Tuesday, August 30, 2016

For Your Enjoyment: The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon

For Your Enjoyment:

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon (in Apex Magazine).

It is 14 thousand words, but worth it. The fantasy aspect of the story doesn't come into play until you've learned to enjoy your narrator's voice, a good lesson to you omniscient types. Read the story. Be inspired by it.

Possible writing exercise: Sustenance is vital to life, so food and water will always be key in places where life and death are both near at hand, which is also the fertile ground for so many wonderful conflicts. Use a character who very much enjoys gardening, especially for a specific type of food or herb as one of the main characters of your story or poem. Do some research and get facts right, drop interesting tidbits.

Friday, August 26, 2016

8/26/16: Ekphrsastic Exercise: Up on Melancholy Hill

Daily Exercise Genre: Ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis is from Greek meaning the description of a work of art as a rhetorical device. That's actually pretty straight forward, but another way to look at it, is it's highfalutin fan fiction, usually about paintings or pieces of music, but it can be about virtually anything. Look at or listen to the following piece of art and write a piece of prose or poetry that is inspired by some aspect of it.

Listen to "Up on Melancholy Tree" by the Gorillaz

Grab onto something. Listen avidly, look closely. Find something to love and grow that love in your mind until you can't help but let it burst from you. Express it in words. This is the best part of existence.

Every exercise is an adventure in tiny loves. Discovery and the infatuation for what makes it it is the lifeblood of creativity.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

For your enjoyment: Campbell McGrath's "Capitalist Poem #5"

For your enjoyment: Campbell McGrath's "Capitalist Poem #5" in its original line configuration.

I noticed while trying to link to Campbell McGrath's "Capitalist Poem #5" that the most popular, and potentially the only text version of this poem has the stanzas messed up. It is from McGrath's first collection Capitalism, and in an interview with Smartish Pace (if you aren't a frequent reader of SP you should start now) he said:
"In graduate school I began to write a series of "Capitalist Poems," beginning with "Capitalist Poem #5." Those poems for me mark the beginning of my "authentic" voice as a poet. They were still young poems, but in them I began to identify the subject matter from which my poetry would spring-American culture and commerce and discourse and dissonance, the search for place and community in our contemporary world. In some senses my writing has evolved far beyond those early poems, but in another sense I am still writing them. The 7-11 was the iconic heart of those poems, and I'm sorry that my life today does not include a 7-11-they don't have too many down here in Miami." 
Instead of typing the poem up again, I decided to just take a picture of the poem in the book, which isn't exactly the easiest book to get ahold of. I know I bought my copy used for $30 almost a decade ago, now the cheapest copy used on Amazon is $34, so you know, inflation. "Capitalist Poem #5 is fairly commonly anthologized I believe, I know it is in Ryan C Van Cleave's very good anthology "Contemporary American Poetry: Behind the Scenes" but in that incarnation there are no stanza breaks at all, and I much prefer the broken version that appears in Capitalism. Enjoy

Possible writing exercise: Take a month of your life in which you followed a steady routine whether from work or hobby or school or whatever driving force put you on a very repetitive schedule and think of things that you did over and over again. Write those down as a list poem. If you can tie it up with an overarching statement that indicates something you did not know while you were doing those things which you would have wanted to know (or know at least of, so that you might remedy your ignorance).

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Three things exercise: Donald Trump in WWI

For today's exercise write a piece of poetry or prose that somehow utilizes the following three things (ideally, not in throwaway dialog, but as vital pieces of the story):

Steel Blue, Normandy, FR, Donald Trump

So, let's go with this. This can be awesome. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Three Birthday requests of Submittable (and one from Duotrope)

Dear Submittable, Are You There? It's Me, Zebulon

Submittable is the revolutionary platform that took simple cloud applications and applied them to literary magazines. And I love them for it. They are quite simply put, awesome. Not in the "I'm in awe of your genius" way but more of the "I am super appreciative of the service you provide" sort of way. I love love love submittable and the utility they provide. Have I gushed sufficiently? OK. So like a proper American, I have a couple requests of submittable that I would like now.

1) A Free Birthday submission fee exemption at Submittable. 

If you're spending your birthday taking advantage of a few $3 discounts you're either really dedicated or are a stereotype of one sort or another. Whichever the case, is there really a huge data transfer cost for those individual days? I get it's too late for me. But think of the children (poets). Maybe make an option for journals where if you have linked your facebook to submittable and it's verified that it's your birthday, journals have an option of letting those people submit for free, that one day, if it's within their submission period. My birthday's in the summer so it doesn't affect my all that much, but hey...

Look, I understand this is silly, pathetic, whatever you want to call it. I am trying my damnedest to be serious about my poetry publication. It is tough. I mean, beside the super subjective nature of poetry selection (from a veteran of 3 literary magazines) and the fact that very few journals pay for publication, even some that require $3 submission fees which, on my birthday, I will allow myself to say is fucking ridiculous. I apologize for the curse word, but come on. For those that don't know, charging a $1 submission fee through submittable pays for the service in its entirety, unless you get such a small amount of submissions you should have rethought the platform and stuck with email submissions. Submittable is providing an awesome service and they deserve that dollar. Once you move beyond the dollar you're making profit. You're profiting off of canon fodder like feudal lords because we all know grad students (or more often than you'd think, interested undergrad English majors) often read the slush and 24 year olds might not recognize allusions for anything but a fart in the forest breeze. (Not to denigrate the many qualified, tireless readers, it is just a thankless job that requires often an overload of reading to give proper time and consideration to)

2) A submittable search function.

I would like to be able to search your listings. Even if it's just keywords like "Flash" "poetry" "Hybrid" whatever. You know which journals have no current submission categories available, you know which categories are there. I google that, but it's not super helpful. You can have an internal engine run that. Even if we just get a menu of submission categories to pick from, from current submission calls it would be awesome.

3) Link up with Duotrope

Duotrope has a very developed submission response matrix, if Submittable and Duotrope combined to share journal response time it wouldn't rely on writers to 'report' responses but would have accurate information. I understand that time dilation is tricky when you're waiting for something and responding to that information. You can already link both your Duotrope and your Submittable accounts to your Facebook account. While I'd like to keep Facebook out of the equation, it seems that in order to make their numbers very much more accurate Duotrope and Submittable would both benefit by synching their submission numbers.

and now that we're talking about Duotrope...

Could you guys do me a huge huge favor that should only take a few lines of code? You know how you have the box you can click that indicates that the journal accepts simultaneous submissions? Can we get a subsequent box that says "does not accept simultaneous submissions" or, like you have with lengths genres and all sorts of other nonsense that doesn't really apply to hardly anyone, have a pull-down menu that asks "does accept simultaneous" "does not accept simultaneous" or "either". I mean, I think it is a reasonable request, I would happily give a dozen high-fives to any engineer/programmer/PR-guy-or-gal/whomever can implement this simple request.

And I will even go into slight detail, god, what a nerd I am doing this on my birthday. The reason is this, Madam Duotrope, No Simultaneous Submission journals are a thing still. Not a big thing, but there is still a contingent that adheres to the idea that writers should have zeroed in their market so finitely that they only need submit their piece to a couple journals before they find their home. Or, that the journals have been burned by asshole writers that can't reconnect with journals they've sent poems to once they're accepted elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong, I've had poems accepted via snail mail only days apart. These things happen, but because so many notoriously non-simultaneous submission journals have turned the corner with the advent of Submittable, (Poetry, APR etc) it is worthwhile to note those that still require exclusive rights to submissions. The only problem is those journals tend to be the older, more respected journals, because new ones look at the idea and think it's a thing for pricks—and, I don't know if I agree with that. For instance Boulevard has a No Simultaneous policy, and they warn you that the editors may respond quickly. I say good. It certainly sucks to pay a couple bucks (when applicable) and get a rejection quickly, but that doesn't mean that editors are rejecting works out of hand. I know for a fact that when I was at The Seattle Review the editor in chief was up reading submissions at 2am when he couldn't sleep, and yes, would sometimes get five pages into a 25 page story and realize it wasn't a fit for the magazine and reject it. A quick rejection does not mean the submission wasn't read (necessarily) but perhaps that the editors are also writers and don't need to read a piece five times and ruminate over it for a sauna-filled afternoon to decide if they like it.

You followed all that, right?

So if you skipped the ranting, or if you read it, the idea is, while typically an outdated approach, journals that do not accept simultaneous submissions still represent a significant part of the literary arts publication community and because of their proclivities special actions must be made to submit to them (because only dickwriters submit simultaneous submissions to journals that don't accept simultaneous submissions).

With hundreds of journals whose tastes overlap, simultaneous submissions are mostly what we do. In order to pull an individual poem from the SS ranks it can take 6 months or more, because journals that accept simultaneous submissions tend to be a little more lackadaisical about making decisions and if you'd sent it out once to a journal that takes SSs, it can be awhile before you're safe to send it to a NoSS journal. So, we have to pick our poems carefully, and even plan ahead a bit for submissions, based on submission periods and whatnot. So that means that 5 poems per NoSS journal are pulled from general 'circulation' among appropriate literary journals for roughly a year in order to make one submission. Sometimes it's certainly worth it. There are a dozen journals out there at least that I'd hammer a big toenail off for an acceptance in that don't accept simultaneous submissions... well, at least six. So they're still relevant, it's just another part of the submission life that must be accounted for. Lost toenails.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ekphrastic Tuesday with John Avon

Daily Exercise Genre: Ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis is from Greek meaning the description of a work of art as a rhetorical device. That's actually pretty straight forward, but another way to look at it, is it's highfalutin fan fiction, usually about paintings or pieces of music, but it can be about virtually anything. Look at or listen to the following piece of art and write a piece of prose or poetry that is inspired by some aspect of it.

Today's artwork is by John Avon

Insidious Dreams by John Avon

Boy have I been there. You could take this in a sort of Harry Potter or Earthsea route and go with wizard's school. You could go with college finals and throwing your books away as the sun's rising and you have to either pass out or rush to take your test. You could write about someone dropping their books as a car is about to hit them. There are dozens and thousands of ways you could address this piece. Pick one and run with it for half an hour or so, see where it takes you. Don't worry about having a three dimensional piece with an A and B storyline or a volta right at the 2/3 mark or a rhyme just isn't coming. Just write.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

With the passing of the last 9-11 rescue dog I'm reminded of Stephen Dunn's "The Insistence of Beauty"

RIP Bretagne, last remaining 9-11 rescue dog.

I happened to have a subscription to American Poetry Review when Stephen Dunn's "The Insistence of Beauty" appeared there. I was immersed in what was a vibrant writing scene for a community college and showed it to everyone who stumbled into my apartment for a drink with me or one of my roommates whether they were a writer or a skater or one of Matt's girlfriend's friends that was waiting for them to get dressed. Seeing the news of Bretagne's passing and the video of her going into the vet for the last time my mind jumped back to that poem and the resonant image so I decided to type it up and post it because I love the exercise of typing pieces that you enjoy and admire. I hope you enjoy it as well.

               The Insistence of Beauty
                    by Stephen Dunn

               The day before those silver planes
               came out of the perfect blue, I was struck
               by the beauty of pollution rising
               from smokestacks near Newark,
               gray and white ribbons of it
               on their way to evanescence.

               And at impact, no doubt, certain beholders
               and believers from another part of the world
               must have seen what appeared gorgeous—
               the flames of something theirs being born.

               I watched for hours—mesmerized—
               that willful collision replayed,
               the better man in me not yielding,
               then yielding to revenge's sweet surge.

               The next day there was a photograph
               of dust and smoke ghosting a street,
               and another of a man you couldn't be sure
               was fear-frozen or dead or made of stone,

               and for a while I was pleased
               to admire the intensity—or was it the coldness?—
               of each photographer's good eye.
               For years I'd taken pride in resisting

               the obvious—sunsets. snowy peaks,
               a starlet's face—yet had come to realize
               even those, seen just right, can have
               their edgy place. And the sentimental, 

               beauty's sloppy cousin, that enemy,
               can't it have it's place too?
               Doesn't a tear deserve a close-up?
               When word came of a fireman

               who hid in the rubble
               so his dispirited search dog
               could have someone to find, I repeated it
               to everyone I knew. I did this for myself,
               not for community or beauty's sake,
               yet soon it had a rhythm and a frame.

And as a palatte cleanser, here is a video of a spaghetti eating contest between a Golden Retriever and a German Shepard having a spaghetti eating contest. 

The Golden reminds me of my experiences with the lovely and loyal, gluttonous dogs. It also reminds me of Karl Pilkington's van driver eating noodles in the program An Idiot Abroad. And also here's a picture of Bretagne on her 16th birthday.

Anyway, just a a little something about the poem. 

Aside from the resonating last image and the idea of a storyteller's selfish tales told more for the self-satisfaction of the telling than for any communal betterment, I am drawn to the turn in the poem beginning in stanza six. Stanzas six and seven address the concept of poetic stigmas: sunsets, tears... subjects universally recognized as poignant are far too obvious for contemporary poets, cliches, too easy—or at least we're told. This of course plays off of the earlier image of the smokestacks, an image conventionally thought of as ugly or at least 'non-poetic' in the traditional sense. Dunn uses the questioning of stigmas as a lead or a sort of conditional for the image of the fireman hiding in the rubble for his dog to find, ecstatic to finally discover someone alive. The movement of the poem allows him to expand upon the potential embrace of the overly-poetic for selfish as opposed to artistic reasons. Also, I have to note the expert line break in line two really emphasizing the wordplay in the choice of "struck".

Possible Writing Exercise:

I also used this poem for an exercise what feels like ages ago that you might try as well. Pick a poem you really really like. Go through it and pick a few phrases, not full lines but unique turns of phrase or little bits that stick out to you. Now pick one or two of your favorites and use them as poem titles for an original work. I used "On Their Way to Evanescence" for my poem which ended up being a meditation on mortality, surprise surprise. Others that might work from this poem would be "That Willful Collision" "Beauty's Sloppy Cousin" "Gray and White Ribbons" (while not expressly unique, it is tactile) "A Rhythm and a Frame" or possibly even "The Better Man in Me" thought that could get a little too Fight Club on you. 

If you need more than just a title, for form make it roughly an unrhymed, syllabic (as opposed to metric) sonnet, ie a 14 lined poem with each line being about 10 syllables and the volta (or turn from storyline/metaphor A to how it affects storyline/metaphor B which you have hopefully set up in at least a subtle way within the first 8 lines) appearing after line 8.