New Poem in Waccamaw!

I’m proud to say that I’ve got a poem in the latest issue of one of my favorite journals, Waccamaw. I’m really attached to this poem and excited about its publication for a couple of reasons. The first is the story behind it, which begins (yet again) at the end of a writing-

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This is a totally metal x-ray of the metal screw in my mouth. \m/(>.<)\m/

a-poem-a-day project (this is becoming A Thing, I’m noting to myself, and I should probably get back on the writing-a-poem-a-day horse and see where it takes me) (Internets, keep me to it). I was feeling dragging-the-dregs desperate, and took a break from poeming to talk to a friend of mine. She’d spent the morning at the doctor’s office with her daughter, looking at X-rays to determine if she’d broken her leg. She’d worked at a doctor’s office herself and remembered that the man who discovered the x-ray, Wilhelm Röntgen, experimented on his wife first. I mentioned the trouble I was having, dragging the dregs for a poem. “Write about x-rays,” she said, and I decided to take the assignment. I started by doing the last thing anyone wants someone to do by way of starting an assignment: I looked at Wikipedia. That’s where I found out that Röntgen’s wife said “I have seen my death!” when she saw the x-ray of her hand, which gave me chills — and which, in turn, gave me this poem.

The second reason I’m excited is that, y’all, this poem has made the rounds a lot. Like, a lot. I’ve been sending it out for two and a half years, polishing and re-polishing every time it came boomeranging back to me. It was rejected so many times that I was on the verge of pulling it, but I decided to try one more time. Thankfully, Waccamaw decided that this was the time for this poem to appear onscreen.

Essay News and Two Thank You’s

I thought that I knew the world, but I had only looked. I had not seen. I had not recognized that looking was not seeing, that seeing was witness, that the privilege of living in a place of looking came with the responsibility to recognize, to act, to aid. I had looked and I had not seen. I had not realized that the borders between worlds and loves and lives were not borders but lines of separation set into the mind by the privilege of looking. I had not realized the responsibility of my eyes to see and not look, of my hands to reach out and give, and give, and give.

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The above paragraph is an excerpt from my essay, “Between Looking and Seeing,” which appears in the Fall 2016 issue of Origins. The theme of the issue is “witness,” and it’s the theme of the essay, too — in it, I consider the difference between seeing something and witnessing something, between standing by and acting, between ignoring and bettering. In a way, the writing of the essay itself has been my own journey towards trying to figure out how to speak and act for the good of all instead of acquiescing with silence. The essay has seen more deconstruction and reconstruction than the average episode of Fixer Upper (PS I love you, Jo!). I wrote the first draft five years ago; in its initial incarnation, it juxtaposed paragraphs about the Tuscaloosa/Dolomite tornadoes in April of 2011 with scenes from a relationship. Even now, just writing that sentence, I can see the problem that took me all five of the intervening years to figure out: to employ a tragedy as a metaphor was a terribly irresponsible, dangerous, and damaging thing for me to do. I considered giving up on the essay, but something just kept nagging me. Sometimes, I think a piece of writing or an idea just won’t go away because there’s something larger about the working-through of it, something important to learn or to say. I think that was definitely the case here. In the incarnation of the essay that appears in Origins, I confess, and I grapple with the ideas of witness, responsibility, and right action.

I also want to give two thank you’s, at the risk of moving too extremely into a different tone that commits some of the sins mentioned in the previous paragraph (“Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.”). The first thank you goes to the editors of Compose, who kindly nominated my poem, “House Is A Hoard,” for a Pushcart Prize. The second thank you goes to Kristina Marie Darling, whose beautiful essay “’My Heart Pedals Shut’: On Distance, Desire, and Lyric Address in Recent Poetry by Women” appears in the latest issue of The Literary Review. The essay discusses my chapbook, The Sad Epistles, and Megan Kaminski’s Desiring Map. It’s humbling to have my work discussed at all, especially in such good company, so I’m just very, very grateful about this.

Coyote Poem Howling in Amethyst Arsenic

I’m proud to say that I have a poem, “The Coyote Doesn’t Have To,” in the Fall 2016 issue of Amethyst Arsenic. I’m ecstatic to see this poem roaming out in the wild, and I can’t thank guest editors Staci Schoenfeld and M. Brett Gaffney enough.

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I wrote the first draft of this poem in April of 2014. That was, of course, National Poetry Month, which meant that I was writing a poem every day of that month. I was particularly lucky during that particular National Poetry Month because I wasn’t writing alone. Instead, I shared a collaborative writing space in the form of a blog with students and fellow faculty members. This poem arrived at the end of the month, and I remember feeling strangely vulnerable when I posted it. I’m not sure that, even now, I can articulate the reasons why. I do know that this poem originated in one of those faraway moments of fear that happen in childhood and haunt adulthood. When I was six years old, my parents and I moved from Alabama to Arizona. I was the kind of child who got upset when lunch plans changed; needless to say, I did not adjust well. We lived on the edge of the desert with only a concrete bricked wall between us and the Saguaros and sand, and I was terrified. Every sound, every rustle, and — especially — every howl made me bristle with fear.

That’s where the poem started.

I had a lot of faith in this little poem. Even though I felt vulnerable about it, I still felt as though there was something important about it. I sent this poem out over and over again and it was rejected over and over again. I’m glad about that, though, because I feel like this is the exact right moment for this poem to make its way out into the world.

The reason for that is that the poem didn’t end in the same place in which it started. In fact, the poem ended up in the very opposite place. When I wrote the poem, I began in that howl, that moment of wordless, inchoate fear. However, as I wrote, as the coyote began to move across the page, gathering muscle and teeth and fur, I felt the moment change. I began to empathize with the coyote, who, I discovered as I wrote, was a female. I began to see her not as a destroyer but as a creator, as a protective force who would fight any evil enemy in all of that darkness to save what she loved. The coyote’s howl became a war-cry of power, a clarion call for strength, and a warning for any beast who tries to come for all that she held holy.

There is no better time for that energy to be released into the world.

An Essay and Two Poems!

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One of the Barbies in question (which actually is a Mrs. Heart doll, not a Barbie) (I think?)

Happy Halloween, people of the Interwebs! While you’re putting the final touches on your fabulous Hilary Clinton pantsuits, Ghost Busters power back-packs, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg robes (I hope), I’ve got an essay and two poems that would serve as perfect reading material during a chocolate candy binge.

  • I’ve got two poems, “Because the Body Is a Place Strange Unmapped” and “House Is a Hoard,” in the latest issue of Compose. I’m really proud to be part of this spectacular issue, which also includes work by Laura McCullough, Emari DiGiorgio,  D.A. Powell, and a lot of remarkable writers.
  • The Shalt Nots,” an essay of mine, is up in the latest issue of the Longridge Review. It’s an essay about the often-super-confusing experience of growing up — well, in general, and how, as children, we try to figure things out through play. It’s also an essay about the often-super-seriously-confusing experience of growing up Catholic in the tightest part of the Bible Belt in the Deep South. That’s an idea that’s always present in my writing, though I haven’t really approached it directly until I wrote this essay. This definitely wasn’t the first time a friend or family member tried to convert me, but it’s the one I remember most, possibly because it happened in the middle of a pretty epic game of Barbies. This is one of those essays that gave me a lot of trouble: I wrote the first parts of what later became this essay in 2010, and by 2011, it had expanded into a 35 page whopper of an essay. It definitely didn’t need to be 35 pages long, but it took me a long time to figure out how to thin it down because I couldn’t find the real focus of the piece. That’s when one of the greatest miracles of sending out submissions happened: one journal offered some feedback along with the rejection that helped me figure out what threads were running through the piece — and which threads were actually working.

Short Short Saturday!

Dear friends in the Internet, I’ve got two short-short stories for you this weekend! I’ve been working on repairing my relationship with fiction for a while, and though things are still sort of awkward, it feels good to be doing the work. Fiction and I separated after high school and for the same kinds of reasons that so often come between partners in relationships: insecurity, fear, and a feeling of inferiority. I wrote a lot of fiction, but I never felt very confident about it. When I started college, I already felt not-very-confident about so many things that I never took a fiction workshop: I just couldn’t gather the courage I needed to get past my lack of confidence and to remember that the important thing wasn’t to write perfect stories but to learn from — and learn to love — the imperfections. I regret that now. I’m also grateful to have arrived at a moment in my life where I’m able to push (a little bit at least) past the fear to the work.

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My flash pieces often begin the same way my poems do: with an image. That was the case with “On the Margin of the River,” which appears in the latest issue of Cloudbank and received The Cloudbank Poetry Prize for Issue 10 (you can order the print issue here — and Cloudbank is always gorgeous in print!). I was staying at my parents’ house and nodding off while my parents watched television. I started thinking about that far-off, undersea quality that other people’s conversations take on when you’re slipping into sleep. I was still thinking about that when I actually went to sleep, and I had a dream about talking to mermaids (which was, by the way, awesome). The story started as a way to work through that image. It outgrew the image pretty quickly and became, for me, more about tone. I’m still trying to find a place for the mermaids, since mermaids are, of course, awesome. 

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I’ve also got a short-short up at Monkeybicycle, which is tremendously exciting. I started reading Monkeybicycle in 2005, mostly because the title is every bit as awesome as mermaids. I’ve submitted to them a few times over the years, but never really got anywhere (and for good reason — the stories weren’t very well developed and in all honesty were probably totally poems), so I’m incredibly happy to have a piece in the journal now. This one’s called “The Honor Code” and started from a conversation about — you guessed it — honor codes, about how they’re a very honorable concept that can be disastrous if it’s not followed through. I started journaling about how easy it is to make justifications that twist the concept of honor around to one’s own interests, and this teenager’s monologue just kind of appeared. Also, any time I can write about someone’s hair being on fire, I’m happy.