Rinse and Repeat

There was a bit of advice I was given in college that I felt too much hubris to use until about a year ago. I call it Washing the Poem. 
It came to me from Mark Tredinnick, a talented poet on his rounds reading from his book Fire Diary back in 2011. It was a lovely book, but he didn’t spend much time on that. After he read with our class we met up in a small room of one of the older buildings at JMU and he shared some of the most sage advice I have ever heard.
He said: Write it again. Don’t just make changes to the existing draft, retype every word. Make that decision again whether to keep it the way it is or change. Type it again and come face to face with every syllable and approve it one more time. That way nothing slips past, and your poem or prose is exactly as you want it to be.
For those of you who have followed my work you know that again and again and again I always hitting home that sense of looking at the poem again. I am always interested in the second look, the third look; polish polish polish. When I edit, I take the poem I already have, print it out and retype the whole poem into the computer again. Even if I have it already open in another window. It’s not about speed; it’s about details and patience. It’s about looking every word in the eye and saying, yes, that is exactly what I meant to put there. It cannot improve anymore.
I talk a lot about controlled writing, mostly because it was a recent epiphany of mine. But the idea of control, the idea of power over the poem (at least in the writing stage, forget after you publish it; it belongs to the world then) is something to be closely guarded by the serious writer.
When I edit I wash the poem over and over until it is as clean and smooth and polished as possible. Until it gleams with clarity and rings with intention. Then, and only then, does the poem look finished to me.

Keep writing and be squeaky clean!

The Three F’s of Submitting Poetry

Hello friends,

It’s been a while. I have been MIA for a bit to pursue some non-fiction but don’t fret, poetry is still my heart and soul.

Which is why I am posting this little tidbit.

I recently (yesterday) submitted some work to Best New Poets for their contest ending on May 20 (no time like the last minute). They want pairs of poems and the price is $4, which is nothing really. Unlimited submissions… it’s a pretty cool gig. So it got me thinking that there are some contest rules I kept in mind that I should share with my audience (hi mom).

So think three F’s: Free, Feel, Final

{Working the details out on my Not-So-White Thought-Board }

Free: This one is Kill Your Darlings, a quote from William Faulkner which I live by. In his legendary literary advice he warns authors to make sure that they do not put their favorite elements above the overall power of the piece. In other words, if you are the only one who thinks it’s clever or charming or if you are the only one who gets the joke it should probably go. Free the piece of the things that steal its loveliness. Make peace with your authorial control and let the poem be as it wishes, smooth, thoughtful, sage, not contrived of your genius. It’s a humbling but necessary step. Don’t ever submit poems you have not given a thorough looking over… darlings have clever camouflage.

Feel: Take a seat in your arm chair, sip your coffee and read your poem. How does it leave you? Satisfied, pensive, restless? Is that what you intended? Poems are mostly out of our control. I will admit that there are more poems that I wrote in a state of trance than poems I sat down to write intentionally. But in the end, we, as poets, have the power to dictate the tone. So really feel it. Does this poem represent you as an artist? As a poet? As a controlled writer, or is it just a poem you wrote that sounded good. Those are fine, but in a contest, especially one that ends up in an anthology, you need to think about the tone first and foremost. What if this is the only piece you get published for a while? Does the feeling represent you?

Final: Let it go. These people reading the submissions, somewhere on the other side of your computer, don’t know anything outside the document you submit. That’s all. You get one shot. You better make sure that final is perfect, and complete and free of errors of course, but more than that make sure your final is all the best of every draft. If you meant something, make sure that comes across. If you imply something unintentional you had better work it out. They don’t have you beside them making anecdotes to explain away hiccups in the poem. That’s it. You get your submission, so make the final as finished as possible.

And please oh please don’t be one of those poets who wrote something that morning and sent it in. That drives me crazy; you’re not a poet at that point, you’re just a guy with a pen and a random arrangement of language. Poetry contests deserve the respect of polished pieces.

The fourth F? 
F*** It! Don’t over think it. If you like a poem it’s probably a good poem. If you feel weird about a poem it’s probably not your best. Listen to your gut, do your homework and then F*** It, send that sucker in.

If you submit to Best New Poets, good luck. If you are thinking of other contests, good luck as well. The world needs your work, so put it out there! I bet it’s better than you think!

Keep Writing and Start Submitting!

Poem 133

When a chime climbs the night it’s not a pocket watch
nor a rustling of leaves. In the mouth of theives,
the night weaves a dream catcher of feathers of the eye.
When we ly, the murmors of the day wander wakeful
from the mind, and their sound rewrites the passages of time.

Poem 132

upon realizing my boy has bought me almost half a dozen scarves already…

I prefer to receive scarves from suitors

Not tied to a time or a diet, a scarf
Can be worn now and always like a memory, 
like a skipped heartbeat I hold 
In my throat and let it out to rewake
The ache of a brand new flush.
Less pretentious than gems, a scarf is armor. 
And what we wrap around our necks is trust.
Like love. A scarf comes in the shapes we choose; 
from the loosening toss we are off 
and the thread on my neck Is the hand on my wrist, 
tugging me lovely to light.