Thursday, February 23, 2006

Confession is good for the writer's soul

Some days are just tougher than others. For one thing, I can’t find our chicken. We don’t know where she came from—she arrived last May, zooming over our 8-foot fence—and we don’t know where she’s gone. I’m hoping she’s okay. She can fly, so I hope she didn’t fall prey to the wildlife we’ve got running around here, mainly because they’re trying to cut down every forest fragment left in this city, and hawks, possum, and raccoons have to eat. I’ve written about her several times; here’s a link to the Times-Union story I did.

On top of that, I got a rejection from an editor I really want to write for. She’s asked for one piece, but not until the first of 2007, and I’d tailored this other piece just for her and boom, no dice.

The good news is I got a really great assignment to cover a presentation by a family from Afghanistan—our neighboring county is reading THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini. I read the book as it was being released, courtesy of an advance copy. I loved the book. So it will be interesting to go to the presentation next week and write about it.

We’ve got tons of poems, and some of them are really strong, for the contest at The Writer. I’m also doing an article that will accompany the crits of the first winning poem.

I’m beginning to delve into the project I’m doing for Shands Jacksonville, as writer-in-residence here for the Arts in Medicine program. The history is absolutely amazing; the time capsule found by construction workers dates to 1930. It strikes me that the community has relied on doctors and nurses and healers at that location for over a century. I’m very excited about writing the stories.

Seeing some nice numbers at I love working on that site; I wish I had more time. Right now, I'm updating weekly except for the regular news; I update that every other week.

Otherwise, heading to South Carolina for the book festival. Poet Janet Carr Hull organized an exhibit, Pure Poetry, and I’ll be reading with her, Dorothy Fletcher, Carolina’s Poet Laureate Marjorie Wentworth, Ellen Rachlin and Patricia Gray, director of poetry for the US Library of Congress. We’re featured at a reading Saturday afternoon; I think it will be very inspiring. Dorothy and I will stay at my brother’s place on the lake; we’ll just take it easy Friday evening—sip wine and watch the deer eat my brother’s shrubbery.

Meanwhile, there’s a poem driving me nuts—I saw this photo that a reporter took of a full moon over downtown Jax. The thing is the moon was still in the sky, but the sun was beginning to rise too. Came up with two strong lines and can’t seem to get past that.

Never, ever a dull moment, even when you wish for one.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Internet termites

When I first began to use a computer, I rarely thought about invasion of privacy, phishing, or emails promising to enlarge an appendage I do not have.

I met poets by way of Gazebo at Alsop Review and I met other writers through various message boards. At some point, I joined, establishing the Women’s Poetry site and later the Poetry site. I connected with thousands of readers by way of the discussion threads at those sites.

On occasion, I actually met some of my Internet friends in person. They were all nice; some have become true friends. In those early years, the Internet seemed a light and airy sort of place, with limitless possibilities for learning, research, and networking.

I don’t remember whether my first computer even had virus protection. But in the last few years, I’ve invested in all sorts of virus protection and spyware programs, and wouldn’t even think about foregoing the latest updates for just about every software program I run on both computers I depend on now.

I back up everything. Twice.

I won’t open an attachment from someone I don’t know; I don’t read ‘forwards’ because they’re almost always followed with an apologetic email saying something like, “I really thought the cure for the common cold had been found. The email I sent you was a scam. Sorry.”

SPAM has become downright silly. Whether it’s an appeal to send personal information so I can share millions with some poor soul who can’t spell and whose family died in a plane crash, or buying prescription drugs at ridiculously low prices, or engaging in activities that you’d have to be brain dead to engage in—well, you get the general idea. Silly stuff.

And we have to do some pretty silly stuff to keep all that stuff from being even more annoying than it already is. As young as the Internet is, the good old days are already sorely missed.

Enter a poem in the online contest sponsored by The Writer. No entry fee. Guidelines are on the Net site.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Poetry flows at funeral

It happens all the time. Someone dies, and an aspiring poet pens a verse or two. Sometimes the poet even reads it at the funeral. And sometimes, the media will seize the poetic moment for all the rest of us to witness.

So it didn’t come as a surprise to me that poetry found its way to the funeral of Coretta Scott King this week in Lithonia, Georgia. After all, Maya Angelou was there. But my thoughts don’t dwell on Ms. Angelou.

The poem I remember was read by the Reverend Joseph Lowery. I caught part of the reverend’s verses as I glanced at clips shown on the evening news.

I don’t know who wrote the poem. Credit wasn’t cited, and I haven’t been able to find out the author’s name. In my opinion, the verses illustrate everything that is right and everything that is wrong about poetry in America. And there’s an opportunity of sorts as well.

The poem aimed at a political statement. But that isn’t what bothered me. This is America. You want to use a funeral to stump, it’s fine with me if it’s fine with the family of the deceased.

But it seems to me, considering all the talent in this country, Reverend Lowery might have enlisted some budding bard to craft a real poem in honor of a woman revered by people of all color.

Here’s a line that suggests the artistic level of this poem: “She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar.” While none of us favors inflicting smart bombs on innocents, I can vouch for the fact that there are thousands of liberal poets in this nation who would be happy to pen a poem for an occasion such as this. And I do not believe a single one would have followed the word ‘way’ with the word ‘afar.’

There was a nugget in the poem—“weapons of misdirection.” That might have led to greater things had the poet put a little elbow grease behind his or her pen. But that was the single nugget in the entire piece. Reporters noted the reverend’s reading as “playful.” We're discoursing about smart bombs, poverty, weaponry, and the death of a person integral to changing American culture. “Playful”?

It’s a good thing to mark a person’s greatness with a poem. That act is a practice in myriad cultures dating to ancient times. But thoughts strung together with forced rhyme, ragged rhythm, and passion do not constitute a poem.

Next time someone famous and beloved is publicly praised, hire a poet. I can vouch for the fact that poets can always use a little extra cash. And, I’d advise reporters who cite poetry to read more of it. That way, you’ll know a real poem when you see one.

The audience gave the poem a standing ovation. In truth, they were applauding the politics. Anyone who applauded that poem never read a real one.

Click on the column title above to read more of the poem discussed.


View calls for submission, reviews, and articles about writing at Creative Writer US.

The Writer is having an online contest. Visit the site to learn more. No entry fee.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Confessions of an author-mom

The book business can weigh on an author like an elevator malfunction. If you’ve ever been stuck in a metal enclosure with music that sounds like a vending machine hamburger tastes, well, you know what I’m talking about. You’re just stuck there in an enduro.

There are the bright spots and the low spots, and it’s all part of the game we play once we see our name on the spine of a book.

Sometimes, a bookstore will give an author that boost she craves. I recall a signing I did here in Jacksonville at the Books-a-Million in Orange Park. The store manager, regional public relations rep, and all the employees made me feel very welcome.

They made regular announcements, personalizing them instead of saying something like, “Author Brownie Brown is signing her book The Only Living Fat Woman in France: A Fictive and Afflicted Memoir. Meet the author at the back of the store where the poetry half-shelf is located.”

So it was a good day, and when the signing ran over an hour longer than scheduled, I apologized to the manager. “No, no,” he said with a smile. “You’re good for business. Stay as long as you like.”

Remembering that day, this author wishes all events were like that. But of course, they aren’t. Last year, I walked into a bookstore and not a single person greeted me. It was inventory day. Two customers came in during the 4 hours I was there. A festival was occurring in the immediate area, and that’s where everyone appeared to be. It was my first zero-book-sale event.

The lighter moments in an author’s life make it possible to suffer the book biz without lasting mental damage. My older daughter Jen brought a smile to my face yesterday.

I’d sent her to the bookstore for a novel my younger daughter needed for school.And I wanted to read Bernard Cornwell’s new book The Pale Horseman. Plus I wanted Kenyan coffee beans. I told her to put the charges (and the frilly frothy latte stew she likes to drink) on my debit card.

When she returned, she said, “You’ll never believe what I did.” She handed over my package, explaining that she was checking out when the clerk said, “I need to see a picture I.D.”

So my daughter starts fishing through her inadequate purse (way too small; way too crammed) for her driver’s license. Then she checked her pockets. Then she remembered she’d stuck her license into the pocket of her other jeans. She explained it to the salesperson who said, “Oh, sorry. But we’re still going to need an I.D.”

Jen thought about it for a minute. Then the fine mind my brand new college grad has served her well.

“I tell you what. You sell my mama’s new book, and my picture’s on the back of it. So if you go over to the shelf and get a copy, you’ll see I’m exactly who I say I am. My name's on the back of it too.” And Jen gave her the smile that can light up an entire afternoon.

The purchase went through without another hitch.

Being a small press author does have its bright moments. Being a mom is even better.