My full-length manuscript Forever War was selected as the winner of YesYes Book’s 2018 Pamet River Prize. It’s also a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Both things are wonderful, and shocking. It took me about exactly a calendar year to place my manuscript. Truthfully, I was gearing up for another entire year of sending the manuscript out to first book contests, and I was feeling good about it. After several drafts and ten rejections, it felt like it was in its final form. But then it landed at YesYes Books, a press I feel so lucky to be a part of.
It’s due out spring 2020 in time for AWP in San Antonio. This feels so special, as I lived in San Antonio from 2003-2004, during which I married my spouse.
I’m so looking forward to bringing this book into the world, y’all.
I also have a poem up at failbetter, “Retrieving the Guns,” which appears in my book. If you’d like to read it, you can access it here. Audrey Walls, failbetter’s poetry editor, interviewed me as well, and you can read the interview (in which I talk about writing bad poems, writing long poems, my enthusiasm for place, and poets I’m reading) here.
I was thinking, well maybe I’ll just wait ELEVEN MONTHS to update my writing blog?
In the meantime, cool things have happened! I went to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a scholar! I got rejected from the Bread Loaf waiters’ scholarship for the fourth time! I went to AWP!
We moved to Montgomery, Alabama for a year. In July we’re moving again to Omaha, Nebraska.
And I won The Pinch’s 2017 Literary Award! You can read my poem “What the War Was Not” here. They also interviewed me for their website. And they interviewed me for their March podcast.
Poems from the internet I have been enjoying lately:
“Breach” by Graham Barnhart and “I Would Like to Tell the President to Eat a Dick in a Non-Homophobic Way” by Kendra DeColo both in Waxwing
Two poems by Colby Cotton in Diagram
“Fidelity” by Stevie Edwards in 32 Poems
“Self Portrait as Banshee” by Erin Adair Hodges in Pleiades
“On Hearing There’s an Active Shooter While Teaching High School in Truman, AR” by Zach Hester in Nashville Review
“Solmaz Sharif: […] Also, the burden of narrative shouldn’t rely on immediate survivors alone. We in the States have the luxury of ‘not knowing’ just about everything we do globally, or domestically for that matter.”
–From THE RUMPUS POETRY BOOK CLUB CHAT WITH SOLMAZ SHARIF
I read Look a few weeks ago, which is Sharif’s fantastic National Book Award-nominated debut poetry book. In it she uses words from the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to write about various issues of war (both the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Iraq/Iran war) as well as displacement and injustice. For a couple of years I’ve been mulling over the idea of ownership when it comes to war experiences. Do I have the right to comment on war? To write war poetry? My connection to war is tenuous at best, but it’s there. Still, I’ve felt silenced by the fact that I have been relatively cushioned from the wars of the the mid-augts to early 2010′s.
But I really admire what Sharif did with military language and how bold she was about crafting these poems about war even though she is not a veteran and has never been, physically, in war.
In several of these poems, she anticipates the question of who gets to write about war. She actually addresses the reader by writing “How can she write that? / She doesn’t know,” and later, “According to most / definitions, I have never / been at war.” The implication here is that she does have the right to write about war. These poems have essentially given me permission to write about my experiences–and some of the experiences I did not have but could have easily had–regarding the past 10 years of my husband’s military service.
I also love the idea of not leaving the burden of storytelling to just immediate survivors of war. Just by being U.S. citizens we’re all implicated in some way or another, and we should all interrogate what being in a perpetual state of war means for the volunteer U.S. soldiers who fight those wars and for the people who have no choice but to live in the midst of those wars.
Suddenly it’s April. For National Poetry Month, Barrelhouse is publishing poems about or told in the voice of movie, TV, and novel characters. They published two of my X-Files poems–“The Abduction of Fox Mulder’s Sister” and “Scully Tallies Her Losses”–on the first. A few months ago, Ninth Letter published two of my poems for their writers-of-the-American-South-themed Web Edition. I’ve also had poems published in JuxtaProse and online at LUMINA.
Another exciting poetry-related event that has occurred is that the Tin House Writers’ Workshop accepted me to their summer workshop and retreat. I’m not sure that I can actually go, as that will be contingent on whether they offer me a scholarship, but it’s flattering nonetheless that I was accepted. I’ve been dealing with a lot of poetry rejections lately and am thirsty for any sort of writerly validation (so it seems).
In other big news, after not even a full year of living in Colorado Springs, we will be moving to Montgomery, Alabama in July. My spouse’s military career took an unexpected sharp turn, and a lot of our assumptions have been upended about where and how we thought we were going to spend the next several years. None of this is bad news, it’s just different. The good part is that I’m really jazzed to live in Alabama (my home state) again. I’ve been missing the South, and it will be good to fill up my tank, so to speak, before we move on to the next adventure. We’ll most likely be in Alabama for only about a year, which is probably exactly the right amount of time.
But–as being a military spouse has demonstrated to me repeatedly over the last 13 years–you never know.
Here are a few poems and books of poetry I’ve been enjoying the last few weeks.
Three poems by Brandon Courtney
Three poems by Rose McLarney
“What the Cold Wants” by Dobby Gibson
My Dinner with Ron Jeremy by Kendra Decolo
Bestiary by Donika Kelly
Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton
Inspired by Stanley Kunitz’s “The Abduction,” Sarah Crossland’s “Abduction,” and hours upon hours upon hours of X-Files episodes, I’ve been working on a series of alien abduction poems.
These have been really fun to write, although it seems they are not for everyone, which is fine! One of the most interesting things about writing and reading poetry is how we all have different tastes and ways of processing meaning. This makes for such a wonderful, diverse landscape of poetry, and I’m happy I get to contribute to it in my very small way.
I’ve been interested in abduction narratives for a while. They pose large questions about life and mystery and the frustratingly elusive nature of reality. How do we know what is real? What happens to us when powers beyond our control upset the very fabric of what we consider to be reality? I’ve also been interested in abduction narratives as a way to deal with and process trauma, including the questions that arise that may never be answered. Additionally, there seems to be a metaphor that I’m playing with, at the very root of these poems, about what it’s like to live with a head and heart that periodically check out for days at a time. Depression, in my experience of it, feels like being ghosted from myself. It feels like being stolen from my own life.
But I’m always returned.
You can find two of my abduction poems at Nashville Review and in Anomalous Press’s speculative folio at Drunken Boat. I hope I will be able to publish more of them.
In other poetry news, I’ve put together what feels like a solid chapbook and am in the process of submitting it to various contests and presses. I took a longer view of the poems I’ve been writing for the past two years, and I realized they are almost all written from the perspective of a spouse or loved-one who is left behind during wartime. Some of them are written from my personal experience, but many are persona poems set during past conflicts, especially the Vietnam war. I’m nervous about trying to publish a chapbook, but it feels like the next natural step.
Well, a lot has changed.
I moved to Colorado Springs. I’m going back to work–teaching full-time for the first time since my son was born. And I’m participating in a poetry workshop at Lighthouse in Denver (which is making me very, very nervous–actually, all of these changes are making me nervous). I expect to simultaneously have much more and much less time to write, if that kind of contradictory state is even possible. Right now I write at night after my kid’s bedtime and during his nap, if he takes one, which–with all the excitement of moving this summer–he usually doesn’t. Now he’ll be in daycare five days a week and once my morning classes are over I’ll have the rest of the work day to grade, prep for my classes, read, and write.
So there have been lots of changes in my life lately, exciting changes. The workshop in Denver is especially exciting. I’ve never participated in a poetry workshop before, never had much of an opportunity to meet other publishing poets, never had the chance to be mentored by a professional poet. That’s about to change. And I’m thrilled! And nervous! Did I mention I was nervous?
In other news, I’m impatiently awaiting my contributor’s copy of Sugar House Review, hoping it didn’t get lost in this move, and I just found out Radar Poetry nominated my poem “Homecoming” for Best of the Net, which is such a wonderful honor. Radar’s most recent issue is fantastic. All of their issues are. Rachel and Dara-Lyn put together the best poems again and again. Chelsea Dingman’s “On Our Tenth Anniversary, My Husband and I Watch Tropical Storm Andrea Rip the Doors off the Lanai” is particularly tender and beautiful.
I also have poems coming out in Nashville Review, Cimarron Review, and Drunken Boat this fall. All very, very exciting! And nerve-wracking. I’m a nervous mess these days.
P.S. The Review Review published a flattering review of the issue of Raleigh Review in which my poem “Flight” appeared. (Surely there’s a better way to construct that sentence??????)
I have new poems out in the special climate change issue of The Fourth River right now. I also have poems out in Rogue Agent and Tinderbox Poetry Journal.
Here are the poems I’m enjoying most right now from the online journals:
Of course, this is just a small sample of the wonderful work Rogue Agent and Tinderbox have published this spring, but these poems stopped me in my tracks/knocked my socks off/took my breath away/any and all other cliches you can think of to demonstrate awe, etc.
I have a new poem out in Raleigh Review! Slightly less than a year ago, Mel suggested that I check out this wonderful little journal. I did, loved it, and sent them some poems. Sometimes I have to stand outside (in the pouring rain) knocking on a journal’s doors for months/years before they let in one of my poems. Sometimes, I’m able to waltz right in. Raleigh Review let me waltz right in. Before I ever sent them any poems, I purchased a sample issue to read, and they sent me a handwritten note thanking me. I love Raleigh Review, is what I’m saying. They are good folks over there.
Guernica–lovely, lovely Guernica–made me knock on the door for a good long while, and thank goodness they did because when I finally got that acceptance, it signaled to me that my writing is at a solid place. Guernica consistently publishes knock-out poetry. You can read “Visions” here.
I have even more poems coming out in the next month or two. I guess with publishing it’s either feast or famine. Both have their value, but feasting is A LOT more fun.
I have three new poems out. “The Weight of It” from Valparaiso Poetry Review, and “Homecoming” and “Pastoral” from Radar Poetry.
Radar Poetry’s new issue came out only last night, and I have already completely devoured it. It’s a stunning issue, and I’m lucky to have work in it. Every poem is great, but my particular favorites right now are Sarah J. Sloat’s “Indoor Horses,” Caitlin Scarano’s “Mule,” and Megan Peak’s “As Girls–.” But I easily love every one of the poems in this issue. It’s incredible. I have hearts AND stars in my eyes right now.
I also really enjoyed reading the poems in the latest issue of VPR. I especially loved William Fargason’s “What We are Given” and Rebecca Lauren’s “Dearth.”
Probably my favorite part of the submitting and publishing process is finding new-to-me writers to love.
P.S. The beautiful collages accompanying my poems were made by Erin Case. I just ordered print copies of both of them! Her store is here.
I recently got my contributor’s copy of Kindred. “Grand Cayman,” the poem they published, is one of my personal favorites. It’s about my husband and a really great vacation we took and how transformative being in love in a new place can be. I am not great at writing love poems, and maybe this poem isn’t the best poem I’ve ever written. In fact, I found it hard to place and I’d almost given up on it when Kindred accepted it. So I’m really extra grateful to the editor, Amanda Mays, who makes a point to curate her issues with work that is beautiful and life-affirming. One of the things that scares writers the most, I think, is the possibility of accidentally falling into sentimentality. So much of what is published in many literary journals today leans toward expressions of violence and ruthlessness. I like reading that kind of work! We live in a violent, ruthless world. But I also like reading quieter work, even uplifting work. I like feeling connected to other people via more than just the worst commonalities we share.
So maybe “Grand Cayman” is sentimental. The memory that inspired it definitely is. When I picked up writing again in earnestness after many years of only picking at it, one of the things I told myself I would do was to risk sentimentality. One always hopes not to go veering off the edge into Hallmark territory, but just being open to the possibility of accidentally writing a sentimental poem or essay or short story opens the door to really feeling the emotions that turn into writing. In other words, there’s an authenticity of emotion that can come from risking sentimentality.
This whole issue is lovely, full of work that risks sentimentality while never devolving into something saccharine or mawkish. As a bonus, bonus, bonus (!) my very talented friend Melissa Oliveira has two poems included in this issue too! I have never been so excited to see my work placed alongside another person’s.
P.S. In other great writing news, I just got an acceptance from The Fourth River. They’re publishing two of my poems in their spring climate change issue. Boo, climate change, but I’m also really pleased to appear in this journal.