Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gratitude

Among the many, many things that I've been this year--mother, wife, newly published poet, assistant professor--blogger has not been high on my list. It's not that I don't have good intentions. I read and enjoy other people's blogs immensely, and I'm grateful for those poets who still keep them and haven't fully succumbed to the twitterversion of sharing information. But in a year full of changing and rearranging, time has become even more of a commodity, and I didn't manage to eke out very much of it for blogging. A new year's resolution to do better? Perhaps. But mainly I'm just promising to remember to be grateful and be present for my life.

This year brought with it so many things, some highly anticipated and others I wouldn't have seen coming. My first book came out. And people actually read it and discussed it and bought it--so much so that it sold out its first print run in the first nine months or so. It went into its second printing late this fall, and I was given the opportunity to make a couple of small corrections and changes when it went back to press, for which I am also grateful.

In support of the book, I got to travel--a lot. Oregon three times in a year. Seattle. Miami. Atlanta. I got to meet wonderful writers and festival-goers and organizers and booksellers, a whole continuum of people who value the written word and work to ensure its longevity and importance. Along the way, we had some harrowing times (a hotel fire in Oregon, for example), but those moments also served to heighten my gratitude and remind me again and again to be mindful and stay in the moment, wherever and whenever I am.

And the book led to a full-time, tenure-track job at SIUE, which led to start-up funds and more and more interested, talented students to work with and tons of new books for my office and a new netbook and a $10k grant to support me in writing the next book, which materialized and presented itself to me once I let myself sit down and listen to what was trying to be heard. Gratitude.

I got to spend good time with good friends and family and somehow we all managed to make it through the harder stuff. Gratitude.

In my personal life, gratitude.
In my professional life, gratitude.

And my wish for all of you for this and every year? Gratitude and much to be grateful for, known and unknown, seen and unseen.

Happy new year, everyone. May you live and love well in 2010.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Breaking a Line

I'm up today on Linebreak, reading a gorgeous poem by Keith Montesano. Clicky!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Memory

On the eight anniversary of 9/11, I wanted to share this excerpt from an essay called "Leap" by Brian Doyle. The link to read the full essay is here.

A couple leaped from the South Tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped. So many people saw this as a scar burned onto our brains. But a man reached for a woman's hand and she reached for his hand, and they jumped out the window holding hands. I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers, but I keep coming back to his hand in her hand, nestled in each other with such extraordinary, ordinary, naked love. It is the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and tragedy. It is what makes me believe that we are not fools to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fire, to believe that who we are persists past what we were, to believe against evil evidenced hourly that love is why we are here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Along Came Venus

It's back-to-school time, and I'm crunched: prepping classes, creating last-minute syllabi for classes I haven't taught before, trying to find the office decoration balance between what's appropriate for students to see and what I want to spend my time looking at. Which means the Radiohead poster is in, but the holographic album cover from Their Satanic Majesties Request? Not so much.

And in the midst of all of this, when I don't have a single moment to spare, along comes a review copy of Collin Kelley's Conquering Venus. I pick it up. I read the blurbs. And suddenly, I find myself taking "just a minute" I don't really have to read just the Prologue. Okay, just the first chapter or two. Or five. (I think you see where this is going.)

Flash forward a few days. I still haven't finished my syllabus for tomorrow's class, but I somehow found the time to go to Borders and buy an Itty Bitty Book Light so that I can keep reading Conquering Venus late at night without waking anyone up. Addictive? Yeah. Pretty much. Poetic? Yes. Compelling? Absolutely. But I'm not going to give out any plot details or spoilers. One of my pet peeves is knowing too much about a book or movie going in and having preconceived notions or expectations either way. What I will do is tell you the five things that will happen when you read this book:

1) You will remember the differences between poetry and fiction and be grateful for an author who can write both--and who blurs the genres in such a satisfying way.

2) You will want to travel. Again. Or still. Or all of a sudden.

3) About 1/4 of the way in, you will start imagining which actors would play which characters in the movie version of the book. Thinking about the movie version, and imagining these actors smooching, will get you more than a little hot.

4) You will buy an Itty Bitty Book Light if you don't already have one so that you can keep reading. Or, if you have the time to devote to it all at once, you will devote that time. Happily.

5) You will be grateful for the fact that this is part of a trilogy, but at the same time, you'll find yourself a little foot-stampy and impatient to know what happens next. And that's a really good thing.

It's just too bad I can't assign it on my syllabus.

Monday, June 29, 2009

For My Next Trick

I finally started working on The Next Thing. It's taken me a long time to come around to it, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the production of a book, from start to finish, is quite a daunting thing--the seedling ideas, the writing of poems that may or may not work, the visions and revisions, the contest gamut (or the equivalent: open reading periods, queries, publishing on demand, whatever you may choose), the rejections, the acceptance, the changes and edits, the final proofs, the waiting, worrying, and fretting about the final product, the final product itself. I went through it at almost exactly the same time that my husband was going through it, with our books coming out 4 months apart. (The experience was very different for each of us, but that's a different post.) And when I was in the midst of all of that, the last thing on my mind was writing what came next.

But apparently, that's something I was supposed to be thinking about. When my book first won a prize, I got a call from my dear friend Rodney Jones, who said, "That's wonderful. Now you're free to move on to the next thing."

The next thing? What next thing?! I was just getting started with this thing! For me, getting the book taken and slated for publication meant that the serious work on that book was just beginning. Getting it ready. Making the changes that needed to be made to make it right. Marketing. Drumming up readings. Finding ways to get the word out about the book (which, I realize, is an ongoing process). And all of that work left me little time to think about what came next, much less actually engage in it.

But apparently, it's something you're supposed to be thinking about.

After my husband's first book came out, he was tapped by the Poetry Society of America as one of the upcoming poets to watch. We flew to New York for the reading and celebration. He and the other twelve poets took the stage one at a time, with each one reading from--and talking a little about--their Next Things. It seemed a rite of passage almost to create something tangible to hold on to and work on and toward--regardless of whether or not that specific project ever came to fruition.

But I was stymied. I was languishing in the space between books and between projects. Instead of picking up a pen, I put on my philosophical hat and started thinking about how we navigate our second book. For some authors, it seems like the second book is a logical extension of the first, both in terms of content and stylistic approach. But for others, the second book marks a radical departure from the aesthetics of the first. Hmmm, I thought. Why is that? And where will my second book position itself? Will it be an extension or a departure? Hmmm.

One thing I've learned about myself is that if I spend too much time thinking around something, it always means there's something there, smack dab in the middle, that I'm not letting myself think about.

And once I looked at it, really looked at it, I realized that I knew what my next project would be all along. It was there, gestating, accumulating, gathering momentum and words and images. It was just that the subject is really close, and difficult, and more than a little painful, and so I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to dive into it. I wrote a couple of children's books. I negotiated some nonfiction work. But always, the poems were there, just beneath the surface.

That's how poetry works, isn't it? Even when we're not working on it, it's working on us--feeding itself, fueling its own fire, readying for the moment when we come to it, open our arms, and embrace it, welcomed back.

And so my arms are open. My pen is finally uncapped. The poems are falling into place in my mind and in my ears and on my page. I'm letting the games begin, again. And I couldn't be happier. I've got a project!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Loss

Bird-Understander
by Craig Arnold


Of many reasons I love you here is one

the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright

so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal all the people
ignoring it because they do not know
what do with it except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death

it makes you terribly terribly sad

You wish you could take the bird outside
and set it free or (failing that)
call a bird-understander
to come help the bird

All you can do is notice the bird
and feel for the bird and write
to tell me how language feels
impossibly useless

but you are wrong

You are a bird-understander
better than I could ever be
who make so many noises
and call them song

These are your own words
your way of noticing
and saying plainly
of not turning away
from hurt

you have offered them
to me I am only
giving them back

if only I could show you
how very useless
they are not

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blinking in the Spotlight

Many, many thanks to the wonderful and talented Rigoberto González for choosing Cradle Song for the Small Press Spotlight on the National Book Critics Circle blog. His questions were incredibly thoughtful and thought provoking, and I am honored and grateful to be included in this series.

In other news, my website is almost up and running. Amber Smith of Lostlogo Design has worked with me to create a site that captures the feel of the South and the sentiment of the things I write about. I'll post the link when it's all done.

Later this week, I'll be reading with three other poets (Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Gabriel Fried, and Adrian Matejka) as part of the St. Louis celebration of the publication of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great. It's part of the Observable Reading Series, sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center, and it's at the Schlafly Bottleworks at 8 pm on Thursday May 7th. If you're in the area, come on by!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gobsmacked

I woke up on this gray and leftover-wintry day, only to find that the kind folks at Poetry Daily had posted not one but three of the poems from Cradle Song!

I was gobsmacked. Not only because it was Poetry Daily, which thrills me like a schoolgirl whose crush smiled back at her, but also because of the individual poems they chose. The first one I'm down with and might have seen coming, but the other two are sections that never really see the light of day with me. It's not that I don't like them. They do their job in the poem of building pillars and holding up ideas and furthering the overall missive of the collection, but they aren't counted among my pretties, or favorites, and so I don't ever really think about them much.

Until today. Now, I'm thinking about them a lot. And I'm thinking about subjectivity and why it is that we like what we like. I've taught literature for a number of years now, and always, some student asks me, "Who decides which poems/poets/stories/writers are 'good enough' to be canonized, anthologized, reproduced, and referenced?" This leads to a larger discussion of the included and the excluded, how we know what we know, and why we as individuals are drawn to certain texts more than others.

A text is important to me when it does one of two things: it either 1) tells me something I didn't already know, schools me, as it were or 2) articulates something I know or recognize to be true but hadn't ever articulated or wrapped my head around, and it does so in a profound or resonant way that makes me say, "Exactly! I totally know what you're talking about!"

I don't know what kinds of reactions my poems created in the editors at Poetry Daily, or in anyone who might have read the book. But the machinations behind such things intrigue me. They keep me guessing--and keep me writing. And I'm thrilled to be up there on that website today, thrilled that these previously closeted sections are getting their moment in the sun. I'm happy to be forced to reconsider them. And who knows? Maybe I'll even air them out in the next reading that I give.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Westward, Ho

I'm going to be taking a little trip soon, a little poetry trip. I say it's a poetry trip only because I plan to claim it on my next year's taxes. It's actually a trip back to Oregon, back to the green and verdant landscape that I miss so much. Back to the people I love and the little ones who have, no doubt, grown as much as mine has. Back to Market of Choice and Bambini and The Laughing Planet and the very best little Mexican cafe in the world--Fond Rosa in Portland.

But there will be poetry. I'll be reading at The Press Club in Portland on Monday the 16th at 7 pm. Apparently, it's the bee's knees. It has crepes and booze and magazines and, at least this one night, me, reading poems. The next day, St. Paddy's, I'll be reading at the Eugene Library at 7 pm as part of the Windfall Reading Series with Miriam Gershow. If you're in the area, come by and see me. Meet the little one. Buy me a crepe. And I'll sing you song, and I'll try not to sing out of key.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Live Nude Girl in the Devil's Territory Sings a Cradle Song

I didn't post an AWP recap because it was a really disjointed experience for me. I guess I'm old school now because I'm still clinging to those AWPs of yore, when there was only one bookfair, and I actually could count on running into the folks I wait all year to see. This year, I didn't make it to a single panel, not even the ones on Saturday that I really, really wanted to see. But I did have a wonderful book release party at The Woman Made Gallery (an excellent space in Chicago for women artists), featuring my fellow C&R Press ladies Michelle Bitting and Allison Funk.





The company--and the cupcakes--rocked. And I got to meet my excellent editors, including the fabulous Chad Prevost



and sold some books and met some folks, so overall, it was a success. If you didn't get a copy of the book, please email me, and I'll send it to you--autographed and eveything.

Meanwhile, I'm gearing up for more readings (see sidebar for a full list). I'll be heading out to Oregon to read in the middle of March, and I'll be down in Carbondale at the end of it. But before I hit the road for my little tour, THE road tour is coming to me, and I'm thrilled to be part of it:



If you're in the area, roll on by. It promises to be an amazing night.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Up, Up, and Away

It's crazy to me that it's that time of year again. Even though we didn't make it there last year, it always feels like it's impossibly soon for AWP to be happening. (Maybe that's because it's an impossibly cold time of year to have it in an impossible cold, wintry, and windy city.)

Regardless, today is the last day of running around maniacally ahead of flying out. Luggage? Check. Extra copies of the book to give away, sell, and trade? Husband? Check. Preschooler? Check. Mother flying in to meet us there to take care of said preschooler? Check.

I'll be giving a reading on Friday night and a book-signing on Saturday morning. If you're free from the maddening crush on Friday from, say, 6 to 8 pm, shoot me an email, and I'll fill you in. And if you're still there on Saturday, please stop by the C&R Press table (Table 663, Lower Level, Southwest Hall) sometime between 10 and 11 am to say hello and chit chat. I promise to hide you from the person you hooked up with the night before when he or she comes looking for you.

***

In non-AWP-related news, I'm the featured poet over at Anti-.

***

Here's hoping our paths cross in Chicago. Safe travels, everyone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Cottage Industry

I'm leaving in a few hours to head to Atlanta for my first reading from the book as a book. It feels very fitting that this debut is happening in Atlanta, my hometown and the locus of most of the narrative in these poems. If you're nearby, swing over to Wordsmiths Books in Decatur on Saturday at 2 and check out the Poetry Atlanta reading I'll be doing with Karen Head and Chad Prevost, hosted by the fabulous Collin Kelley.

Also, I've gotten a lot of requests about how to order signed copies of the book (thank you, kind people). The easiest thing to do is to send me a check, and I'll send you the signed book. Shoot me an email, and we'll work out the details: stacebro@gmail.com. And it's also now available on Amazon as well as the C&R Press website.

See you in Atlanta!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blossom on the Tree, You Know How I Feel



My box of books arrived this weekend, and while I've been waiting and waiting for this moment for what seemed like a lifetime, I didn't dive right into them. Instead, I went to Disney on Ice with my daughter. I had lunch. I did some work. I waited until the champagne was chilled and night had fallen. And then we opened them.



And they were beautiful.



Thanks, C&R Press!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Cradle Song



It's here! At long last, Cradle Song is available for order.

For all of you who sent your empathy, your sympathy, and your support during that whole fiasco this summer, thank you. It was well worth it to find the book's true home at C&R Press, and I couldn't be more pleased.

(And if you want a signed copy, back channel me.)