How did you come to poetry?

Over the weekend, an editor made a comment on Facebook that got me thinking about the question, how did you come to poetry?

My response is not an academic reply. The mechanics of poetry make the art good and great. But the best way to ruin poetry for young minds or new readers, is to have people study the architecture of a poem–its meter, rhyme, enjambment, stanzas, etc. Is this the way you learn about a new home? When you enter a friend’s home for the first time, do you inquire as to house’s foundation (is it a slab foundation?), framing (stick frame or post and beam?) or roof (you get the point)? So why do educators insist on destroying poetry for young readers? Make the home inviting. Make poetry inviting.

As a poetry reader, I approach a poem (or body of poems) as I would a new home of a friend I just met. I enter the door, look at the paintings on the wall, run my fingers along the spines of the books on the shelf, scan over the vinyl collection beside the stereo and sit on the futon near the front window. This is how to see what the poet sees through the window of the poem. This is when I see what the poet says about love, injustice or various other subjects and topics.

Not all poems are created equal. Sometimes I get the impression that someone or something is shouting at me from an open door. I tend to quicken my steps along the street and find a more inviting home–a more inviting poem.

Poetry is not something I studied in school. There were, of course, the required literature classes, and some teachers that opened the landscape of great poetry and prose. But for me, someone left the back door to the house of poetry open and I slipped in to explore. A house doesn’t seem so intimidating or formal when you enter, casually, from the backdoor.

Thanks for your support

Now available as an ebook

Just wanted to say thanks to all who have purchased an ebook version of Late Night Writing. Your support means a lot to me.

Since the book’s re-release as an ebook, it has sold more copies as an ebook in less than two months than it did in the first year of its release as a print book.

Hope you enjoyed reading Late Night Writing. If you like this title, you may also like some of the forthcoming ebooks that are scheduled for release. More details are forthcoming.

Again, thanks so much for your support of Late Night Writing!

So many books, so little time

First quarter books
What do you think of when you look at a stack of books?

Maybe, so many books, so little time. Or, can’t wait to get home and read this novel/memoir/biography tonight after supper….

[read more]

UPDATE: This blog post is available as part of an audio podcast.

Listen here:

Or listen on:
PodOmatic: coffeehousejunkie.podomatic.com
SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/coffeehousejunkie

E-book: How long does it take to write a haiku?: and other stories

Purchase the e-book Kindle Edition for $0.99!

What do you think about when you see a stack of books? In this short collection of stories you will also learn what a creative director thinks of when he sees a stack of books. Who is the audience for your poems? Is possible to write in your sleep, or not?

Which came first philosophy or poetry?

Foreign language section at Downtown Books & News

Someone asked how many of today’s poets are also philosophers?[1] The question presents some assumptions. One assumption is that poets merely express themselves in literary work through distinctive style and rhythmic fashion. This notion tends to present the  emotional aspect of poetry, but ignores the intellect of poetry. There is a dichotomy to poetry that mingles and merges into philosophy. The study of knowledge, reality and existence is at the core of philosophy, and the expression of these ideas is at the center of poetry.

Readers of poetry know that the subject matter of most serious literary poetry is an investigation of knowledge, reality and existence. One might argue, that light verse also presents a philosophical truss and girder to the support of the work. Truly, poetry puts a face on ideas, clothes abstractions in tangible, beautiful garments and builds images from the exploration of the meaning of life.[2]

Western philosophy began in 6th century BCE. It interesting to me that before philosophy there was poetry. Hesiod composed Theogony more than 100 years before Thales of Miletus and the Pre-Socratics. About that time period Homer released the Iliad. It is not by accident that poetry informs philosophy nor that poets birth philosophical conversations.

To address the question that sparked this post, I’m still considering the question of who I might regard as a great modern poet philosopher. My mind runs in two veins: one is the craft of the poet (i.e. the strength of the literary work) and two is the ideas of the poet (i.e. the strength of the logic and rhetoric of the argument). A couple of modern poets come to mind, but they have long since passed from this world. Two names of living poets simmer in the back of my mind. What do you think? How many of today’s poets are also philosophers? Are you a poet? Do you consider yourself a philosopher? What examples of philosophy do you find in poetry?

NOTES: [1] Gael, “Wondering how many poets are also philosophers and intuitives as well as creative.?” LinkedIn, April 21, 2013 accessed May 6, 2013 http://www.linkedin.com/group.
[2] There is a whole discussion that could be had regarding avant-garde poetry and the challenges with poetic forms that are not accessible to the average reader, but this post deals only with the question of philosophy as it relates to poetry.

Scrambled eggs and poets

Over two months of writing a poem a day

These are not scrambled eggs.

Have you ever typed a message into your smartphone and the autocorrect delivers an amusing sometimes intriguing option? That’s were the title of this post comes from. I was trying to text: scrambled eggs and toast please. Don’t ask. It’s been a long weekend, but I wanted to provide an update to a February post [1] where I detailed the number of poems submitted to publication and how many have been accepted. And the grand total is: none. I haven’t heard from all the publishers yet, but so far it has been rejection letters and emails. [2]

And now, scrambled eggs and poets.

It is a rare evening these days when I am able to attend a literary reading in my adopted hometown. The Juniper Bends Reading Series for May [3] featured Mandy Gardner, Collin Garrity, Rose McLarney and Jerry Stubblefield. I arrived late, but enjoyed a truly amazing reading. The highlight, for me, was Rose McLarney’s reading. It had been almost seven years since I first heard Rose McLarney read her poems at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. And since then, her acclaimed collection of poems was published by Four Way Books. [4]

After the reading concluded, and this is where things get a bit scrambled, I waited with others to chat with the poets and writers. The longer I waited the more I wanted to ask her about the publishing process. How did she manage to get her collection published? What tips would she recommend? You know, all those predictable, pithy questions unpublished poets ask published poets.

And then, like Billy Pilgrim, [5] I sort of time travelled. No longer standing inside the crowded Downtown Books & News, [6] it was night and I was walking up Eagle Street toward Pack Square Park with a poet how was asking me, “How do I get my poems published? What tips do recommend?” With my experience in publishing, I began telling her any information that I thought might help. And then, as we were parting ways, I was telling her not to sweat it, “When the poems are ready, the audience will be there.”

And then, I time traveled back to May 2013, it was night again. I walked to my auto as a SUV full of kids drove by with the windows down. Their ruckus noise spilt onto the street. They slowed and someone threw hot pennies at me. They sped away. Why do kids heat pennies with cigarette lighters and throw them at complete strangers? I entered my car and drove home saying, “When the poems are ready, the audience will be there.”

More scrambled eggs and poets.

Scrambled yet? Don’t worry. It’s Monday. You have the whole week ahead of you.

Let’s do some more time traveling. Last year, I provided some teasers for an upcoming book. [7] The manuscript is nearly novel length and I’ve sought out a couple editors to assist me. Truly, this is not a story I wanted to write, but it has found me and apparently an audience.

NOTES:
[1] So far, I’ve submitted almost 70 poems for publication. You can read the details in the post: 50 poems in 30 days
[2] Why do poets write, if not to be published? These thought have occupied my thoughts since last week’s post.
[3] Juniper Bends Reading Series
[4] Four Way Books
[5] Everyone knows who who that is, right? And if you have to google it, just know that it is not the American folk musicians from Atlanta.
[6] Downtown Books and News
[7] You may read the teasers here

Write now, set writing goals

...any road wil get you there.[1]

“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.”[1]

Is it writer’s block? Procrastination? What’s keeping you from completing that collection of poetry or that novel you started years ago and you can’t quite get around to finishing it?

A few years ago I sat in a writing workshop and noticed that I was the only member of the group under the age of 50 years old. Further, most of the students at the workshop had been working on a memoir or a novel or something that began at a university. Now enjoying their retirement, the nostalgic desire to complete these literary works grip those writers who had been dribbling out small passages of poetry and prose for what seems to be my lifetime.

I determined at that time to set writing goals and not let time slowly bleed me of creative efforts. So, I adapted some of the productivity and time management skills I use at work to my writing life. Here’s some productivity, or time management, habits I practice at the office.

1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning.

At the office, I schedule two times a day were I read and reply to emails: once in the morning and then again in the afternoon. If I reply to every email that lands in my inbox at the moment it arrives, I would spend more than half the work day reading and replying to emails. I found that if I batch tasks, like emailing, I can maintain focus on accomplishing those tasks more efficiently.

2. Make a list.

First thing I do when I get to the office is make a list. This is a combination of project management and mind-sweeping. This activity allows me to organize and prioritize large and small tasks for the day and week.

3. Declutter the desktop.

This is something that is both on- and offline. And by “declutter” I don’t mean empty your desktop of everything. Declutter has to do with a collection system. How do you collect the papers or files? Years ago I began the practice of collecting items in folders based on the 43 folders system. Here’s how it is presented by Merlin Mann:

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly[2]

Again, the goal of this practice is not to have a clean, empty desktop, but a productivity system in place to help get things done.

4. Plan. Revisit the plan. Stay on task.

Your co-workers and supervisors think every task is an emergency and everything is a priority. Planning and staying on task is one of the most annoying practices my co-workers and supervisors must endure. Yet, unless I identify the goals and chart a trajectory to hit those goals, I’ll never me able to meet deadlines on time or successfully accomplish projects. How does the old adage go? If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Let’s do this!

Avoid waiting until you retire to complete that novel you’ve been working on, or that collection of poems you’ve been tinkering with for years. Find a writers group that can help you with accountability and encouragement. It is written that no one knows the number of his or her days. Our life is a shadow.[3] Whether it is writer’s block, procrastination, internal or external distraction, find that writing project you’ve been working on and commit to finishing it.

NOTES:
[1] Source: This Isn’t Happiness, accessed May 8, 2013 http://thisisnthappiness.com/post/48296644589/any-road
[2] Merlin Mann, “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’,” September 8, 2004 accessed May 4, 2013 http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done
[3] Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, 2010), 271.

Why do poets and writers write?

Bookstore Poetry Shelf

This is a question like a sliver that gets under your skin. It is like that wood splinter you received from running your hand along a wooden fence and the painful acceptance of it to the soft spot below your thumb sends you to the medicine cabinet where you try to remove it with tweezers. But it’s too deep and requires a poultice to draw the splinter to the surface for removal. It is that way with answering the question, why do poets and writers write?

In an online discussion[1] of poets and writers and arm-chair philosophers, I offered this to the ongoing conversation: Emerson wrote that “The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty.”[2][3] This rings true as to why writers write. Years ago I heard someone say, “We are God’s poème.”[4] (Poème derives from the Latin word poema meaning poem.) I have often pondered that as an answer for why writers write and wonder if that is what Emerson had in mind when he wrote those lines. We are God’s poem, that is why we say, name, and represent beauty.

What are your thoughts on the matter? What motivates you to write? and why?

NOTE: [1] Renée, “Why write?,” LinkedIn, April 25, 2013 accessed May 6, 2013 http://www.linkedin.com/group.
[2] The quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book Essays, Second Series from the essay “The Poets.” Here’s a link to an excerpt: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/495734-the-poet-is-the-sayer-the-namer-and-represents-beauty?.
[3] Or you can read the entire essay in this handsome collection: Emerson: Essays and Lectures: Nature: Addresses and Lectures / Essays: First and Second Series / Representative Men / English Traits / The Conduct of Life (Library of America) [Hardcover].
[4] This is a reference to a passage in chapter two of The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. William D. Mounce writes on the matter of the original Greek text in this article, Are We God’s Poem?.

Do you submit poetry for publication?

Photo courtesy of <a href="http://coffeehousejunkie.com/">coffeehousejunkie</a>.

Photo courtesy of coffeehousejunkie.

So, you write poems. Maybe you read your poems at a local bookstore, music venue or coffeeshop at a monthly or weekly open mic. And maybe you even sign up for a writing workshop and the teacher hosts a public reading at a fine art center or library at the conclusion of the course. But do you submit your poetry for publication?

Last month I submitted over 50 poems for publication. So far I’ve receive quite a few reject letters. Some replies were so quick I wonder if the editor read the submission. A week after I submitted poems to one editor I received this:

“I enjoyed reading your poems but I’m unable to use them…”

A day later I received this from a different editor:

“Thank you for your recent submission…. This group of poems wasn’t right for us, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to consider your work…”

These replies are courteous, non-confrontational and sterile. Last weekend I received my favorite rejection letter so far. It reads,

“We sincerely appreciate your interest … and are very glad you are getting your pieces published….  we wish you the best of luck in your continued writing. Never give up on what your high school literature teacher told you!”

Why do I like that rejection letter? Here’s three reasons:

  1. The editor actually read the cover letter. Not just the first few lines of the cover letter, but all the way to the third paragraph. You see, buried in the third paragraph of my cover letter is an homage to an inspirational high school literature teacher.
  2. Clearly it is not an automated reply to a submission for publication.
  3. The way the letter is crafted is a sandwich. By that I mean, the letter opens positively, nicely rejects the submission with two reasons and concludes with a personal and positive note.

Literary journal editors should take note of this rejection letter. It is a good model to follow.

If you submit your poetry for publication, I am interested to learn how it is going for you. If you don’t submit your poems for publication, I’d like to know why.

Do children’s books sell as e-books?

DoKidsEbooksSell_zhivago_lomo

Photo courtesy of @mxmulder

Let’s face it, e-books are no longer a novelty. With the Kindle, Kobo, Nook and other e-reader devices, the transition to a digital reading experience is no longer a discussion. They are here to stay. But is the e-book market just for adults? How well do children’s books sell on this new platform?

Last year, I worked on a half dozen or so children’s books. Not books I’ve written, mind you, but I did design covers, inside layout and typesetting. All of the titles are available on various e-reader devices. Each book features fully illustrated pages (the industry trade refers to them as picture books) and they print at various formats. The most common — and standard to the trade — is a 32-page, 8.5″x11″, colored ends hardcover book.

This is where the question gets interesting: Do children’s books sell as e-books? According to one report,

“children’s and young adult digital book revenues exploded nearly 300 percent…”[1]

Those sales numbers are quite convincing. Authors request e-books of their picture books in addition to their traditionally printed picture books. At least, the authors I work with are convinced by the published industry sales reports. Best I can tell is that young adult books perform much better than picture books even though children’s and young adult books are lumped together in a single category.

My experience is that the iPad provides the best possible interface as an e-reader with brighter colors and fluid user experience. The more popular e-readers (i.e. Kindle and Nook) seem clumsy by comparison leading some to believe that the e-reader device is a transitional technology that is soon to be replaced by the tablet.[2] Both Kindle and Nook scale down a large format picture book to the default viewing area specific to the individual device. Though the iPad has the better picture book experience, I’ve noticed that children are more interested in apps than e-books.

So, what is an author of children’s picture books to do? Here are some things to keep in mind as a children’s book author:

  • A picture book that is interactive (using apps to feature audio, video, etc.) sells better than a static digital e-book.
  • Young adult fiction titles sell better as an e-book than picture books.
  • Publishers typically provide both print and digital products, and it is wise to have the book in as many formats as financially viable.
  • Scholastic published a report on the reading habits of children stating that: “Eighty percent of kids who read ebooks still read books for fun primarily in print.”[3]
  • The same report shares that: “Fifty-eight percent of kids… want to read books printed on paper even though there are ebooks available”[4]

The tactile interaction with a physical book is an important part of the reading experience for children. In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard writes,

“The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it.”

As e-books gain market share, the written word — whether print or digital — will always compete with life. Readers still seek to retreat into books that don’t offer the distraction of emails, hyperlinks, social media updates, Youtube videos and the like. It’s a choice the reader and the author must make.

NOTES: What prompted this post is a discussion posted on the LinkedIn group Ebooks, Ebook Readers, Digital Books and Digital Content… The specific discussion thread is here http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Do-childrens-books-sell-as-1515307.S.212309551
[1] Jason Boog, “Children’s & Young Adult eBooks Saw Nearly 300% Growth,” Galleycat, September 7, 2012 accessed February 19, 2013 http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/category/sales-stats
[2] Dan Eldridge, “The Disappearing Market Share of the E-Reader: Is it now a transitioning technology?,” Teleread.com, November 1, 2012 accessed February 19, 2013 http://www.teleread.com/e-ink/the-disappearing-market-share-of-the-e-reader-is-it-now-a-transitioning-technology/
[3] Kids & Family Reading Report, Scholastic, accessed February 19, 2013 http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/kfrr
[4] Kids & Family Reading Report, Scholastic, accessed February 19, 2013 http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/kfrr

Interview: Caleb Beissert on Beautiful translations of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda

Beautiful by Caleb Beissert Caleb Beissert is a poet, translator and musician. His published work appears in International Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review and Beatitude: Golden Anniversary, 1959-2009.

This week, Poetry at the Altamont celebrates the release of Caleb Beissert’s first book, Beautiful, a selection of poems by Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca translated into English. During the last few weeks, Beautiful was well received by enthusiastic audiences at Montford Books & More and Malaprop’s Books & Cafe and is a Small Press Distribution best-seller.

The Altamont theater doors open at 7:00 P.M. for Poetry at the Altamont. Admission is $5 at the door. Beer and wine sold at the bar and lounge will remain open for drinks after the reading. Event link.

UPDATE: Caleb Beissert is the featured guest of the Coffee with the Poet Series, Thursday, February 21st at 10:30 a.m. at City Lights Bookstore. Event link

Caleb graciously agreed to an interview to discuss poetry, translation work and Beautiful.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

First, for those who don’t know you, Caleb, please share a little about yourself and how you came to poetry.

Caleb Beissert

I arrived naturally at poetry. I had a strong interest in writing as a child, which stemmed from my mother’s and father’s both being journalists. They read to me constantly, even while I was in utero. I still love being read to, hence the poetry readings I attend. During my fugitive teenage years, I wrote notebooks full of song lyrics—songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Robert Hunter, Kurt Cobain, Roger Waters, and The Beatles among my influences. When I went to college and took a poetry writing class, I discovered I’d been writing poetry for years. Of course songwriting is a different beast, but one does inform the other.

Throughout my time at Western Carolina University, I studied writing, foreign languages, philosophy, music, art—I wasn’t satisfied with the notion of going to college to get a job, rather I wanted to learn everything I could for the sake of knowing. I began publishing my poetry, traveling abroad, corresponding with accomplished writers, and I participated in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.

My literary heritage largely came from the American Beats, especially Allen Ginsberg and Richard Brautigan; the British poets, namely Blake and Coleridge; and mystics, like Hafiz, Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai; as well as Walt Whitman, E.E. Cummings, W.S. Merwin, early on Shel Silverstein, and then later the great Hispanic poets, particularly Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda. Now I’m living in Asheville, writing, producing poetry events, and also working as a musician.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

How did the translation work of these two poets, Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda, come about?

Caleb Beissert

As I glossed over previously, I was at WCU studying poetry and foreign language when I began translating these two poets. It must have been my attraction to Surrealism that led me to García Lorca. I had read a few translations in Bly’s Leaping Poetry, eaten up Lorca’s lecture Theory and Play of the Duende, and fallen into Poema del cante jondo. I was fascinated by this idea of the duende and also with the marriage of poetry with music, seen in the influence of Andalusian flamenco music on his work.

An interest in Neruda also came through my gravitating toward Surrealism, though I must acknowledge that neither of these poets wrote exclusively or even primarily in this style. One day my Spanish professor assigned the students to attempt a translation of Neruda’s famous “Poema 20” from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. I thoroughly enjoyed the assignment—probably the only one who did—and it was then I realized I could translate. From there, of course, the complexities of poetry translation began to unravel. I studied essays by Gregory Rabassa, John Felstiner, Margaret Sayers Penden, Eliot Weinberger, and read many bilingual or “bisexual” editions, as a good friend likes to call them.

Eventually, I timidly showed my translations to a few trusted poet friends/mentors, among them Dr. Mary Adams and Thomas Rain Crowe, who encouraged me to continue the work. It has been a process of frustration, learning and accomplishment. Many late nights of pulling out my hair. I’ve dabbled in other Spanish-writing poets, such as César Vallejo, Rafael Alberti, Pedro Salinas, Vicente Aleixandre, Nicanor Parra, and Manuel González Prada; however, it was García Lorca and Neruda I spent the most time with, grew to know them through their words, heard their voices, conversed in dreams, and eventually compiled enough English-language adaptations for two books.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

How the translation work inform the craft of your own poetry?

Caleb Beissert

I find myself writing odes to people and places I’ve never known. I’ve written poems to or after these poets, places and ideas from their poetry, even employed mimicry for effect sometimes, but going deeper, I’m sure it has changed the way I think about language, construct lines, choose words, though the translation process itself does that as well. I have developed my own poetry while spending a great amount of time with these poets, therefore their impact on my work is tremendous. It is hard for me to see, because often one must step away from his or her work to get an accurate picture of it, but I know the influence is there.