Monday, August 31, 2009

How to get published: hah!

Who am I to dredge up this chestnut, me, a para-middle-aged writer with one book in print (officially as of September 2009)?

I could argue my way out of addressing an often painful and mystifying topic, but I recently followed an online discussion about this ongoing rite-of-eternal-spring for poets and writers, and decided my experience might help someone.

Which, my publishing experience, is symbiotically attached to my life experience, which, my long journey from the dark well, I will have to trust you, the reader, to believe has had its challenges. Nonetheless:

I used to ask this of published writers. How do I get published? I'd feel both insulted and privy when they sidestepped an answer. No one owed me a hand up, I knew, and it was and is simply something each writer discovers for herself. Some get published before the ink is dry. Some never. Many in-between instantly and never.

The thing is: Send out your work, something made so much easier in our Internet age. My publication history spans twenty years. When I started out, in addition to marching to school in thirty-foot snow drifts and having to rub flint to spark up the television (and this was L.A.), I typed every single submission letter. Also every single draft of my stories - and I wrote many drafts.

I started out writing fiction - pursuing a mystery novel that's gone through almost a dozen permutations and never come to fruition. Soon after I began writing, I also began writing short fiction and that's what I submitted to various journals, whose names and addresses I usually culled from the journal itself or one of those handbooks for writers.

Each submission included an SASE with enough postage to return their rejection note and my story. That was a lot of postage, many 8 x 12 envelopes and hours of typing.

And hundreds of rejections. After a while, I started getting little notes scribbled on the rejection slips: "This one almost made it." "Please try us again." "Sorry, try again. We ran out of room." And so on. And now and then - not all that often, a story of mine would be accepted. And that's how it went. I only wrote short stories and failed mystery novels until some date in the early 1990s, when I popped out of the bathtub to write a poem.

(I had written a few poems in college, but managed to bury my every creative instinct - except those for casual self-destruction - until I was in my thirties.)

With poetry I was equally aggressive in sending out work. I had some early luck - the luck of proximity. One poem was accepted in an editors-only edition of ZYZZYVA and another poem was grabbed up and edited by an editor (and friend) at Fine Madness. He'd heard me read it. History intercedes, because I went to grad. school, became embittered, had to work at personal survival and various other challenges, and stopped writing poetry for some years.

But when I started again four or so years ago, I began submitting right away. As when I started writing fiction, I have the impulse, the need to be seen. That's not the full story behind publication - why we want to be published could probably fill volumes of conjecture - but most of us do.

I send off work to what are perceived as "good" journals and to inaugural issues of (therefore) untested journals. I get rejected much of the time, although I think my percentages - about seven percent acceptances - are decent.

The thing is, I don't hate an editor or journal for rejecting my work. I just send the poem out again. I congratulate myself when I am accepted. I want people to read my poems. While I am, I admit, proud to be published in some of the perceived "good" journals - Threepenny Review, Mississippi Review, Minnesota Review - (stories in Weber Studies, South Dakota Review, Tampa Review and others) - I am most proud of the poems themselves. (Let's back up. Those "good" journals ARE good. Just not necessarily better than all others.)

You never know. The very new journals my work has been featured in include but are no means limited to Fogged Clarity, Willows Wept Review, Flaneur Foundry, Fifth Wednesday, and each journal is a revelation of artistry and excellent writing.

I mean - really good.

And while some journals are closed to new poets, or to old poets like me, so what. If those journals choose to be selective, again, so what. We, as poets and writers, make decisions about what we believe to be "prestige" journals. Can a journal be good if it doesn't remain open to new voices? Do I want to be part of a club that excludes? Why consider that journal desirable or worthy?

Why would anyone want to join that club to begin with?

So keep submitting. On the Internet, it's easy breezy. No paper, no printing costs, no postage. I observe editorial guidelines. If the editors don't accept simultaneous submissions, I don't submit my poems or story to any journal but theirs until hearing back. Or I can choose not to them at all.

But I keep at it. After submitting my poetry collection to three or four contests, I realized I just didn't have the money to keep at it. Having redirected my energy, I found a publisher who read and liked my work. Hence:

The Future Is Happy. BlazeVOX [books]. 2009. Buy it and see my list of publications which includes the good and the unknown - either way, those poems are now in print.

Go to to buy my book.

Go to for a more full list of my pubs.

Not discussed above: Writing is a spiritual journey. The whole deal of life is a spiritual journey.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Roxy Paine: true art, this year at the Met

Last August my nephew, in his last year of college, visited New York. I wanted to show off.

Hence: the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Evan's from L.A., an art center rivaling the Apple (I know New Yorkers tune out this fact. What I can I say but LACMA, the Temp Contemp, the Getty, the Contemporary, Pacific Asia, Huntington, Pasadena Museum of Contemporary Art, Norton Simon, galleries galore - good galleries - and more more more). Like me, Evan had an art-intensive childhood, although more contemporary than mine. Hipper. Some different music, some different visuals, but art all that way.

No matter how much my sister Judy - his grandmother - protested she didn't understand art, her life revolved around art. She reacted to my parents who must have framed the almighty importance of the one true path in strident ways. I don't have an actual memory of this but I'm pretty sure it could have happened - my parents gluing electrodes to our (me and my three sisters') temples during the Bach Beethoven Mozart, Dante, Dickens, El Greco, da Vinci athons.

We Female Four rebelled, but there's no escape from childhood. The classics were implanted. We live our lives as we can (with gratitude and surprising hipness). That said, the classical gene skipped Judy - second daughter - the one who followed valedictorian, full-scholarship-to-Smith, Jean.

One evening, Judy who was by this time married and living in the C.D. (Crenshaw District), was home for a dinner. My father teased her - cruelly - about art, understanding or identification thereof. She went limp and whimpered. I don't understand art. Bullshit. I wanted to deck Pop, but at that point I acted in, not out.

Judy spent the approximately forty of her approximately sixty years breathtakingly entrenched in native, original, indigenous arts and worked with the Smithsonian and other museums. And she wasn't a white lady "mixing." She was something altogether original.

Yeah, right, sure, she didn't understand art. My father knew he was an idiot but he didn't understand how vicious he could be. Or, bless him - he was very funny at times - he couldn't help himself.

So part of my subject here is Jeff Koons, commercial artist. He's okay. He can be fun. Commercial, yup. Nothing wrong with making money. But to be called art - Pop or highbrow - an artist, an artwork, has got to provoke feeling. (Hello, Michael Jackson, provacateur.)

Last year's Jeff Koons sculptures on the Met rooftop provoked boredom - there was no place an imagination could go with them - and Evan saw it right away (which made me so proud of him).

Which brings me to my other main point. Roxy Paine sculptural installation Maelstrom on the Met's roof this summer. Through his twisted silvery branches reaching bending looping joining pipes and disappearing into the floor, there are the blues of sky, shapes of cloud, the thousand greens of Central Park treetops.

After I saw the Paine I ran into a curator escorting a dignatary. I said:

Thanks for putting real art on the roof this year.

She was all Ivy League cool and true art-lover intrigued. Who'd we have, I don't remember. I reminded her. Oh. She looked away.

Can't wait to bring Evan to the roof this year. My nephew will take one look. My nephew will know what too many fail to see. Art isn't a chia pet.

I can't wait until Evan comes to N.Y.C. He'll take one look and he'll know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cornelius Eady: Did I wake you?

For a while now, when I log on to Facebook, I land on Cornelius Eady's profile. (A Facebook user usually lands on her own profile or home page.)

Eady is only a few years younger than I am, but there are differences between the two of us, at least superficial differences. He is black, and male. I am white, and a chick.

When I see his face where I expect to see mine (or one of the Tex Avery cartoons I sometimes substitute as a profile picture) I am momentarily puzzled; I'm also thrilled. Eady's published six books, while my first book just got its first review. He co-founded an organization for black poets - Cave Canum, and his biography on, the Poetry Society of America site, quotes snazzy June Jordan on his poetry chops:

"Cornelius Eady leads and then cuts a line like no one else: following the laughter and the compassionate pith of a dauntless imagination, these poems beeline or zig-zag always to the jugular, the dramatic and unarguable revelation of the heart."

Okay, already. But you know, I was black once. It was only for a few seconds, but it was real, albeit confusing. This happened one morning about ten years ago. I was tired, groggy and aching to pull up the covers. Unfortunately I had to work.

I had my small pleasure mapped - a stop at a local bakery for coffee and a muffin on the way to the subway. The glass door to this bakery served as a mirror when the sun was just so; I turned to my left, expecting to see my full-body reflection and verify I was wearing work clothes and not pajamas.

I didn't see the Sarah Sarai I expected. I saw a lovely, young black woman, well-dressed and happy. She was a golden person. Golden people glow. They just glow.

In my groggy state, that's who I thought I was, a lovely young black woman. And golden, too. My first thought was, How will I explain this to René? René is my niece, and also a lovely black (or mixed race whatever all or any of this means) woman. I didn't worry René would be angry - she has teenagers and an extremely productive life and doesn't spend time thinking about Sarah Sarai's racial composition - but I did feel I owed her an explanation.

Go figure. I guess I assumed my nephew, her brother, Mark, could take this in stride. He's a musician. You know musicians.

After what seemed like an eon of staring - and blocking the woman's path - I saw she'd opened the bakery door, I was me, and she was a lovely young woman on her way to work. I laughed - I love my idiocies, I do - and told her my mistake - that expecting to see myself I'd thought she was me or I was her or we were one.

She thought I was funny. I thought her every detail of dress and demeanor was perfect, and that she probably never woke up late or groggy. That had been part of my surprise - my personality transformation. I was tickled to have tickled her. On a bad morning, making someone happy is a good thing.

Cornelius Eady, did I wake you?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Craft of the Gum

I am afraid of dentists. While it's not a particularly original phobia it is a phobia with repercussions like a snare drum's vibrating crash when it falls out the van of some tanked musicians wearing T-shirts and jeans cleaned the year before they were asked to leave high school. (To their credit the musicians got their GEDs; but they do lug that snare drum from garage to garage.)

The sound of repercussions? Jarring and painful. I have yet to warm up to shiny exquisitely sharpened metal implements of silver tones, near, on, or boring into my tender gums, themselves small and shiny though wet and of a pinkish hue.

Through a serendipity which is part of a recent and larger massing of good will on behalf of the universe toward me, I found a dentist I could bear. A periodontist. I scrambled to my insurance website the week after I was laid off and made use of the dentist finder device.

"How did you find me?" Dr. Hecht asked. He has been practicing for many years, and probably in the same inauspicious office on the first floor of an apartment building - a New York City phenomenon, as far as I know (small medical offices that aren't part of snazzy professional complexes).

"You're in my zip code." I mentioned my dental squirminess.

He was calm and genuinely interested in gums, gum pockets and all that. If all we poets were as dedicated to our craft as he is to his, poetry could be a whole different thing neither better nor worse but different.

Hecht did, however, use small shiny sharp instruments, some motorized. I saw him Tuesday - second time - for surgery. He had that morbid perspective of dental aficionados. He thinks it's a hoot.

"Usually the X-rays make it look worse," the dentist said to his nurse Marianna. "Look at this stuff [I'm taking out]!"

Her nonsequitor was a reference to a failed X-ray of his teeth: "Ees my fault if your cheeks they are lined with lead?" Marianna is Russian.

My arms were tightly crossed on my chest, as I gripped and pinched myself in fear and tried to remember where Dr. Hecht matriculated. Was it the Sir Lawrence Olivier Royal Academy of Periodontal Surgery? Pinch pinch. Was he going to ask, "Is it safe?" Would the anesthetic take effect in time?

Marianna saw me white knuckling. "I am havink the mark on the arm myself. Pinchink. Donn like the surgery, me neither." Marianna reached behind her. "So." She handed me a stuffed brown bear usually offered to younger patients. I squeezed. "Ees helpink, yes?" Yes.

Hecht suspects a poppy seed infiltrated a pocket, as periodontists call fissures in the gum. I was infected and ready to abscess. Hallelujah - I didn't.

When he was troweling over new "bone" replacing gunky old bone dissolved by infection he mentioned a cousin of his who had cosmetic surgery on her chin. This was in the late 1940s. I believe his curiosity centered on the composition of the new "bone." Somewhere along the line he and Marianna veered from talking about real bone (not favored by patients because it's kinda creepy) versus fake bone; silicone (which led to the reflections on his cousin's chin); and just how much putty she should mix up to cover my stitches.

He complained she made too much and when it proved she had estimated correctly he told her that was because he was right all along.

I kind of forget where I was headed with all this although I hoped I would find a poetry tie-in along the way. Well, there was that comment of mine about poets (some) versus workmanlike professionals (some). I end with a moment of sympathy for Dustin Hoffman, who didn't know what Olivier meant when he asked "Is it safe?" - held up that whirring drill - gave dentists such a bad name.

photo from Marathon Man, starring Sir Lawrence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Computer problem hiatus (a few days)

My computer is whirling in its own time. Short blog entry. Beautiful world, beautiful life. The mystery will sustain us.