23 March 2018

The What Next

I'm trying like heck to remember what last year's spring break was like. Has it gotten to that point? Where every year blurs into the past few? Please say no. I suppose having a blog is good because it reminds you of what you did last year and beyond, like a Timehop that's mostly words.

Just now I put on my go-to blue house hoodie. I'm someone who alternates between cold and not-cold on a pretty regular basis. I regulate between writing and not writing on a much less frequent schedule, as in: during breaks from teaching I write, and during the time when I'm teaching, I am not writing. 

This is difficult because my work as a professor and editor often primes me for writing, such as discussing process or reading a particularly magnificent poem to my classes. Currently we're reading Diane Seuss in my graduate literature seminar, and every time I open Four-Legged Girl I am knocked out of my chair by its power. 

In both hoodie on and hoodie off times I'm frequently victim to The What Next. The Is This Going To Be A Book. The Should I Write More Poems Like This Or Just Stop. I think awareness, and giving it a name, is a crucial first step in confronting such feelings. Then I ask myself if this particular anxiety (I have many) is one that is doing me any good, such as the nagging feeling that I really ought to clean out the cupboards and merge all the almost-empty boxes of uncooked pasta.

Sometimes this energy can encourage me to revisit a project, or to think about it with more seriousness, but usually it causes me to spin my wheels and fret and do another load of laundry just to feel as if I've accomplished something. 

A book is like a hardy yet reclusive fruit that needs to grow in a certain degree of dark. If you keep walking into its room and flipping the fluorescent overhead lights on just to check to make sure it's still there, you'll make it wilt. Or so I will tell myself as I attempt to write some new poems this coming week. 

If I'm not cold, I'll hang the hoodie over the back of my chair, just in case. 

08 February 2018

New poem who dis?

I don't think I'm alone in saying that poets are often the most in love with their current work. At least that's the case with my poetry. I love my new poems so much that I leave them in the safety of file folders on my computer and do not even contemplate reading them at events or even sending them out until I have an urgent reason to do so. It's like my elementary school sticker collection. I wanted to protect the stickers, to keep them safe by not letting anyone--including myself--see them, let alone peel them from the harbor of their pages. 

Is this poem-hoarding? Perhaps. But yesterday was a brutal winter day, and once I finally made it to campus I had time to do a few revisions, and then I decided to read all new poems at the Lakewood Library event that evening. The day was so busy that I did not have time to fret about whether I'd miss a word, inadvertently "revise" something on the fly, or flub the cadence of a line. And somehow, when I was up at the podium, it all worked out. Since the poems were new I read them extra slowly, and they were kind to me. 

Reading the brand new poems when they were still brand new enabled me to return to the feelings I had when writing them. It was kind of like one of those capsules that expands into a dinosaur sponge when you toss it into the bathtub, only instead of a dinosaur it was a poem. In the wake of this sentiment, I vowed to return to the poems and get them ready to send out. Sometimes you find a "push" in the place where you'd least expect it. 

25 January 2018


Every year I forget how frantic spring semester can be. We're nearing the end of week two, and my calendar is filling up with meetings and thesis defenses. I'm excited about the thesis defenses, in particular, since we are part of a consortium and defenses mean that I am able to leave town for a day and hang out with different book-length works of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and even playwriting (I do it all).

This week I did some serious copyediting of university policy for one of my committees, and it made me think back to my red pencil and copyediting symbols of yesteryear. I may have had a hint of nostalgia, but promptly drew a red pencil line through it.

15 January 2018

Working from home when home is work.

I'm not one for mulling over regrets, but often I wish that I could work happily with background noise. I envy friends who can listen to music while replying to emails (without typing the lyrics into said email, as I would do). Cafes are such energizing places, but I can barely concentrate. I grew up in a very quiet house, and work best in absolute silence. Right now as I type this, I am very aware of the clock ticking in the next room, for example, but at least it's consistent.

Today is rare for me: an entire day to work, hopefully quietly, at home. Zero kid schlepping, no cleaning, minimal laundry, only very slight cooking. I started working at 7:00 am and plan to work straight through until 5:00, with a brief lunch break and some moving around. As I do this, I'm recalling and practicing some strategies that have helped in the past, and I would like to share them with you.

1. Pick out an outfit that feels as much like pajamas as possible (without also feeling depressing; I walk the line between comfy and sad in terms of house clothes). 

2. In anticipation of this work day, purchase numerous moderately healthy snacks from someplace like Aldi or Trader Joe's. Have them on hand and deploy as needed. If the day seems to call for more coffee than usual, don't fight it.

3. Don't be afraid to move the furniture around a bit. I do best with natural light, so today I moved my desk chair into the dining room to face a large window. I have pillows to best replicate my ergonomic office workspace, and a blanket for my lap, which is a pleasant luxury. I've moved my dog's bed into the dining room so that she completely ignores it and sleeps on the couch instead. This morning she learned that she could push me around the house (hardwood floors) in the rolling desk chair. Thankfully she's now all tired out from that.

4. Give yourself some non-snack treats, like time on an app or making a blog post (this is my first treat of the day). Don't forget to walk around periodically. One thing that helps me is to remind myself: no cleaning today! Yes, must accomplish (arduous tasks 1-5) but no cleaning.

5. Be clock-aware, but not extraordinarily so. If you are able to give yourself a number of hours of work at home time, rather than saying "Oh snap, only three more hours," reflect back on all that you've done so far. 

6. Even if it seems stupid to write a particular task on a list or in a planner, do it anyway. Then cross it off. 

Tomorrow the new semester begins. I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have a day of focused and somewhat restful work time and preparation, even if there's some dog snoring to go along with the ticking clock nearby. 

06 January 2018

Return of the page.

If you know me you know that I believe in paper. I annotate student and friend poems longhand. I emblazon papers with notes in green and orange and pink and light blue. I use a paper planner in addition to all my calendar and list apps. I devote a significant amount of my life to editing a book series where paper books are also art. So then why is it so much trouble to write lines for poems down longhand in a notebook? How come I'm not like so many poets who keep journals? Should I be blaming the twitter for this? Blaming myself? 

Over the summer I decided that the first step in getting back to paper was investing in a nice notebook. Green is my favorite color, and I value paper that feels good under a pen, so this one looked right. It also couldn't be too fancy, or else I'd be afraid to use it. It couldn't be too big, or I would come up with excuses for leaving it behind. Ideally, it would have that wholesome book smell when opened. I also hoped to return to my early, pre-computer habits of writing things out. When I went to college it was with an electric typewriter, and I typed my poems but wrote them by hand first. Somewhere along the line, I deferred to composing exclusively on computer because I can type faster than I can hand write (thanks to all those secretarial jobs in the 90s).

Typically I jot notes in my phone because my phone is handy. In a couple of weeks I'll be insisting that my Writers on Writing students invest in a tiny notebook for hanging on to interesting phrases. I keep a wee notepad in my purse, but most frequently defer to the notes section of my phone. However, it's not exactly instantaneous when I'm looking to jot something on my phone. In fact, I often end up in the wrong folder of "notes" and have to punt and go all the way back to the beginning, and in the process I could easily lose a fragment of my fragment. Once I attempted recording notes to myself, but I messed it all up and retained an audio transcript of some fumbling and swears.

Even though I didn't make any solid 2018 resolutions, I'm trying to write things down in the green notebook more often. One bonus: upon returning to it after a while away, I found a bunch of useful poem notes that I'd forgotten about. Since beginnings are difficult, I set a tab in the notebook halfway through, and started there. And finally, I keep reminding myself how smooth the paper feels under my pen.

01 January 2018

Now let me clear my throat.

Dang, this new year feels new. Like a chill through the sinuses, or a wind that you feel in every seam of your jacket. It's cold and unshakable, but undeniably crisp.

I've accepted the challenge of blogging regularly here at The Word Cage again. I often have much to say, but save it for my students or the twitter.

What a whirlwind of a 2017. The University of Akron Press went to the National Book Awards to cheer on Leslie Harrison's The Book of Endings. Black Lawrence Press accepted my first collection of prose poems, Partial Genius, for publication in 2019. I read many stunning books and worked with brilliant student writers. I finally got around to organizing some parts of my life. I started sending poems out again after an unintentional hiatus.

Rather than setting resolutions, today I'll share two revelations that I've had in the past year, as a writer and a human. Maybe you'll find them helpful, too.

#1: It's okay to stop "customer servicing" when you are not on duty. I learned how to be a good worker by working really hard, and that meant taking orders without challenging authority, and doing everything possible to make sure that supervisors or customers or vendors were pleased with me. Want to order six mugs of sudsy dish water? Certainly, sir! Remove every trace of okra from this soup? Absolutely.

In 2017 I gave myself the permission to stop customer servicing all the time, especially when outside of work, or when it could potentially do me harm or weaken a boundary. When you are always trying to make everyone happy with their meal/experience/new baby doll dress, it subjects your own happiness to an impossible standard. I imagine I'll have more to say about this in the coming months.

#2: You can say less for the sake of less. I have some stringent but ultimately helpful guidelines that I honed in 2017. If I am writing an email and frustrated or angry, my limit is two sentences. If I am defending myself for some reason, I now use terms like "unworkable" and "regrettably," whereas before I might have launched into a detailed treatise on all affronts and hardships and such. I give myself two key terms. They should be words that are difficult to use in a poem without serious finessing. Then I hit "send" and try to let go. It's challenging for somebody who likes to provide extensive support for all assertions, but a useful practice. I think of this as the post-oven result of a Shrinky Dink. Compact, crystallized, unbending.

I'll be using this space to talk about writing and life. I also blog over at my website, with more photos and things related to my poems and publishing.

This semester I am teaching Writers on Writing, where we read advice from various authors and talk about our creativity and what feeds or starves it. I plan to share some of those thoughts here.

One actual resolution that I have this year is to make a physical, handwritten list of every book I read. I try to keep a list on Goodreads, but it's often incomplete (and stacked with books I haven't finished...eep).

2018 is here. I've recovered from being pretty sick. I'm writing a lot but have no idea what I'm doing, and that's okay. In other words, everything is exactly as it should be.

The What Next

I'm trying like heck to remember what last year's spring break was like. Has it gotten to that point? Where every year blurs in...