28 December 2010

Poetry for Christmas

1. The Forest of Sure Things, by Megan Snyder-Camp

2. Effacement, by Elizabeth Arnold

3. Poor-Mouth Jubilee, by Michael Chitwood

4. Pink and Hot Pink Habitat, by Natalie Lyalin

5. I Was the Jukebox, by Sandra Beasley

6. Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore, by Erika Meitner

18 November 2010

Somewhere in San Francisco...

... there are three copies each of two of my letterpress broadsides. I submitted them to a really neat project pointed out to me by my printer-poet friend Emma Sovich: Papergirl San Francisco. People from all over the world donated artwork and prints to be rolled up and delivered by bike to strangers on the sidewalks of San Francisco. What an exciting and fun idea! Here's a gallery of all the submitted works and a list of participating artists. I only wish I could've been in San Francisco on October 3. Keep an eye out next fall for their call for submissions, fellow letterpressers!

29 October 2010

Teaching poetry and folktales

An interesting opportunity has come my way recently. Although I've never, ever, ever wanted to be a teacher (seems like one of the hardest jobs in the world to me), I have accepted the invitation to be a guest teacher (of sorts) for the Extended Day program with Millington Elementary School. I was asked to talk about two of my great loves--poetry and folk/fairy tales--for an hour two Monday afternoons in a row. How could I say no? I'm actually pretty excited about it. I had a hard time, at first, trying to develop a lesson plan. But once I decided on the poem I would talk to them about, it all sort of fell into place. "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf" by Roald Dahl is such a fun and surprising retelling of the traditional tale and I'm sure the 8-10 year olds that I'll be working with will not be too shocked and appalled by the pistol in Little Red's knickers. Maybe they will understand how much fun both poetry and folktales can be--that, of course, is my aim. So here's my basic lesson plan:

1. What do you think poetry is? What makes a poem a poem?
  • Terms: line, stanza, rhyme, meter.
  • Description: metaphors, similes.
2. Poetry is just another form of storytelling.
  • Similar to folktales because both were meant to be read aloud.
  • In poetry, the sounds of the words are just as important as the story itself (the music of words).
3. Pass out copies of "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf" by Roald Dahl.
  • Read it aloud to class once.
  • Then, read it aloud again with the class. Go around the room, each student reading 2 lines at a time.
Creative Writing Assignment
Pick a folktale that you know really well (you can pick "Little Red Riding Hood" if you want) and tell it again as a poem. Feel free to change the traditional story as you retell it. The poem does not have to rhyme, but it certainly can if you want.

23 October 2010

Open for business!

I don't know if anyone's noticed a new widget down the right margin of this blog... I finally set up my shop on Etsy! I've been thinking about it for about two years now and I finally did it. I'm going under the name of Thread Lock Press, the press name for my book collaborations with Emily Kalwaitis. But I've also included a couple older broadsides I made in college that I think fit in well. The name also allows for a little creativity elsewhere too. I'm hoping to list some of my sewing projects (preferably those with a printing, writing, or book-type theme) there as well. I'm calling these "collaborations in printing and sewing," a term that lends itself easily to loose definitions. It could mean anything from a handmade book to a hand-sewn typewriter cover (a current project in the making). So check it out! Maybe you'll even find something you'll like enough to buy?

And I'm such a dork, I even made myself business cards:

19 October 2010

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Oh, LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. You made my day when you selected me to win a free copy of a new Edward Gorey book--and one illustrating fairy tales, to boot. Here's what I thought of it:

"Very well done indeed! James Donnelly's witty retellings of these three traditional fairy tales were well able to keep up with Edward Gorey's incomparable illustrations. Both Donnelly's and Gorey's storytelling capture the playful element of the macabre in these classic tales, a grim sort of whimsy, despite the inevitable happy endings. Putting the grim back in Grimm."


15 October 2010

Epigraphs and illuminated chapbooks

I am finally out from under the Chestertown Book Festival and am attempting to focus again on my new illuminated chapbook project with Emily Kalwaitis. I don't believe I've talked about my illuminated chapbook concept here before. It's not really anything extremely new and innovative, just a new way of looking at an art form, I guess. My illuminated chapbook is really just a short collection of illustrated poetry. Sleight would have been one. I am designing Pastoral in full consciousness of this idea. It may seem rather simple and insignificant--a short book of illustrated poetry--but I like to think of it as similar to the ancient art of illuminated manuscripts. I feel that the poetry and paintings have a way of working together when placed side by side, that makes them more than what they can be alone. Words and art together are a powerful combination, I think. Illuminating.

And while reading the new book by Fairy Tale Review founder and editor Kate Bernheimer, Horse, Flower, Bird, I happened upon a sentence of hers that would make a beautiful epitaph for Pastoral, in her story "A Cageling Tale:"

"Lying in bed, watching the pale bird toss itself through the pastel scene, the girl felt in the best way--pastoral, nearly."

I think Kate knows what we're talking about. Emily's working on the art for Pastoral now. I can't wait to see what she sees.

01 October 2010

Words I want to use in a poem

confinement (the 19th-century noun referring to a woman's seclusion during her pregnancy)

24 September 2010

Getting back on track

For the last month and a half, life seems to have taken over and poetry neglected. Sad times. But there have been books--lots and lots and lots of books. Although I have been shamefully absent from my personal blog, I have been frequently updating my professional blog for the Chestertown Book Festival (I don't mean professional in that I actually get paid, but in that it is a part of my job as Secretary to the Festival Committee). The second annual Chestertown Book Festival is almost here and we have been working our bibliophile-butts off to get everything together--but it should be wonderful! So, remember: October 8 & 9, Downtown Chestertown. Be there!

In other news, I have been writing a little (as in one poem completed in the last month) and I am trying to get back in the swing of that submitting-thing. I have sent this one to Moon Milk Review, a great (mostly online) literary magazine with a focus on magic realism in the vein of Italo Calvino. So cool! I should hear back from them within a month's time (so they say) and if they don't want my little poem, I plan to send it along to another great literary magazine I've recently discovered called A cappella Zoo, also dedicated to literature of magic realism and slipstream.

One really interesting thing I have discovered looking around their submissions pages is that both of these magazines use a submissions manager called Submishmash to handle their incoming slush piles. Not only does this service have a fun name, they're free for any publisher of literature and art! A great service to keep in mind should I ever decide I want to start up a literary magazine of my own... although I don't see that happening any time soon.

Also, I now have a second cat! A friendly Siamese-mix stray with blue eyes whom I have named Kevin. Pictures soon.

03 August 2010

A Lady of Letterpress

This week my friend Emma and I were selected for the member spotlight on Ladies of Letterpress! We were interviewed via email about our letterpress origins and what our press does. Sometimes it is fun to be in the spotlight.

22 July 2010

A new project for Thread Lock Press

So lately, I've been rather restless: anxious to be working on something with no ideas for creative outlet. I've also been wondering what will be next for Thread Lock Press. With one book under our belt, we've established our existence (to ourselves, at the very least). But to be a true small press, we need to make more than just one book. Once we've made a second book, we'll have established more of a presence--creating a pattern that shows our style and vision.

That's where I've begun funneling my creative energy the last day or two, and I think I've come up with a new project for Thread Lock Press: an illustrated chapbook of nine poems to be called Pastoral. It will be broken into three sections of three poems, each section ending with a triptych. This book will be a hardcover edition with illustrations that are a bit more integrated than our last book. I hope to have Emily incorporate paintings onto the same pages as the text. It will be another letterpress printing endeavor with the paintings printed digitally.

Here is the title poem (and first in the book):


The sky peppered with blackbirds
like stars of antimatter,
nooks where the night got stuck:

they are signs of a storm coming
like the old-wives' cows
sleeping in fields
with the lights still on.

The rural apocalypse
is a quiet one.

I'm happy to have another single word title--that may be a TLP theme emerging--and I've always liked the word "pastoral." It is first of all a general adjective for describing something as indicative of rural, countryside living. But it also has specific connotations as a noun in reference to poetry: "a poem, play, or the like, dealing with the life of shepherds, commonly in a conventional or artificial manner, or with simple rural life generally; a bucolic." Of course, I would never want to write something considered common, conventional, artificial or bucolic. But I think the poems in this chapbook examine strangenesses of pastoral life, sometimes grotesque, sometimes beautiful, but always with specificity.

23 June 2010

Further Adventures in Bibliophilia

I'd seen these altered book purses many times on Etsy and looked on with envy. I probably would have bought one already except that they are so expensive and I could tell by looking at them that if I tried hard enough, I could make one myself (for a lot less expense). So while working on Saturday, I took a look through the piles of used book donations for the library's semiannual book sale until I found a hardcover book of suitable size and decoration. So many newer hardcover books are absolutely plain beneath their dust jackets--so it wasn't so easy to find one with a little bit of flair (even an embossed title!) on the actual hard cover. Just one of many things that disappoint me in modern-day book manufacturing. But eventually I turned up this older Webster's Unified Dictionary and Encyclopedia and its raised viny patterning on both the cover and the spine and the colorfully embossed title seemed a perfect candidate for an altered book purse (especially since I felt much less guilty gutting a dictionary than I would a novel).

Next, I found some inexpensive fabric to match (for the lining and sides) at our local flea market. All the rest of the materials, I already had at home: Sobo fabric & craft glue, needle, thread, ribbon, and a sharp exacto-knife. Then I set to work. The only thing that dissatisfied me in the end result was my inability to get the straps to match the rest of the purse well enough. I braided 2 parts brown and one part green fabric trim to make them and, functionally, they are just fine, but, aesthetically, the shades of the colors aren't exactly ideal. Oh well, there's always next time.

Also, while gathering materials Saturday, I did a bit of research on this literary fashion accessory to have a better idea of how exactly to go about making it. I found that the idea for the altered book purse seems to have originated with a young woman named Caitlin Phillips of Rebound Designs (who runs her business through her Etsy shop). She was also interviewed this past April on NPR's "All Things Considered."

08 June 2010

Small Town News

Somehow my Sleight book project with my friend Emily was scooped by our local online newspaper: The Chestertown Spy. So exciting! I think the story turned out well, so anyone who actually reads this blog should take a look.

02 June 2010

If at first you don't succeed: submit, submit, submit again

I have not given up on eventual publication in my beloved Fairy Tale Review. I have been positively glowing since the last lovely rejection letter I received from them. Their reading period for the upcoming The Brown Issue is now open and I have just polished up three new poems to send in. So, today I have submitted them--"Dark and Stormy Night" (written while reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door), "Foxwife" (a parody of Anne Sexton's poem "Housewife") and "Into the Woods" (heavily influenced by strong doses of Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales)--and all that is left for me to do is wait.

28 April 2010

Nerds just have more fun

This Sunday, the batch of dandelion wine that Emily and I started 2 weeks ago had finally finished fermenting. So to finish it up, we had to strain all the chunky fermenting bits out (raisins, lemon and orange slices) and then let it settle a bit and then strain it even further to separate as much of the cloudy yeast-silt from the golden liquid as possible. Finally, we bottled and sealed our herbal moonshine--but not without having a celebratory test sip of our golden wine. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I did not hate it. It is very, very sweet and definitely potent--more of a dessert wine, I guess. And just a few sips will do ya'.

P.S. I've decided to name my beloved typewriter
Hildegard, after the sassy Medieval saint of Bingen, Germany who was part composer, part herbalist, part early-feminist, and known to have said: "Woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman." That was one cool lady.

21 April 2010

Snug as a bug in a rug

This weekend's crafty project was to make a cozy cover for my beloved typewriter. You might be surprised to discover that fashionable typewriter covers aren't easy to find for sale and the ones I have found are mostly opaque white plastic. Yuck. Anyway, it's more fun to make things yourself sometimes.

My friend Emma, web-searcher extraordinaire, found an example online of what I was aiming to make. This gave me a bit more confidence, especially seeing as how I didn't have a pattern to use and I had never attempted any three-dimensional sewing project before. So after shopping for fun fabrics--a medium blue denim and a pretty illustrated patterned cotton--I set straight to work: measuring up my typewriter and cutting corresponding sections of fabric. I'm quite happy with the end product. But now I think my typewriter is deserving of a name. Any ideas?

14 April 2010

Weeding by moonshine

It certainly is dandelion season. And I recently stumbled across a fun-looking recipe for dandelion wine that I thought I could actually manage. I love these sorts of experiments! Making fantastic new things from something we already have and have prematurely designated as useless. The inspiration for the dandelion recipe search actually came from a poem fragment I had been developing on my typewriter. It involved a character who had gathered a lot of dandelion blossoms, but then I couldn't figure out what the hell she was going to do with them:

Rabbit (version 2)

She fetches a few shaggy dandelions

then off with their heads--
a collection of sallow plumes,
skeletal stems tossed back to the yard.

Blooms gather in her apron like
buttons, blunt and beggarly.

Common and curious as coins.

So, when Emily came over for tea on Sunday, we collected a quart of dandelions from the yard on Goose Hill--blossoms only, there is no need of bitter greenery and roots in this wine recipe. I've always been an exemplary harvester (just not so good at the growing bit), but that works out well for this project, seeing as dandelions need absolutely no encouragement to make a bright nuisance of themselves.

Once we had washed the ants out of the petals and snipped off any stems still hanging on, we put the dandelion heads into the biggest vat of a cooking pot I own with a gallon of water and waited for it to boil. You may not be surprised to learn that it takes quite a while for a gallon of water to come to a boil. Then, we had to let the flowers steep themselves for half an hour. The end result of this was a dark brown-green liquid. It actually looked a bit like river water and the boiled yellow blooms like anemones. After straining the flowers from our boiled nectar, we had to wait once again, for the concoction to cool. In the meantime, we mixed the rest of the fermentable additives together: 3 lbs. of sugar(!), 1 lb. of seedless raisins, 1 orange (cut up), 1 lemon (cut up), and 1 yeast cake (an antiquated measurement that I found equates to 2-1/4 tsp. of active dry yeast) in 1/2 c. tepid water.

Once all ingredients had been combined, here was the result:

The raisins all sunk to the bottom. But the rest of it looks a bit like some exotic cider. So now for more waiting...

It'll take two full weeks of fermentation (with the mixture being stirred each day) before the wine is ready for bottling and/or tasting. It looks and smells pretty good each time I remove the lid to give it a good stir. I really hope it's not disgusting.

07 April 2010

National Poetry Month

Last April, I was surprised to find myself at a loss as to who my favorite poet was (is?). Over the past year, I believe, I've finally come to a conclusion. Although there are many poets who I adore fiercely (Anne Sexton, J. Allyn Rosser, Louise Erdrich, Sarah Lindsay, Sarah Hannah, Louise Glück, etcetera etcetera), the one I love above all is Elizabeth Bishop. I can't say exactly why. There are so many things about her life and her work and her person that I admire. But as a poet, she is vivid in her description and images, yet always a bit subdued in tone; simple, but a bit complicated beneath the skin; precise and not always beautiful. This last might be her finest poetic attribute, in my opinion, that she focuses on things that aren't necessarily pretty and she doesn't romanticize them until they become so (in the traditional sense of beauty, that is). A celebration of plainness. My two favorite poems of hers are actually very similar to each other: "The Fish" and "At the Fishhouses." For anyone interested in Elizabeth Bishop's life and person, I would ecstatically recommend the new book Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Read it on her lips, as it were.

23 March 2010

Process and Prosody

One of the questions most often asked of writers is: What is your writing process? By this general question, all of the following are really implied:

1. What time of day do you like to write?
2. What days of the week?
3. Where do you like to write?
4. What writing implements do you use?
5. Do you have any strange rituals or habits to stimulate your writing practice?
6. Etc.

Even though I've really been writing poetry since I was a child, I never had a writing process. Even when I was taking writing workshops in college, my process consisted of just hoping something would "come to me" before the deadline. Whenever I sat down on the bed or the couch with the intention of writing, I would rarely succeed unless I already had the seed of something with which to start.

Now, left to my own devices as an adult, I have no more excuses for this sort of laziness. So I've been trying out different practices with the hope of their turning into process. Finally, I think I've hit upon something and I owe it to a typewriter. With my previously stated goal of writing one poem a week even if it's crappy, I began by,
throughout the week, making a list of individual words that I've collected from books or articles I happen to read or movies I happen to watch that have caught my attention as a word I'd like to incorporate in a poem. I've always been a collector of words. They need not be anything exotic; it's really only a matter of letter sounds and connotations of meaning that appeal to me in the moment. My previous blogpost is an example of one such list. Then, in the late evening after I've had my dinner, I sit down at my kitchen table with my list of words and my lovely manual Remington typewriter with the assignment to free-write. I also keep a few books of poetry handy should I require extra help. The past couple weeks I have had Louise Glück's The Wild Iris, Sarah Hannah's Inflorescence, and Ashley McWaters' Whitework to help me generate poetic thought.

The wonderful thing is: this process is working! Even if I'm not satisfied with the results every time, I am still writing something every time. The typewriter is a very stimulating instrument for me. For some reason, I feel less inhibited when writing with it. The empty Word document on my computer screen is just too much blank space. Writing in my notebook feels too permanent a thing--with the pages already bound in the book, I feel more pressure to not make any mistakes. When using the typewriter, I feel like I'm just jotting down ideas on a worksheet or piece of scrap paper (that can be thrown away or burned if too embarrassing or incriminating), so I find myself able to type my first poetic thoughts even if they aren't brilliant. They may develop into something closer to brilliance. With the typewriter, I feel the ability to essay poetically, in that wonderful verb form of the word.

17 March 2010

Words I want to use in a poem


24 February 2010

Rejection never felt so good

When I decided I wanted to pursue a poetry career in my non-working hours, I knew rejection was part of the territory. It's just something one has to accept in order to stay mentally stable (relatively speaking). So I submit a few poems here and there to literary magazines and almost expect to be rejected. It hurts for a few minutes maybe, and then I move on and work on something else.

About a year ago, I submitted a poem to Fairy Tale Review, a wonderful literary magazine edited by Kate Bernheimer of the Uni
versity of Alabama. It is an annual publication completely dedicated to contemporary literature and visual art that celebrates folk and fairy tales. And each issue is designated a color, much like Andrew Lang's color-coded fairy tale collections. I submitted a poem called "Little Red Robin Hood" to be considered for their Red Issue, which of course is dedicated almost entirely to that most provocative figure, Little Red Riding Hood. I personally have a bit of an obsession with folk and fairy tales, even to the point of dedicating myself to a bit of scholarly study on the subject.

So here's the backstory behind my poem:

“Little Red Robin Hood” was influenced conceptually by Vladimir Propp’s theory of the morphology of the Russian folktale and Italo Calvino’s use of this theory in his novella The Castle of Crossed Destinies. With Propp’s idea of the combinatory structure of all folk and fairy tales and Calvino’s demonstration of this interchangeability of folktale plot-elements, I began to notice certain similarities between two very different, well-known folktales (although “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” may be considered more legend than folktale): both protagonists named “Hood,” the predominance of the forest-setting, as well as the mysterious and elusive atmosphere that goes along with it. I always thought Robin was a girly-sort of name, anyway.

Obviously, I'd dedicated quite a bit of time and thought to this piece. Because I'm a dork, of course. But I still didn't expect anything to come of it. So a few months went by and I hadn't received any response from Fairy Tale Review. I just figured that maybe I fell through the cracks and into the slush pile. I had resigned myself to not receiving a response at all. And then, surprise! Yesterday, I had this wonderful message in my inbox:

So, it was a rejection letter. But this is the absolute BEST rejection letter I have ever received! I barely felt rejected at all. Other letters I'd received were the formulaic "Thanks, but we don't feel your work is right for our magazine" or "We regret that we are unable to use your work." This letter felt very personal and warm, like I had actually got someone's attention with my poem and held it for a little while. What's more, the invitation to submit again felt genuine and not just some polite olive-branch sentiment. I think I'm slowly moving up in the world.

30 January 2010

In memory of the cranky and elusive Mr. Salinger

Franny and Zooey is one of my all-time favorite books. The dialogue is always the best bit. And as I was re-reading that novella last night, I came across a particularly memorable passage that, once I had finished, I turned off the bedside lamp and went to sleep:

"'I know this much, is all,' Franny said. 'If you're a poet, you do something beautiful. I mean you're supposed to leave something beautiful after you get off the page and everything. The ones you're talking about don't leave a single, solitary thing beautiful. All that maybe the slightly better ones do is sort of get inside your head and leave something there, but just because they do, just because they know how to leave something, it doesn't have to be a poem, for heaven's sake. It may just be some kind of terribly fascinating, syntaxy droppings--excuse the expression. Like Manlius and Esposito and all those poor men.'"

Well said, J.D.

27 January 2010

Ode to the Obsolete

I recently adopted a typewriter: a 1955 Remington manual typewriter (found and acquired for free thanks to the Kent Freecycle network--see link in right margin). Ever since reading Words In Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell last year, I have had this desire to write with a typewriter. It is really a magical piece of machinery. I imagine it as being halfway between a letterpress and a word processor, but mechanically it is a very different beast altogether.

When I was testing my new old typewriter out, I felt like I was learning to play a new musical instrument. It even looks a little like a piano under the hood. Although the keyboard resembles those belonging to our modern computers, if you try to type as fast as you are used to with a computer keyboard, the letter-legs are likely to become tangled. So my first lesson was to type one key at a time--slow down a bit.

Another thing, there is actually quite a bit of space between the keys, enough so that your fingers can actually slip down between them. So my second lesson was to type more carefully, to aim more accurately with my key-pressing.

Finally, after a typewriter has been hibernating a while the ink ribbon tends to dry up a bit. This ribbon still had a bit of ink left in it but it was very faded. Amazingly enough though, people still make new ribbons for typewriters. So I have ordered two spools of what I hope is the right size/type of typewriter ribbon. Then I will have my third lesson: changing the ink ribbon. It doesn't seem to be too difficult, just a little more involved than popping a new cartridge into the inkjet. I found some really neat
how-to videos online and I think I'll be able to handle it.