Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: A Recap

With one day officially left in 2008, I've been looking back on this year. It's been a momentous one on many, many fronts: the highest highs and some of the most devastating lows. Here are some of the highlights:

January: Celebrated my third anniversary.
February: Found out that Cradle Song had won its prize.
March: Father, suffering.
April-June: Editing book, working on layout, getting it ready for press.
July: Lost book award. Fallout. Tailspin. Amazing support in the blogsphere.
August: Book picked up by the wonderful C&R Press. Fabulous husband wins National Poetry Series.
September: My little one and I start (co-op)preschool.
October: Little one turns 3.
November: Final edits for Cradle Song. OBAMA!!!!
December: Cradle Song gets sent to press. I win the Caption Contest, get nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and accept a tenure-track job as a poet at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

All in all, an amazing year. I'm anxiously awaiting my box of books, which should be arriving on my doorstep soon. For all of you out there who were so supportive throughout the fiasco with the Apple Dumpling Gang and all the way through to the book finding its true home with C&R, thank you. Find me at AWP, and I'll buy you a drink.

Meanwhile, here's hoping you all have a safe and happy new year.

And tell me: What's your New Year's resolution for '09?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Second Most Important Vote of 2008

A vote for my captions is a vote for change. And for Obama--again. And for bringing the troops home.

Stacey Lynn Brown: Captions you can believe in.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Give Me Moe

One thing I've figured out about myself is that I'm a sparse blogger. An intermittent one. A random, "Sure, I read other people's blogs every day, and oh, yeah, I have one, too. Wow. I should actually post something new on it sometime soon" kind of gal.

Happily, I've been busy doing book-related things, the most recent of which happened this morning, when I had the pleasure of reading for the Moe Green Poetry Hour. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Moe Green is a Blog Talk Radio show created and hosted by Rafael F.J. Alvarado. He's had a slew of excellent writers on the show, and I was very excited to be part of it.

Radio, as a format, is an unknown for me, and I was a little unsure of what to expect. On some level, I thought it would be like giving a poetry reading behind one-way glass, where I would just be sending poems blindly out into the ether, but Rafael was an engaged and charming host, and it turned into a true dialogue about the poems and the forthcoming book. I really enjoyed the whole experience.

Here's the link for the show. I read first, and my part lasts about half an hour. And the very talented Margaret Randall shines in the second half.

Enjoy! And thanks again to Rafael for asking me to join him.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fear of a Gay Planet

Now that we've made epic, historical strides toward equality on the racial front by electing an African-American President, a lot of people feel complacent and sated. As if racism has been eradicated. As if magically America has become the true land of (equal) opportunity. As if civil rights and human rights and equal rights weren't dealt a devastating blow and trounced on the same night that we all felt so overjoyed by how far we've come.

As you all know by now, the hatemongering Prop 8 passed in California. The Mormon Church emptied its collection plates to fight against letting two people who love each other get married (because Mormons have such a noble approach to marriage? Because heterosexuals do such a stellar job of upholding its sanctity?), and a preliminary petition has been created to strip it of its tax-exempt status. You can find out more about helping with that cause here.

In Arizona, a measure was passed that prevents couples who aren't married from adopting or fostering children. The real losers and victims in this scenario are not just the people who are openly being discriminated against, but the ones they would take in and love: the children whose chances of getting adopted or helped or loved have now been drastically diminished. Statistically, gay couples have the highest rates of taking in children with physical and emotional disabilites, so it's a double blow to those who need love the most. Is the Mormon Church going to adopt and foster these kids? Are the people who voted for it going to? If not, then they should butt the f**k out.

I'm a straight, married parent who wants nothing more for her child than for her to inherit a world that is better off than the one I inherited. This isn't happening on so many fronts--the deficit, global warming, starvation and genocide and rape and torture and exile and hate crimes and wars have consumed our country, our reserves, our economy. There are so many things we can't change, but there are some that we can. Our right to vote is still one of the most important tools we have--that and the ways in which we choose to spend our money. The people of California let everyone down in terms of not getting out the vote, but now that we're here, we have to turn our attention to what can be done next.

Complacency is the real enemy. Yes, we can imagine a better future and believe in our leader(s) once again. But we must also believe in ourselves and our own abilities to make a difference in the lives of others and in creating a better collective story for our nation. Remember what Martin Luther King said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

The path to change is through action, not inaction. It's through daring to hope and then working to change.

Sign a petition to overturn prop 8. Donate what you can. Do what you can. Do more than you can. Go to overturnprop8.com or noonprop8.com to find out what you can do to help.

If my daughter turns to me in 15 years and tells me she's a lesbian, I don't want to have to get out a map and direct her to a state where she can be free to love whoever she loves. I want to give her the map of the United States and say, "Pick a state. Any state. This is America. You will be respected."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Editors and Publishers

As many of you know, I had a horrible experience this summer with Cider Press Review. And as you also may know by now, Kevin Larimer, the deputy editor of Poets and Writers, wrote an article about this debacle for the November/December issue.

I've debated responding to this article for a number of reasons. For one, I'm just plain tired of the whole thing. It took up most of my summer and cast a pall over my household--and over the incredibly happy prospect of my book coming out. And given the nature of this article, and the ways in which I've been painted as a poet who just "complains" about things, I felt that offering my critique would just be playing into that portrait and prolonging this whole thing. But to remain silent is to play into his "moral of the story," which is that poets should either allow editors to do whatever they want or "self-publish." So I'll make my comment anyway.

When he approached me about writing this article, I embraced it. I don't have anything to hide. I've disclosed what happened between me and the press, and since I knew that they couldn't deny what they did, I expected that they would badmouth me and blame me and try to justify their actions, which is exactly what they did.

I knew that as a reporter Mr. Larimer would have, at his disposal, the transcript of what happened between the press and me. I knew that he would inevitably make choices about what to include and how to shape the story. And while I'm glad that the story got out to a larger audience, the ways in which he shaped it, and the way he focused it, truly surprised me.

I didn't expect him to frame this as "who has the final editorial say--author or editor?" because in our case, as in most cases for poets, it was a non-issue. According to the contract they created and we all signed, they did. Period. So they weren't obligated to do a damn thing I asked. But when it came down to it, they chose to break that contract instead of honoring it, and apparently, that's okay, as long as your "feelings are hurt" by said layout disagreement.

I was also surprised by the way in which he chose to (not) present the legal aspects of this situation--and the fact that he never touched on any of the ethical ones.

He casually mentioned that if I paid them back the money they gave me (as well as money they didn't give me), I would "get my rights back," but he never mentioned the fact that they didn't actually own my rights. Once a contract has been broken, neither party is entitled to the fruits of that contract--a little legal detail that got overlooked. And the way the discussion was framed, I just hired a lawyer to avoid having to repay prize money (and their cover art expenses). In reality, the fact that they were withholding my rights meant I had to spend almost all of that prize money just to get my own book back.

But all of this got glossed over on the way to the "real meat" of this story--the gossipy he said/she said about a back cover disagreement. The thrust of this was editorially sensationalized, with various quotes parsed so that they were taken out of context, leaving out the elements (and the facts) that made them fair and reasonable requests and leaving only the most contentious, foot-stamping stuff.

For example, Mr. Larimer chose not to include the fact that the full contest guidelines already appeared in a full-page ad for the book contest on the last page of the book. That fact made the repeated ad on the back cover redundant and unnecessary, which was the point I made to the editors at the time. Oddly, that fact never made it into the story.

If I were going to be cynical about it, I could point out his position as "Deputy Editor" at the magazine. I could focus my critique on the issue of editorialization as a whole, and on the fact that this article is a metaphor for its inevitable conclusion: poets should just be quiet and be grateful for whatever they get and however it turns out for them because in the end, the editors are the ones who get to shape and control both the text at hand as well as the ways in which this information gets presented to the larger world.

Don't get me wrong. A good editor is a blessing. The wonderful editors at my new press gave me pages of notes, comments, and suggestions within days of acquiring my manuscript, and I was incredibly grateful for their input. In the olden days of poetry, editors and poets worked closely together to create a better text. But creating those relationships now is a hard thing to do, and you're damned lucky if you find yourself matched up with people who can not only understand what you're doing but can also help you to do it more effectively.

But what about a bad editor? Or an ineffectual one? Or one who believes that because she runs a contest out of her basement, she knows more about the poet's work than the poet does (even though she never actually read my book until she was putting into layout form)? And who believes she gets to change that poet's work without her consent?

And what about the journalist who knowingly includes, in a "researched" article, a quotation that was never actually said? As noted, Mr. Larimer had the entire transcript of the four-day dispute over the back cover, and as he noted in his article, no other conversations took place.

So he knew for a fact that I NEVER wrote that going back to the blurb authors would be "horribly unprofessional." And while he covered himself by noting that Robert Wynne "claimed" that I said it, this claim was undocumented because I never did. And yet, for some reason, he included it anyway. And I wanted to know why.

I emailed Mr. Larimer the day after I read this article and asked him the following:

"If you knew there was no documentation for this quote, why did you include it? Especially when you had, at your disposal, all of the things that I did say?"

His response? "We invite you to write a letter to the editor."

I have to admit that I'm surprised because I want(ed) to believe that Poets and Writers took its job as being an advocate for writers at least halfway seriously. To me, that means don't include anything, in either direction, that isn't true. To this end, I did not mention anything in my correspondence with Mr. Larimer that I could not provide evidence for. And I tried my best to represent the tenor and tone of communications honestly without augmenting or omitting important details.

But the editorial decision in this article that really left a bad taste in my mouth was the way Mr. Larimer "outed" last year's contest winner. Not only did he broadcast her name and the title of her book, which were supposed to be kept under wraps as part of the settlement between her and Cider Press, but he also betrayed her as a "source."

When he asked for her comment on the situation, she wrote him an email explaining that she couldn't comment on it because of the gag order and the settlement they had reached. And instead of honoring that, he QUOTED from her email.

Let me do a Joe Biden here and say that again. He quoted from an email in which she said she couldn't comment on the situation. He created a comment from her "no comment."

All of these "choices" seem to shape this article in a very specific direction. Even though it was about the dynamics between authors and editors, no authors were interviewed for the piece. He didn't ask any poets or fiction writers for their take on having their work edited without their consent (which was, to me, the biggest issue--not the author photo BS). Instead, he asked a fellow editor for his opinion, and his take on it was not at all surprising.

What disappoints me most about this article is that it does little to further the conversations that should be happening--about the relationships between writers and publishers, about the ethics and the contest system as a whole, about alternatives to the current publishing paradigms. Instead, it just reifies the belief that the publishers are the kings of the kingdom, and poets are just peasants who should happily lap and snap up any crumbs that might get tossed our way--a dynamic that is faulty and dangerous to poetry.

While this article could and should have focused on preventing this kind of thing from happening to another poet, the main subtext is that the only way to prevent this scenario is for poets to just shut up and "be grateful" for whatever they get--and for however their book turns out. Even if the books are full of typos. Even if the editors change your language without your consent.

So I stand by everything that I wrote in that original blog post, and then some. My aim in all of this was to let poets know the facts about Cider Press Review. They believe it is acceptable to enter into contracts with poets and break them without legal cause. They'll do it and then try to get money out of those poets in exchange for "rights" they don't actually own. And after they do it, they'll badmouth the poet they dropped and blame her and lie about what she did and didn't say. And apparently, they'll get away with it.

If you want to enter into a contract with people like that, have at it. Just remember that thanks to my $750 lawyer, they now have a "new contract," and one of the clauses mandates that the communication between the poet and the editors belongs to the press and can't be shared, which amounts to a pre-emptive gag order. So if they do to you what they did to me, you won't be able to talk about it.

Me? I'm brushing the dirt off my shoulder and moving on. Again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Weight of the World

Send some good thoughts to Obama and his grandmother.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Super Obama

I know you've probably seen this picture by now, but I have to post it again, along with his quotations from the Al Smith dinner in New York:

“I do love the Waldorf-Astoria. I hear from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room.”


"I obviously never knew your grandfather, but from what Senator McCain has told me, they had a great time before Prohibition."


"The housing crisis has been 8 times harder on John McCain."


"Fox news accused me of fathering two African-American children in wedlock."

and, finally,

“Contrary to rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the Planet Earth."

Yes, he was. And yes, he can.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Only Palin We Want is Tina Fey

Hi, everyone.

There's a petition going around that asks Lorne Michaels NOT to give Sarah Palin any more network exposure by allowing her to appear on SNL on October 25th--just one week before the election.

The information and link are below. There is an optional donation link afterwards, but you don't have to donate in order to sign the petition. Please read it and pass it on.

From the petition:

Since joining John McCain on the Republican ticket, Governor Sarah Palin has injected the presidential campaign with a venomous tone unbecoming of the office she seeks.

In her most recent rallies, she has fueled racial hatred, riling up her angry base by questioning Barack Obama's background and suggesting he "pals around with terrorists."

Now Palin is angling to appear on Saturday Night Live alongside her alter ego Tina Fey. And rumors are circulating that she has been invited to appear on the October 25th episode of the highly rated comedy. That's just one week before the election.

We have all witnessed this year how Saturday Night Live's political sketches can affect the political conversation and sway public opinion. In particular, any candidate who has appeared on the show has experienced a post SNL bump in popularity.

Providing Sarah Palin with this televised forum to charm the American audience just one week before the election would not only be a misguided decision, it would be downright irresponsible.

So I hope you will take a moment to sign this petition urging Lorne Michaels and the other writers and producers of Saturday Night Live not to give Sarah Palin this additional network exposure. And I hope you will pass this petition along to anyone you know who might be interested in signing it.

Let's remind the producers of Saturday Night Live that the only Sarah Palin we wish to see on their show is the one played by Tina Fey.

HERE'S THE LINK: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/nopalinsnl?e

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Goodly News

C. Dale Young has some exciting news. Drop by and help him celebrate!

Friday, October 10, 2008


I don't have a link for this yet, as I can't find it online yet, but it appears that McCain was forced to defend Obama at one of his rallies today. In response to a woman who said she didn't trust Obama because he was "an Arab," McCain shook his head and corrected her, calling Obama a decent family man. Later, he said that "a President Obama" shouldn't be feared.

It's about time that he stepped up in an effort to try to curtail some of the hate-filled rhetoric that has been rising at their rallies, spurred on by his pitbull during her rallies, but the fact remains that the damage has been done. The fire has been stoked. The legions are marching, and in a show of how far out of control this has already spun, McCain was booed by his own supporters for defending Obama as a decent human being.

McCain came face to face today with the ugliness of his own creation, his Frankenstein monster, and I have to admit that I almost feel a little sorry for him. He's an obviously conflicted man--torn between trying to be someone he's not on both fronts. I think he wants to be the ethical man he purports himself to be. I know he wants to be the President. But I also think his heart isn't 100% in the ruthless, cutthroat tactics that he's been engaging in these past few desperate days. One of his biggest mistakes was in hiring an acolyte of Karl Rove to run his campaign. We watched what these very same tactics did to him in 2000, and now, he's a shell of the man he used to be--ethically and otherwise.

But the proof will be in his actions in the next couple of days--and in whether or not he puts his attack dog back on her leash. She needs to step up and disavow the violence and the epithets and the hatred, too. And if she doesn't, he needs to denounce her, too. Especially now that she's been found guilty of abusing her power (surprise, surprise).

What a day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Flow Chart of the VP Debate

In case you haven't seen it yet (and with a shout out to Kerry and Alex).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sufferin' Sarah

Don't tell my department chair, but I let my creative writing workshop out early last night so we could watch the Vice Presidential debate. Or, should I say, so I could watch it. I printed out my Palin Bingo card--and had BINGO about 8 minutes in.

One of the obvious things I noticed was the fact that even though Palin danced around questions and changed the topics to whatever talking points she wanted to hit, Gwen Ifill, the moderator, didn't follow up very much, or ask that she stay on point. She and Biden both allowed the moose-skinning mama to direct the flow of that debate, which is disappointing. As moderator, it was Ifill's responsibility to actually moderate--to keep the candidates on track, to steer them back to the requested topic when they veered away, and to ask follow-up questions whenver she tried to sing and dance her way out of something. Or play the flute out of something. It just made me miss Tim Russert all the more.

Biden, for his part, was well behaved and well trained. His coaches had obviously hammered the importance of not attacking her ad hominem, and even though he looked, as Rich Villar said, like he wanted to "piledrive her through the floor," he refrained, and his behavior, though careful and measured, was beyond rebuke. He answered his questions without being overly loquacious, and he hammered certain necessary points home again and again, which I was glad to see. I think his closing statement could have reiterated that Bush=McCain and that this call of "change" coming from more of the same is preposterous, but it was good enough.

And that seems to have been the mantra for Palin's camp. "Good enough." The playbook for Palin? "Just don't show the world that famous gaping lack of intelligence you've shown the media whenever you're off book. Stand at that podium by the creek in Sedona and memorize, memorize, memorize. Ignore Joe Biden and Gwen Ifill and the actual questions and say what WE want you to say. Bring it back to whatever talking points you remember. Try to get that 'There you go again' quote in there--people love remembering Reagan. Look directly at the camera and pretend like it's just you and the American people because without Joe Biden and Gwen Ifill, it is! Make it folksy. Throw out as many references to your 'pedigree' as possible, and mix it up with some 'youbetchas' and 'goshdarnits.' Wink as often as possible without going overboard. And above all, DON'T SAY ANYTHING YOU THINK UP ALL BY YOURSELF!"

After her part of it was over, nothing of substance had been said, no real questions had been answered, no policy differences had been cited, and only Joe Biden seemed to notice.

And when the pundits came on afterwards, they seemed to believe that since her performance in the past few weeks had set the bar so low, the fact that she didn't self-combust or implode or say one of her characteristically vapid statements meant that somehow she had succeeded. Since when does the ability to memorize and regurgitate talking points--when it's the ONLY THING YOU HAVE TO DO FOR FIVE WEEKS--equal intelligence? And the moment when she furthered Dick Cheney's agenda of having the VP have even more power sent chills down my spine. Literally. As if Cheney as the Emperor wasn't dark enough, in this sequel, Sarah Palin's Jar Jar Binks would be wrapped up in those robes, with no Jedis in sight to save us.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sometimes Nothing is a Really Cool Hand

One of my favorite actors, Paul Newman, passed away today. One of the many things I loved about this man was the fact that he played these fundamentally flawed characters and rendered them as so human, and so fully lovable and worthy of being loved, that it filled me with hope. He was, quite simply, beautiful.

Of all of his movies, and all of the scenes that have stayed with me over the years, here is the one I remember the most often--the song I find myself singing whenever grief rises in my throat.

Rest in peace, Paul Newman.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Schoolhouse Rocks--or Knowledge is Power

Like most people, I've spent the past couple of weeks scraping my jaw off the floor as the Republican Spin Machine has gerrymandered about, scooping up tough-as-nails moose hunters and then sequestering them from scrutiny and questioning until they've adequately "crammed" for the final exam. Most of the people who already bought the load are thrilled with this "country first" choice. Some are uneasy because they realize that 40 days is a long time to try to duck and dodge an increasingly furious media who realizes it was played by the whole "don't be sexist to our candidate by actually asking her questions" move. And a whopping 18% is, according to recent polls, still undecided. I ask you: in these times, with the economy and war and abortion and all the other galvanizing issues, how can anyone still be on the fence? Or is "undecided" just code for "I'm not comfortable admitting that I won't vote for a Black man"?

Anyway, there are plenty of excellent blogs addressing daily happenings (I'm a particular fan of the "other" CNN--The Collin News Network--and Seth Abramson's blog, but I thought I'd post these figures about the education (or lack thereof) of these particular candidates. I don't know about you, but I want a President and VP who have had at least as much educational experience as I have--if not a lot more.


Occidental College: Two years studying Politics and Public Policy
Columbia University: B.A.Political Science, specialization in International Relations
Harvard University: Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude, Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Law Review


University of Delaware: B.A. in History & B.A. in Political Science
Syracuse University College of Law : Juris Doctor (J.D.)


U.S. Naval Academy: Graduate--Class rank 894 of 899


Hawaii Pacific Univ: 1 semester, Business Administration
North Idaho College: 2 semesters, general study
University of Idaho 2 semesters, Journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College: 1 semester
University of Idaho: 3 semesters, B.A. Journalism

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Poetry Couch

I've been remiss in my new blogger duties recently. This has happened for a few reasons, not the least of which has been juggling the many hats I wear as the fall semester began. I teach a creative writing workshop at the university here, I teach up to six courses online at a time, and I've got a preschooler who's only in preschool five hours a week. Blessings all, to be sure. And recently, I've been doing the really fun stuff that has to do with the book.

One of my (many) complaints about the last experience was that I didn't get a single piece of significant editorial advice. Now, I like a good ego stroke as much as the next poet, but I know that my work needs work, and I enjoy doing it. So I'm always looking for a reader to point things out to me, to make me re-envision as part of my revision. (Maybe that's why I married a poet.)

So when I sat down with the editorial notes from my new editors at C&R Press, I was beyond excited. The notes came in two different styles, one from each of the editors. One was a list of comments, questions, and points that went for a few pages, and the other was a long conversation on the phone where we talked through a lot of points and options. Both were really interesting, enlightening, and helpful. And both made me think.

Some of the questions raised had to do with the syntax that I use in my poetry. I should give a little backstory here and say that my book is about growing up in the South and is peppered with vernacular and idioms. There are several voices in the book, and some of them have their own poems. And as I tried to recreate their voices both in terms of sound and content, I found myself straying from what I know to be true, accepted, and maybe even required about the English language. In short, in my efforts to use the syntax to create the effect I wanted and needed, it was necessarily not correct.

Now, I'm not talking about "ain't" and long, drawn out syllables. I'm talking about transliteration and the like. So while it may work on the page to do its job in terms of its sound and music, it leaves some grammatical issues to be addressed. For example, when I write lines that use compound modifiers, do I hyphenate them, which is the correct thing to do in terms of the grammar rules?

This may not seem like a big issue, and in truth, it's not. But the process it made me go through is what interests me the most. I had to look back through my book and comb it for its discrepancies. For the choices I made consciously, knowing better. (I'm a grammarian in all other parts of my life--just not my poetry.) I had to look at those choices and determine why I made them, whether or not they were the right thing to do, what consequences they may have had, or not had. In short, I went to therapy. For my poetry. I went to poetry therapy. And it showed me a lot.

I looked (again) at the people I was writing about. I considered their language and their demeanors. Was it a fallacy to correctly punctuate for a person who never went past the fourth grade in school? Or was it a fallacy not to? If I was trying to write the stories as I heard them, did that mean that I needed to privilege sound over sight?

I decided at the end of it all to not punctuate the words correctly. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. There was a heightened self-consciousness implicit in hyphenating these words that felt at odds with the language itself--and the people who speak and spoke it. And what, in terms of my poetry therapy, did that reveal?

The South is, at best, a beautiful difficulty for me. There are wonderful people there, and natural beauty, and kindnesses that are unparalleled. But there is also a pervasive ugliness that can transcend even the best of these beauties. It's difficult. It's complicated. It's full of contradiction and counter point. And ultimately, I had to leave it. To better understand it. To make sense of it. To make peace with it.

And in the end, I've come to realize that I abhor and love and hope that it will change but meanwhile have to accept it as it is. That I can't force it to fit into any neat category or properness of rules, in terms of grammar or otherwise. I can only speak of it, and my experience with it, on its own terms and let the spoken to take from it what they will. Those are the choices I made in leaving the place. In returning to it. And in trying to decipher and represent it.

So forgive me, readers and editors, for the broken sytnax and disobeyed rules. Forgive me for knowing better and doing it anyway.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Really Bad Disney Movie

The Mighty Ducks 3: The Mighty Conservatives.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

More Good News of the Poetic Kind

Steve Schroeder has some good news to share. Hop on over and check it out.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Most Excellent News of the Better Half Kind

I've been waiting to post this, hoping that they'd get the announcement up on their website, but they're taking too long.

My badass husband, poet Adrian Matejka, was one of the winners of the National Poetry Series this year. His second collection, Mixology, will be published by Penguin (!) in June, 2009.

Huzzah, my love!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

One Last Thought...

...that I can't quite shake. I don't want this whole situation to adversely affect the poet who was named as the new winner of that contest. It's not her fault that this happened, and she didn't know what she was getting herself into, as this story wasn't public. She's a poet who just wants what we all want--to get her poems out there and let them speak for themselves. So do me a favor--read her book, if it strikes you. And after you do, pass it on.

And with that, I am Officially Done with this whole thing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina

When that whole fiasco happened last month, I had a couple of choices--wallow around in my own misery (which I did for a few days, don't get me wrong), wait until the next round of contests, or research the kind of press I really would want to be a part of. I decided to do the latter, and I was guided to one press in particular.

We've been talking and working on things for the past few weeks. And I knew that I would not take my story public until I had this situation worked out, for various reasons: I would never want the press to be viewed as capitalizing on what has happened on the Internet in response to the story, and I don't want my own intentions in getting this story out there to be misconstrued.

I didn't tell my story to try to get a new home for this book. And it wasn't offered as a wholesale indictment of small presses, or contests, or their judges. I know there are tons of small presses with a great love for poetry and a matching sense of integrity. They provide an invaluable service to the literary community, and contests are a major way for them to raise the necessary revenue to create their books. But I do encourage all poets out there to explore all of their options in trying to find a place for their work--and to research the contests and presses thoroughly as well. (Maybe the way to do it is to choose presses you want to support anyway, and look at your entry fee as a donation to them--with a possible thrilling byproduct for one in __________ entries.)

And finally, I didn't tell my story to be the ruination of anyone or anything. Many, many poets are still going to submit to CPR, as they should. No one has to take my word on anything here (though I can prove every single claim). I just believed that if you're the kind of person who believes that breaking a legally binding contract--and your word--is an acceptable thing to do, then the poets who sign those contracts with you should know that about you--before they sign those contracts.

I don't want to be Known for this situation. I want what I've always wanted--to get my poems out there and let them speak for themselves. And now, finally, I feel like I can turn the corner, and turn the page. I can get on with the real business at hand, and this blog can be what it was always supposed to be instead of how it had to start.

So, that said...

For obvious reasons, I couldn't say anything until it was official and everything was signed (which happened just this morning), but now I can announce that I have some very good news.

C&R Press is run by Ryan G. Van Cleave and Chad Prevost. They are a nonprofit organization with a great love for literature and the highest integrity. And I am thrilled and deeply relieved to have found my home with them.

Now let's just hope they can handle how abusive I am.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Big Heart You

Hi, everyone.

I just wanted to thank you all again for your supportive and insightful comments on these posts. I'm glad that this situation has prompted futher discussions about the ethics of contests and the viability of alternatives--starting your own press, publishing collectives, publishing on demand, micro presses, etc. It's a rich and necessary dialogue, and while it's a conversation that has been happening on different channels for a while, the fact that it is happening so passionately here and now indicates to me that more and more poets need to examine the alternatives and to question their own belief systems about what constitutes "real poetry" and how we as poets get validated. (If I knew how to link to these discussions, I would, but Reb Livingston, Collin Kelley, and Barbara Jane Reyes are having very interesting conversations on their blogs, to name just a few that I've found.)

That said, I also wanted to thank the poets who actually contacted the press itself to ask for their side of the story. It's only fair that we each have our turn, and an audience for that turn, which is why I posted Robert Wynne's rebuttal on my blog. At this point, I realize that it is what it is. They have their version, and I guess they feel justified in breaking a contract over what they acknowledge was just a layout disagreement. And they seem to think there's nothing wrong in breaking that contract and then maintaining that they still own the rights to that work. Or in trying to get the author to pay them off to get those rights back. They're going to say I was "unreasonable and abusive," just like they told me last year's winner was "crazy." They're not going to apologize or try to remedy the situation. And I don't need for them to.

Given what I now know about that press, I'm relieved that my manuscript is out from under them and that it won't be associated with them when it gets released. And whatever you, as new readers of this blog, choose to do with the information that I've given you, and the story I have told, is entirely up to you. Small press, large press, contests or open submission periods, avenues that are conventional or innovative--I wish you luck in finding a space for your poems and in finding the respect that you and your work deserve.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Maelstrom, Part Two

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you for the overwhelming support and kindness I have received from you in the past 24 hours. The comments, the responses, the blog posts, the links--all of them have, quite simply, stunned me. And made me grateful to be part of such an amazing community. Thank you.

I was planning on waiting until tomorrow to write another post, expressing this gratitude, but tonight I received the official response and rebuttal from Cider Press by way of a friend, and I thought it best to address their points and claims and to set this "one-sided blog" straight.

So, for the record, I am posting the rebuttal by Robert Wynne, the formerly silent partner in the Cider Press Review:

Robert Wynne says:

We gave Stacey every single thing she asked for except a photo on the back cover (and we had originally offered that, but she refused to allow us to consider editing the blurbs so it would fit). We spent countless hours and more than $200 of extra money (including purchasing a special font and securing specific cover art) to make the book look exactly the way she wanted. There were certainly misunderstandings along the way, but each one was dealt with as it arose and the only thing we were aware that she was dissatisfied with was the placement of her photograph. In the end, she refused to allow us to publish the book unless we put her picture on the back - when we, instead, wanted to put it inside the back of the book where we deemed it would look better, particularly given the lengthy blurbs on the back.

During the process, Stacey became demanding about every aspect of the book's design, until she became unreasonable and even abusive. At that time we decided to revoke the book award. Since then, she has undertaken a campaign to 'get us back' in whatever way she thinks she can. First she went to a lawyer to assure that she would not have to return the prize money to retain the rights to her book, and we conceded that in an effort to put an end to this unfortunate situation. But she was still apparently unsatisfied, and so she agitated a writer at Poets & Writers (to whom we are providing detailed accounts of precisely what occurred, which may be used in a comprehensive story regarding the matter), and wrote her one-sided blog entry.

Based on her blog entry, she seems to have confused proofreading with editing, since we don't commonly "edit" prize-winning manuscripts but always work with the author to proofread the text for formatting issues only an author could recognize. And she certainly has preconceived notions as to the role of author vs. press, which we can certainly do nothing at this point to rectify. We continue to do what we do because we care about poetry, and want to put out a quality product based on our years of experience as a small press. We have had many good experiences with authors, and very few bad ones. We look forward to more good experiences, and more wonderful poetry, in the future.

I hope that will do the trick.

Robert Wynne
Cider Press Review


That doesn't really "do the trick" for me.

They didn't once address what happened with the previous winner, or the pattern of unethical behavior that has been established in their dealings with their prize winners and has resulted in two consecutive years of legal action against them--and no books by the writers who were chosen by the judges.

They didn't address the whole website debacle and the fact that until I refused to pay Caron Andregg (yes, that's her name) to design my website, everything was fine. My edits and corrections of the editor's mistakes were helpful and great--until this happened. And then I was "becoming demanding."

I also noticed that they didn't address the fact that they insisted upon putting the five-sentence ad and guidelines for the book prize on the back cover *instead of* the author photo. In the Cider Press Review world, it's either chop up the eloquent blurbs of talented writers or ditch the author photo. Getting rid of the ad and guidelines is not an option. Which is why it isn't mentioned.

When each email begins with "With all due respect" and goes on to logically argue for the right to have my picture on the book that I wrote instead of being replaced by a redundant ad and contest guidelines, I'm being "unreasonable and abusive."

And when I ask for a compromise and say that I'm (and I quote) "not comfortable with a book that disrespects its author so blatantly," I am all of a sudden "refusing to allow them to publish the book."

Here's the skinny on that one: I wish I had that kind of power. I wish I could refuse to allow them to do anything. But the truth is, they didn't need my permission for anything. According to the contract we all signed, they had the final editorial say so on every aspect of the book. I couldn't stop them if I wanted to. But rather than respecting that agreement and either moving ahead with the book or working toward compromise, they chose the third option: breaking the contract and revoking the book award.

Mr. Wynne maintains that I'm "out to get them." I guess I understand why he sees his press as the victim here. After all, because I had the audacity to go to a lawyer to protect my rights, they didn't get their prize money back. And because I responded when the writer from Poets and Writers contacted me, I'm "agitating" him.


Yes, Mr. Wynne. I am dissatisfied. Immensely dissatisfied. And if you're going to issue a rebuttal, you could at least address the major accusations levelled against you.

As my lawyer made clear to both of you, you had no legal or ethical reason to do what you did. You see, breaking a legally binding contract is not an ethical option for conflict resolution--especially when one party has more than fulfilled her end of things. And you had no legal leg to stand on in trying to withhold my rights from me, or demanding a ransom repayment of prize money that I rightfully won. Obviously, your lawyer made this clear to you, or else I'm sure you wouldn't have signed the waiver, and this would have become a protracted legal endeavor--just like it did last year.

And no, Mr. Wynne. I am not confused about the differences between proofreading and editing. "Proofreading" is what *I* did to my own book. And "editing" is what the two of you didn't adequately do at any stage of this process. The problem is that I've saved all of our correspondence, so when you try to paint me as being unruly and difficult to work with, I have sheafs of emails that disprove those claims. I'd re-think that strategy if I were you.

But maybe you're right, Mr. Wynne. I guess in the CPR world, I *should* have been satisfied. I should have paid the $1200 ransom to get my rights to my own book back when, in fact, you never really owned them if you didn't actually fulfill your end of the contract. Or I should have paid my $750 bill for legal fees and just shut up about the whole thing.

I should have just rolled over and taken it. But instead, I chose to speak the truth in a way that last year's winner could not--because you and Caron made sure that she couldn't. Of the four contests you've collected money for, only half of the books selected by the judges have come out. And the poets who give you their money should know this--and know why.

But let me clarify one thing, and this is for the record--and for the woman who was named as the (new) winner of the 2007 Cider Press Review Book Award: I am proud of you, and your work, for getting to this point, and I know this is a dream come true for you. I wish nothing for the best for you, and I hope that this dream stays just that--and doesn't turn into what it became for me. And for the winner of last year's prize.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

I had every intention of starting a blog once my poetry collection was taken. That was always the plan. I've been reading and occasionally commenting on other poets' blogs for a long while now, and once I even won the infamous caption contest on C. Dale Young's site. But for some reason, I marked actually getting my book taken as the launching point for something like this.

Like many other poets, I submitted my manuscript to many, many contests. At first, it didn't get much traction, but I kept on revising it and kept on sending it out, and at some point, it started to become a finalist. Which was sweet--the first few times. But it turned into something a little different once it started hitting the double digits. At last count, it reached the number 19.

19 times I was a finalist. Sometimes even first runner up. One time, I actually won the contest, but once my name was put with my ms., it was realized that I had gone to high school with the judge, and even though it was a blind read, and even though he had never read any of my poems, I was disqualified. Apologetically.

So you could say that I didn't have very good luck with this sort of thing.

This past February, I told my husband, who is also a poet, that if my manuscript hit the number 20, if it was a finalist one more time without winning anything, I was going to put it in a drawer and write porn under an assumed name. Later that day, I got the email that I had won! Tony Hoagland had chosen my manuscript, and it was going to be published, with a target release date of January '09.

You can imagine my joy. The muffled-because-my-toddler-is-asleep whoooping silent celebration. The not-so-muffled bottles of champagne later that night. The plans and motions and commotions of the past few months of editing, revising, finding cover art, getting the author photo taken, setting up readings and a website and then...

And then...

And then...

July 22nd, I was notified that my book award was "revoked" and that the press was no longer going to publish it. Even though we had a contract. Even though it was almost all the way done and ready to go to press.


First, let me tell you that this press has a history of unethical dealings with its authors. The only reason why I didn't know this is because last year's winner had to agree to a gag order as part of the settlement with the press. At their insistence, she is not allowed to tell her story, or warn other poets about what happened. So I submitted to a press that I NEVER would have submitted to if I had known.

Which is why I'm writing this post.

Anyway, back to my story. Everything was hunky dory with this press, though I was a little surprised and disappointed that I didn't get one single editorial suggestion from the editor and, in fact, that I had to do the majority of both my own editing as well as the editing for the book as a whole. At last count, I had found and corrected 32 errors--only 3 of which were mine. The other errors were ones made by the editor--jagged margins, dropped italics, misspelled words. But I didn't mind doing the editing. After all, this was my book, and I wanted it to be right.

Early on, the editor had asked me if I would hire (pay) her to design my personal website. At first, I thought sure, why not? It would streamline the whole process. But in June, as we discussed it and she showed me some mockups, I realized that she wasn't going to be able to do what I needed for her to do, so I told her I was going to go in a different direction and get someone else to do it. From that moment on, EVERYTHING changed. And got really, really contentious.

I guess that since this woman designs websites for a living, my choice offended her on some very deep level. And all of a sudden, everything became a power struggle.

My collection is a book-length poem in sections, and as such, there are no titles. The Table of Contents is just an Index of First Lines. And this was fine--until the website debacle happened. Then she decided that it was her right as an editor to assign titles to my poems. What?!?

She actually told me, in one of our exchanges over this, that I needed to stick with the contents of the book and let her and the other editor do their jobs, which included deciding what went in the Table of Contents. Hello? It's the table OF CONTENTS--as in, the contents that *I* wrote. Needless to say, we disagreed. Big time.

That standoff got resolved in my favor, and things were ready to go to press. Then she sent me a mockup of the cover. When I read the blurbs, I just about fell out. She had taken the eloquent and thoughtful words that serious authors like Naomi Shihab Nye, Major Jackson, and Rodney Jones had written and had mangled them--brutally. I mean, chopped up sentences, moving them around so that the subject and predicate no longer talked about the same things. Just butchered them. Without the permission of these authors.

Although I shouldn't have to remind an editor of this, I had to remind her that these were not her authors and that she did not have the right to change what they said so fundamentally without their consent or approval. In fact, since one of the blurb-ers had specifically said she did NOT want her work edited, this presented a real problem.

And the final power struggle began.

She came back and said, "Okay, we'll reinstate the full blurbs, but in exchange, we're taking your author photo off the book."


At this point, you might be thinking that it was a spatial issue, that the blurbs were so long that there wasn't any room for an author photo. No. That wasn't the case at all. In fact, there was enough room left over for the press to put on a five-sentence advertisement for themselves and for the book award for next year, including guidelines. On the back cover of a book!

Let me say at this point that the very last page of the book was already a FULL-PAGE ad for the book award, with a full list of the guidelines. So this five-sentence ad on the back cover was redundant at best and unprofessional to say the least. How many books of poetry do you own? Do *any* of them have ads and guidelines for the book contests on the back cover instead of an author photo?

I argued with them about it, always beginning each and every email with, "With all due respect," but to no avail. I made logical points--blurbs and an author photo are expected on the back cover of a book, but contest guidelines are not. An author photo provides an emotional point of connection and entry between author and audience. None of it worked. This wasn't about what was right, or about respecting the person who wrote the book. It was about power and bruised egos and control.

And when I asked for a compromise, when I said please, can you reduce the five-sentence ad to one or two sentences, or wrap the text around my author photo, I got a certified letter in the mail saying that my book award had been revoked because I wasn't fulfilling my "contractual obligations."

{Update: Because the contract was rendered void ab initio, its contents are not private, and I can clarify this: there were only three things that I as the author had to do according to the contract before the book came out: provide the text itself, my author photo, and my bio. I obviously did those things.}

But it gets even better.

The letter went on to say that even though they had "revoked" the book award and were not publishing the book, the publishing contract was still valid and in effect and that they owned the rights to my book in all its formats. In order for me to get my rights back, I had to repay them the $1000 prize money I had been given as well as give them the $200 they had spent acquiring the cover art for a book THEY were choosing not to publish.

In short, they were breaching the contract, refusing to publish my book, and holding the rights to my own work hostage.

Needless to say, I wasn't going to pay them one thin dime.

I hired a lawyer and told him straight up that I would pay him that $1200 but that I refused to give them any of it. He drafted a letter of demand detailing the ways in which they had broken the contract and giving them one week to sign a waiver relinquishing all claims to my work. If they didn't sign, we were going to move ahead with litigation against them. They signed--immediately. But it cost me almost all of the money that I had won just to keep the rights to my own book--a book, might I add, that was no closer to getting published now than it was a year ago, when I submitted to this contest.

And in the meantime, the day after they sent me this letter of revocation, they gave the award to the runner-up and erased all signs of me, and my book, off their website. Just like they did to last year's winner.

So there it is. A sordid tale, indeed. But unlike last year's winner, I wasn't forced to sign a gag order. And I'm telling my story far and wide, to anyone who'll listen, because the poetry world is small, and it's hard enough to get your work seen and taken seriously. Because it's supposed to work out if you're lucky enough to get that phone call and win that prize. Because poetry presses should be in this because they love poetry and want to produce quality books--not because they have issues and poetic insecurities of their own and need to feel validated and in control. I'm telling this story because once you sign a contract and give up your finalist position in other contests, you shouldn't have to start over at square one--all because an unethical press broke the law and its word.

And I'm telling you this because their new book award contest opens for submissions September 1st, and I want every poet out there who is considering sending their manuscripts to reconsider. Your work deserves to be seen and placed in a press with ethics and integrity. I know it's tempting to just blanket the market and hope for the best, but if you hit with this press, it could happen to you, too, as both of the last two contest winners had to enter into legal action against this press--and neither has a book to show for it.

The name of the press? Cider Press Review. Pass it on.