Guest Post, Caroline Knox: Samples

I’ve always thought that the most powerful poems were those that included in style and content the very highest and most important matter, right along with the most ordinary and insignificant. Such a combination can bring about surprise and evenhandedness, as if everything might be susceptible of comedy and respect. I think this because of reading Dickinson, Stevens, Moore, Auden, Plath, and Ashbery, among many others.

“Objects,” a long poem, tries to situate high and low style and content together. It collects anecdotes, reading notes, and overheard conversation; five stanzas appear below, and then a few thoughts about making each of these five. (Other stanzas include a translation, a speculation about music composition, and a comment on landscape design.)

From “Objects”

“I only owe the University three hundred

dollars, and if I can’t get it I

can’t graduate with the class.”

Karen said this to Sarah, and

went out to read bulletin boards.

POETRY READING CONTEST

THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS

FIRST PRIZE. Karen registered

and got up on the stage and read

“Sunday Morning,” won, and graduated.

“You never forget a beautiful

thing you have made,” said Chef

Bugnard of the Cordon Bleu

to Julia Child, “even after you

eat it – it stays with you always.”

******

These are the words

of Robert Darvin,

a Haitian refugee

evicted from a

tent camp, of his

new and flimsy

home: “It is made

of cheap concrete.

If you think too

much about it,

you lose your mind.”

Samuel Sewall wrote:

“Sabbath: This day

so cold that the

Sacramental Bread

is frozen pretty hard

and rattles sadly

as broken into plates.”

******

“The research highlighted

that one critical component

to building the capacity

of strategic execution is

the establishment of a

value attitude.” This

sentence has so much

wrong with it that you

hardly know where to

start. At least it doesn’t

have topic drift, or does it.

******

A salad: chopped

cucumbers, chopped

romaine, blueberries,

mint, feta cheese, FRESH

MINT, scallions;

for dressing: oil

and vinegar, and a

little honey. In a

bowl, stainless steel

rimmed with beading,

making clunks of noise

with serving tools, on

a cloth, a blue cotton,

on a table, maybe,

maple, maybe,

refinished by Alan

Marbury, an

accomplished

woodworker.

******

Flora Thompson wrote, “The

hamlet looked down at

the village as ‘stuck up’;

while the village looked

down on ‘that gipsy lot’

at the hamlet.” And Angela

Thirkell wrote of

a child’s thoughts:

“No one quite under-

stood what [the boy]

meant and by the time

he had spoken, what he

said appeared to

him to be meaningless.

We have all had that

experience.” And

finally – clear-eyed

and incisive – Laurie

Capps wrote, “We are

all/ issued white

coats; we are

forever/ taking

samples of the world.”

“I only owe the University” – Karen the serendipitous has managed not only to read the right bulletin board, earn the prize, pay her bill, and graduate, but also to accomplish all this by high-quality performance art. Her story stands in an interesting complementary relation to Chef Bugnard’s words about the transcendent quality of great cuisine and the permanence of its memory.

“These are the words” – Darvin expresses the privation and bleakness of the Haitian hurricane in extreme brevity and ellipsis, rather than lengthy mourning. But his brevity also shows his courage to survive. His view is mirrored in Sewall’s, as the austerity of the season in 17thc New England is made real in the harsh sounds of altar bread crumbled, it’s that cold. These speakers belong in the same stanza, they don’t need to explain further.

“The research highlighted” – It’s always a joy to find truly fresh language that works with precision, and it’s also a joy to find language that’s appallingly bad, like this.

“A Salad” – A recipe invented by my gifted neighbor, Kay Lisle, full of surprise ingredients, great taste and texture. But the stanza is also full of unsought and useless information: why do we need to know a) that Alan Marbury refinished the table? And b) that he is a fine craftsman? Because the poem’s voice insists on it, insists that minor and local information be brought into some relation with the very original salad from Kay.

“Flora Thompson …” – The speakers in the first quote here use very vernacular language — “stuck up” and “that gipsy lot” — to dish out their two-way social (and economic) snobbery! Casual style, ugly content of principles, in small-town England. Then, in Thirkell’s quote, the child who speaks is immediately consumed with self-doubt, and Thirkell sympathetically writes, “We have all had that experience.” (It’s both ridiculous and poignant.) Finally, the prophetic view that seals both the project and the poem comes from the eloquent Laurie Capps; her vision comprehends everyone: “We are all … taking samples of the world.”

Note: Julia Child, Life in France, Anchor, 2007, 65; Robert Darvin, Quotation of the Day, New York Times, April 24, 2011, A3; Samuel Sewall, Diary, I, 94; Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, Godine, 2010, 37; Angela Thirkell, Love at All Ages, Knopf, 1959, 203; Laurie Capps, Denver Quarterly 45/3, 2010, 10.

Guest Post, Michael Schmeltzer: In Every Word a Wardrobe

Michael SchmeltzerYears ago, a professor in my MFA program asked us to identify the most important word in Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays.” I chose “cold” because it changed from stanza to stanza, from blueblack to splintering to driven out. One word in various garbs, a new form in each line.

From then on I knew within every word there was a wardrobe, and in every wardrobe a dozen outfits. Rejection is no different; it can shift from shirt to suit in the span of a sentence.

~

Form rejections are marked most often by the simple accessory of “unfortunately.” No matter how many layers the response wears, we are quick to pick up that single word. We recognize the form no matter the source.

But unfortunately does not belong solely to the literary realm. For instance, unfortunately, there’s nothing more we can do. Maybe we are with a sick pet at the vet’s office or at home watching a courtroom drama. Maybe we are at an auto shop, the staccato speech of an impact wrench like an alien tongue. One word can waltz from room to room and still belong. One word can cinch around our throats like a belt.

The next time you receive a rejection, pay attention to what it wears. This will tell you where you are, and how devastated you should be.

~

Rejection: to refuse, throw out, rebuff. To fail to accept (as in an organ transplant).

Devastation: the termination of something caused by so much damage it cannot be repaired or no longer exists.

As writers we know rejection. As humans we will know devastation.

~

My friend Merced was born June 11, 1985. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis eleven months later. Beginning in 2010 she would need oxygen full time.

In three sentences we travelled twenty five years. Unfortunately, we are unable to travel much further. Look carefully. Do you notice for what occasion “unfortunately” has dressed?

~

On November 1st Merced was listed for a double-lung transplant. On November 7th they found a set and rushed her into surgery. The speed in which they found a match was nothing short of miraculous.

Double-lung transplant. Miracle. Merced. Brightly robed and ethereal, all of them.

~

Rank the rejections in order from least to most devastating:

1) Rejection: literary.

2) Rejection: form.

3) Rejection: acute.

If you acknowledge either of the first two as devastating, you have already failed.

~

Periodically an article will come out showcasing famous authors who were rejected: Stein to Orwell, Faulkner to L’Engle. Plath. Le Guin. Nabokov. We are meant to identify with the rejected, and at the same time find encouragement.

There are articles on ways to cope with rejection. There is even a website devoted to helping writers “persevere through rejection.” And yet I am sure none of these (a)dress it correctly. In truth, most rejections dress the way children do on Halloween: silly villains and cartoon monsters. So many writers jumping at shadows.

~

If you’ve been devastated by a form rejection, you are using the word devastated incorrectly.

If you’ve been devastated by the body, yours or another, then I am with you. I grieve.

~

June 11, 1985 – October 11, 2011

~

Dear Merced,

How are you? I always like to imagine you are well and taken care of. Tell me this is so and my world would be a little brighter.

*

I love you guys and hope I will be able to visit you again!

Love always,
Merced

~

After I heard the news, nothing matched or made sense. The form rejections kept coming, a blur of boring costumes. Unfortunately, sorry to inform you, we regret, we’re going to pass.

Pass as in throw, as in so much of life is out of our hands. Pass which immediately becomes passed. And now all of it past, irretrievable. Sorry to say it’s not the right fit. Like receiving gifts from an acquaintance, everything was the wrong size.

~

Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:

I, with no rights in this matter,

Neither father nor lover.

– from “Elegy for Jane” by Theodore Roethke

I too was neither father nor lover so where are my rights in this matter? To be honest, I am not exactly sure but I have read repeatedly all sorrows can be borne if you make them into a story; here is mine about the one rejection with a veil over its face.

But today there is a stretch of sky like blue fabric unrolled, the sun like the crash of a cymbal, loud and absolute in its understanding of light. For a moment all I want is to tailor words with the proper attire. I want to match the heat of this world.

Sky, sun, fire. Language and radiance. It is enough to remind me what most rejections look like. Small things, really, naked and harmless.

Guest Blog Post, Ira Sukrungruang: On Being Married to Another Writer

“I can’t fathom writers married to writers and musicians married to musicians. There’s your enemy in bed beside you.”  —T.C. Boyle

Ira Sukrungruang1.

There isn’t a good history of writer couples. Think of the Fitzgeralds. Think of Plath and Hughes. But here I am—knock on wood—married to the poet Katherine Riegel for the past 11 years. I can say, without doubt, that our relationship has shaped me as a writer. If we had never met in Carbondale, IL, those many years ago, I might be teaching high school somewhere, or back in Chicago working at a camera store. Katie is my creativity fuel, my muse, my motivation. I can also say, with certainty, that without me, Katie would still be a poet.

2.

Recent email to Publisher/Friend

Dear ____________,

You may know by now that Katie has gotten her second book of poetry accepted for publication. But you don’t know how much we are in fierce competition with each other, and how I need to have my second book come out at the same time. That said, would you guys be interested in taking a look at my essay collection, Southside Buddhist?

By the way, I’m kidding. Only a little. But seriously, you interested?

Sincerely,

Ira “Bad Husband” Sukrungruang

P.S. She can’t win!

3.

We have learned how to be with each other. We know that I prefer the left side of the bed. We know that she hates June bugs. We know that I hate spiders. We know that she has to figure out tips on checks at restaurants. We know that I will have to cook most meals. We’ve also learned what to say about each other’s work. This took years. We are both stubborn in our own ways, and believe, most of the time, that we are right. Katie is more outwardly stubborn. I’m more inwardly stubborn. She voices her displeasure. “You’re wrong,” she’ll say. I keep it inside. “You’re wrong,” I’ll say on the inside.

Now we have a system. It’s really not a system. We tell each other our work is the best on this planet. No other writers rival our brilliance. And together, we are like those Japanese animes where we can join and become an ultimate power.

“Wonder Twin Powers! Activate!”

4.

We’ve come to know other writing couples: Jon and Allison, Chad and Jennifer, Jeff and Margot, Stacy and Adrian, Aimee and Dustin, Michael and Catherine. Sometimes we go on writing couple dates where most of the time we talk about TV. Writers love TV. TV and food.

We are known as Katie and Ira, a two-headed writing beast. She is the phoenix, and I am the dragon. At readings or conferences, if we are not together, people will say, “Where is __________________?” This happens a lot to writing couples. One of our friends once said, “We’re taking a break,” and this caused such a stir that soon the writing world was abuzz. “Did you hear? So and so are breaking up!” It was the best joke ever, she said.

When we appear by ourselves, it is to others as if we are suddenly without a limb.

5.

In “Enduring Discovery: Marriage, Parenthood, and Poetry,” Brenda Shaughnessy and Craig Morgan Teicher write: “We root for each other’s work, which is good because these books delve into our shared private lives.”

I write about Katie often because I write about what it means to belong to two cultures—Thai and American. Katie, however, very seldom writes about me. When we were first dating, I’d say, “Write a poem about me.” I’d say, “You must not love me because I’m never in your work. I love you because you’re always in my work.” She’d shake her head. “Listen, if I begin writing about you, that means our relationship is not doing well. I only write about bad relationships.” This is true.

Eleven years later, still nothing written about me.

This is a blessing.

Editing Poems

PlathWhen people think of the editing process, they often think that poetry is excluded. There seems to be a stereotype that poems are a one-step process: that you either write a great poem or you don’t. That’s actually not the case–many poems that are considered great by the literary community are the product of diligent editing.

To use a more contemporary example, let’s look at Sylvia Plath: while she didn’t edit her poems quite as much as her contemporaries, a book wholly dedicated to her original work has recently been released. (Though in all fairness, some of those original poems were released in 1981 Collected Poems by Ted Hughes). One book that shows Plath’s true intention for her poems is Ariel: The Restored Edition.The Restored Edition

While the original Ariel was published by Ted Hughes in 1968, Hughes re-arranged the order of Plath’s poems and took away 12 of the poems that Plath intended to be included in Ariel, replacing them with different poems that Plath didn’t set aside for publication in her manuscript of Ariel. But according to Publishers Weekly, Ariel: The Restored Edition “restores the 12 missing poems, drops the 12 added ones, and prints the manuscript in Plath’s own order, followed by a facsimile of the typescript Plath left.”

But what does all of that have to do with Superstition Review? Well, because we’re a literary magazine, we not only receive poetry that has already been through multiple edits, but we also edit poetry that we receive if we feel that we want to publish a particular poem that needs some minor changes before it’s ready for print.

But you don’t need to be an editor or part of a magazine staff to edit poetry. Whether you’re a writer or someone who may be curious about the editing and publishing industry, the ability to enhance a poem is an important asset. While reading and being exposed to many different forms of poetry will be key to helping you recognize what should and should not be in a poem, there are some basic rules to make sure that any poem is on its way to being ready for publication.

Check back tomorrow to find out some basic rules for making a poem the best that it can be!