Re-centering Poetry

One of the advantages, if you can call it that, of working at home in the Days of COVID is that I can see the day-to-day progression of the diminishing daylight as we move from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. When I close down my laptop at the end of my shift the sun is just a little closer to the horizon, the light a little more golden – or red, depending on the drift of smoke from the west coast. And each day it is just a little more difficult to pull myself from bed early enough in the morning to complete my morning routine.

Two things are helping keep me on my game as winter approaches: Poe, who still insists on being fed at 5:00 every morning, and a large stack of poetry books and chapbooks to read through as part of the Sealey Challenge. I am managing to stay on schedule, mostly thanks to a large pile of unread chapbooks which have arrived over the past four years as part of my subscriptions to Horse Less Press (currently on indefinite hiatus) and Ugly Duckling Presse, which is still going strong though I had to let my subscription lapse for financial reasons. I note that traditionally the Sealey Challenge has run during the month of August, so next year I will align myself with the rest of the poetry universe and complete the challenge in the appropriate month.

An excellent pile of books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is a new one from Subterranean PressEdited By, a collection of stories which have been edited by Ellen Datlow. The collection itself is, well, edited by Ellen Datlow. So there’s a lot of meta going on with this one.

In the top middle is Francesco Verso‘s Nexhuman, the latest delivery from Apex Book Company, to which I have a subscription through Patreon. Editor Jason Sizemore was kind enough to reach out to me when the original print run for this shipment ran a few short and he allowed me to pick any title from the Apex catalog. This was my first choice, and it was fortunate they had copies in stock, as I am slowly picking up every book Apex has published, thanks to Patreon, Kickstarter, and purchases at various ConFusions over the past several years.

On the top right is Road to HeavenBill Porter‘s beautiful travelogue/story of wandering the mountains of China looking for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits who maintain a tradition once much revered in Chinese culture.

Bottom left is The Collected Ghazals by the late, great Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press recently released this collection, as well as the book in the bottom center, Letters to Yesenin. I have been a fan of Jim Harrison since a college professor turned me on to him back in 1993, when he picked up a copy of Wolf. Since then I have read almost everything Harrison wrote, and have bookshelf dedicated to his poetry and prose.

On the bottom right is the new collection from Garrett Stack, Yeoman’s Work. I first heard of Stack when we published a few of his poems in an issue of The 3288 Review. This is an excellent collection, and well worth seeking out.

In reading news, I have so far read 18 poetry books and chapbooks, and am keeping a running tally of the list up on Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t taken a deep dive into poetry like this since the late 1990s, unless you count the thousands a year I read as editor of The 3288 Review, which is not really the same thing. The Sealey Challenge has been a wonderful experience and with 13 more books to read my mind will be in a wonderful place when NaNoWriMo starts on November 1.

I just finished reading For Exposure, Jason Sizemore’s brilliant history of Apex Publications, with contributions by half a dozen or so of the editors and other contributors, employees and supporters of his wonderful company. I picked up For Exposure at ConFusion back in, I think, 2015, when I managed to spend a few minutes talking to Sizemore about the trials and tribulations of running a small independent publishing company. He is a Righteous Dude, as the kids say these days, and I offer all the kudoes to him and his team for the work they do in the literary world.

Writing hasn’t been going as well as reading, though I managed to put down a couple hundred more words in the book as I try to work through this one lynchpin chapter and scene, from which the rest of the book will flow, which tells me I may need to just mash my fact against the keyboard until something clicks and I can move ahead. The goal is still to complete a first draft this year, and with luck even complete the draft during NaNoWriMo, though I am having more and more concrete thoughts about a series of short stories which might eventually become chapters in a new book. All I know is that I will spend a lot of time writing in November 2020, assuming the slings and arrows of the mundane world allow me the mental space and emotional clarity to do so.

The Warm Days of October

We are in the middle of a gorgeous mid-October heat wave, with temperatures in the upper 70s during the day, and abundant sunshine and a light breeze which makes the autumn trees shimmer like kaleidoscopes seen through a good dose of psilocybin.

Only one book arrived at the house this week – Recognize Fascism, an anthology of resistance-themed short pieces edited by Crystal M. Huff and published by the always-excellent World Weaver Press, from a recently-completed Kickstarter campaign. This is a follow-up to the 2018 anthology Resist Fascism, also edited by Huff. If you think you have noticed a theme in the books which I have collected over the past couple of years, well, you are not mistaken.

In reading news I have managed to keep up the book-a-day pace for the Sealey Challenge, and having this volume and density of poetry in my life is doing wonderful things for my state of mind.

In writing news, I have done almost none over the past week though I think I have figured a way through the snarl which kept me from completing the current scene in the book. I will hit it Monday morning and see if my idea will play out on paper.

In other exciting news, I was just notified that a short story I had submitted back in January of this year has just been accepted for publication! The issue in question will go live on January 1, 2021, and at that point I will announce the venue and post the link and all other sorts of fanfare and information.

In all the chaos, misery and uncertainty abundant in the world right now, this was a very welcome piece of news.

Challenging Poetry

The nights are definitely longer than the days now, and the days of October are so far mostly filled with clouds and rain. I would like to say that this means more time to read and write but unfortunately (or not) my schedule is not at all dependent on the whims and uncertainties of the weather.

Three new tomes to add to the collection this week. On the left is the newest from Michigan author Jim C. Hines, Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen, from Hines’ recent Kickstarter.

In the center is W. Todd Kaneko’s new poetry collection This is How the Bone Sings. I met Todd a couple of years ago at a Caffeinated Press event, and have been a fan of his poetry ever since.

On the right is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine, back from their summer hiatus.

In reading news, On October 1 I began The Sealey Challenge, wherein participants try to read a book or chapbook of poetry a day for a month. As luck would have it I have a great many unread poetry books and chapbooks, so coming up with a list was not a problem. I can set aside enough time in a day to read up to about 100 poems, though I may have to sacrifice some sleep in order to complete the requirement. I selected as many shorter works as I could, because I don’t want to just slam through the books without taking the time to appreciate and enjoy the works therein. I am posting updates to my progress on Instagram and Twitter, and will probably post collected updates here at the 10, 20, and 31 – book increments.

Nothing much to report in the writing department. I am stuck on a scene, and since I am only planning one scene ahead in the writing process, I need to see how this one turns out before I can lay out the details of the next one. I have given up on trying to force it, and instead in my free moments let my mind wander in that general direction and let my subconscious do the heavy lifting. Looks like NaNoWriMo will be a catch-up month for the novel, rather than a collection of new short stories. Of course it could also be both.

That’s all the literary news for now. Tune in next week for some new and exciting sameness.

Boom, etc.

The annual ritual of pretending to blow up every goddamn thing in the city is over for the year, or at least until tonight. All political opinions aside, the mode of celebration of Independence day, to wit: simulate acts of destruction, has been done to death. Maybe from now on we as a country should collectively do something constructive with our holiday time. Like volunteer at veteran’s hospital or something.

Nah, that will never happen. This is America! Belligerence is freedom! Compassion is socialism, or something.

Anyway.

Now that the McHenry LARPing is done I can get back to my regular schedule of 4-5 hours of sleep a night, rather than 2-3 as has been the case this past week. No matter what time I go to bed, I am awakened by Poe at cat o’clock, which tends to be in the 4:45 to 5:15 time slot. With my rest time returned to “barely adequate” I may have the focus and mental energy to begin writing my new novel, which I had planned to start last week, before the glacier of burnout calved and filled the ocean of my mind with the icebergs of FUCKIT.

Anyway.

This past week was a good one for books here at the library at Winkelman Abbey. Ten new books, chapbooks and periodicals arrived since last Sunday. On the top left is the super-fun Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike. I recently finished reading the e-book version and liked it so much that I bought a physical copy, in the event that I ever run into Mr. Pike at a convention, assuming conventions ever happen again.

Second from left is the final book in Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus trilogy, Paternus: War of Gods. The first two, Paternus: Rise of Gods and Paternus: Wrath of Gods, were fantastic, so I have high hopes for this one.

In the middle of the top row is LatiNext, the fourth book in the BreakBeat Poets series of anthologies published by Haymarket Books. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. The power, passion, precision, beauty, anger and love in these pages is unequaled in my experience. They are just that good!

Fourth in the top row is The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, which has been on my to-read list for several years. Times being what they are, it seemed the appropriate time to dive in.

On the top right is Captivating Freedom, a collection of essays on the extrusion of the carceral space into the daily lives of “free” or non-incarcerated citizens. I came across this one while reading Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism back in late 2019. I have only read the introduction so far, but it was enough to recognize that there are some important and frightening lessons to be learned therein.

On the lower left is the latest issue of Poetry magazine. Next to it is the latest issue of the ever-wonderful Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, published by Small Beer Press, one of the very best of the small, independent presses in operation today.

The last three in the lower row are Trusting the Mind, A Day in the Life, and The Missionary Sutras, chapbooks of Red Pine’s translations of Buddhist writing, published by Empty Bowl. I have enjoyed Red Pine’s writing and translation for many years, and am always excited to discover something new in which he has had a hand.

(Note that links to author info and purchasing options are collected on the 2020 Books and Reading List.)

In reading news I finished Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes, and it was quite good. I didn’t feel that it was quite the equal of The Sword of Kaigen or Orconomics, but it was an enjoyable read all the way through and I recommend it to any fans of pirates and magic. I am also about halfway through Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician, and so far really enjoying it. It reminds me a little of Michael Flynn’s The January Dancer, in the way that Künsken treats the dispersion and fragmentation of humanity in a far future set in a boundless space.

A few days ago and purely at random, I pulled up on my Kindle Saga of Old City, Gary Gygax‘s first (and best) Gord the Rogue novel. This is pure comfort reading. It is passably well-written (6/10) for its time (mid- 1980s) and Gygax’s excitement and joy in writing his first novel really comes through. Unfortunately the subsequent books in the series do not measure up to the first, becoming increasingly encumbered by unnecessary hooks and references to the source RPG material. By the last in the series (Dance of Demons) they are nearly unreadable, except as artifacts of the history of fantasy RPG novels.

It is on my bucket list to do a complete re-edit of Saga of Old City and Artifact of Evil, the first two books in the series, and the only two written by Gygax which were published by TSR.

(Note that with reference to 21st century sensibilities, none of these novels aged particularly well)

I have one more week of vacation, and I have reduced my writing expectations from 20,000 words to 10,000 and likely down to 5,000 by the time next Sunday rolls around.

Writing is hard. Starting to write is harder.

A Sudden Bump in Book Stocks

After several weeks of small or nonexistent book orders coming in to the Library at Winkelman Abbey, several appeared at the same time. This was due to various subscriptions, Kickstarters, bookstore orders, and one impulse purchase from an independent publisher.

On the top left is Wild Sun by Ehsan and Shakil Ahmad. This one arrived unexpectedly from Dreamforge as a thank you for supporting their Kickstarter. In the top center is Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott, the latest from my subscription to Apex Publications. On the right is Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie, which I ordered from our local indie bookstore Books and Mortar.

Middle row left is the latest issue of Poetry magazine. The next three are poetry books which I ordered from Books and Mortar – Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova, How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy, and Simulacra by Airea D. Matthews. I subscribe to several poem-a-day email services, of which the most prominent two are Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown and the Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets. When a poem resonates, I will find a recent book by the poet and add it to one of my lists on Amazon. When I feel the need for more poetry in my life I will order a few of the books on that list from Books and Mortar. When they arrive, I remove them from the list on Amazon. It’s the opposite of the people who browse local bookstores then order the books they want from Amazon. Those people are jerks.

The bottom row contains the three books I ordered from the Literary Conversations series, published by University Press of MississippiConversations with William Gibson, Conversations with Gary Snyder, and Conversations with Samuel R. Delaney. At present count I have about a dozen of the Literary Conversations collections. They are extremely well done, quite enjoyable to read, and valuable resources for research.

In reading news, I recently burned through R.A. Salvatore‘s Dark Elf TrilogyHomeland, Exile and Sojourn. These were all re-reads of books which I have not revisited in at least fifteen years. Once upon a time I read everything I could get my hands on which was set in the Forgotten Realms. I think I burned myself out. But it felt good to dive back in. They are not great literature by any means, but they are good stories with engaging characters and quite complex worldbuilding. It was a complete comfort read, and now I will probably read a few more before I return to the world of LitFic.

Plus, I decided I want to write a fantasy novel, and Salvatore’s work is a great place to start putting my head in that particular space.

Publication Announcement: Portage Magazine

I am overjoyed to announce that Portage Magazine has just published two of my poems in their 2020 issue. You can read “Afternoon Traffic” and “Percussion” on their website, as well as the rest of the excellent collection published by this gem of a journal.

These are the first poems I have had published since 1999. This is also the first unsolicited work which I have had published since 1999, when I placed in the 1999 Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition and was subsequently published in that year’s issue of Voices.

I became aware of Portage Magazine when I was looking for possible venues for submission. There are of course thousands of outlets for poetry but that doesn’t mean a specific outlet is right for a specific poem. Since I am a Midwesterner, and therefore a Midwestern writer, I tried to use certain keywords to filter the lists from Poets & Writers, Duotrope, and other lists, but that still left several hundred possibilities. So I abandoned all of that and simply looked through the author bios of the 12 issues of The 3288 Review which Caffeinated Press published over the past five years, and wrote down the venues which had also published the poets which we had published. That left a much more manageable list, and Portage Magazine was right there in the middle of it all. And they do a very good job of publishing and promoting their authors.

Thank you for reading!

Poe Approves of Poetry and Translation

Poe is recovering nicely from her spaying and wants you to read the latest issue of Poetry, as well as That We May Live, a collection of Chinese speculative fiction in translation from Two Lines Press.

The big news from this past week is that I was notified that two of my poems have been accepted for publication! I will announce the venue when the publication date approaches. I can say that the journal which selected them is of the highest caliber. This will be my first unsolicited acceptance since the 1999 issue of Voices.

Reading and writing have both been mostly on hiatus for the last week, due to family duties, taking care of a recovering cat, and general exhaustion from extreme lack of sleep. I have managed to read a few stories from Varlam Shalamov‘s collection Kolyma Stories. This has done nothing for my peace of mind, as they are set in the gulag where he spent more than a decade of his life.

I have begun the process of turning my NaNoWriMo 2019 project — lightly-fictionalized writing about my terrible neighbor — into a series of short stories, and should hopefully have at least one of them whipped into shape before my birthday at the beginning of June. Would be nice to have at least one more publication under my belt by the end of the year.

Non-ConFusion Books is a Relatively Small Stack

While digging out from under the post-ConFusion pile of books I set aside two new additions to the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the left is the latest edition of Poetry magazine, and on the right is The Best of Uncanny from Subterranean Press. This is a Big Gorgeous Book and I will likely be reading the stories therein for several weeks.

Speaking of reading, I am working through the stories in the various Long List Anthologies of runners-up in the Short Fiction category from the Hugo Awards. Five of these anthologies have been published so far, and I hope the series continues as long as the Hugos are awarded.

Writing has mostly involved a few short poems and a lot of editing of the large stack of short stories. I have about half a dozen submissions out there and I have already received three rejection letters in 2020, so I am off to a rocking start!

Paws for Poetry

First, the most important news of the year. As of Christmas day, 2019, we have a cat! Internet, meet Poe, our Yooper ginger kitten. As near as we can tell he is about five months old. We adopted him from my girlfriend’s sister’s farm in Rudyard. Or rather, he adopted us. All of the cats were approachable, but Poe was the only one who stuck around to socialize after being fed.

Zyra named him after Edgar Allan Poe. Addressing someone as “po” is also a sign of respect in Tagalog and other Filipino dialects. And before anyone asks, no the cat was not named after Poe Dameron from the latest Star Wars trilogy.

(When I announced the kitten acquisition on Facebook the fine folks there suggested names like “Gravy”, “Pasty”, and “Poutine”. Poutine would in fact be a good name for a cat.)

Unless something exciting happens in the next two days, the January 2020 issue of Poetry will likely be the last acquisition to the Library at Winkelman Abbey for 2019. And that is fine. I have more than enough to read over the next few months, and since I want to hit the ground running on January 2 with lots of writing, editing and submitting, I won’t have as much time to read and catalog. I think of all my various subscriptions I will only be keeping three going into the new year: Poetry, Paris Review and And Other Stories. I might renew the subscription to Restless Books, but I need to draw the line somewhere.

In reading news, I haven’t done much in the past week. Still working through Gore Capitalism and occasionally edging carefully past my copy of A Thousand Plateaus on the way to and from the kitchen, lest I startle it into attacking me.

I doubt I will start reading any new books before the new year; too many and-of-year projects to complete, too much food to eat, and wow, do kittens require a lot of attention.

Happy New Year, everyone!

(PS: You cant have Poetry without Poe! Poetry without Poe is just “try”.)

A Break in the Drought

Oh it’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks, but to make up for the stress of work, work, and, uh work, we received a refreshingly large pile of reading material here at the library of Winkelman Abbey.

Top left is the latest issue of Dreamforge. Next to it is the latest issue of Rain Taxi, which means I will probably soon be ordering a few more books, based on the reviews in Rain Taxi. Third is The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain, which I picked up from Amazon on a whim. Last in the top row is the latest Tensorate series book from Jy Yang, The Ascent to Godhood.

Bottom row left is She Had Some Horses by newly-installed Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo. I am somewhat embarrassed to say this is the first of her poetry I have read. Next is the Ted Chiang’s newest collection Exhalation. Second from right is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This one has been on my radar for some time, and in anticipation of its arrival I have watched several of Kendi’s lectures and interviews on YouTube. Dude has some seriously powerful things to say about institutional racism.

Rightmost in the bottom row is the newest book from my Patreon subscription to Apex Books, Ration by Cody T. Luff.

I haven’t had much time to read this past week, what with work hours and the run-up to the release of the next issue of The 3288 Review. I am about 30 pages from the end of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, and about a dozen poems from finishing Lynn Breedlove’s  45 Thought Crimes. After that, the next thing on my reading list is sleep.