early, this blog will still hold 30 new poems.)

New to this year: I will not title poems (see note about editors), and the poems will be a little more rough, a little more raw.  Yes, the poems are all drafts - and have always been.  My goal is to put up new work, but also to give you kind readers something tasty to chew on - even if it’s not finished.  But the drafts will be draftier this year (see note about editors).

This (see note about editors) is an itch under my skin.  My time is so limited that I need to use it wisely and well.  Behind the scenes and in the months that follow April, I download, edit and rewrite the poems I think are worth keeping.  Then I send a select few out for publication.  This takes me an unusually long time.  And there’s only so much of it to go around.  Parenthetically, I’d love to have an assistant (just one day a week). 

To add to the chaos this year, I’m starting a copywriting company: Cat’s Copy (website forthcoming).  I love writing, and I can’t wait to see how this business idea flies.  I write and edit constantly, and usually for free.  It’s a common affliction among women I know, especially mothers.  We give it away, and I could write tomes about motherhood and compensation.  But the times they are a-changing in the Prescott house.  Forget about the cow, you can’t afford it.  And that milk, it’s gold.  

So, that’s the only added challenge to my annual writing stunt.  Having said that, we spent part of this past weekend in the ER with child #2 who needed stitches; with three young ones, you just never know what will happen next!  On the other hand, there are more good things in the works - and some surprises - which I’ll announce in April.  

If you’re writing, I wish you an inspiring month.  If you’re reading, thank YOU!  I’ll do my best to write well by you.

Yours in poetry,
Catherine


Friday, February 22, 2013

Twin Careers & An Essay

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve set out quite a life for myself - taking on twin careers which are defined by failure.  Let me explain.

Writing is a colossal uphill climb.  No better way to say it.  The writing, the real work of it, is exhilarating, frustrating, enlightening, edifying, frustrating (did I say that already?).  Yet, it’s what most writers choose to do daily.  We love it.  The puzzle of it.  The beauty of it.  The creative flow of it. 

But then there’s the submitting (climb) and rejection (weekly, if you’re submitting well and often) and the record keeping (thank you, Duotrope, whose stats suggest that if your acceptance rate is higher than 1.50% for a poet, you’re a success!  humbling), and finally there’s the occasional acceptance (manna).  Why would any sane adult strap themselves to a career with a 98.50% rejection rate?  And we haven’t begun to talk about money.  It makes me question my sanity. 

Next is motherhood.  I know, it’s not a career, but it is.  It’s a choice, and it’s a job.  A job wherein your evaluation happens daily, your failures made blatant between your children’s assessments (Did you forget to put ranch dressing in my lunch box, again?!) and accusations (You always forget what I love!) as well as the onslaught of public opinion about your parenting from your children’s school (Why was your son late to school 10 times this year? (i.e., What’s wrong with you?)) to the unsteady glances and slingshot comments from not-so-well-meaning strangers.  The job does come with hugs and kisses and sparked creative moments, but the dailiness of it can be a real drag.  And, yet, you love it.

Why am I bringing this all up now?  Hormones, PMS?  Sort of.  Thoreau said, “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”  It’s like that here, too.  When you put so much on the line for so little because you love it, your only option is to put more out there.  It’s with this transcendental-yoga-meets-writing attitude that I wrote this essay about the movie Dirty Dancing. 
It was fun, but humbling - and at times humiliating - to write.  But why not put more out there?  I could say it's about my prepubescent self watching Dirty Dancing and writing about it decades later, but you should read it for yourself and decideIt’s part of the Chick Flix essay series curated by the brilliant Jennifer L. Knox @ delirioushem.  The entire cast of essays is incredible.  Worth more than a few glances each. 

Because as it turns out, writing is more than its share of rejection (as is motherhood).  It’s a chance at true connection - a way to get to the meaning behind the meaning under the meaning of things, of movies, of life stages, of emotions.  Yes, it’s a method of expression, but after a time it’s much more than that.  It’s a connector, an empathy generator.  It makes a life, if not a living - as does motherhood.  To give your life to that, well, it works for me.  Even if the gold stars and gold coins are few and far between - when do they come, they are earth-shatteringly, transcendently bright.  






Monday, December 3, 2012

November and The Promised Land

November was like lightening.  It just split me open in all sorts of ways and sent me reeling from one thing to another. 
 It took me a long time to get the gist of Twitter (@catprescott), and I still don't fully understand what it is - something between a Facebook post and a text message? -  other than another vehicle for writing and connecting, which is fabulous.  Then there was my own writing and submitting, a self-imposed deadline for what will be my first published essay (forthcoming) and the Miami Book Fair International.  My favorite Miami event fired on all cylinders this year - and I was lucky to be one of its readers.  I had such a fantastic time reading (there was even a swag bag and a complimentary buffet involved, my first), and I am so grateful to my friends for coming out (many with their kids) on a sunny afternoon to hear me - especially those who came to the Book Fair for the first time and to their kids who would rather go furniture shopping or to the dentist than see their mom's friend read poems. 

And, I got to hear Anne Lamott, who you should know always carries crayons and band-aids and all sorts of nurturing things in her pocketbook, and who is so kind and real.  And I heard feminist Naomi Wolf speak about vaginas and vagina problems.  I also heard one of my favorite poets, Dana Gioia, read - no, recite - poems for the first time.  To paraphrase, he said if he can't remember his own poems, why should anyone else?  And I listened to some other great poets and poems.  My mind is so full, it brims. 

I also rediscovered a new favorite poet.  While researching literary magazines during a submitting frenzy, I happened again on Dorianne Laux's work.  I've been devouring it since.

After reading her work I want to write better, stronger poems.  It was that way with the Book Fair, too.  Inspiration works like this on me now: It makes me want to try harder.  I'm still figuring out exactly what that means, but for now my nose is down, my pencil is down and my thoughts are up - circling each other, looking for places to land.  (The promised land of bound books, swag bags and buffets doesn't hurt either.)