Monday, December 28, 2009

Mini Reviews

I just completed a book of poetry, and realized that as the year draws near, I find myself steeped more in reflection than is usual. Okay, maybe that isn't true, but you notice it when another year has passed you. So I got to thinking about the last couple of months and what I've read. I give you my mini reviews.

Claudia Rankine - Don't Let Me Be Lonely - Possibly the best book I've read this year, definitely within the top two of poetry. It's an experimental work, with poems that aren't titled, or even broken into traditional stanzas. It's sometimes stream of conscious, often evocative, and the symbols and images that aren't of Rankine's own creation (that is, those images she twists out of the air of her own accord like the intimate relationships between death, reflection, and loneliness) are heavily influenced by popular American imagery, such as prescription drug names (Botox) or politics. It's hard for me to explain how much I loved this book.

Sherwin Bitsui - Shapeshift - Not an easy read. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just something which makes it difficult to know where I stand. There is startling imagery, and I feel like if I can tap a fraction of that in the way Bitsui does, that I'll have become a more mature writer, but I almost feel as if my lack of knowledge of Native American spirituality has severely handicapped me in this read in some way, in the way that I feel handicapped by my lack of musical knowledge in Langston Hughes poems. It is, at times, hard for me to grasp any solid narrative or idea in any one poem, other than the play between the modern world and Native American sensibilities or the circle of life and death. I feel like this is a perfect book to read with an experienced group of poets for discussion, but as an individual read, for me, it often left me gasping for air. Worth multiple reads.

Mike McGee - In Search of Midnight - What to say about this book... On one hand, it's kind of awesome. I love that a poet can write a poem with the pure intention of just being funny, and there are some really interesting (lest I say, profound?) poems as well. There's a poem about lady bugs that I want to cut out and hang somewhere. Get this if you're in the mood to laugh.

Jeff Fleming - The Bones of Saints Under Glass - Best chapbook I've ever read, bar none. The images were stark and the poems often so short as to leave me with my (imaginary) jaw hanging, forcing me to read it over again. A few times. I will read this book over and over again, I know it. Also, the cover art, especially for a chapbook, gets me every time. I have a thing for silhouettes and bird bones, I guess.

A Van Jordan - Macnolia - Ever read something that leaves you disheartened about your own work? THAT'S how good it is? This is the only contender, this year, with Rankine's book for me. There were stretches of poems that were interesting, but not heart wrenching (though I begin to wonder is that what I even want for a whole collection of poems?) but every so often, there was a poem doing things with form, with words, with emotion, and with imagery that just floored me. If you are the type of person who gets tired of the experimentation with poetic form, get this book, because you'll read at least a few poems that will show you how it's done. I promise you.

Leah Angstman - Next Exit - I enjoyed the photos in the book, which lent themselves to the sort of road trip that you take during the work, and some of the works were interesting, though, for some reason, I found parts of the book a bit lewd. I'd have to read it again to know for certain why, because I've read a million books that cuss more often, and it was never explicit in any way. Perhaps that is the intent, that sort of uncomfortable shifting in your chair as you read.

That's it, for the last two months. We'll see what the next few bring about.

Friday, December 4, 2009


My very first night free of the shackles of my novel (see NaNoWriMo), I sat down at my computer and had no idea what to do. Of course, once my routine breaks back down, I won't have that problem, but I've devoted 2-4 hours every night, for a month, to writing a novel, and suddenly, a hole opened up in my day.

So as little as I wanted to, I spent the entire night submitting to publications. My poetry, that is. It's been a long time in coming.

Long story short, I submitted to a particular publication, which I will not currently name because I am angry, and it's difficult for me to tell how logical I am being when I'm angry. But Publication X responded immediately.

Anyone who has ever submitted a poem to a magazine/journal knows how strange this is.

It read as follows:

"Sorry, but negro is not a word we use; we are unable to offer you publication in Publication X."


Okay, I get rejected all the time. We all do (I hope. It's not just me, is it? hahaha) and it's never any skin off my back. Most of the time, it's just a form letter. And sometimes it's a little note, and either way, I understand. It happens.

But is it me, or is this message a little judgemental? I mean... I sent 5 poems. And it sounds as if they were all rejected because of the content of one of them. I mean, their policy would immediately disallow Langston Hughes from ever being published.

I am no Langston Hughes.

But there is a difference between 'We can not accept your poem because we view it to be vulgar/course/offensive" and "We can not accept your poem because we don't like one of the words."

Three things before I go:

1. Negro, as it was used in the poem, wasn't justifying its use as a derogatory category, or even trying to justify its use in a non-derogatory way.

2. The magazine is based in England. Does this make a difference? I don't know.

3. Hell, here it is, for you to enjoy, or else, agree with Publication X's decision:

The Negro and the Jew Lose their Loves

"I threw away a pearl richer than all my tribe." -Othello
“My daughter! O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” -Shylock

I stand at Stratford-upon-Avon, and watch tourists,
their skins shaded as Shakespearean villains.

The serfs nod, smile holy-white,
kneel, snap photos, speak tongues.

I wish to grab one about the passport,
throttle him like a limp chicken,

until he squawks as Shylock over his mint,
Othello, his white idol, his tar-brushed skin. I’ll yell:

“393 years, it's been. Where is your Shakespeare?
And if you haven't found him, where is your pen?

(A quick note: Both the quotes from Shakespeare are in reference to lines in their respective plays which are considered by many scholars to be racist. In the first, Othello bemoans the loss of his white wife, claiming that her 'pearl' is worth more than all of his race. In the second, Shylock, a merchant and Jew, believes that he has lost his daughter and money, and seems confused as to which to cry out for.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo 28, 29, and 30 [I won!]

A little late in coming. And fear not, I'm back to the regularly scheduled blog from here on out. Even if I choose to write another novel next year, I will only post about it intermitedly. This was fun. But... Exhausting. Poetry, and poetry videos, to come soon. And checking out my long neglected favorite blogs. You all know who you are.

NaNoWriMo, Day 28 - 44082
Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 9:44am | Edit Note | Delete
3489 words. I wasn't tired at all tonight, and I still am not so tired that I can't continue to write, but I feel as if I ought to get some sleep so that I don't completely lose all the daylight hours.

What made those 3000+ words more impressive, for me, was the fact that a good portion of them were in a chapter that was really killing me to write. There are just some chapters like that. There is, maybe, a particular part that you can't quite get right, and even if you force yourself past it, you've sort of been thrown out of your rhythm, so the rest of the chapter is just torture to get through. This was one of those chapters, and I've actually been working on it for a few days. It turned out, I think, much better than I had expected. Which just goes to show. Something.

I am only 6000 words away from my goal. It's sort of exciting, but mostly a relief. I can't wait until I no longer feel guilty for only writing my single poem a day. Really. It's going to be a huge load off my shoulders. Although a part of me thinks that this much writing can only be helping. Even with my poetry.

Interesting fact. Word says I have spent 5089 minutes working on this novel. Which is about 85 hours. Which is about 3 hours a day. Which is about right, in the long run. Probably closer to 2 hours most days, and more some others, with a few hours where Word is open, and counting my time, but I'm doing something else like watching youtube videos or wasting time on Facebook.

You know how that goes.

NaNoWriMo, Day 29 - 48110

4028 words. That is officially a new record for one day. Hot damn. It was a combination of not wanting to have to write thousands and thousands of words on the very last day, after a full day at work, and partially because the last chapter I wrote was kind of interesting in its own way, even if I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the way I told it. It might be better served scattered throughout. But I digress.

I am one chapter away from the conclusion to my novel. There may be a prologue, but there needn't be. So at the end of this month (it'll technically be at the start of this next month, due to the way time works for me because of working third shift), that is tomorrow, I will have a novel that were someone to pick up and read, would have plot points, characters, and a conclusion. It's not especially amazing to me, but still something I'm proud of. At this point, that person who picks up this novel would notice a ton of glaring mistakes, such as my lack of inclusion of any sense of where the events are taking place (I didn't feel like figuring out where on the map things were happening, when they happened.) as well as the mention in opening chapters of a couple of characters who change or are dropped altogether.

Note to self. Have a reason to put characters in a story. Don't just include them because you sort of feel like two characters aren't enough to tell a story with. The story ends with three humans and about 8 or 9 supernaturals, so it wasn't a problem.

I'm not going to lie, though. I am going to be so happy to get home from work, and be able to just go straight to bed. I have had this job about a month now, and I haven't been able to do it. Not once. Those are 10-11 hour shifts.

Congrats to everyone else who completed their novels, among them my poetry/novel-ing (not a word) buddy, Bianca, who finished a few days early. Well, she hit the word limit. Her book seems to be substantially longer than mine, and good for her. A part of me wishes mine was longer, but at this current point in time, I can't imagine it being any longer without me just throwing in filler. Somehow I managed to write a novel that was almost exactly 50000 words. I'm sure it will change time over the editing process (though it can't shrink much, or else it will no longer be a novel).

Can you guys tell I'm excited? Hahaha

NaNoWriMo, Day 30 -50536

I hit the word goal. That is not to say the novel is finished. I actually just had to type up a summary of the final chapter, because it became clear to me that it's going to be a monster, and that as excited as I am about all this, that I'm not in the right frame of mind to write all the details that scene will require. There is a ton of action, and dialogue, and hopefully, some kind of emotion. haha.

It's a little disappointing knowing that I have to still keep writing to finish this thing, but at the same time, very cool to know that what I have is novel length.

Thanks anyone and everyone who read along with me this month. It was fun at times, exhausting most times, and honestly, I am glad that I only have to write a couple hundred words a day, instead of a few thousand.

By the way. The thing is practically written, and still no title. This does not bode well. haha