And damn proud of it!

April, as it often does here in Eastern NC, went by in a blur of mornings so clear and green and beautiful that it was almost possible to forget…everything, even the shitshow that we currently call the news. Well, ok. Maybe not that.

But April went by in a blur of thunderstorms and packed lunch boxes. A blur of graded papers and bills and laundry. A blur of workshops and readings.

All of this is to say that I have not had such an epic fail in keeping up with NaPoWriMo in years, and Fierce Friday had to go on hiatus. But I want to get back to it, as much as I can, because I miss it. I miss reading the responses to the questions by amazing women. When I wrote the questions, I don’t think I fully understood how important reading their answers would be.

Question one asks: “Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of and why?” One of the women I featured told me that I had asked a question that made her very uncomfortable right off the bat. Why? Because she has been conditioned to think of being proud of herself and her accomplishments as negative, as something women shouldn’t do.

I started to think about the times I have been shamed for for being proud, for talking about and, god forbid, posting about the things I have done. Among writers on social media, there is an ongoing discussion about whether or not one should “brag” about publications, readings, awards, etc. Whether or not one should “advertise.” In my experience (see how I tried to minimize negative reactions by qualifying my statement there?), this question comes up mainly in reference to women writers. 

After announcing my graduation from my MFA on Facebook, a male colleague of mine commented “Congratulations on all your many accomplishments.” As positive as I generally try to be, I know this was not meant as an actual compliment. It was a “shut the fuck up about it already.” 

But isn’t it possible that he meant it as a compliment? 

No. 

But surely you’re misreading it? 

No. 

But of course you’re overreacting. 

Just no.

You know what? I just had two poems accepted in two different journals on the same day. I worked hard on those poems. I worked hard submitting those poems to journals. And you're damn right I'm going to post about them when they are published. But I consciously did not post about them being accepted because, somehow, that might be "too much."

Fuck. That. Noise.

Fierce Friday will be back next Friday. 

 

 

 

Work-in-Progress: Love and the Smell of Rain

A dear friend once described writing, the attempt to create something that might be considered art, as a life affirming act. I know that, for many of us, the campaign/election/inauguration and the recent threats to cut funding to the NEA and other cultural programs have blocked our creativity, have made it seem impossible at times to produce a single line. And without that spark, without that feeling that you are channeling something elemental through your words or your art, without that absolute magic that happens when something you’ve created feels just right, it becomes more and more difficult to get through the day. It makes it difficult to feel wholly alive.

I, myself, have been having trouble gathering enough focus to write, to really write, to get in the zone. But while I was thinking on this today, I thought about reading a friend’s work-in-progress, and it came to me that I am so lucky to have so many creative friends, to have so many writer friends who are willing to share their works-in-progress with me. I thought how wonderful it is that I can say, “I read _______________ before it was even published.” How cool is that? And I realized that reading other writers’ works-in-progress helps me feel centered again. It makes me feel that it is possible to create again. So I thought I’d share something I’ve been working on with you.

About two weeks ago, I wrote the line “I get your rain a day later.” That’s it. That is as far as I got with that thought for two weeks. I found that line again on Tuesday, and I sat down to try to work with it. I wrote about rain, how it hits different surfaces on my deck — the folded umbrella, the covered grill, the strings of globe lights — and then I wrote about smelling the rain coming. And it turns out that that was the thing I needed. I wondered what that meant. How do we smell rain? Well, it turns out that light rain releases aerosols containing dust and oils such as plant oils, and any wind pushes the aerosols ahead of the rain. So when you smell rain coming, you’re really smelling the dust and oils that collected on surfaces far from where you are. And I thought what a romantic notion it is that rain falling on a someone who is somewhere else announces itself to another someone far away. 

That research brought me this gift of a word: “petrichor.” Petrichor is the name for the smell of rain falling on dry surfaces. Its etymology is equally wonderful: petra + ichor. Stone and the fluid that is the blood of the gods. I mean, come on! I get your rain a day later…AND the smell of it is the blood of the gods? Yes. Yes. Yes. Right now, all I have are notes, but I have a concept that I’m excited about. 

And so I’m back to life.

What are you working on?

5 Things I Learned From Publishing A Book

I don’t know about y’all, but 2016 was what I imagine being a meteorologist during a particularly bad hurricane season feels like. Category 5’s everywhere, crazy spaghetti tracking models, standing outside on a beach with rain pelting our slickers sideways and an ocean behind us where every wave has a face. An angry face. A face with foaming jaws cracked open and ready to chew.

Yeah. Like that.

But, there were good things, too. Like those fried green tomatoes at Willy Taco in Greenville, SC. Like watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with my kids at the theater where absolutely zero cell phones went off. Like getting a thoughtful letter in the actual mail from a dear, dear friend. Like lighting my grill on a sunny spring afternoon. 

Oh, and I published a book.

A book! My first book! Which, by the way, is titled When She Was Bad and is available on Amazon here and from my wonderful publisher, Press 53, here

So, yes. My very first book of poetry was published in October, and it has been a bright point in my life. Everything from the notification from the publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson, to editing proofs, to requesting and receiving blurbs, to working on the cover, to signing preorders, to the book launch on October 4th at Starlight Cafe in Greenville, NC, to all of the readings since the launch; everything has been wonderful, and I have been amazed by the things that can happen. 

Here are 5 things I have learned:

The model in the photo that you and your publisher love and chose for your book cover could back out. You could need to come up with something else, quick. You could meet up with the fabulous photographer Dawn Surrat and spend a fun afternoon in an evening gown posing with her collection of insects and animal bones. You could end up with a cover you love even more, and a back cover even, and a new friend.

Be open to change.

You could be nervous as hell about sending out requests for blurbs to poets you respect and admire. You could send the requests anyway. They could agree to write the blurbs. They could send you their blurbs that say things that make you cry. In a good way.

Send the requests. 

You could have lots of friends who are indifferent to poetry. They might even say they hate poetry. They could come to your reading anyway. They could tell you afterwards that hearing you read your poems out loud changed how they view poetry. They could buy your book. Or not.

Lots of people have never heard poetry read out loud.

Social media friends from high school and junior high and elementary school could buy your book. They could message you to tell you that your book is on their bookshelf in their home in Denver or San Francisco or Baltimore. 

Knowing your book is on the bookshelf of someone you haven’t seen since you were eleven is pretty damn cool.

People who hear you read from your book could contact you to come and read at their bookstores, at their book club meetings, at their open mic nights. Famous poets could be at your readings and they could buy and read your book and then send you an email saying how they had “a helluva time” and then analyze one of your favorite poems from the collection that never got published in a journal but you didn’t change it because you love it, dammit.

You never know who will be at your reading.

This book, and the process of the book, has brought me joy. I can’t wait to see what else I learn from this wonderful, slightly crazy thing called writing. 

This Poem Belongs to You

I love hearing how a story or poem came into being. When a writer says that the inspiration for a piece of beautiful writing came from a snippet of conversation overheard in line at Starbucks, or from misreading a billboard while driving, or from a pair of abandoned shoes at the beach, I am always fascinated. And the leaps that come after that initial inspiration, well. 

A poem I am particularly fond of was published by the good folks at Cider Press Review this morning. I say particularly fond because it's one of those poems that announced itself, channeled itself through me like lightning, like light. And I am particularly fond of it because it was inspired by friends.

Here's how it started. I posted the following prompt to social media: What do you value most in a friendship? Here are the replies I got:

"Honesty." "Compassion." "Flowing conversation." "Many of my dearest friends live far away. I value our ability to pick up where we left off, that feeling that we've never been apart. Of course, that makes missing them when they're gone really hard." "Able to be completely myself, and ^. To be ourselves as if no time has passed." "I value that palpable easiness that is a hallmark of several friendships - that feeling where it doesn't matter what you do, it just matters that you are together." "honoring what's broken in us" "Unspoken understanding." "Unconditional acceptance." "I'm looking for a word that brings together all of these things for me, because, yes, all of the things people have said. Maybe connection. Or heart." "Trusting them enough to be completely myself, knowing they understand me, knowing they accept me as-is, sharing geek squee." "Gifts. I like when they give me gifts. Just kidding...everyone's pretty much summed my feelings up, so I thought I'd say something ridiculous and shallow just to inject something different!" "All these. ..plus a shared sense of wonder."

At first, I had no idea what to do. When I have no idea what to do, I try to write a sestina. Something about the form, the rules, helps me to begin. In order to write a sestina, you have to pick six words. So I picked the six words that stood out to me the most from the replies. They were: wonder, mask, broken, missing, gift, and heart. 

And then I thought about Wonder Woman. About masks. About Batman. About secret identities. And then the poem struck.

My friends, this poem was inspired by you; it belongs to you. I thank you.

 

 

 

 

Dear Kitty,

Last Saturday night, after having been unexpectedly denied entrance to an event I traveled five and a half hours to attend, I was faced with a rarity: time. Alone. All by myself.

I was not at home alone where there is laundry and cleaning and weeding and grocery shopping and bill paying and making breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. No. I was alone in a hotel with nothing I had to do and no one I had to worry about but me. So I did what many poets and writers would do. I went to the bar.

Don’t tell anybody, but we writers listen to everything, and we take notes. Overheard conversations become dialogue, mannerisms become characters, drink choices become writing prompts. Write a poem about a person who orders a round of Laphroaig with a Coors Light chaser. Go.

I sat down on the high bar chair, and the bartender took my order. She sat my nine ounce pour of sauvignon blanc in front of me on the black marble bar top and went to the end of the bar to my left to help a group of three men in suits. I turned my ears on and readied my mental pen. And here is what I heard:

“Hey, hey Kitty? Let me get a round of good scotch this time. I’m trying to teach these assholes the difference between cheap scotch and good scotch.”

Kitty said, “My pleasure,” and turned around to the gleaming shelves of liquor bottles. 

“I’m liking the view from here, Kitty,” said Suit #1. 

I tensed and watched as Kitty turned back toward them, smiled, and began to pour their drinks.

“Kitty? Is that your stage name? Your stripper name?”

“No. My mama gave it to me twenty-seven years ago,” Kitty said, not missing a beat.

This went on for about fifteen minutes. The three suits finally left, and they were promptly replaced by three more men in suits attending a wedding in the courtyard off the bar. After they ordered beers, this is what I heard:

“Hey Kitty? Is that, like, your stage name?”

I shit you not.

This went on for several hours with several different groups of men of varying ages. At some point, I asked Kitty how she did it. How she handled it so well. As I was speaking, the mug shot of the Stanford rapist came on the muted television. And I realized that I was commending Kitty for her ability to take it.

I wanted to punch every last one of those men in the face for their words. For the lifetime of conditioning behind those words. For making Kitty’s work environment an uncomfortable place for her, and for making the bar an uncomfortable place for me. For the fact that, if I were to say something to them, to call them out for their behavior, they would most likely say something like, “What? It’s just in fun. It doesn’t mean anything. Chill out. Jeez.”

I wanted to write a poem about this, and I tried. It started like this: 

Dear Kitty,

You are not my daughter. My daughter is ten, and you are twenty-seven. My daughter’s name is Aurora. She responds to “Oh, are you named after the princess?” with “I’m named after the goddess of the dawn. I put away the stars.” Your name is Kitty. You respond to “When did you get that name?” with “My mom gave it to me twenty-seven years ago.” To “Is that your stage name?” with a practiced laugh. To “You should really change your name” with the blank smile of a woman used to this.

Then I realized that, someday, someone might think it fun to ask my daughter if her name is her stage name. To make some slick comment about women who are princesses. I couldn’t write. All I could do was think I was going to have to have “The Talk” with my ten-year-old daughter, and probably soon. You know the one. My mom had it with me after a stranger stopped her in the parking lot outside the Stop-n-Go to ask what time it was and, while she looked at her watch, he grabbed her breast. It’s the “Don’t scream rape, scream fire. People will run to see a fire” talk.

It took the police forty-five minutes to get there. They took my mom’s statement, and here’s what happened. Nothing.

I wanted to write a poem about Kitty and my mom and the rape victim whose letter to her rapist has touched so many of us. I wanted to write a poem for every woman I know who has been raped, beaten, choked, verbally assaulted, or made to feel wrong in her own body. I wanted it to be a poem because, as author Leslie Pietrzyk put it in her blog, “think of poetry as Kafka thought of books: ‘A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.’ A single poem can wield that force.” But I couldn’t. Not yet.

But I will.