Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A publication surprise

On the last day of 2018, a prompt came through in my writing community at the Poetry Barn, and I grabbed the chance to play the game of "exquisite corpse" with Judith Roney. We met as co-students during my first course at the Poetry Barn in 2015 (The Lyric Essay, with Molly Sutton-Kiefer). Later, Judith taught a course in contemporary love poems (February 2017), and I was her student. We even met briefly in person at the 2018 AWP* conference in Tampa. Such are online writing friendships!

I'd observed exquisite corpse games from the sidelines (and Judith is a prolific participant), but I'd never followed the bait before. Something about:

Last Day of 2018 
Unsettled and feeling strangely weepy, I may tattoo Per Aspera ad Astra to the inner wrist for “through hardship to the stars,”

called out to me, and I gave this reply:

a gift of tender wrist to inky needle. My starry tears

Click over to the published poem to see where we went from there (ours is the third of three poems Judith published with Burning House Press, selected by February 2019 guest editor Adrianna Robertson). The collaboration continues for a total of 11 turns, giving the instigator the final word.

I enjoyed the sense of finality when submitting my contributions to the poem. In the game, there's no chance to edit once you press send. Your turn is finished, and your partner has the next move. I felt myself planning differently, weighing options more fully, seeking less obvious moves to make. Doubling back to make references to words Judith used added texture to the poem, and I could feel her doing the same with my words. We both enjoyed leaving things hanging to see what the other would do next. After several turns, Judith suggested a slight reformatting of the opening, which set us on a trajectory of three-line stanzas. As we progressed, we maintained the tercet stanza. Sometimes we wrote a full stanza; sometimes we left the stanza open for the other to carry forward. (Tip for others playing the game: we maintained a ghost copy in the comments section to determine our desired formatting. For anyone who's not a member of the Poetry Barn community but wants to give this a try, all you have to do is take a poetry class, and you're in the community going forward.)

Fascinating process. I'm grateful to Judith for the experience and also for the publication. I hadn't thought of the work as more than an exercise (we finished about a week ago), and she took the chance of sending it in with some of her other poems. The acceptance of her collection was nearly instantaneous. In fact, she was only able to tell me about t it after it went live. Judith is right; Adrianna Robertson is right: it's a good poem.

Note to self: send more poems to editors.

*Associated Writers and Writing Programs (annual conference of 10,000+ writers, academics, publishing professionals)

Friday, August 24, 2018

A poem published today

I'm pleased to share news that my friends at the Poetry Barn noticed a poem I'd recently revised and asked me if I'd like to submit it for publication in their community zine, the Poetry Distillery. Of course!

I've taken online poetry classes there for nearly three years now, exploring form, meter, elegy, image, revision, women poets, the ode. This particular poem, Dear Hope, Although, emerged in response to a comunnity-wide prompt: write a letter to hope. The circumstance described in the poem had just occurred, and so did the poem.

When I had another look at my original stanzas, I found the poem "explainy". I cut away extraneous bits and reduced the stanza from quatrain to tercet. Now I have a poem where my practice with compression, image, line breaks, rhythm, and sound comes to bear.

I haven't posted much since my attention has turned to poetry. One reason is that I've taken the conversation "underground" into my coursework. Another is that many publishers refuse poems that have appeared on the internet in any prior form. To avoid that conundrum, I'm keeping my unpublished work off my blog.

That said, someone might be interested in this poem's evolution. Here's the original draft I wrote and shared "in the moment" late in 2015. The revised poem sheds 61 of these words while keeping the poem's spark. Comparison of the two is a good measure of how much I've been reading and writing to find my way into poetry.

Again, the published version is Dear Hope, Although.

For fun, here's the original (not terrible) draft:

[Dear Hope, although]

Dear Hope, although
you and I have become
estranged, I write with
something of an inkling.

Picture this: in early light
I wake up with my left hand
on my right breast, scratching.
As consciousness returns,

the burn of insect travels
from nerve to brain.
On my nipple?
Fear of vulnerable tissue

hardening into a welt
stills my hand. Instead
my nails discover a trail
of bites--mosquito? in December?

After supping on my arm,
it must have walked, pausingly,
across my upper back, rounding
my collarbone to crawl under.

On thread legs, the invader
stumbles tipsy across my nipple's
cobbled surface, leaving
a tiny chemical pebble

I can feel but cannot see.
I scratch the other sites
bloody but find forbearance
to leave my breast alone.

And that is why, Hope,
as December ends
I return to you. If I can
not scratch that bite

of deepest invasion,
what else might I hope
to accomplish in a
brand new year?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tatendrang - Flash post

I awoke on a Saturday morning to glance at the clock - seven-thirty. I awoke again from the half-sleep of morning and sat myself up around twenty past nine. I'd had "that" dream again, one I hadn't had in a long time. I dream of walking through my (dream-imagined) living space and entering into a room - or an entire wing - I've forgotten exists. As if a part of me is that deeply packed away. My consciousness opens in astonishment, the way it gasps in relief whenever I exit the hills or the woods and look out over unbroken space as wide as I can see. I grabbed my notebook to capture what I could of the dream.

In the notebook, I saw the fruits of drafting a poem near bedtime. Instead of turning on a light to note down a few lines that "showed up" while I lay in bed, I chose instead to write in the dark. Have you ever done that? Experience tells me to write large and to move down the page distinctly to avoid writing atop the previous line. This morning I could see I had mistaken the page. Instead of jotting onto empty paper, I'd written on top of an already written page. Lucky break: the first set of notes was in black ink and the nighttime scribbles are in blue. Note to self: make notes in the dark on my phone?

There's a German term for being ready to get busy: Tatendrang. Literally, deed-drive or action-urge; the energy to move things forward and accomplish something.  (It's the same "Drang" as in "Sturm und Drang.") We say "voller Tatendrang" for that feeling of being all reared up and ready to go. I've got a manuscript to proofread, a trip to prepare, and that poem to write.

I decided to let my energy loose on a blog post first, noting how long it's been since I've done that and wondering if I'm ready to stop, officially. Wouldn't it be interesting to collect the last lines of bloggers who quit? I feared mine (from August 2016) might have been a lame promise like "I'll be back soon." Instead, I ended a recap of how I spent the twelfth anniversary of Simon's death in California with my daughter on this phrase: "We had a nice evening out together."

I could have ended with that.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Trip 2016, #2 - Conferenceland

On Thursday, August 4, after stocking up on snacks at a Whole Foods (there's nothing like it for product depth and temptation near us in Germany) and buying a GPS to use in the USA, we headed out of Las Vegas on I-15. If you head northeast on I-15, you reach Salt Lake City. I used to orient myself there: Vegas or Boise. When you head southwest, you reach L.A.

We drove along the Mojave National Preserve. It's all pretty rocky and dry. Markus and Miriam slept. Somehow I had the right jet lag window to stay at the wheel for 3+ hours. Destination: Anaheim Marriott, adjacent to the Convention Center, opposite the Hilton.

Here's what it looks like when you take your American daughter out for diner breakfast after way too long in Germany:

At IHOP. Yes, that's a side of pancakes.

On Friday we began our primary missions for the Anaheim portion of our trip: Markus went to the Academy of Management conference; Miriam took Mary shopping. Technically, since I drive and carry the credit card, I take her shopping. But Miriam had already selected a nearby outlet mall for the day.

Saturday, August 6, was a peculiar time to be hanging out in southern California. It was the 12th anniversary of our son Simon's death. Almost every year, this date falls within the Academy of Management annual meeting. Sometimes we join Markus for the trip (although he's super busy with conference activities), and sometimes Miriam and I have been on our own. I've written about the anniversary on this blog before:

This year was the strangest variation yet. For the last couple of years I've offered a fall writing seminar for PhD students at GGS. Based on that, Markus invited me to submit a session with him as a Professional Development Workshop for the Academy of Management: Writing in English for German Native Speakers. We were passed over in 2015, but this year the session was accepted. We had a lively group of 34 participants. So, I spent Simon's anniversary doing something new this year, and here's what that looked like:

Academy of Management
Professional Development Workshop:
Writing in English for German Native Speakers

In the evening, Miriam and I pointed ourselves toward Newport Beach. We arrived to find parking gridlock and nudged forward in the car as the sun nudged downward. We finally got parked and went down to the water. I did one of my favorite Simon rituals: I scratched his name in the sand with my hand, near the tide line, inviting the water to wash my marks away.

Newport Beach at sunset, Aug. 6, 2016.
The "M" in SIMON is in the "dry" sand near the running boy.

Even without a guidebook, Miriam and I found The Crab Cooker, seriously grilled seafood served on paper plates with plastic forks. We had a nice evening out together.

The moon over Newport Beach,
just after sunset. SoCal.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Summer Trip 2016, #1 - Westward we go!

Six years into our time in Germany, we three travel as ex-pats when we go back to the USA, especially to places we've never called home. Often enough, our August travels follow Markus to the annual Academy of Management meeting. This year's meeting took place in Anaheim, California, where conference center and hotels accommodate 10,000 business academics in Disneyland's backyard. Anaheim is part of the eastward sprawl of Los Angeles. This AoM destination was a repeat for us: we watched the Beijing Olympics from an Anaheim hotel eight years ago (traveling from Salt Lake City) and arrived this year in time to see glimpses of the games in Río. Miriam was eight last time; now she's sixteen, going on seventeen.

Like several of Markus' colleagues from GGS, we found a decent price on a flight from Frankfurt to Las Vegas. We tend to choose non-stop itineraries that may involve a bit more ground transportation instead of connecting flights. For example, we fly non-stop from Frankfurt to Detroit and use a rental car to reach my parents near Cleveland (where nothing flies direct). Ditto for Stuttgart, which is closer than Frankfurt but has lost its useful direct flights to the USA. Stuttgart remains handy when we travel within Europe, though.

As licensed German drivers, we fall into an ex-pat category when renting a car. We need full insurance on the rental, since our own insurance covers the vehicle, not the driver. Miraculously, prices tend to be lower for foreign travelers than what we find on US rental agency websites. We had a standard SUV to get us around on our 16-day trip, waiting for us at the Vegas airport.

On the way to Frankfurt to catch our flight, this happened in our 2010 Prius:

Odometer hitting 100,000.
Hybridsystemanzeige=hybrid system display

I was driving, so I asked Markus to grab a photo. Miriam shrugged. But I was trained from a young age to defeat boredom on long drives by watching the odometer. Of course this fanfare number was preceded by a solid palindromic: 99999. You have to be alert to spot trickier ones, like 98389. The 1.75-hour Flein to Frankfurt route (longer in traffic) is one I've grown accustomed to driving for my monthly-ish meeting with the Frankfurt Writers Group. I am hugely grateful for quality podcasts from people who are masters at using words: current driving favorites are Poetry Off the Shelf, Dear Sugar Radio, and, of course, This American Life.

But back to our trip. On August 3rd, we parked our car comfortably at a friend's, took a short cab ride to the airport, and flew at a civilized time mid-afternoon (no crazy 4:00 am wake-up) on Condor to Las Vegas. All went well in flight. Here's a tip for flying Condor. The only way to get gluten-free meals for me on the plane was to pay a 15 Euro upcharge for Premium food. Guess what? The food was pleasant and inspired Markus to consider ordering Premium for himself next time.

I've decided to take this trip report as a series with short-ish posts. To be honest, the Great Poetry Disruption remains in force. My reading and writing life is a poetry life these days. I've begun to wonder if can still write prose...

Here's where we landed. Stay tuned to see where we went!

Next post in series: Summer Trip 2016, #2 - Conferenceland

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Walking in Munich with my teenage daughter

On the Friday of the four-day Christihimmelfahrt weekend, we enjoyed a sunny shopping day in downtown Munich. Christ's Ascension is a bank holiday in southern Germany, falling 39 days after Easter, always on a Thursday. The school calendar takes Friday off as a Brückentag--bridge day--to connect the holiday with the weekend. Since German shops are closed on holidays, this arrangement makes a nice combination of non-commercial time off and a couple of days with full-on commerce.

This year, all the May vacations are two weeks earlier than last year. Good thing May 1st (Tag der Arbeit, or Labor Day) fell on a Sunday this year, or we would have had even fewer days of school. As it is, the month of May reduces to one 3-day school week, one full school week, and two weeks off for Pfingstferien, or Pentecost. (The last two days in May join a holiday-free month of June. If you're counting, that's a mere ten school days this month.) In the USA, we're accustomed to getting "make-up" bank holidays when national holidays fall on a weekend day. Not the case in Germany. The days fall when they fall. Years that result in fewer paid days off are called Arbeitgeberfreundlich (employer-friendly, with the word for employer being "work giver"). Years in which the holidays fall on weekdays are called Arbeitnehmerfreundlich (employee-friendly, with a word that takes an interesting perspective: "work taker" for employee).

While walking on the cobblestone plaza with my daughter in Munich, I enjoyed one of the interesting conversations the two of us have these days (she's sixteen).

Mom: I love my flat red shoes, but they don't give me any support.

Daughter: Life is like that.

Mom: You mean, the people and things you love the most don't give you any support?

Daughter: No, I mean life is flat, and it doesn't give you any support.

Happy Mother's Day!