Friday, July 17, 2015

Tips For Publishing Chapbooks and Applying to Residencies - What I've Learned As A Judge

Judging other writers' work is, at best, strange. The act feels something like peering into people's front windows as you walk down quiet streets at nightfall. You see the good, the bad, and the just plain embarrassing. For five years, I served as an editor at a Washington State poetry press. Every year we held a chapbook contest and chose one lucky book as winner. That meant hundreds of other poets were left disappointed. Did we pick the best book? How did we know which was the "chosen" one? Might a different group of editors have chosen a different chapbook? Yes. Absolutely.

So when entering a chapbook contest what are the things to be aware of? What might help you have the best chance of having your book win publication? My 10 top pieces of advice. After reflecting on these simple ideas, I believe they work equally well when applying to writing conferences or grants.

1. Persistence. Persistence. Persistence.

More often than not the book we chose as the chapbook winner was a manuscript that we'd seen before. Not the same exact manuscript but one that had been worked on: a few new poems and a a few weaker poems taken out. The advantage was that we came to know this book and so each year (sometimes three years or more) we could see it getting better. Know that sending to the same contest (if it is one you really want to win) year after year can be an excellent strategy.

2. Follow the Rules.

Most contests provide solid guidelines in terms of number of pages of poems, one poem per page, no plastic sleeves, etc. Following these guidelines puts you ahead of the pack. Editors are looking for a way to whittle down their reading load; a badly formatted manuscript could be tossed away without being read.

3. Create a Theme that Provides Coherence

This idea of a "narrative arc" some topic or experience that holds your book together is preferable to most editors most of the time. Having said that, I'll add that since all the poems came from your pen and your consciousness, this should not be too hard. One poet wrote about his work in the health profession, one poet wrote obliquely about the loss of her mother and a lover, one poet wrote about her past in a religious order. Not ever poem came under this theme but enough of them did that they provided cohesion to the manuscript.

4. Ordering your Manuscript is an Art.

It is also a delicate balance. I worked with one poet who had a half dozen poems about her uncle in her manuscript. They all covered similar territory concerning family and identity. However, the book was not meant to focus on this uncle and so by including so many poems about him (even good poems) the became off balance. In another case, the book had too many different topics ---- all good poems --- but the result was more of a crowded ship than a clear map of experience. There are 101 ways to order a manuscript and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. My advice is to go to your bookshelves and take down the poetry books you love best. How are these poems scaffolded? What creates the pleasure you feel? Go beyond the poems themselves. Keep a journal of what you find. What are the consistent themes?

5. Know the Press Before You Press Send

Not all chapbook contests are created equal. In several cases, the press has a specific design for the chapbook winner and therefore you will have to abide by that design. In one famous case, the press rescinded its offer of publication after many mishaps with the writer. You can read about the case here as a cautionary tale. In other words, do some research: look at past copies of winning books at your local library or bookstore. You can even email a past winner or two to see if she was happy with the press. Publishing your first book is a euphoric event but not if it is with a press you don't respect.

6. Think about a Book Doctor or Outside Editor

Soliciting outside help for your book in terms of line edits, ordering for a narrative arc, and proofreading is more common than ever before. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand. Many poets are happy to work as editors and so you should approach someone whose work you respect. I am one of many poets who offer these services. Check out a range of options here.  I've worked with writers (fiction writers and non-fiction writers, as well as poets) on their chapbooks, their residency applications and individual poems or essays.

7. Keep Track of Your Expenses; Start a Poetry Account

Sending out manuscripts, making copies, paying reading fees ---- it can all add up. One way to take some control of this is to open a poetry bank account. Decide how much money you want to spend on this endeavor. One way to think about this is in terms of how much money you might make from your other writing gigs (freelance articles, teaching workshops, editing) so that you create an ebb and flow for your creative work. Another way is to see how much you spend on espresso drinks per month. Would that be better used on your poetry? However you decide to do this, you will have a physical documentation of where your poetry money goes. It can be liberating to look at your art from an economic perspective; it can also be sobering.

8. Research, Research Research

I mentioned researching the presses you send your manuscript to for consideration but there is so much more to learn. The chapbook is very different from a full manuscript not merely in the number of pages of each but because of the more artistic possibilities in a chapbook. This quote is excerpted from a blog post by Erica Mena who is a little bit in love with the form.

Another thing I love about the chapbook is the ephemeral quality of it, as a physical object. A lot of chapbooks are small, handmade objects that are out of place in bookstores. I can only think of a handful of bookstores that even consider carrying chapbooks, and even then they are sort of hard to spot, as spineless as they often are. Of course, that’s usually enough to intrigue me when I’m browsing, but I imagine they get overlooked more often than not. They’re often made in extremely limited editions, numbering in the hundreds or less. Since most literary title distributors won’t carry chapbook-only presses, they’re awfully hard to find, at least comprehensively. All this lends a kind of mystique to the form, and a certain pleasurable sense of illicitness.  -- Erica Mena

9. Think About Publishing Creatively

Say you've exhausted yourself sending out your manuscript to a few dozen contests over as many years. Perhaps your poems don't fit the current trends. Maybe you write in blank verse or every poem is a sestina. Using form might be a harder sell to a contest that could be looking for more commercial aspects or simply the judges are younger or older and therefore might have a different aesthetic. These poetic differences are extremely hard to define. We want to believe that an excellent manuscript will find its home. However, sometimes that home may look different from what you imagined. Perhaps you have a friend who is a visual artist. Has she ever created an art book? Think Anne Carson's book, Nox, where the book is a box. Or perhaps an art exhibition at a local gallery would serve as a publication. There are 101 ways to self-publish and in doing so have more say over how your poems appear in the world.

10. Don't Get Discouraged!

I have heard dozens and dozens of stories from poets on how long it took to get their first book published. I've heard everything from two years to twenty years. I've never heard of anyone whose book was taken first time out. Know that every time you send your work out you have another opportunity to make it better. Publishing will happen for you; there are 1000 ways to publish your work. Get started with a list of what would be your dream scenario. Now start working towards it.
Good luck!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ekphrastic Workshop, Wine, and End of Summer Poems: We Are 2 Spots Away from Full!

Only two more places available...
Feel free to leave me a question here or visit our website for more information. We'd love to have you join us for this amazing weekend of poetry, art, and workshops.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A New Poem from Sweet: A Literary Confection

I'm very thankful to have a new poem "Not Monet's Giverny" up at Sweet: A Literary Confection. Some poems cost us more than the sum of their parts. We needed to live through the experience in order to make art of it in some future decade.

I've no idea if this is a "good" poem or not. I've no ability to see it clearly, not yet. But I do know that the experience that the poem grew out of, twenty-nine years ago is just as vivid to me as what I see out the window right now. Twenty-nine years is a long time and no time at all. But you knew this already.

A huge thanks go to Katherine Reigel, editor of Sweet: A Literary Confection. Happy, too, to be in the same issue with Brenda Miller and Lee Gulyas.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist with Kirun Kapur

An exceptional first book by Kirun Kapur
Certainly this cover grabbed my full attention even before I was treated to the poems inside."Heart is Not Ten or Twenty" is the title and the artist,  S. H. Raza is a fascinating Indian painter who lived much of his life in France and then went back to India consciously ready to reinvent his art.

In Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist the reader understands the importance of (re)invention.  In Kirun Kapur's debut collection, family stories of emigration and war shake hands with Chips Ahoy and the afterlife. There is much to admire in this heady mix of three generations moving across the page. A sense of (dis)location helps to create Kapur's surreal voice that this reader finds very appealing.

I want to look at two poems that will provide a sort of sliding scale for this book; poems that vary stylistically both in form and register. "My Father's Hopscotch" moves back and forth from literal geography: "Five rooftops---wide and flat ...Five rivers in the Punjab" to the hopscotch of global politics and pending war which comes together in the final stanza:

The infantry is restless. Rumors in the street.
Some rumbling, a mutiny: the East is lost,
turn back, return to Greece. Roof to roof,
he leaps, he presses across the map.

Clearly Elizabeth Bishop's "The Map" and "Geography III" are also pressing on this poem --- in a very good way. The poem is filled with internal rhyme "street / mutiny / Greece" and there's an iambic ghost throughout much of the poem. I admit that the poems looking back on the speaker's father are among my favorite. The intermingling of history and family, father and daughter is a personal preference. Having admitted that, I almost want to take it back because what I love about these poems is how well they're written. No sentimentality; no easy escapes.

The poem "Nobody Nation" is written in flash points of an extended compass: west, east, north, south, and pacific. The notes at the back of the collection offer that Kapur's poem was inspired by Derek Walcott's famous line, "I'm nobody or I'm a nation" in his amazing poem, Schooner Flight. In Kapur's five sections we watch as a child learns the ugly indignities of racism along an Arizona highway, in a history book, and while working for a wealthy couple. Yet, in the last section the father is sworn in as (we assume) a US citizen. And he has the last word: I keep the good lines for myself. 

From the independence of a nation as India breaks away from Great Britain, to the growth of an educated family living in exile, this book offers me (and I suspect many American citizens) a new window into the world. These are complex poems that I've returned to several times over the last few months. Poems that I believe will stay with me for a long time to come.

Kirun Kapur is a multi-talented poet able to write well in many different forms. This will benefit her (and us as readers) as she continues her career. This is a poet we are sure to hear more from. The poems are necessary --- smart and funny. And very clearly poems for these times.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Katie Woodzick Interviews Me at the House of Sky

Sweet Peas from the House of Sky's garden
              An old postcard of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova appears in the left foreground of the frame, just in front of a souvenir print of a trip to the Aran Islands. Yet, these days, I seem pretty content in my own backyard --- in a converted garage-now-writing studio called House of Sky. (My friend Kelli Russell Agodon writes in her backyard at House of Sea.) This past weekend, Katie Woodzick, podcast host extraordinaire (and actor, director, poet) came out to West Seattle to interview me in my natural habitat. Feel free to listen as you cook dinner or pet your cat. Great background sound. You can listen here.

           Some of the things we talk about include:

          Kelli Russell Agodon as Harriet the Spy
          Poetry as a lover
          United States Peace Corps
          Poets on the Coast
          House of Sky (how to build a writing studio)
          South Africa
          The Improbable Places Poetry + 1 Tour
          Madeline DeFrees
          My third grade teacher, Miss Schiavo
          My eighth grade teacher, Mr. Katz
          Elizabeth Austen
          Prairie fires
          Linda Pastan
          Robert Lamirande
          Kathleen Flenniken

         Thank you to Katie for being such a great interviewer. Such a pleasure to talk with you.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Announcing the Russell - Rich Scholarship

Open the door to your creative life

Once upon a time, two women had an idea. What if they could create the perfect writing retreat? Of course there would be chocolate and good things to eat; there would also be a profound respect for each and every participant who chose to join us. We'd give gifts to everyone and include a one-on-one session so that each woman had time alone to ask her questions. And somehow, we did it. Through prairie fires and lightening storms, through lots of laughter and growth, we have manifested the retreat weekend we'd dreamed of creating. There is even now an additional day for those who want a longer experience.

This year we are making public something that we've done privately from time to time: we're offering one woman a full scholarship (worth around $400) to join us. Over the years we've seen what a weekend of creative work and community can do for a woman's spirit / sense of self. We'd love to offer this opportunity to you. Here are the details: send three poems along with a paragraph of "Why Poets on the Coast? Why Now? to us by July 3rd. Here are all the details at our website.  If your writing needs a kickstart or the promise of a weekend of poetry sounds delightful, why not write us?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Something we can crow about: Award Winning Authors!

Best-selling West Seattle author Lyanda Lynn Haupt reads Wednesday at next WordsWest

May 18, 2015 at 12:51 pm | In West Seattle books, West Seattle news | No Comments

The monthly WordsWest Literary Series has already highlighted many talented local writers – but this month’s edition really has something they can crow about: A rare West Seattle appearance by best-selling author Lyanda Lynn Haupt. She and poet Allen Braden are reading this Wednesday (May 20th) at C &; P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor) in the next WordsWest event, as announced:

WEST SEATTLE— From backyard bestiaries to the farms of White Swan, nature slays us. From the intelligence of crows to the many chambers of a cow’s heart, we learn to look again at the commonplace life that surrounds us. For the May 20th, 2015 edition of WordsWest Literary Series, Washington poet Allen Braden and West Seattle naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt, will join us for a night of natural highs. This month WordsWest is again very grateful for a grant from Poets & Writers that allows us to pay our writers for their time and talent.

Allen Braden is the author of A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood (University of Georgia) and Elegy in the Passive Voice (University of Alaska/Fairbanks). His poems have been anthologized in The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Poetry: An Introduction, Best New Poets and Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry. He teaches at Tacoma Community College.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives. Her most recent book is The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild (Little, Brown 2013). Her previous books include Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness (Little, Brown 2009), awarded the 2010 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award; Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds (Sasquatch 2001), winner of the 2002 Washington State Book Award; and Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin’s Lost Notebooks (Little, Brown 2006).

Every third Wednesday, 7pm, at C & P Coffee Company, WordsWest hosts literary events that range from readings by published local and national authors, to craft discussions and guided writing explorations for every experience level. Each month a community member from a local, independent business shares his or her favorite poem as part of the Favorite Poem Project. On May 20th, we welcome Eric Jordan of The Office Junction.

WordsWest is curated by West Seattle writers Katy E. Ellis, Susan Rich, and Harold Taw.

Join us on FaceBook at

For more information, please contact or visit

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Terrance Hayes Lecture on Liquid Poetics: My Scattered Notes

Terrance Hayes - Poet, Painter, and Provocateur - My Hero
I had the immeasurable pleasure of listening to Terrance Hayes share ideas on poetry last night as the year's final event of the Seattle Art and Lecture Poetry Series. I was on the brink of a bad cold so please forgive any notes without sense -- or perhaps that's just as it should be? The bold is for my favorite lines and ideas.

"Don't get set in one form."
(be formless, be shapeless, like water.)

                                      * * *

Robert Bly wrote in his poem, Morning Pablo Neruda:

"Water is practical / it doesn't care about us / .../ no one lays flowers on the grave of water."

                                    * * *

(okay -- everything is in quotes now -- or an approximation of such.)

Your poetics is evident in the process; let your poetics be water.

Hayes has been called a Liquid Modernist --- quotes Polish sociologist --- author of

Liquid Modernity
by Zigmunt Bauman

A liquid "man" flows through life, changes jobs, marriages, gender.

"A tourist in our own life."

A lecture is not just an archive -- -rather it's a realization, a series of small revelations.

Like a poem -- a lecture is made out of mood, pluck, and chance.

Listener, reach for the beautiful. Don't worry about genre.

"Poetics of the Self."

There are three spheres of influence Hayes describes:

1. The Adjacent Possible --- creativity triggered by close bonds (Robert Lowell comes in here --- and his appropriation of his ex-wife's letters -- Elizabeth Hardwick.

(3 mates on a small raft --- Plath, Sexton, and Lowell).

2. Platform Innovations Model
(like acquaintances on a ferry or at a conference. )

3. Liquid Network
(group that is loosely aligned with a shared aesthetic. MFA programs and those who teach in them, for example. All agree on giving grades, value publication, etc. )

                                                    * * *

Some of the stories and places that Haye's own liquid poetics come from -

Robert Lowell -- ready and willing to change tactics at short notice.
Ethridge Knight -- Pittsburgh -- was married to Sonia Sanchez.

Hayes did his MFA at Pittsburgh but also went to a community workshop every third Saturday. Contained some old school Black Nationalism --- other members were Rob Penny and Dang Demented Wordsmith.

Amiri Baraka - (formerly Leroy Jones)

Wallace Stevens -- "One Must Have a Mind of Winter"

"Snow For Wallace Stevens" in Lighthead.

                                * * *

"Feeling Means More Than Meaning" -- T.H.

Great moment: Johnny Walker Blue -- the mythic, magical, elixir.
$300 a bottle.

                          * * *

Here is an insight: the poem is a kind of house; a bungalow, a macmansion,  a cottage. Enter the front door and enter into language. If we find a sofa in the kitchen, how delightful.

Voice is born in the blood.
It's liquid.
You can't get away from it.
Put on all the masks you want.

            * * *
Does art create the self?
Does art affirm the self?

           * * *
This is sounding more and more like a poem --- a liquid poem.