22 Ways To Be a Good Literary Citizen Without Spending A Dime

I love these suggestions. One of the things that I often say when other poets ask me to discuss publishing, is how we are all part of a literary ecosystem–a community of writers, readers, publishers–and each part is essential for the other to thrive. This blog from Sundress is all about such interconnection.

The Sundress Blog

Want to be a good literary citizen? On a tight budget? At Sundress we came together to bring you 22 ways that you can be a good literary citizen–for free.

1. Attend free shows.

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Support your local poets by showing up to hear them read! Faces in the crowd are such an encouragement to a poet, especially if you approach them afterwards to let them know what you enjoyed about their reading. It is an easy way to become part of a community. Find events near you here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/events or look up your local writing groups and libraries.

2. Trade books you have read for books you haven’t read: what better way to discover new literature than from other readers?

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Whether you get together with a few friends and trade paperbacks over a glass of wine, or hold an advertised community book exchange, this is a great way to refresh…

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Happy Poetry Month to Me!

First Poet Laureate Winner

Prolific writer and longtime resident will serve two-year term
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 1, 2016

CINCINNATI – A Paddock Hills resident whose writing has been published nationally has been selected as Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate.

Pauletta Hansel was chosen from several applicants to fill the position. Ms. Hansel is a poet, memoirist, teacher and arts administrator who has lived in Cincinnati since 1979.

She is author of five poetry collections, most recently Tangle (Dos Madres Press, 2015). Pauletta’s writing has been featured in The Writer’s Almanac and American Life in Poetry, as well as in literary journals including Atlanta Review, Talisman,Appalachian Journal, Appalachian Heritage and Still: The Journal.

The Poet Laureate was selected by Mayor John Cranley, based upon the recommendations from a seven-person Advisory Committee that reviewed the applications. The appointee will serve a two-year term.

“Ms. Hansel’s writing is exquisite,” Mayor Cranley said. “Her poems evoke the type of emotional reaction and convey rich details that leave a lasting impression for the reader.”

To become the Poet Laureate, the person must have written poetry that exemplifies the characteristics or spirit of Cincinnati. Additionally, the Poet Laureate is expected to promote poetry appreciation, encourage the reading and writing of poetry throughout the city, as well as compose and read poems for special events.

Previously, Cincinnati had an official poet of the city. In January 2015, Vice Mayor Mann proposed reviving the position with a motion, signed by four City Council members, and renaming it as Cincinnati Poet Laureate.

Ms. Hansel has served as Writer in Residence at Thomas More College and is currently Writer in Residence at WordPlay Cincinnati. She leads writing workshops and retreats throughout Greater Cincinnati and elsewhere.

Ms. Hansel holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Human Services from Antioch University; a Master’s in Education from Xavier University; and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. Also, she is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative; is a core member of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition and serves as a Board Member for Dos Madres Press.

Ms. Hansel lives with her husband, Owen Cramer, in Paddock Hills. A selection of her poems is attached to this release.

A formal Announcement Ceremony will be held 5:30-7 p.m. on Friday, April 15, at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., 11thfloor. The event is free and open to the public.

 

For more information, contact Elese Daniel in Vice Mayor Mann’s office at elese.daniel@cincinnati-oh.gov or (513) 352-4611

The Self Not Mine but Ours*: An Exploration of Persona Poetry

        *From A.R. Ammons’ “Poetics”

I have long been drawn to the persona poem. As a young woman writer, I used a character as a loose mask (in Latin, personae) through which to speak truths I was otherwise reluctant to say—or know. (I even named her “the lady.”) More recently, I have taken on the voices of ancestors in order to explore their—and my—stories in a more intimate way. (For this is the paradox of persona poetry, there is both the distance of a dramatic character, and the intimacy of the lyric I.) Persona poetry has also stretched my voice into new places, and has occasionally jolted me out of my habitual gravitas.

Some writers/teachers declare that the “I” of a poem is always a persona. I acknowledge the truth of that, and would argue that any dramatic character within a poem is, to some degree, also the poet. But in this exploration, Persona Poetry means poems in which the poet has chosen to take on the voice of another—sometimes even the “other” in the sense of taking on a POV that is alien and perhaps abhorrent to the writer. In this, persona poetry, even when drawn from personal or societal history, has as much relation to fiction as nonfiction, as the writer is required to embody a person other than his or herself. For this exploration, I have drawn together some examples of my own work and that of other Appalachian writers falling loosely into one or more of these categories:

Family/Memoir: Sometimes these poems include snippets of conversations that may have actually occurred. Sometimes they are in the voice of a family member whose story has never been given prominence. Often it is some exploration of relationship between the “I” of the poem and that of the self. My poem, “My Grandmother Speaks from Beyond” (Tangle, Dos Madres Press, 2015) is an example of this.

My Grandmother Speaks from Beyond

for Pauline Carmen Hansel, died 1932

Girl, don’t speak for me, you only know
what you can see and it’s not much, that picture
took when scant was left, just bony arms
around the baby, eyes too big for my head;
I never would have worn that shade of red
they painted on my dress after the fact
of me was buried in the ground.
Your daddy’s little suit was white, not blue;
we didn’t know what he would be the day
I bought the cloth. I know that picture’s all
you’ve got, and half my name, Pauline, given
to you as if it might be something of me
they could hold. I’m gone and all my stories
with me—you’ll not know what knit me to
the man whose name your daddy carried like
a curse or promise never to be him.
You had enough without me, and your daddy
made it up somehow for all he lacked
for lack of me. Just let me go; those poems
you write (the books you read, do they not teach
you how to rhyme?)—they are all yours,
nothing of mine.

History/Social Commentary: Frank X Walker has written several books of poems in the voice of another or many “others.” As individual poems and as a whole, they offer a view of history that both widens and contradicts more traditional tellings. (“Unghosts” those whose voices have not been heard, to borrow a word from Walker’s latest title.)  Poems by Frank X Walker and links to his book can be found here and here. Poet Michael Henson views our current predicaments through the lens of The Bible in his book, The True Story of the Resurrection. See his poem, “Lot’s Wife”. My poem, “Housekeeping, August 1899,” also from Tangle, is another example:

Housekeeping, August 1899

Cincinnati newspapers tell of a woodworker who drank carbolic acid and, not trusting its effects, shot himself too. In his pocket was this letter: “Living with my wife was unbearable. She was too pretty to work and would not attend to the duties of the household.”

It’s not as if I spent my days
at the mirror; only the once
he found me, rag in hand,
outside the darkened window
caught up, not in of the curve
of my own cheek (he was the one
forever staring at the round parts of me)
but in how the light of an evening
seems to shine out from under
all that green, like it’s caught
there in the bushes. I know
that’s just fancy talk,
he told me so, it don’t
put meat on the table,
five o’clock sharp, no matter
if the four o’clocks
have just begun to bloom
or the hummingbirds decide
to sit a spell
in the sheer blue air around them.
I have the wandering eye
for wonder. Mama said
I was just born that way— a butterfly
would stop my snuffling
quicker than a teat.
Too bad neither worked
on him, all that carrying on
about the chores he knew
I’d surely get to
one day or the next.
I can’t say I’m sorry
that he’s gone—some men
are too particular
to keep.

Eavesdropping: The late Jo Carson was the master of eavesdropping—all the more amazing because she was about half deaf! Her book, Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet: Selections from the People Pieces is, thankfully, still available. Each poem is a dramatic monologue crafted from individual and composite voices. Read one of her more famous “people pieces” here.

Writing A Persona Poem of Your Own

Keep in mind that persona poems are usually dramatic monologues and thus the consistency of voice is key to the poem’s success. In some, the voice is fairly close to the poet’s, though the message may not be. (In Walker’s poem, “One-Third of 180 Grams of Lead,” for example.) Other speakers have very distinctive and separate voices. The speaker is addressing someone—you, another person from their time and place, a general audience, themselves in soliloquy. You might also think of this as a letter from your chosen persona. I began each of my persona poems with a situation, and let my “character” respond to that situation. “Housekeeping” began with coming across a newspaper article, as I mention in the epigraph. “My Grandmother Speaks…” was written in response to a family photograph. Some possible sources of persona poems for you:

Response Poems: In using The Bible as his primary text, Mike Henson’s poem seems to fit within the Jewish tradition of midrash. With the root meaning of “to study” or “to investigate,” midrash stories help to both fill in gaps and draw forward the essential lessons within sacred texts.  For response poems, the texts do not need to be sacred: take any “peopled” poem or piece of fiction and write in the voice of a lesser character.

Their Words: Speak in the voice of a family member, living or dead. Your poem may begin with words you’ve heard family members say (eavesdropping), or may be the re-imagining of a family story in the voice of someone other than yourself. You may be lucky enough to have letters or other family documents to draw from.

Ekphrastic as Persona: Mixing our root languages here (ekphrasis means description in Greek),  this is simply a suggestion to use a photograph, portrait or other visual piece of art as an invitation to write in the voice of the person depicted (or perhaps in the voice of the photographer, or other character outside the frame.)

The Public I/Eye: Speak in the voice of an actual or imaginary person caught up in a pivotal political and/or cultural moment. Whether working with current events or history, this one may take a little research. Here is a link to a really interesting interview with Frank X Walker on the creation of Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers.

 

Publishing Tips

With final selections for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Volume 18:The Dead complete, I feel the urge to offer some tips and encouragement from my experience on both sides of the publishing world, editor and writer.

Do your homework. Make good choices about journals based on how their interests intersect with your own. The best way is to read a copy or at least a sample of their work. (Some print journals publish samples online.) What (and who) do they publish? Do you like the poems? Can you see yours nestled in among them? If the call for submissions is thematic, do you and/or your poems fit?  Do they tend to publish short or long poems, narrative or lyric, etc. What do they say explicitly about their journal in a mission statement or “about us” section?

Look for multiple points of connection to increase your chances of publication. For example, a journal that publishes poets in the Ohio River valley, and are asking for work touching on the themes you address in your poems.

Think local. There does seem to be a pecking order among journals: local, regional, national, for example. This doesn’t mean you have to follow it. But why not support your local or regional journal, which often publishes poems of as high or higher standards (subjectively speaking) as do the big boys. Smaller journals may also work harder to promote their work, sponsoring journal launches and readings and using social media. This provides exposure for you and the opportunity to connect with other writers and editors.

Online or print? Either may be a great place for your work. Because of the ease of online publication, there may be more issues of quality control in online publications than print, but there are also some great ones out there. Just do your homework!

Is your poem ready? Is it really ready? Look especially at beginnings, which busy editors may not go too far beyond if it causes them to stumble. If you have a workshop group or trusted friend, why not get another set of eyes?

Does your poem stand alone? Some poems work brilliantly within a collection, or when read aloud by the poet, but not as well outside of the context.

Don’t just send to one journal. Many journals accept simultaneous submissions, which means you can send the same poem or group of poems to many journals at the same time. (Just keep track and be sure to notify journals when a poem you sent them is accepted elsewhere!) You may also send totally different batches of poems to different journals. Different poets have different ways of keeping their work in circulation. Some send out on a regular schedule, and if a manuscript is turned down, they send it to the next on the list. I am a “binge submitter.”  I tend to send out work to six or seven journals, two or three times a year. I have found that the more journals I send to, the more likely I am to get poems accepted.

Read the guidelines carefully, and follow them. They are there for a reason, even if it’s not clear to you. For example, the journal I edit asked writers to put all their poems, plus bio and address in one document, rather than sending multiple, and to use a certain font. When writers did this it took me about ten minutes to catalog their submission and prepare it to be seen by other editors.  When they didn’t it doubled or even tripled my time.

Don’t stay discouraged (or disgruntled) by rejection. Feel what you feel, and then let it go! From my own experience as editor, I have an increased awareness of the strange mix of subjective and objective decision making necessary to put a journal together. I’ve had to turn down poems I really liked (a few of which I had even asked poets I know to send) because they did not fit within the context of the journal. I’ve seen names of poets we declined to publish declared as contest winners the same week I had to write the rejection letter.  Maybe your poem wasn’t ready. Maybe you chose a journal that was not a fit for your work. But it is just as likely that multiple factors not in your control kept your poem out of that particular journal right now. If they say try the journal again, do! In any event, keep sending out your best work to their best possible homes