Thanks to Allison Blevins for hosting a Moon City Press reading tonight as part of her Downtown Poetry series in Joplin! My Moon City colleagues Michael Czyzniejewski,Sara Burge, Joel Coltharp, Jennifer Murvin, and I will be reading from the new Moon City Review, from Moon City Press Poetry Prize winning books, and from our own work. If you’re in Joplin, in southwest Missouri/ southeast Kansas (Hey! I’m from Kansas!), or think you’d like to be, come on down!
More than one student in my Intro to Poetry class asked me if I wanted to see the finished version of their revision exercise. I had them do a literal cut and tape exercise for a “Last Hope” poem, one that they had given up on. There was not enough time to finish in class, but for me, it was about the process rather than the product. Doing it means they now know how to do it and can draw on that experience in the future when needed. They were very surprised that I didn’t want the product and claimed that they were doing it for themselves, not me. A new idea, but I hope, one that turns their focus away from points counting.
As for myself, I’m holding my nose above water today and able to blog, mainly because Blackboard is down and my planned grading session is not going as planned. Post AWP and post CCCC, other things didn’t go as planned either–some good, some not-so-good. On the good side< I’m now vice-chair for the Intellectual Property Standing Group. I care deeply about IP issues, so this is an honor, one which means I’ll be chair the next year. On the other side, even though six of my students are still going strong (Yea!), I ended up dropping out of the PAD challenge after poem 8. I can always return to it though, and I am ahead of the game since it and the 30/30 in February gave me the impetus for a new cluster of poems. I need to remember that on days when I start counting up points for myself and feel lacking. The long view is what counts here, which is what the photo is about. It was taken the day I passed the one hundred pounds lost mark. That took over a year, but it happened, a pound at a time, one or two a week until there it was–one hundred pounds gone.
I’m in the two-day gap between AWP and the CCCC today, so after some laundry and picking up the cat, I’m trying to sort through the AWP swag. I tried to get bookmarks, postcards, or other reminders from as many new -to-me journals as I could.The goal was to target my poetry well. I want to send to journals that look like a good fit, and AWP’s Bookfair is the best possible way to see literally hundreds of journals and presses in one enormous exhibit hall. Who doesn’t want to do that?
Luckily, I was there representing Moon City Press, so I got to see the process from both sides, editor and writer. From the editor side, it was wonderful seeing so many writers (especially poets) dedicated to their craft . Several sent their manuscripts to the Moon City Poetry Prize while still at AWP, and I look forward to reading them. The contest’s deadline is May 1, but the reading begins now due to the number of submissions. It was also great having the offsite reading for Moon City Press authors Keri French, Kim Magowan, Travis Mossotti and Michelle Ross. Dinner afterwards at The Hall was so much fun, andI can’t remember ever being with better or more interesting people. Of course, that is what AWP is like.
I haven’t been to AWP for several years, so being at the Bookfair was a real treat for me. As a poet, the chance to see so many of the presses I know and people I know was so much fun.There are no better or more generous people in the world than writers. My colleagues Mike Czyzniejewski and Joel Coltharp flew out with me, knowing that my knees make me a dicey traveler. This trip was for easier for me than past trispthough. Losing 95 pounds makes walking easier whether you have arthritis damage or not. However, I did have to pace myself. I still made it to every row, visiting many, many tables and booths. The photo shows the pile of contacts that I’m sifting through today, hoping that new publications will be the result.
And now, on to the CCCC, which I also love, but in a different way.I will be doing a roundtable with colleagues Margaret Weaver, Jennifer Murvin, and grad students Brandon Henry and Dane Lale on crossover pedagogy between creative wiring and composition..
It is day 11 of the February 30/30 Project, and I have eleven poems up at the Tupelo site. I’m feeling pretty successful, a feeling that will fade after dinner tonight when I must face the fact that I have to write a poem again and send it off before the end of the day since doing it by 8:00 AM tomorrow won’t really happen any other way. The surprising thing this time with the 30/30 is how often I’ve been faced with a draft that goes where I don’t, like today’s poem with one word I, the non-swearer in real life, would never ever use. This is a strong reminder to me that the speaker of the poem is not the poet and has much more freedom. I tell students that, but in my own writing, think about it more with persona poems. Today’s poem paraphrased something reprehensible said by a public figure (one guess who) and struggled with the speaker’s need for syntactical and emotional accuracy against my need to never swear. The poem won, as it should.
I’m returning to the habitual practice of noting phrases and lines when they happen rather than trusting that they will return when I sit down to draft at the end of the day. They don’t. They really don’t. I tried using Siri in the car to take a note for a great poem title, but I didn’t phrase the command well and it didn’t work. I will get stuck like that again though and have hopes that Siri will learn what is needed. This is when fragments of poems happen–when I’m not trying and doing something else. So many pieces get lost, but by paying attention, I hope to keep more of them.
So, my shameless self-promotion moves for 30/30 on Twitter and Facebook that have filled my morning reminded me of how little I have done in the past year, at least on the surface. My main blog and this one are dusty. My Twitterstream was tweetless. Spammers even lost interest and no longer note what a great post and what software are you using? then urge me to visit their Michael Kors or sunglasses site. Nope, this is an empty room now because I stepped back for a year to get healthy. [Note: This is a background post that connects somewhat to my 30/30 month. Know me IRL? Like the poems? Consider donating to Tupelo Press through my donation page. I’m starting to get embarrassed.]
So here I am a year later and 90 pounds lighter, a familiar transformation story in American culture because what really could be worse that being heavy in this society? But that was not the point. No, I just wanted to be able to walk again, maybe never as well as others, but at least enough to be able to go to conferences or maybe shop in the mall like other people and not have to plan and measure steps. What made me do everything that I’ve done this past year was not about weight, but it was about the osteoarthritis diagnosis and how freeing that was to finally know that I did not do this to myself through falls or being too heavy.
So, that sounds like a big choice, but my decision a year ago was really a lot of small choices that were individually doable. One thing I did know–I could not go on as I was. Normal day-to-day actions were painful, every single day. Some days I would get partway through the walk from my parking lot to my campus office, about three blocks, and yearn, absolutely yearn for a wheelchair. This could not go on. So, my first small choice was to go to MRC (Metabolic Research Center) as recommended by my orthopedic surgeon who wanted me at 41 BMI or lower in order to do the surgery on both my knees. I did the metabolism and DNA tests and resolved to stick to the food plan. At first, I had very little hope. I have washed out of Weight Watchers several times, usually because of a plateau that had to be overcome by exercise. This however, actually worked. Here are the small changes I made this year, not all of them weight-loss related.
- Followed the MRC program selected for me (they have several based on metabolic needs).
- Kept a food and supplements journal.
- Used my Apple Watch to track steps in order to know how many steps I had before pain onset. That raised from 200 to 450 calories expended daily.
- Cooked multiple meals on weekends to plan ahead for the harder days.
- Vowed to take at least a year off from conference attendance. No AWP, CCCC, or CW for me in 2017.
- Vowed to save enough to get hearing aids in 2017 (did it too). This was a $4500 investment for both ears.
- Vowed to be positive about my life and act instead of react.
- Gave myself permission to do things for me.
- Made a list of things I wanted to do and vowed to find a way make each of them real
- Updated my wardrobe and makeup as my weight changed. Waiting until “goal weight” to do that is counterproductive. The weight is not the goal. Health is, and that is not something that happens only at a goal weight.
In effect, I hunkered down and approached my quality of life in the same way I approached a writing project: full on and in it to the end. Valuing myself in the same way I valued a scholarly or creative project made a difference. So, now I can go to AWP and the Cs and participate rather than doing one thing and spend the rest of the day with my legs elevated taking painkillers. Advil will certainly still be my friend, but I can get around better. I can also hear better. Conference rooms and exhibit halls have the worst acoustics and the last few times I attended conferences, I could not hear the panels well enough to fully benefit from them. I can hear now and have settings I can use via an iPhone app for challenging situations like meetings or crowded restaurants.
Sure, I’m still going to resort to a wheelchair in airports. Damage is damage and my knees can’t heal. However, I find I can face the idea of air travel again and maybe once I’ve done it, I will return to being the person who loves to travel.
This was a long post, but a necessary one I think. I hope that my year of hunkering down is over, replaced by the Year That’s Something Special.
I will be one of the poets for Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Project for next month, February 2018. Follow along with me here as I write and be sure to read the 30/30 drafts on the Tupelo site. I will use this space to write about process for my students and other interested readers. Also, if you wish to donate to Tupelo Press in my name in honor of my efforts for the 30/30 Project and for a press that publishes some of the best poetry today, go to my Tupelo Press donation page and donate to the press in my name. Thanks!
It has been a long time since I’ve posted here. Sometimes as writers we spend time doing the prepwork, work that is not that evident on the outside, but inside, there are shells upon spinning wheel. At the end of February last year, I took very active steps towards ensuring that I have a longer and healthier life (I’ll post more about this in a later post). Ten months later, I am 90 pounds lighter and surer in step. My BMI is almost down to normal range and well below the dividing line of 41 that may orthopedic surgeon set for getting knee replacements. I am no longer in constant pain from arthritis damage, but that damage remains. Funny thing though, when one is no longer in constant pain, much more becomes possible. I am adding back some of the things that I dropped during this year of recovery. I will be at AWP this year at the Moon City Press table, so be sure to stop and say hi. I will also be presenting at the CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) this March and will link the roundtable’s details once the schedule is online.
One more thing that I am doing is consciously returning to daily or near-daily drafting. I will do the April NaBloPoMo PAD challenge this year and will also see if Tupelo is interested in letting me be one of their 30/30 poets this year.
I can’t have the best title for a poetry book ever because Amorak Huey already has it with his book Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications 2015). He is on my shortlist of poets i envy for poems or phrases I wish I’d written, but didn’t. Here is one of them: From Glass: A Journal of Poetry (November 2016), The Kudzu: Everywhere.
I strongly suspect that my daughter has most if not all of my Denise Duhamel books. She snagged them sometime before she left for college and somehow never returned them. I missed posting yesterday due to bronchitis (still have it–boo), so I’m not on campus to check my poetry shelves. Let’s just say we’re both fans of her pop culture integration and her consideration of gender issues. Humor doesn’t hurt either, and she uses it well. If you are interested in her books, Kinky (1997) is a good book to start with and the video is for her latest book (2017), Scald.
They decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin
over Ken’s bulging neck socket. His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend’s body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper
unsure what they’ll do when they’re within touching distance.
Ken wants to feel Barbie’s toes between his lips,
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls,
up until now, have done neither of them much good.
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body
under the weight of Ken’s face. He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite. And she is imagining
she is somebody else– maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.
The night had begun with Barbie getting angry
at finding Ken’s blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch. He was defensive and ashamed, especially about
not having the breath to inflate her. But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work. With their good memories
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth. When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned.
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark,
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids.
Then, they let themselves go– Soon Barbie was begging Ken
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her
on the kitcen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other’s requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.
I love a good narrative and I love how images work to add more, but I really love a poet who uses it all, as Maxine Kumin does. I have her Collected Works, but she was an active poet to the end of her life in 2015. Here is a poem from Where I Live, New and Selected Poems (2011), where she is being political in one of the “torture poems.”
Carol Houck Smith 1923-2008
Let’s take this one out, my editor said,
my wise old editor, who rarely invoked
her privilege, two years from now
(it takes that long to go from manuscript
to print) no one will even remember
the word. And so I did.
You’re thinking summer, theme parks,
a giant plastic slide turquoise and pink,
water streaming down its sinuous course
and clots of screaming children pouring past
in a state of ecstasy, while you sip gin
and tonic with friends.
Now under the shellac
of euphemism they’re calling it
It follows on the heels of
Only the mockingbird is cleverer
Warbling blithe lies from his tree.