Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Curious on Myspace: How do I get published

A poet I am friends with on Myspace sent me this message:

I'm curious if you might share some professional insight....?
I have work (poems and stories) that I would like to be published. I have my book, and a few pieces out there, but I feel like I'm an awful judge when it comes to selecting a venue for a specific piece of mine.
Your work is great, and you're published often. Can you shed some light on your publishing process? What's a good way to find a match for your work? Often I feel like I "get it right" only to discover I haven't.
I'm curious to have your input.

While I am somewhat flattered another poet asks my advice, and note she wisely thought to compliment my work I wonder what she is really asking. She may not know. I checked and this poet has one book out which is all I have.

And even if that weren't the case, she must know I have nothing new to say on the subject, a chestnut in the world of literary journals, writing, submission. I suspect her underlying question is a statement: Help. I'm discouraged.

Discouragement I can respond to, because I know it well. Sit back and prepare for the litany. I'm discouraged I still haven't been able to publish my short story collection, although ten or so of the stories are in literary journals, with one forthcoming. I'm discouraged I still haven't found a publisher for my novel or newer work.

I am discouraged that because of the preceding nonevents of nonpublication I couldn't get a teaching job. I am discouraged by my older sisters' ability to so sufficiently demoralize me when when I was younger I function oddly. I am discouraged the whole lot of us with me as the drum major believe the b.s. we are fed about how we should live and act (fed by media, which is whoever has the attention of the folks round the camp fire for the past 5,0000 or 15,000 or 16 billion years).

I am discouraged so much clever and even highly skillful work gets lauded when it is no more than clever and even (sometimes) highly skillful.

I read poetry to find the answer. I read to get closer to the meaning. I'm looser on fiction. I get discouraged when I read work that means nothing to me though I sometimes know it's wonderful and that my approval is not the sole criteria for merit.

What small success I do have I have because I
ultimately didn't give up. After graduation school, and there is a direct correlation, my poetry was so clever and cynical (my M.F.A. is in fiction but I took some poetry classes) I was afraid I was taunting muses. I risked retribution, and love poetry too much for that. I knew what I was writing was wrong. A poet can only write what is close to her soul and mine was damaged.

Well, all souls are damaged, even Mother Teresa's, Paul Newman's, MLK's. Without damage there would be no clawing toward the light; art.

I stopped writing poetry. It wasn't simply my discouraging graduate school experience that made me cynical. I needed healing.

I worked on my soul. I repaired. Poetry came back.

And then I began submitting, on instinct, to this and that review. I did it a lot. I was given no favors. I have no connections. Simply, I would not let myself be discouraged.

And I enjoy the trip, the journey, the flow, the silliness. If I'm getting depressed, submitting can help me feel positive. It's my one-in-a-million chance lottery ticket. Why else do people buy those things but to buy hope. Depression can also mask a new poem awaiting birth. God loves a good depression.

We don't know who the one or two chosen poets will be, chosen to sing centuries from now. We just do it because singing in the present saves us. There's always Letters to a Young Poet, and I'm told Pater wrote similar. Love the flawed system, respect editors, know the system is fixed and against you, immoral and run by mere mortals, believe in whatever it is you need to believe in to submit your next packet of poems.

image from: http://www.eatonhand.com/hw/fibonacci1.jpg (a Fibonacci sequence)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Delirious Feminism: question #3 of 3 (how can we all help?)

I met Lucy Grealy once. She wrote Autobiography of a Face. Cancer had eroded bone, but I didn't think she looked wrong, just different. There's a sweet man in my neighborhood with a partial face. People avoid looking at him. I don't get it. He's a sweetie. Granted I was trained as a child to overlook visible disability. Unfortunately I have huge problems overlooking stupidity. My patience is tested every day. But that's a willful disability.

Novelist Ann Patchett wrote a memoir of her friendship with Grealy, and excerpted some in an article in New York Magazine. Here's the link.


Patchett: "I knew Lucy Grealy for several years before she knew me, and now that she’s dead, I think of all the years I will know her again in this one-sided way, me thinking of her. We started college together in 1981. Even at Sarah Lawrence, a school full of models and actresses and millionaire daughters of industry, everyone knew Lucy and everyone knew her story: childhood cancer, endless reconstruction. She was the campus mascot, the favorite pet in her dirty jeans and oversize Irish sweaters. She kept her head tipped down so that her long dark-blonde hair fell over her face to hide the fact that much of her lower jaw was missing."

My previous two postings responded to Jennifer Bartlett's first two questions about Feminism and disability on Delirious Hem, delirioushem.blogspot.com.
Her third probe is how Feminists can advance issues of disability, including issues of employment, childbearing, abortion.

My response?

Be fearless. Don't make "polite" or "lovely" or "acceptable" the goal. Be willing to ransack the psyches to get in touch with the outsider and love it. Sit on it. That's what I have to do every time I get annoyed by someone's idiocy. It is a challenge. As I was trained to overlook the physical I somehow imbibed a frantic attention to words and formation of argument. If I can try, we all can try.

Love all God's creatures. Be kind.

Ladies, grow a pair.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Delirious Feminism: question #2 of 3

Here's my response to poet Jennifer Bartlett's second question on the Delirious Hem blogspot. See my previous post regarding question #1.

If you do believe disability has been glossed over in feminist culture? If so, why do you thing this has happened?

This begs generalization, and so I'll generalize. Yes, disability has been ignored or glossed over and for the same reasons as in culture at large. Differentness scares people, unless the differentness is framed. Also I'm not sure how much differently abled poets have chosen to go public. Writing and publication are somewhat incorporeal pursuits until there's a reading, so I don't necessarily know who has what.

Of course women are continually encouraged to tend to our looks in a no-win situation. If we're beautiful as Helen we can cause ten years of slaughter and warring (or, perhaps more true to our lives, expected to stay beautiful, or not threaten). If we're not beautiful we can be dismissed as horrors--a lesbian. God bless dykes, I say. We all need to access our inner big-breasted, no bra, T-shirt wearing mamas.

IN NO WAY am I saying that dykedom is a disability. But it is a "different" way of being. And look at public intellectual Susan Sontag, a lesbian who stayed in the closet. I'm using it as an analogy. Here's another analogy.

I, Sarah Sarai, bi-sexual, have a belly. Thus I'm "different."

Once I took a "craft" class, ho hum. Grad. school, ho hum. At one point the female poet professor mentioned dried apricots as a sense memory, then recoiled when she remembered how fattening they were, then quickly gave me a guilty look. Hello? This poet trades on a perception of good looks, when her already good poetry would be stronger if she would let herself be who she is.

Mine is a quick response not an essay so I'm going to jump, now, with dispatch, to Helen Keller. What she did to HELP the disabled was astonishing and I don't see her being celebrated. Similar to what happened with Emily Dickinson via The Belle of Amherst, where a dated and too precious play served to define Emily in everyone's imagination for generations, Helen Keller become the miracle of the Miracle Worker, rather than a woman, blind, who set up institutions and lobbied and did more to demystify disability than anyone I can think of.

This is one perspective and I'm grateful if you point out my own generalizations.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Delirious Feminism: question #1 of 3

The blog Delirious Hem is pushing for a Feminist poetics by posting essays by poets, followed by questions. The latest is from Jennifer Bartlett. Scroll down for the link.

I'm responding to her three questions in three blog postings. My response may not be as direct as she would want, but I'm musing. I'm a muser. (Always a muser, never a muse?)

1. Where have you seen mainstream Feminism and disability intersect in positive ways?

Okay, First the definition: I see mainstream Feminism is an impulse similar to that impulse which voted in our first black president, a desire to make amends and a hope the amends (such as Obama) is intelligent and capable. (He is.) In other words, men and women sense equality of male/female capability, each according to their light, which can cause confusion, hurt or ridicule: We are all well armed with expectations and mindsets.

Disability? Since women have been objects of a "gaze" for several millennia, our level of self-consciousness about our appearance is near electric and at odds with disability's perceived threat to our poise and ability to navigate male (and female) expectations. As more women are more conventionally successful, the culture has expanded its zone of the amount of "differentness" it will tolerate. This extends to disability, but only some. Only if it's not threatening. People are really easily threatened and difference is scary, I guess.

I have to laugh at the word "differentness" and the underlying presumption that there's a fine woman who is slim and straight-haired, fair, and is what the Creator intended. That the rest of us are "different." What a crock, but how we all buy into it.

I hope that women become more willing to be at least a bit different, to access our inner-Annie Oakley. Alas I see evidence to the contrary. I'm old school, 70s Feminist and also pulled between urges to be femme and urges to be tough. I'm all over the spectrum of sexuality, and was was astounded when I reached that certain age and began to realize the new breed of young women poets always wear skirts and make-up and are a bit restrained. They're smart and talented, but, as I see them, many aren't women to object too loudly. I could simply be describing the shock between the culture of 70s Feminism and contemporary Feminism.

Old-style Feminism was not all about being feminine. Not at all.

I present differently, at times, than what these new Feminists are comfortable with. One young woman who has a good teaching job, and more opportunities offered to her than I'll ever have, made a snarky remark to be about how angry old time Feminists were. I replied that it did seem to parallel the anger of African Americans of a certain age who, like the Feminists, were subjected to old school prejudice. She is black and didn't respond. I found her comment, the one mentioned and others, hurtful. Her only experience of me at that point was of my poetry and humor, and I didn't take it personally, but hey, I'm a Feminist and I'm angry. Sorry, honey.

We love Nature's diversity. Wow, man, there's eels and tulips and lichen. But when it comes to people, women being people and people being people, we have a long way to go.

Finally, I wrote several poems about my mother's painful (for the daughers and for her) self-inflicted twenty-year bout with cancer and the ravage on her face. This is not a disability. My mom's true disability was a slight limp ("First Appearance of the Angel Evelyn") from the polio epidemic of 1919. But her disfiguration is really hard for people to handle. Just throwing that in.
Jennifer Bartlett's essay at:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Poem: European Holy Minimalism

Ah, there’s no friends like the old friends, she said, when all is said and done, no friends that a body can trust.
James Joyce, ‘The Sisters,’

The ocean’s quite clear
and swimable to all shores
we maidens hope to wash
up on

like Ulysses lured by great sex
and new tunes. How pretty to roll
on wet sand firm, for a spell

Ulee was restive; us too.
No Homer blowing wind
in our sails and still we

plotting maps
to wealth and love, claiming talks
with God alter physics
of class

inclination and destiny
and maybe they do and maybe
they will, but think of Ulee’s

callused peds treading
towards Ithaca, ‘Penelope Penelope,’
for ten years after
the war

where Patroclus
got pierced. A long time
to grieve for a friend, ten years?
It’s not.

But odyssey-enough our goals: Baja
for ten days, a new couch, a mate
advanced as our years. The troubles
with banks

bodies demons submerge
and could drown us Europeans
minimalized on shores American
where we

self-start -heal -help,
forgetting we’re holy which
we are. Water nymphs stow our

soggy selves. Linens starched
by the girl and tea cups greet the old friends
not lonelier than anyone longing
for tales

of washed-up heroines tricked
but canny and artists
of the quick-change who

From: The Future Is Happy

Monday, January 11, 2010

Finish it, Sarah: fear and writing

Since I don't have the level of compulsion I once had I have to coax myself to keep at it. I refer to fiction. I'm this close (close) to completing From the One Side of Heaven (2 novellas). And balking.

A few months ago I had a deal with another writer. I emailed him every day after I'd put in two hours. By return email I got a Fabulous! or Keep it up! This didn't need to know anything about what I was writing, which helped as getting into it would detract from the simple reward. It was great and I rarely missed a day. However, after thirty days, my remarkably generous friend threw in the towel.

He wasn't angry or put out but suggested it was time to move on and I couldn't disagree. I imagine it would be hard to keep getting those emails while working on your own stuff, a novel in his case. He went off to a writers' colony. I maintained the momentum for a bit then lost it. The holidays set in.

Then I wrote a Facebook status about my fear of finishing the novella. The support, by way of friends' encouragement to keep going, is there. I'm back to writing two or so hours
most days. I'm not quite as assiduous as I was last year, but I'm doing it. I don't know what I'm afraid of--seeing it's a bad piece of fiction or the seeming impossibility of selling it. "Because cells in the brain are constantly transferring information and triggering responses, there are dozens of areas of the brain at least peripherally involved in fear."* There must be various areas involved in success and stamina too. Odds are overcome daily. My finishing doesn't even qualify as an "odd." I'm a writer. A smartie.

Last week I ran into a woman I hadn't seen for a few years. "Sarah." She grabbed my arm. "I have to make an amend." I had not a clue. "When you gave me those stories to read---" (I'd given her copies of two of my published short stories a few years back and she'd never said a word about them) "I thought they were beautiful." She writes for magazines. Good magazines. We hugged. On my way home I broke down crying twice. It would have been good to hear that a few years ago but I have a feeling it helped me more to hear it now.

I mentioned I have short story collection I want to publish. "You'll do it this year," she promised.

All I have to do is show up. And when I don't, get support. And when I don't, ask someone else for help. Or follow Berryman's advice [From "Berryman" by W. S. Merwin, in
Opening the Hand]:

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally,

The next step will become evident. Thanks for listening.

*"How Fear Works" -- http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-nature/emotions/other/fear.htm/printable

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tongue tied by Jung

“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can — in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal — but then you need to do that — then you are freed from the power of them. . . . Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & ... See Morefor you it will be your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them — then you will lose your soul — for in that book is your soul.” C.G. Jung

I went to the Jung exhibit last night, at the Rubin Museum of Art. The Red Book of C.G. Jung: Creation of a New Cosmology.

The Red Book has got to be one of the greatest art books of all time. Since, however, I'm out of my depth in praising C.G. Jung or art books--so much is being written now--I'll do what I do best: react and remember.

The remember goes back to my early twenties when I lived with my sister's family. I had a little room (at the top of the stairs) and, looking back, was absolutely unconscious and absolutely conscious of my lack of consciousness. Mandalas were happening back then, we were interested in Jung, though I think some of my friends read more of him than I did. I liked to draw mandalas, however. I wanted to be closer to the meaning, the essence, the godhead, the cosmological bouquet.

My little nephew asked me what I was doing. I'd set up a card table with a stack of paper and fine German marking pens which had learned from the rainbow. "Drawing," I told him. A meaningless comment. He was around six and I didn't know how to go into my concept of the center, my desire to leave earth yet stay. . .or marijuana.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung's reflection and exploration, was one of the books we all read, as we all read Siddhartha and Be Here Now. I say "exploration" because it is hard to imagine, especially having seen this exhibit, Jung devoting his time to anything that didn't further his compassion for his full being. So "autobiography" doesn't fit the bill. I see now that his was the truest (as compared to analytical chat) way to understanding. I saw his split and reconciliation as mirroring mine.

I feel that split or a split or division or alienation, not from myself or from a God (which may be arrogant for me to say, but there you have it). I am alienated from younger generations, from so much of New York commercial culture, from most jobs I've had and most co-workers. I'm not alienated from poets and artists--then the relationship is the usual we agree/we don't agree; this one's a sweetie or genius/that one's a jerk. The sang froid necessary to thriving in a market place culture is utterly alien to me.

Since I am meant to thrive. Since I shouldn't be so distant from so much. I deduce this "split" in my exists and that Jung would have agreed. The value of aging is that I love more and more of my various parts. Accept even the angriest and ugliest. It's not that I'm unhappy. It's that I'm incomplete. That my ocean doesn't quite meet my shore.

Jung had a way into his lack of completion. His distance from our spiritual nature. Since he had a robust family life I assume he was connected to the part of us existing out in the world. "The world." I say that a lot, as if I lived on a satellite and flew the occasional mission to, and from, life.

A talkative docent who is also a shrink was guiding two of his friends through the exhibit. He was orienting the work to Jung's life and European history. I asked if I could listen in and he welcomed me. We talked about symmetry and perfection, water, Christianity, Dachau. I like to talk. I need to draw. Above all, I need to keep writing. I worry I am so preoccupied with "getting well" and smoothing out parts of myself that impair functionality that it leaks into my work and weakens any chance for universality (something I want). I received an email remanding me to spend time with more "elevating matters."

I would say I wish I could be different than I am but that would negate Sarah Sarai. What struck about Jung's work, or what I am mentioning here (the art reminds me of Henry Darger, the brilliant "outsider") is that he used it as a way inside. I want that for myself.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Poem: "Like Breasts on the Copier" - references

Philippe de Montebello

Like Breasts on the Copier

Well, you see, that’s because I’m what
the I Ching would call “superior”
at least until it met me. From afar
I shimmer like faerie wings and
carry myself aloft, inclining the
Changing Book to incline like a
changing table, tired of all the crying,
given the universality of poop
and luxury of its being wiped away,
like sin by grace. While I write this,
a lucky few grow into new humanness,
nourished by intravenous opposition to
heroin injections, and infants are rolling
to the floor, by the dozens, and what
does it matter -- they are Xeroxed like
breasts on the copier, facsimiled like
timesheets, imagined in oils so
someday even after the great
Philippe de Montebello moves on,
I can give a howdy to the observing
curves of Qu Ding's Summer Mountains,
indifferent to my foolish superiority.
Sarah Sarai: The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX [books], 2009)

Just to do it, I'm going to verify, or try to remember, references in this poem. I wrote the first draft in 2008 when I was proofreading at a law firm. That's a joy of low pay--time to work. The original title was "Intravenous Opposition" and referred to a friend who had used heroin recreationally much of his life and had to be coaxed to minimal optimistim.

The I Ching, at least in the Bollingen edition, often makes reference to the Superior Man. That person is skilled in detachment. I Ching can also be translated as Changing Book. Skilled is a Buddhist (or American Buddhist) word.  

Changing tables.  I think of the changing table at the Barnes and Noble on the upper west side, near Columbus Circle. It is spacious in accommodation of babes. Those of us who don't have babies don't have to face the body's demands in quite the same way.
Copying breasts or butts on the firm Xerox is the basic right of a slacker though not every slacker's breasts or butt have been Xeroxed.

The poem ends in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its great former director, Philippe de Montebello, succeeded at sharing concepts of grandness of art, of grandness of love for art.  Qu Ding's Summer Mountains is in the collection. Like the Cascades or Rockies, this painting withholds answers and proves its perfection. It observes.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I'm called "The Helen Mirren of Poetry" -- 2 New Year's Day readings

I didn't blog on 1-1-10 because I was busy. I had planned on blogging. The first day of a new year let alone a new decade did seem to be an auspicious time to be public, but I spent the morning doing nothing of use, and the afternoon and evening (until midnight) listening to poets.

I started off at the Bowery Poetry Club, where the annual poetry marathon was underway. It was too crowded to get a seat in back where the stage and bar are, so I sat at a table in front and served as a beacon to other poets who stopped by with greetings. That is until Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo whisked me away and over to the Poetry Project's annual marathon.

Here's the difference between the two events. The Poetry Project New Year's fund raiser/reading, in its 35th year invites poets and a few musicians read by invitation only; it costs at least $15 (for ten hours of entertainment). The Bowery Poetry Club marathon began in protest--battle of the East Village poets. Bob Holman, maestro of the BPC and one of the hippest people I will ever meet, donates the space so it's free. Readers also invited but there's an open mic every few hours. The BPC presumably makes money off its bar, while the Poetry Project, sharing its housing with a church, sets up large tables in the back room for potluck dishes (pretty cheap) and the like.

Both events were wonderful. New Year's Day is always a day of healing for me. I see people I've been resenting and forgive everything. Yesterday, sitting in two different but capacious "containers" for poetry and poets I also experienced a blessed sense of deflation about myself as a poet. There are so many of us. Audiences want to be entertained or amazed or given hope or blissfully confounded.

No one really knows anything. We all keep writing. We all could be doing something else but we all believe that's not the case. No one knows whose work will last. Competition is futile. Big breasts don't necessarily help. Hipness can help but so can sincerity, not that the two are mutually exclusive.

I might have taken a bus home for a quick write, but I'd left my wallet at home. That's pretty weird! I had slipped change from a ten after I'd bought coffee that morning, so I was able to buy some food, but I didn't have my bus pass.

And I decided it's better to be with friends--and I have friends among the washed and unwashed, the invited and disgruntled--than adhere to that old petty consistency. See, I'd MADE a plan and abandoned it. Reason #902 why I'm Not a Planner.

I left the Poetry Project around 8, returned to the Bowery Poetry Club (they are maybe ten blocks apart), found the Roberts (two great friends of mine) at the Bowery and sat with them for the next thee hours. Big Mike was the host for my time slot--I'd been scheduled in the 10-midnight slot this year. He has dedicated his life to shouting and vulgarity (Big Mike also calls himself Big Fucking Mike); his undergrad. degree is from Columbia and he's a nurse.

He shouted his usual lovable insults before I got on stage, setting me up for a punch line, God bless him. Good to start off with a laugh. Keeping in mind Jee Leong Koh's comment about my poetry, that it's not always easy to understand at a poetry reading, I selected two poems that do appeal to all variety of listeners and did a sterling job of it, if I do say so. The audience, a bit tipsy and very happy, was attentive when I read and when I finished, shouted and clapped. Big Mike shouted one of the greatest compliments I've ever received.

"That was Sarah Sarai, the Helen Mirren of poetry!"

After that, the evening was a dream.