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Kate Gale
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October 26th, 2012 AWP I’m in Seattle for AWP 2014 planning. The next AWP is in Boston, March 6-9, 2013. I am always telling young poets that they should go to AWP. Here’s why. You meet lots of writers there and there’s nothing like being in a bar and looking across at Yusef Komunyakaa or C.D. Wright to know you are in the center of greatness. The panels range from great poets and writers reading to how literature is made to the network on which literature is built. As a young writer, you want to understand the world in which you live. You want to understand what literary magazines publish the work you publish, you want to understand what presses publish the kind of work you write and you want to understand what is going on in your own community. But what is much more important is knowing what you can do to be part of keeping that afloat. The world of poetry and literature requires many players, and there is no reason you can’t be one of them. Maybe you can help a literary magazine or a reading series, maybe you can start your own press, but find out a way to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. And the problem is very simple and has three parts. There are way more good manuscripts that want to be published than there are writers to publish them. There are far more people writing and sending their words out into the world than there are reading good work and buying books. In general, we need more intellectuals and readers. That might require writing more poetry that people can actually understand. Poetry that isn’t just written for other academics. Or not. Just know your audience. These are the problems. If you come to AWP with your poems, your stories, your stuff that you want someone to help you out with, good luck. Here is the story the gatekeepers want to hear. I like what you’re doing in the literary world. I would love to be part of it. What can I do to help? Once you figure out where you fit in, what you can do to be part of the solution, then you can start asking for something. If what you want is a champion, then champion somebody yourself. And when you do get a book accepted, create a marketing/publicity plan that includes going to AWP and selling books and making sure you get the word out there. Remember that it is not about you. Or at least not just you. Writers needs to have a community to sustain them. Writers should work on being givers instead of takers, should work at being less needy. Editors are not waiting around to find writers that we can do stuff for. We are trying to live. So when I see you at AWP in Boston, tell me what you are doing for the literary community. Tell me what you’re... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
October 25th, 2012 Los Angeles will soon have its first city laureate. It’s a great honor for a city to have a poet laureate, and in the process of choosing someone, what we on the committee found out was that L.A. is crowded with poets. There are poets on the streets, poets in the classrooms, poets who don’t leave their houses much, poets who like to write on beaches. There are poets who try for quantity, who seem to have simply reams of work stacked about them taking up the house and shelf space and even sitting in the kitchen where the little pots and pans ought to be and poets who limit themselves to one or two good poems a year. There are different kinds of poets and there are different kinds of poems. Just like you listen to certain music when you’re sad and some when you’re happy. There are poems which like to stand up and sing out loud. (Like I do in the shower! I’m amazing! You should hear me.) Or poems that sit quietly in a corner and weep. The kind of poetry I am drawn to the most is the smart poetry, the poetry you can’t stop thinking about, the poems that come back to you in the middle of the night. When I go to readings of my favorite poets, I hope they will read certain poems. When Jim Tilley reads there is this poem he has about the big questions. I like it very much because I always end up spinning off thinking about what the big questions are and how when you’re in love, it’s tedious when you only have time for bills and dinner and the kids and not time for the big questions. When Eloise Klein Healy reads, I want to hear the one about softball and the one about the bears and the one about the swales of rain. And when Doug reads I want that peppy poem about the Middle Passage. Charles Harper Webb has a poem on duct tape that I wait for, and this coming Monday, Brendan Constantine reads at the Gerding Theatre, I hope he will read the poem below which is one of my favorites. Last Night I Went to the Map of the World and I Have Messages For You Brendan Constantine America says it has misplaced your number. I wasn’t comfortable giving it out. I said I’d let you know. Africa’s birthday is this weekend. There’s a party. No gifts. Just come. If you’re planning to go, Greece wants to know if it can get a lift. Awkwardly so does Turkey. Russia wanted me to say The worm knows the cabbage but the worm dies first. I have no idea what that means. Do you? Japan looked really uncomfortable all night but never spoke. Is something going on? Ireland asked to be remembered. I sang to it for you. I didn’t get to connect with Europe but, as the French say,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Writing good poetry is like falling through air. Not water. Because water stops you. Water slows you down. Water makes you think about whether you really want to keep going down. Water is all free fall; water lets you go down deeply. Deeply into words, language and ideas. Tess Gallagher eloquently wrote, “I Stop Writing the Poem” to fold the clothes. No matter who lives or who dies, I'm still a woman. I'll always have plenty to do. I bring the arms of his shirt together. Nothing can stop our tenderness. I'll get back to the poem. I'll get back to being a woman. But for now there's a shirt, a giant shirt in my hands, and somewhere a small girl standing next to her mother watching to see how it's done. Why do we stop writing the poem? We stop to work. We stop to arrange the clothing. To arrange the sandwiches on a plate, laying out the cilantro and parsley. Sliced red onions, peppers, olives. Then back to poem and if we’re not lucky, the poem may be lost, may have scurried away and hidden among the dirty linens. Women start with being women. We start with our children. All else is small, and insignificant compared to this: How are my children? Is my relationship with my children sustained? We bring together the arms of the shirt, of the pants, of the giant life we have with our children and feel it hinging and unhinging. You cannot be a successful poet, writer or even person and lose your relationship with your children. That’s key, and yet, we want our poetry to achieve a level of mastery. Not craft. Not clean loving well laid lines. Not something that runs out of an MFA program perfect and sweet. No, poetry that has plenty to do. Poetry that can stop tenderness and get to the other side. Poetry that’s the small girl wanting to grow up and the woman wishing for a dress so that she can seduce the waiters. It’s different being a woman writer. But should it be? Women, if they are not careful are ghost writers. They can write standing up straight and beautiful against the sky, and their words can remain invisible. We need to write so we’re not left out in the cold. We need to write the big stories. Not the domestic stories, the enormous stories that flatten myths. Poetry that’s outside the lines. That’s wild. That has a job to do. No matter who lives or who dies. Tess Gallager will be reading at the Red Hen Press reading at the Gerding Theatre at 8 pm with Caleb Barber, Brendan Constantine and Tanya Chernov. Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Writing poetry well should be like training yourself for the Olympics. The poetry Olympics. Even there are no gold medals, no silver or bronze, even though there are no endorsements, (I keep writing to Nike, “I run, I write poetry, give me shoes! But no luck.) even though the rewards of poetry are being able to go around saying, “I’m a poet,” which, if you throw in a couple dollars will get you coffee, in spite of that, you should take it seriously. For me, that means doing what they do in the Olympics, going through training. When I meet with MFA students, they want to know how long it will take before they get their first book published. Here’s what I think about: When my kids were in karate, their teacher Ken Nagayama would say, “When an American enters the dojo, he likes to ask one question. ‘How long will it take for me to get a black belt?’ That is not the right question. That is not right thinking. Right thinking is, ‘Is this a place where I can enter the lifelong study of martial arts and learn about what it means to be human using this art form?’ That is the right question.” Can I enter the study of poetry here? Is the right place for me at this time? Are there poets I can learn from? Red Hen Press has a list of about twenty core poets who know we have a slot for them every several years so they can focus on writing knowing their work has a home. This list includes Percival Everett, Peggy Shumaker, Camille Dungy, Doug Kearney, David Mason, Cynthia Hogue, Jim Tilley, Kim Dower and Lisa C. Krueger. We have three poets who have undertaken to enter the dojo of poetry and let the martial arts instructor take some serious swings at their work. Lisa C. Krueger, who read last month at Poets House with David St. John and Phil Levine had two books out but wanted to see how daring and risk taking she could be with her third book. She enrolled in the Bennington MFA program. As an adult with a thriving Psychotherapy practice, it isn’t easy to become a student again, to submit to having your poetry—which feels like your children!—be whacked around by the throngs, to say nothing of the poets who lead the workshops, but that’s what she’s done. The poems that have emerged are ferocious, they have bite and wild as if they were surrounded by wolves and learned to speak anyway. Jim Tilley retired from Morgan Stanley and dedicated himself to a life of language and ideas, but first to poetry. He’s been to Breadloaf, to Squaw, to Palm Beach, and he keeps going. Every summer. He works on his craft as hard as he ever worked in the world of finance, and the result is amazing. Poems that walk between math, light and energy. Poems that are precise and balanced, poems where the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
They talk about po-biz which means to run with the stars, attend AWP, rub hoodies with the clerks who sort the poetry at Paris Review. You could do all that. And still not get any attention. Or you could be like Emily Dickinson and write in your little house dressed in white, completely missing the Civil War, you could miss all that and yet become famous. But you have to die first. You have to die with seven poems published. You have to die and then you can be read. Which might be okay with you. But probably isn’t. Because some of us would like to be part of the party. Part of the conversation around poetry. Part of the dialogue around words and wordsmiths. Some of us might want recognition. Maybe even a job. Yeah, if we had a job, we could write even more of that amazing poetry. Kay Ryan wrote great poetry and just sent it out. And her girlfriend Carol helped to send it out. Maybe you find your own Carol to send out your work. To be your champion. She’s reading for us on November 11th in Pasadena with Dana Gioia and Jane Smiley. Or, you could be like the young generation of poets whose performance makes you want to put down your iPhone and listen: Doug Kearney and Camille Dungy, who pull you into the tongue and groove of their language like a slippery waterfall. You’re in before you know it. You have entered the kingdom. Doug’s reading in Pasadena at Boston Court on November 27th with another performance poet who combines visual imagery with language, Nicelle Davis, and that’s moderated by Brendan Constantine. He’s a crowd pleaser; an electrifying performer who makes your hair stand on end. He’s reading at the Gerding in Portland Oregon with Tess Gallager on October 29th. Which brings me to my next point, you notice what these active energetic poets are doing? They are making their poems get out there and work for them. They are not letting those poems sleep or even lie down and take a little nap. You can’t go on vacation from poetry. You have to feel its alive wild throbbing while you think and walk around. I don’t believe in po-biz or in having a poetry career or being mid career or late career. Poetry is something you choose to do instead of a career. It’s a life and sometimes it feels like smashing watermelons, and other times it feels like waiting for watermelons to grow, but there’s always growing. And you can’t knock water. Or melons either for that matter. Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Oct 19, 2012