Belated Congrats to a Wonderful Armchair Scholar!

A shoutout and a shot of tequila (or maybe hot cocoa is more appropriate these days) to Sari Nichols, auteur of the blog The View from Sari’s World and newly minted holder of a Master’s degree in the Humanities! Congratulations, Sari! Mighty Tiny Bill says he’d offer to pen you a sonnet, but the only writing implements within reach right now are made of plastic.

“Procure me a butt of sack and a gathering of vellum! I’ll ink my genius with mine own blood!”

Stick around for the rest of Sari’s article, where she discusses one of my all-time favorite zany topics, the Shakespeare authorship controversy! Enjoy!

Good Art Break for a God-Awful Day

Wow, what a horrendous 24 hours. We had a hostage siege in Sydney that left the gunman plus two women dead. Then, at virtually the same time, there was news from Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, of an ex-marine who killed his ex-wife and five other members of her extended family (including a 14-year-old girl) and fled the area. (The shooter, Bradley Stone, was found dead in the woods today of an apparent suicide.) Then this morning, there’s news about the Taliban raid on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which nine staff members and 132 children were killed. (A further 3 staff members and 121 students were injured, in case you wanted a larger helping of awful with your sandwich of unbelievable horror.) Note that I’m not even talking about the case of Jessica Chambers, the 19-year-old Mississippi woman who died on December 6th because someone poured flammable liquid into her nose and down her throat and set her on fire. (Her death is making news this week because the group Anonymous as well as other bloggers and Internet trolls are leaking information about her case and spreading claims that Chambers was the victim of “gang activity” [read: African Americans], a black boyfriend [although so far there’s no evidence she had a boyfriend at all], and/or Ali Alsanai, the brown-skinned guy who runs the gas station where Chambers spent some of her final moments.) Note I’m also not talking about the report, published yesterday in The Smoking Gun, that details how the star grand jury witness who said she saw Michael Brown act aggressively before being shot down, in fact, lied on the stand and has a history of mental illness and making false statements to police.

For a year that’s boasted some astonishingly heinous, ghastly, and terrifying news, the headlines from today and yesterday are almost too far over the top at being bad. At this point, I’m so exhausted and disheartened and stunned by everything happening in the world that I’m even starting to deplete my thesaurus of synonyms for the word “bad.”

So here’s a little balm to take our collective minds off of the dark, ugly, unutterable badness out there. First, some art:

Yes, we all need rest. Especially me. (My meds have been shot to hell because of some surprise dental surgery I had last week. As in, “Surprise! Your tooth is coming apart!” And let me tell ya, you really know you’re aging when you find yourself discussing your dental surgery on the Internet.) If that rest can occur on a bed of butterflies, please make it happen.

Next, a couple of lovely pieces of writing that I just discovered in Twitterland: “Warriors,” a spare, mythic poem by Thato Angela Chuma; and “Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon,” a short-story by Ken Liu that combines an ancient legend of lost love with a modern tale of two teenage lovers soon to be parted–AND manages to be surprising, real, surreal, and gorgeous in the execution of both elements. (And I’m VERY hard to surprise.)

How about some science and philosophy with that art? Here, courtesy of and created by Kurzgesagt, a German design studio, is a video discussing how life and death may all be the same thing:

And, in case you’d just like some good old-fashioned goofy comedy antics, here’s a skit (also posted on that was cut out of SNL this past weekend. The topic? Santa traps!

Stay safe and happy and peaceful tonight, everyone! Hopefully, tomorrow will look just a teensy bit brighter.


The Goddamned Writing Life: Rejections

Ah, rejections! The bane of the writer’s existence. Like submitting your resumé to hundreds upon hundreds of tiny jobs all the while knowing you’re going to get turned down for each one. No question about it: rejections suck.

Some rejections suck less than others, though. The personalized rejection is always nice: the one where you get a human being giving you some chin-up-style feedback on the other end of the note. Back in the old days, this came in the form of handwriting on the tiny slip of paper you had to dig around for in your SASE. Karen Craigo, then poetry editor for Mid-American Review, was an expert at giving personalized rejections. I got a happy little note, complete with smiley face (that’s a handwritten emoji, for all you young’uns out there), every time I submitted. I think by the time her tenure as poetry editor was over, Karen must have had carpal tunnel syndrome from all the niceness she sent out over the years.

Then there’s the thoroughly amusing rejection, a turn-down so witty or unintentionally hilarious you just can’t stay depressed about it. Wanna hear my latest in this category? Well, here it is, anyway:

Dear Writer,

Thank you for entering the [BLAH BLAH BLAH EXTREMELY PRESTIGIOUS] Prize this year. We received more than [HUGE NUMBER] entries, and were delighted with the high-quality of the work we received. Our contest, and consequently our magazine, is only as good as the writing we receive, and we’re grateful that you gave us the opportunity to read your writing. On behalf of [MEGA-IMPORTANT JOURNAL’s] editorial staff and our contest editor [WRITER OF EMINENCE], I’m pleased to announce our winners and finalists in each category: [A LONG LIST OF WRITERS WHO ARE NOT YOU]

Wait a second, you might be thinking to yourself. This is just standard boilerplate for non-winners of writing contests. How is this thoroughly amusing?

Well, in my case, it’s because I didn’t enter this contest. I’ve searched all over my Submittable account and my email, and I can’t find any evidence that I sent anything to this journal recently. I’m know I’ve entered their contests in past years, but I’ve been passing on award submissions nowadays because a) they’re expensive, b) I never win, and c) I hate not winning.

Not to worry! says Mega-Important Journal. You have such a terrible history with contests that we thought we’d emphasize your miniscule-to-virtually-impossible chances of winning by preemptively rejecting you! That way, you won’t be so surprised when we do reject you next time around!

See why I hate writing contests?

Anyway, my overall point here has been said many times but bears repeating: rejection is part of the writing game. Don’t let it get you down. It’s okay to lick your wounds for a day, especially when you get a thanks-but-no-thanks from a journal you really like. Remember to move on afterward, though. Believe me, the more submissions you’re able to send out into the world, the thicker your skin will grow to the doors closed to you. Keep going until you find that one open door. Then keep pushing until you find a few more that might unlock one day.

Tooting My Own Horn: I Got a Piece Published on the BREVITY Blog!

Did I ever tell you about a guy named Dinty W. Moore, who edits an amazing journal called Brevity? Did I ever tell you what a class act he is, along with being an amazing writer and editor? Did I ever link to his Amazon author page and tell you that his memoir Between Panic and Desire is one of the most inspiring pieces of creative nonfiction I’ve ever read, especially for the sheer amount of possibilities his work opens up in the ways we can tell true stories?

Well, now I’m humbled to report that Dinty chose a mini-essay of mine to feature on Brevity’s wonderful blog. Thanks so very, very much, Dinty, for giving me the opportunity to be part of your publication.

(Of course, if I divulge which of the posts on the Brevity blog is mine, then all you Fickle Readers out there will learn my Super-Secret Identity. Oh, what the hell? The post is here. Enjoy!)

Good Writing Break: Poems That Are Better than “The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri” [UPDATED]

Hey, Fickle Readers! I hope everyone had a peaceful holiday. (I myself got to visit my young cousins that I haven’t seen in two years. Then I slept for about 24 hours. But that’s another story.) I also hope that no one out there shopped at Wal-Mart, or at the very least only bought $1.25 worth of stuff and was sure to use up a lot of their store toilet paper and napkins, because I’m annoyed that Wal-Mart has screwed up yet another of my holiday experiences by forcing my older cousin (whom I also don’t see very often) to work on what ought to be a sacred, patriotic day of rest for everyone and not an orgy of buying and stampeding and consuming. (But, of course, we know what’s sacred to the CEOs and shareholders of this great country, now don’t we? Yet I digress…)

Since Thanksgiving and the Capitalist Orgy that Follows is now over, I thought I’d check in and see what’s happening in the poetry world these days. And what did I find but a sad, sad attempt by The Paris Review to plug into the spirit of protest over the events happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Now, I’ve been trying to avoid writing about Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, and that officer’s inevitable escape from justice, even in the form of a trial, because I know that if I start talking about the whole thing I’ll get so enraged I won’t be able to stop. (For instance, I’m sure I could write for an eternity on how what happened in Ferguson is EXACTLY the sort of government-sponsored violence that Tea Partiers have been warning the American public about for years, and yet they’re HAPPY about officer Darren Wilson’s exoneration because those same Tea Partiers also HATE AND FEAR BLACK PEOPLE. And how the supposedly inconsistent results from Michael Brown’s autopsy and/or the eyewitness testimony given at the scene of Brown’s death are all completely irrelevant in their inconsistencies, because, you know, grand juries are only supposed to send cases to TRIAL, and the place to hammer out any problems with results and testimony is in a TRIAL, which the “prosecutors” involved in evaluating Darren Wilson’s potentially criminal actions clearly wanted to avoid at all costs, so much so that they put NINE white jurors on the grand jury…AAAAND you can see how my post gets away from me at light speed.) But since poetry is kind of my thing, and since the politics of poetry along with writing in general is always of great interest to me, I thought I should really comment on, or provide an antidote for, The Paris Review‘s latest foray into the political arena. Mostly because–all snark and/or ranting aside–the poem chosen by the editors of said elite journal to represent Ferguson is really, really not very good.

Frederick Seidel’s “The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri” (which you can read here via a link that won’t add to the website’s incoming traffic) is quite a mishmash of surreal imagery, shoutouts to baby boomers and white liberals about the civil rights movement, and the occasional weak platitude about racism (“Skin color is the name. / Skin color is the game. / Skin color is to blame in Ferguson, Missouri.”). While I’m usually not averse to including Mars or other strange allusions in poetry, it seems somewhat unfathomably insensitive to take an event in which an 18-year-old African American took six bullet wounds to his body (that’s two fewer wounds that John Lennon died from–yeah, I can do baby boomer references, too) and transform that event into a detached, quasi-satirical, acid-trippy riff in which the message seems to be both “racism is bad” and “I wouldn’t want to be a black man in St. Louis County.” (Yes, that’s an actual quote from the poem. Seidel also observes, “Some victims change from a corpse to a cause,” a sentiment I’m sure Brown’s parents would have found thoroughly comforting as their son’s body underwent three different autopsies.)

I want to be clear when I say that I don’t think only certain poets can write about certain kinds of events, or that famous old white-guy poets can’t ever tap into the experience of the poor, brown, broken, or oppressed. I will say, though, that if you’re a famous old white-guy poet, especially one who’s just picked up his 2014 Hadada Prize (whatever that is), and if you try to capture the voice of a town you don’t live in which also is suffering from ugly, violent racial tensions, you might want to do more than phone in some self-absorbed historico-political diatribe–especially when there are many, many other poets out there who could represent the voices of the poor, brown, broken, and oppressed, and most likely all of them could do that better than you.

So what can you, as a reader, do if you want to read poetry about the issues raised by Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson? I’ve already highlighted Jason McCall’s “Roll Call for Michael Brown” in an earlier post. Danez Smith recently re-published two poems, “not an elegy for Mike Brown” and “alternate names for black boys,” in; both pieces are powerful and thought-provoking and show no interest in sentiments we’ve all heard before. Or, if you’re determined to look at Ferguson from an old-school perspective, take the advice of amazing poet and novelist Sofia Samatar, skip over Seidel and go back to Langston Hughes, whose “Let America Be America Again” manages to make about twelve times as many original insights into the problems of race as Seidel, even though Hughes’s piece comes to us from eighty years in the past.

UPDATE: Apparently, great minds think alike. And certain great minds kick the asses of other great minds in terms of thoroughness. (No, don’t try to imagine that mixed metaphor. It’ll only hurt your brain. Trust me.) Check out this far more extensive list of poems that are better than Seidel’s on poet Jeanne Obbard’s lovely web site, The Poetic License. Thanks for the shoutout, Jeanne! I only wish our virtual meeting were under better circumstances…

Good Writing Break: In Memory of Michael Brown (and Justice)

For everyone sickened by the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, there’s a powerful and poignant poem by Jason McCall up on Rattle‘s Poets Respond page. Here’s a taste:

It will happen,
an honest mistake
in a hot August classroom.
Someone will blink
at the name and swear this
“Michael Brown” can’t be
that “Michael Brown.” Or someone
will be too busy with her head down
finishing syllabi to look up and see the flash
grenades and tear
This piece was written the week that Michael Brown was killed, but it still resonates today when Brown’s absence–and the absence of justice in Ferguson–is so keenly felt.

Haiku Hope: For the 98% Who Didn’t Get into Rattle

Hey, all you Fickle Haiku Writers Who Didn’t Get into Rattle Magazine’s Special Haiku Issue! Do you still have your four pages of Japanese-form verse? Then I have a few markets for you to try! I happen to have a contact in the haiku world (she, by the way, got four haiku into Rattle; want to know how many I got? It rhymes with “dear-o”) who gave me links for a few haiku pubs that are accepting submissions until December 15: The Heron’s Nest and A Hundred Gourds (NOTE: A Hundred Gourds is an Australian journal, so if you don’t live down under or thereabouts, you’ll want to get your material there by December 14th.)  There’s also bottle rockets and Modern Haiku, both of which accept submissions year round but have very specific requirements, so read all guidelines carefully.

If your four pages aren’t burning a hole in your pocket and you can wait until 2015 to send them out, here are some other haiku journals of note:

Acorn (accepts submissions January-February and July-August only)

Frogpond (accepts submissions February 15- April 15, June 1-August 1, and September 15-November 15; full disclosure: I’ve had one modest haiku published in Frogpond–really nice publication from the Haiku Society of America)

So there you have it: multiple places to send your Japanese formal poetry and mend your broken haiku heart. Also, this bit of news might help: my contact says that Timothy Green, the editor of Rattle, said he only had room for 40 contributors. Know how many of us submitted? Over 2000. A 2% acceptance rate is pretty much a lotto drawing. So don’t sweat the rejection and keep writing and submitting!