My New Thing: Poetry? Word Art?

Hey, Fickle Readers! I haven’t posted here in a while, I know. The truth is, I’ve been hanging out on Instagram and putting together these…things. Not really sure what they are. I like calling it micropoetry, but some of it is only a single line or a single word. Plus, there’s a visual element that I’ve been working with. 


So I’d call these pieces mixed media, but I’m doing all of them on my phone. Which would be one medium.


So what are these things? Are they any good? What should I do with them? Why can’t I stop making them?


Anyway, if anyone’s interested, I’m obsessively producing these little visual/verbal items at @missficklereader on Instagram. Come visit if you’d like to see what’s running through my brain at any given moment!

So I Did That: The Women Who Submit Submission Blitz

Just wrapped up my own brief run in the Women Who Submit submission blitz. The idea is to get up your courage and submit to high-quality journals, which not nearly enough women get published in or even try to get published in. I only managed 7 before I wore out. Add in the one from last night I sent after midnight and before I even remembered this was happening, and I’ve contributed a grand total of 8 submissions to the overall pile. Not quite as good as I used to do, but all I really have time for now.

Mind you, when I was doing this 20 years ago via snail mail, I had all kinds of submission strategies: which journals got the first batch, which had sent personal notes, which I sent to as a hail-Mary pass just on the off-off-off-off-chance they’d be interested, etc. it was also a more labor-intensive endeavor, what with trips to Staples for photocopies, piles of copies that needed to be paper clipped, label printing, making SASEs, filling out 9 x 12 envelopes, dividing everything up in piles to be collated, and hauling it all to the post office to mail. For you young’uns who never had the pleasure of participating in this dance, consider yourselves lucky, because the whole process was a serious pain in the ass.

Then again, there are procedures nowadays that make e-submitting its own kind of hell. Formats! Individual submission managers! And fees, fees, fees! It’s true that these fees are often nominal (and that’s what journals like to call them–“nominal”). It’s also true that you’d pay at least as much, if not more, if you mailed in your work, once you added up the postage, office supplies, and copying/printing costs. Still, those $2 and $3 and $4 charges add up, and the people who get shafted by them most are the marginalized writers who can’t afford to spend $30 every other week to get their work out there. It’s quite a sucky system, and I don’t know what to do about it. Not sure that I even realized how sucky it was until I was asked to pony up my credit card over and over again this afternoon.

On the plus side, I also noticed myself wishing I could get all this submission bullshit over with and get back to writing. That, I feel, is a sign of maturity, at least in me. Twenty years ago, I used to read my Writers’ Market like a kid bingeing on sugar. Markets! Journals! Fame and literary greatness! Oh yeah!!!!!!! Suffice it to say, I didn’t approach this blitz in quite the same way. If past experience is any indication, it’ll be a miracle if I get one poem in one publication this time around. I’d be surprised if I got even one rejection with love (that’s a response from a human being on a rejection slip) from this batch of journals. But whatever. You do what you can do, and there are more venues out there now than there ever were pre-Internet. I’d rather have my work published where I’m welcome than try to crash the gates of the elite lit-mag  institutions. Gate crashing is good to try every once in a while, but in my mind the real game of submissions is about finding your readers. 

Fickle as a Narrator Demeaning a Rape Victim

Wow, Nabokov really knew how to create the most atrocious characters simply by letting them speak in his fiction. This quote comes from Pale Fire. Note that the gender of the “young creature” is most likely male. The fact that it’s hard to figure out the victim’s gender suggests that such details are less important to rape culture than whether victims are some combination of young, vulnerable, and/or forgettable.

I now felt a new, pitiful tenderness toward the poem as one has for a fickle young creature who has been stolen and brutally enjoyed by a black giant but now again is safe in our hall and park, whistling with the stableboys, swimming with the tame seal.

Tales from the Writing Life: The Poetry Cleanse

Hey there, Fickle Readers! I just spent a week writing a poem a night in an exercise called the Poetry Cleanse, and boy do I feel energized! That’s saying something big for me, seeing as how I’m usually lying around exhausted from everyday activities like taking showers, driving cars, picking up stuff from the drug store, etc. Now I know that–hey!–giving yourself the opportunity to write among friends, even if what you’re writing is pretty much crap, actually makes you feel better! Who’d a thunk it?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get a bunch of poet friends together and exchange email addresses.
  2. Compile said addresses into a giant list, then
  3. Write a poem a day to be sent to the group by a certain time each day. (In our case, midnight.)
  4. The poets in your group read but are under no obligation to respond. This is an exercise that calls for absorption, not workshopping or feedback. You can choose to respond if you like, but you also don’t want to get into a cycle of implying that one piece is better or worse than another. These drafts are all part of one writer’s larger vision. You’re simply called upon to be a reader.
  5. Write and read and give encouragement and support to fellow poets for a week.

And that’s the whole activity. I should say that this was not my idea but instead was suggested by someone else who put the group together. I just wanted to pass this along to all you Fickle Readers Who Are Also Poets out there, because I think it’s a brilliant concept. I, personally, have been experiencing workshop burnout in recent years. I took my first workshop class when I was a senior in high school, and I’ve been grinding away in the workshop setting off and on for about 25 years. Workshops are wonderful places to hone your craft, but I’ve also discovered that at a certain point you have to cut the umbilical cord and strike out on your own. And yet striking out on your own can be isolating, so the Poetry Cleanse concept is a nice best-of-both-worlds scenario. All you have to focus on is getting your work done and looking at what other people are doing.

The sitting your butt down and writing aspect can be hard, but being a silent audience to someone else’s creative process is wonderful.

Writing-wise, what was most helpful for me was catching ideas as they came and putting them into poems as soon as they appeared. So much of poetry is about small moments, small observations, small things, and yet the small is what’s most fleeting in our daily grind. I was especially grateful to be able to snag images that I never in a million years thought I’d be writing about, because in a normal day I never would have stopped to write anything down.

Thanks to my fellow poets in the Cleanse. Looking forward to digging more poetry out of my brain soon!

Remembering May

blue flower

The cold, creeping damp. Wearing socks in what should be sockless weather. Getting sick with a cough for two weeks. Green phlegm. My son getting sick. My husband getting sick.

My husband home sick on my birthday.

My birthday. My son’s birthday. My son’s birthday party at one of his favorite local party venues. Realizing that in a couple of years–if not sooner–he’s going to outgrow his favorite local party venue. Realizing the days are long but the years are short.

Eating enchiladas for my birthday, even though I’m getting a cough and my husband is sick in the cold, creeping damp. Wishing I’d gotten a margarita, too.

The farm. Taking my mother to the farm. Traveling with goats in the pouring rain. Being entranced by a farm equipment museum, possibly because it was raining. Watching the nanny goat and her kids huddle under a tree to keep dry.

Exhaustion several days running. A lost day or two. Walking in a mental mist from one activity to the next. Losing track of days and tasks. Losing the desire to speak or write anything down. Keeping communications to small packets of words doled out only when necessary. Investing a lot of time in coloring.

Losing track of who the hell I am anymore. Realizing that these days, most of the time, I’d much rather be learning to draw trees.

 

The Bard Is Dead 400 Years: Shakespeare and Academe

Too late, Will. Your curse already worked on me. I have no PhD. Now I get to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” on your bones.

 

According to one internet source, the word “academe” was invented (or first written down, depending on your perspective on what “word invention” may mean)  by Shakespeare. Here’s a story from my own adventures in academe that demonstrates how investing such a vast quantity of cultural import in one author shuts out voices and depletes the quality of our art.

In this anecdote, the voice that got shut out was me. (That’s probably why I remember this moment so vividly. You can add “spiteful” to the list of all the awful things I am.) The year was 2001. I’d just started my PhD program, and the year before, Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet came out in theaters.

Anyone remember Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet? No? Well, maybe you know it better as the Ethan Hawke Hamlet.

So deep.

Yes, this version of Hamlet was all the rage, both in critical and academic circles. Rolling Stone called it “a visual knockout that sets the Bard’s words against striking images.” (One of the visual knockouts they mention: “to be or not to be” happens in a video store. Wow, that’ll never not be profound!) The New York Times calls the movie “voluptuous and rewarding,” claims it “makes the best use of the Guggenheim Museum you’ll ever see in a film” and that “Mr. Almereyda has created a new standard for adaptations of Shakespeare.” Okay then.

You get the idea, right, Fickle Readers? Almereyda’s Hamlet is the hottest Shakespearean shit ever to land on Hollywood. Curious, since Rotten Tomatoes now gives the film a 55% rating (which translates to “rotten”). Their Critical Consensus blurb sums up the movie as “stiff performances fail to produce any tension onscreen.” Pretty low marks for a new standard, huh?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re still in 2001. Large populations of professional analysts of culture are peeing themselves in praise of this film. I can attest to the scholarly reception at the time because I remember discussing the film in one of the first courses I took in my PhD program. In fact, we had a special speaker that day to tell us about the many ingenious ways that Almereyda used the spectacle of consumerism to illuminate the emptiness of the corporate world. This speaker was especially fascinated by a moment when the ghost of Hamlet’s father walks through a corridor in a building and then seems to dissolve into a Pepsi machine (a shot that other critics have noted). She dissected the image enthusiastically, holding it up as innovative commentary on modern society. I thought it looked like product placement. And I said so, albeit in the form of what I thought was a diplomatic question: Product placement is everywhere in movies. How are we supposed to tell what’s a thoughtful aesthetic statement and what’s a somewhat sophisticated way of squeezing yet another ad into a film?

The woman must have thought I was an idiot. I’m not sure she really answered my question, either, as she brushed me off. She definitely didn’t look me in the eye. The expression on her face was reminiscent of someone trying not to notice a distant relation who came to a wedding in a see-through cocktail dress.

If you’re curious as to what the intelligentsia has had to say about Almereyda’s film, here is a PDF file on Brooklyn College’s web site that makes a similar case about all the brilliant bells and whistles Almereyda includes in the movie. I have no idea when this document was posted. I have no idea if any literature, film, or media scholars out there are still avidly watching this movie for its “visual energy,” its “use of mirrors, screens, windows, and natural reflective surfaces,” or the grave digger humming “All Along the Watchtower.” (I don’t have to comment on how no one in the TV industry or Hollywood ever uses that song, do I?) I’m guessing everyone has moved on. Especially when even watching bits of the film now is enough to give a person a full-on poseur headache.

But hey, it’s Shakespeare, right? All those ham-fistedly artsy video clips made with a Fisher Price Pixelvision camera must have been worthy of countless hours of study time. It’s an adaptation of Hamlet, by gum! That means no matter how wooden or god-awful the acting, we’re not going to acknowledge it because any unique little twist on Shakespeare’s vision should be slaveringly admired! Viva the Bard!!!

This guy would definitely approve.

Granted, I’m not being entirely fair here to the fawning critics of 2000. Any film can fail to outlive its historical moment. No one at the time expected that video stores would be gone in ten years. Or that CGI and digital film technology would become so powerful and widely used that you couldn’t rely on the lasting influence of your knockout visuals. Still, it’s puzzling that droves of academic professionals and media critics would lavish such eloquent praise on what is a fairly mediocre, style-over-substance offering. Have these people no understanding of the basic elements of good filmmaking, you might ask? Have they no standards?

Of course they do. It’s just that when Shakespeare enters the picture, he always comes trailing a cloud of prestige. Many critics and academics have been trained to respond to the kind of cachet that a Shakespearean text adds to a work of art, be it film, novel, or theatrical performance. So engrained in our cultural perception is our belief in the prima face merit of Shakespeare that we can overlook countless original narratives by new or unknown artists so we can study the latest vaguely competent go-round with the melancholy Dane.

Don’t we, as writers and readers, deserve a teensy bit better after 400 years?

If you want to talk about it, I’ll be the one by the cash bar in the skimpy, red dress that barely covers my nipples.