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Don’t Look Now, But Your Books Are Talking About You

Fallout from the ongoing pandemic has affected all aspects of life — many in negative ways, as might be expected, but some in positive ways, too (even if your name isn’t Jeff Bezos). One of the more pedestrian positives? Warming relations between you and your books.

First let’s look at England comma Jolly Olde. According to book sale monitor Nielsen BookScan, over 200 million print books were sold in England during 2020 — the first time that rampart had been scaled since 2012.

In the Somehow-Still-United States, news for 2020 book sales was equally good. NPD BookScan reported an 8.2% increase in sales from 2019, clocking in at 750.9 million sales — the largest annual American increase since 2010.

Book spines have joyfully photo-bombed us during this pandemic, too. Or maybe Zoom-bombed is a more accurate term. How many talking heads have appeared on our screens with books leering and mugging from over their shoulders? This is usually intentional, of course. Rather than broadcast with the expensive clothes hanger (read: Peloton) in the background, Zoomers set up shop before bookshelves with strategically-placed spines showing both outstanding posture and pedigree. That or they “set up” before strategically-placed illusions (known in the chicanery business as “credibility shelves”).

Not that anyone’s complained. During meetings, looking at book titles behind people gives us something to do while they yammer on. You see self-help books and say, “Hmn.” Or tomes on the Reformation in 16th-century Germany and say, “Interessant!” Or Donald Trump, Junior’s, book Triggered and say, “Seriously?” Or possibly Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, leading to “Yeah, right!” (that’s English for “Oui, droit!”)

You see, books speak clothbound volumes. Paperback volumes, too. About who we are (if we’ve read them) or who we wish we were (if we haven’t). Our relations with our books go deeper than we suspect. They say something about our personalities.

Though the following list is not definitive, here are 9 Ways Our Books Are a Rorschach of Who We Really Are.

1. We are ambitious. Are some of your books fat, like Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport (1040 pages), David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1,088 pages), or Stephen King’s It (1,168 pages)?

2. We hide our old Monarch Notes (or modern SparkNotes) well. As evidence, I give you leatherbound classics on the shelves competing with your expensive red wine in the aging well category. Check tops of books for dust.

3. We are detail-oriented. Some people arrange their bookshelves by color (at first I thought this was a joke, but I looked it up and it’s a thing!). Others arrange books by topic. Or genre. Or year purchased. Or height (tall boys to the left, shorties tapering right). Or alphabetically by author’s last name (it’s the frustrated librarian in us). Or — wait for it — not at all!

4. We can be depressing. Do you lay your books on their backs or stomachs? Are you a horizontal couch sort vs. a stand-tall vertical one? Do you realize how difficult it is to pull a book from the bottom of a prostrate heap? Like the old tablecloth trick, that. Pull fast and hope nothing falls to the floor as breaking news (cue CNN).

5. We can be one-trick ponies. I once saw a shelf that was all mysteries. Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Sue Grafton, etc. Or pick a genre, any genre. Some bookshelves are just. all. that. Some readers know what they like, that’s all. They’re like me at the ice cream stand selling 100 flavors — I still order black raspberry chip on a waffle cone every time.

6. We can be kind to orphans. Library books have a place in every reader’s house, too. A temporary place. When I visit Dewey’s Decimals at my local library, I sometimes peek at the “Date Due” sticker in the back. If it’s an empty grid, I next look for the date the book was entered. Recently, in the 811’s, I found a copy of Adrian Blevin’s Live from the Homesick Jamboree that had been stamped into circulation on July 24, 2015. For over six years, no one had taken this little gem home! Like a foster parent at the ugly dog shelter, I had to check it out and read it front to back (and like the Ugly Duckling, it was pretty impressive). That’s for you, Adrian!

7. We can cry for help or seek the Holy Grail of Perfection. When you see titles like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 12 Rules for Life, and How to Win Friends and Influence People, you know books are answering the call. Whether they’re answered or not is another thing (maybe saying something about the reader, maybe saying something about the writer).

8. At times, we can cut lines. Two words: “Credibility” and “Bookshelf.”

9. We can be messy. Maybe your system is like mine — no system. Maybe your books like where they may (or may not) land. Maybe you own a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and leave it precariously atop a mish-mash of books. Maybe you refuse to hand over one of your darlings by saying “They all spark joy, and I’m not letting a single one go!” Maybe you dog-ear pages instead of using bookmarks, which horrifies some people. Maybe you annotate in the margins, which horrifies the remaining people. Maybe you even EAT and DRINK while reading, leaving crumbs for the ages in the book’s crevice (spelunking, anyone?) and red wine-stained pages for the ages that look a lot like Gorbachev’s forehead.

Whatever, any of the above can be a reflection of who you are, all through the medium of books. Whether they’re accurate or not will take some research. If someone who knows you well comes over, reread the 9 Ways. Then meet them in the reference section for further discussion.

 

 

Old Books’ Fountain of Youth? TikTok.

When opportunity knocks, you say “TikTok” and open the door.  The New York Times reports that books released years ago have come on like Lazarus and his pet Phoenix thanks to teenage girls.

“Huh?” you say. The answer (like most, as in “Dr. Oz.” after “Who was Jeopardy‘s most ill-advised guest host?”) lies in cultural happenings of the moment. In a symbol, it’s #BookTok, wherein girls read excerpts from any old book (and books grow old quickly), then cry with the beautiful sadness of it all.

As any husband or boyfriend will tell you, crying is powerful stuff. Teen criers (a modern version of Ye Olde Towne Criers) have taken such books as We Were Liars (published 2014), The Song of Achilles (2012), and The Cruel Prince (2018), returning them to release-date sales status.

For authors with books gathering dust under their beds, this can only mean one thing. (Hint: It does not involve sending review copies to magazines and newspapers or doing readings in front of three socially-distanced mask wearers who left their wallets home.)

That’s right: send copies of your books to the teary girls mentioned in the Times article. Or to your nieces and granddaughters on TikTok. Instructions: Read, cry, record.

Why? Because TikTok, previously the province of teen dance moves, is now the latest publishers’ marketing plan no matter when your book came out.

P.S. If you are a #BookTok reviewer in search of some sad (as in the emotion, not quality) poetry, please hashtag contact me #ASAP for free review copies of my first two collections. I will make your job easier by pre-sticky noting the especially teary ones while supplies (and attached dust bunnies) last.

Don’t look in your rearview mirror now, Amanda Gorman, but here come my new sales numbers now.

Yours, too, if you calibrate your TikTok correctly. Good luck!

Random Thoughts, Election Cycle

trump

It’s been a while since I’ve given the green light to one of my occasional random thoughts posts, probably because I’ve been preoccupied by things political, and this blog is supposed to be more about writing and poetry and (insert British accent) LIT-er-a-chuh. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, then, but if you are a fan of orange mold (as in forgotten refrigerator leftovers or tenants in the Accent-on-White House), you might want to skip on to the next blog.

  • First things first, WordPress, my longtime host, has switched their software or something, and count me as a definite NO vote for the new methods of posting. Supposedly clicking CLASSIC makes it like the old set-up, but who are they kidding? It’s a different animal. A wild one. Showing signs of rabies.
  • My daughter is encouraging me to jump to my own site with my own name as the domain name. All the writers are doing it, she says. Well, then, if all of them are doing it, who am I to walk to the beat of my own drummer? (Just don’t tell Thoreau I said so.)
  • Meaning: You’ll be the first to know if I move to greener (and more self-absorbed) pastures.
  • Speaking of self-absorbed, Amazon sales statistics turn authors into so many paper towels. They can’t absorb enough of those lower-is-better numbers on the statistical sales tabulations.
  • Pitiful, no?
  • Yes.
  • Good news: my third poetry book will be out in the summer of 2021.
  • Bad news: the pandemic fall and winter will be long ones.
  • Every time I read about Trump’s campaign for “Law & Order,” I add an asterisk and the words “* Except when the laws apply to him.”
  • Writing is not for the faint of heart, true, but it’s REALLY not for the elderly of heart, as in 80- and 90-somethings. “The wait,” one octogenarian told me, “on submissions will be the death of me.”
  • That’s dark humor, by the way.
  • Wasn’t it delicious to see the Snowflake-in-Chief run away when he stepped onto the Supreme Court steps to supposedly honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg? A chorus of boos from the crowd followed by chants of “Vote him out!” sent him running for the exits ipso fasto, so used to screened audiences of adoring enablers is he.
  • Purple and pink. You might consider them a little girl’s favorite colors, but I stepped outside and noted purplish clouds with pink tinges at the edge due to a light fog and a rising sun.
  • As Ernie once said: “The Sun Also Rises.”
  • Nota Bene: He stole that from Ecclesiastes.
  • Spark Notes hint: God’s favorite colors? Sometimes purple and pink!
  • Grammar maven hint: Do NOT italicize the book title if it happens to be the Bible or any of the books within the Bible. (I should know. I just looked it up.)
  • In the last great pandemic in 1918, the second wave — so much worse than the first — came in October. It can’t be good that today is September 27th.
  • One good thing — no, two good things — about October in New England: foliage and apples.
  • Trump has announced that he will not observe the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. I figured that would about do it for those saying they’re voting for him, but the polls haven’t reflected that.
  • So I said to a Trump supporter: “Doesn’t it alarm you when, for the first time in American history, we have a ‘man’ who says he will not follow democratic norms, but instead will seize power from the winner? What’s more important to you: your country or your party?”
  • The answer I got: “My party is my country.”
  • You see the problem. And if you once wondered how so many Germans could fall for the likes of Hitler, wonder no more.
  • When patriotic Americans tell me, “If this tinpot dictator wins re-election, I’m moving to Canada,” I have to remind them that Canada won’t have them. No country will, anymore.
  • Book idea: Sartre’s No Exit.
  • Say… isn’t that the book where Hell is other people?
  • This is why you have to lie down, breath slowly, and don earphones to listen to Ravel’s Daphnis & Chloe, Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam, Benjamin Britten, or Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. (Just remember to get up in time to vote.)
  • Writerly goal for Oct. 1st: Get through the upcoming month without paying a single reading fee. If you have to pay people to read you, you’re not writing very well.
  • Readerly goals for Oct. 1st: At least two uninterrupted hours of reading daily after at least 30 minutes of exercise (walking is fine!). And keep a pen and journal by your side as you read. Good writing often gives birth to good ideas!
  • Final thought: Town police forces and national military budgets soak up a lot of taxpayer revenue. Therefore, as a taxpayer, you should never trust a draft-dodging tax evader who refuses to share his tax returns, especially when he claims to love the police and the military and the flag (but is too cheap and venal to pay the taxes required to support them). Follow his actions, not his words, and you’ll get the real story.
  • See? That wasn’t bad. Only one or two political thoughts. Or three. Or four maybe.

How Do You Like THEM Apples?

m80

There’s nothing quite like the quiet after a storm. Thus my love for the Fifth of July, waking early, hearing only birds and wind through tree and leaf. It makes me feel so, I don’t know. Independent of noise.

Thank you, God.

Yesterday was a passing strange day for this blog. Holidays are slow days for online traffic. Notoriously. I only put my poem “It’s the Fourth of July” up because, well, it was the Fourth of July.

But a lot of people must have been home and on the web because a lot of people visited “Updates on a Free-Verse Life.” Most the site’s seen in over a month, in fact. And from all quarters of the Internet.

No one bought a book, which, ironically, was the prime reason for starting the blog so many years ago, but hey, poetry books usually sell only when they come out. Period. Two years later? It would be like Lourdes, where you’d have to separate the mirac- from the –ulous to find readers willing to take a chance on you.

Plus there are all sorts of myths (truths?) about sales and poetry books. One is that only other writers of poetry books buy poetry books, but even that has limits. As a poet, you can only extend your fiduciary kindness so far.

Two is that established poets outsell still-establishing poets (“Here, Peter Quince!”) by a country mile (“country” being Russia, east to west).

Three is that poetry books cost too much. Yes, there’s that. Though you can also argue that poetry by its nature is richer reading than prose because it holds up to rereading and, like music, offers greater pleasures through the act repetition (think “refrain” instead of “refraining from reading”).

In any event, there’s no getting around the fact that parents advise their children to grow up and become lawyers and doctors, not poets. “My son is a doctor,” women will say to their golf party at the club, never, “My son is a poet. How do you like them apples.”

Oh, would it were so. Just to see the expressions on the faces of ladies wearing lime-green skirts and visors before they tee off on the absurdity of it all.

Happy Fifth, folks. Enjoy your barbecued leftovers or, if you’re not American, enjoy the all our ironies from afar. (Assuming you’re bored with enjoying your own!)

So Much for Red Wheelbarrows

red wheelbarrow

Happy Mother’s Monday (as the day after Mother’s Day isn’t called). I hope those of you with moms did yourselves proud by visiting or, more likely, calling or Face-Timing or Skyping or whatever’s happening nowadays. Moms are a rare breed. Look at what they put up with (a mirror can’t be far).

Me, I called my mom like a good son. Then I spread mulch for four hours, afterwards requiring a long Epsom salt bath for my back. The garden beds look great (you could flip a quarter on them), but I can’t say I feel equally robust.

Still, a long hot bath gives one opportunity to read. I avoid books in the bathtub because I tend to get dozy in the heat and drop them, so reading is confined to magazines. I brought in my last issue (I think) of Poetry instead.

Oh, man. I read this brief-ain’t-the-word-for-it poem and was consumed immediately with jealousy, as in “Why didn’t I think of that?” I’m told jealousy’s the mark of a true poet, so I feel good about it. I have arrived!

The poem was by the well-known poet Mary Ruefle. It’s a spoof on good old William Carlos Williams’ famous “The Red Wheelbarrow” poem, and it goes like this:

 

Red
Mary Ruefle

I fucking depended on you and
you left the fucking wheelbarrow
out and it’s fucking raining
and now the white chickens
are fucking filthy

 

I don’t know. I read poems like this and my mind ricochets all over the place. I couldn’t even get dozy in the heat after reading it.

First, I wondered if Mary Ruefle is a huge fan of WCW’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” poem or if she can’t stand it. I could see either being true. I could see either inspiring her to see red and write this ditty.

If she loves Williams’ poem, this is ha-ha laughing with him, and if she loathes Williams’ poem, this is ha-ha laughing at him (and at people who consider it a good poem). That’s the nature of ha-ha parody, after all.

But what made me more envious still is that I could not write this poem, send it to Poetry, and expect to see it published. If I could it would be so cool.

Alas, this is another clear example of a “Haves vs. Have Nots” poem. Joe Nobody (of Have Not, Georgia) sends it over the transom and it might not even get past the first reader. Joe Somebody (of Have, Ohio) sends it and, wham!, it’s accepted with a check written in J.S.’s name pronto (and make no mistake — Poetry pays well not only for wheelbarrows but for rain and chickens, too).

So, yeah. Brief poem but extensive brain meandering. But I did use a wheelbarrow for spreading mulch, anyway. Gray as a cloud, I fear. No rain and no chickens. And, oh. No f-bombs, either. (This is a family blog, after all.)

But synchronicity! Me and Mary! An f-ing team on Mother’s Day (even if she didn’t know it, and even if she isn’t a mother). Thanks for the fun, M. And thanks for your fame, WCW.

Wheeling over and out, KC.

 

How To Get Your New Poetry Manuscript Published in 14 Easy Steps

booky

How to Publish a Book of Poems.

  1.  Begin work with 40 to 70 pages of poetry in mind. As you write, be poetic but don’t be overly poetic. Keep it simple. Anglo and Saxon over Latin and -ate, every time.
  2.  Subject-wise, say the same ole, same ole only in a new way.
  3.  Submit to poetry journals. Make sure they are prestigious so as to give your future Acknowledgments Page *pop*. Maybe something like Kenyon Review or Pleiades or Ploughshares or Agni. In a pinch, The New Yorker‘s not bad, either.
  4.  When one of these well-known journals accepts individual poems, say yes. Never hold out in hopes of a bigger bopper. A bird in the hand, and all that.
  5.  If you can be a Fellow, be a Fellow. Jolly Good is optional.
  6.  Apply for residencies and go to conferences, preferably taught by established poets who get published before their poems are even opened and read. Mix. Schmooze. Don’t drink too much. Laugh at other people’s jokes. Read established poets in advance so you can allude with accuracy.
  7.  Attend poetry writing courses taught by established poets who get published before their poems are even opened and read.
  8.  Share drafts of your poems with established poets who get published before their poems are even opened and read. Ask for feedback.
  9.  Ask a friend who happens to be an artist or one who happens to be a photographer to design your book cover. If your friend’s initials are “Chip Kidd,” all the better.
  10.  Only submit to publishers who invite you to submit. These will be the ones the established poets who… yadda yadda… publish with. Maybe something like Faber & Faber or Milkweed Books or Copper Canyon Press. In a pinch, Harper & Row Publishers is not bad, either.
  11. When your poetry collection gets accepted by the publisher who outbid all the others, don’t forget your “Thanks” and “I Am Indebted To” page where, in alphabetical order (it’s safest), you can thank all those established poets who get published before their poems are even opened and read. You know. The ones you mixed with and got feedback from and who now consider you their protégé.
  12.  Write an op-ed feature for The New York Times Book Review that has something to do with the something to do your book of poems is doing with. Send it in requesting a publication date that matches the week of your book’s debut.
  13.  Voilá! as they say in Montmartre. You are now on your way to Park Place Poetry (as they say in Monopoly).
  14.  You’re welcome.

 

Everything’s Gone Viral (And Other Sad Thoughts)

seuss

It’s been a while since I did a “Random Thoughts” post. On this gloomy, rainy, viral Friday, maybe it’s time to open the stream of consciousness anew…

  • Looking at rain drops wobbling down the window glass always reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s book The Cat in the Hat, which I read frequently as a kid.
  • In fact, I often refer to rainy days as “Cat in the Hat Days.”
  • I feel like saying this is Day #___ of the coronavirus slash Covid-19 hunkering-down slash shelter-in-place slash lockdown crisis, but really, who knows where this really “began”?
  • I’ve a friend who has started a pool on when it “ends,” but again, this means we need to make like Webster and define “ends.”
  • Supposedly the virus has brought on a resurgence in reading.
  • And family sniping.
  • And eating.
  • A lot (thus the toilet paper shortage).
  • Helpful Hint: Food for Thought (packaged in books) brings zero calories. Compare to the nutrition panel on the side of ice cream half gallons.
  • Oh, wait. They don’t make half gallons anymore. Whatever smaller size it is, then. Packaging shrinks. Prices rise. To the tune of “America the Beautiful (Corporatocracy).”
  • It’s times like these that bring us together as a world. If the virus has no use for nationality, religion, race, or class differences, why should we? We’re all in this fight together, and hopefully, when it ends, we won’t forget its lessons.
  • Main lesson: People everywhere just want to be happy, to love their families, to live in peace. They have little use for leaders (of their country or others) who have other ideas, ones that have to do with power, war, and corruption.
  • April is National Poetry Month. Can you feel the joy? I received my final issue of Poetry, the magazine, this week. I let the subscription lapse because I wasn’t feeling a lot of joy over the editorial selections there.
  • That said, the April issue does include a new Ocean Vuong poem.
  • Which includes a stanza that reads: “Once, at a party set on a rooftop in Brooklyn for an “artsy vibe,” a young / woman said, sipping her drink, You’re so lucky. You’re gay plus you get to / write about war and stuff. I’m just white. [Pause.] I got nothing. [Laughter, / glasses clinking.]”
  • Sic semper artsy young white woman writers from Brooklyn. Vuong can be both funny and edgy.
  • Speaking of poetry, have you ever noticed, should you happen to get two acceptances in a row from poetry markets, that you feel invincible, like you’ve finally been “discovered”?
  • “Fool me once…”
  • Or how about those contests you occasionally enter. When you still haven’t heard back and the “decide by” date is but two days away, you conjure a big, shiny conference table surrounded by editors discussing the three finalists, one of which is your baby.
  • “Fool me twice…”
  • It’s hard being creative and flattening curves at the same time. (See previous reference to ice cream.)
  • On rainy days like today, I get my exercise by walking up and down the stairs for 20 minutes.
  • Helpful Hint: It goes much faster to music you like. Your brain focuses more on the rhythm and beat and less on the dog at the foot of the stairs staring at you like you’re some plain fool.
  • Easter approaches and, for many of us, we will be hamming it up alone with our spouses (pass the horseradish). Nearby family might as well be far away family when each person you used to hug and kiss is the sum of every person he or she has met in the past 14 days.
  • Man, do I hate doing math like that. Welcome to 2020, the Year of Living Dangerously.
  • With the libraries out of business, I’ve been scouring my shelves for books I own but haven’t read. A New York Times article on books to read during the Coronavirus Captivity recommended Goncharov’s Oblomov, a book I actually own. “Huzzah!” I said (because I so seldom get a chance to say, “Huzzah!”)
  • The excitement didn’t last, however. The book I am presently reading: Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters, includes a screed where Chekhov tells a friend that, after rereading Oblomov, he found it entirely lacking.
  • Even dead men can take the wind out of your sails.
  • Poor Chekhov. I cringe every time he coughs up blood and tells his brothers or sister not to tell Mama or Papa!
  • As I sip my morning sanity: Thank God there have been no coffee bean shortages.
  • (Shhh! Don’t give anyone ideas.)
  • Stay safe, be productive, and be kind.

 

Can “Hygge” Still Work for Us?

hygge

Forget bird. Forget Grease. Hygge is the word. Thing is, can the word survive a pandemic?

For those of you who think Danish is something you wash down with coffee, hygge is pronounced by the consonant-happy Danes like so: “HOO-gah.” In English, it translates to “cozy.”

Right out of the gate, I prefer the sound of hygge over cozy. When I hear “cozy,” I think of overpaid realtors who love the wimpy euphemism to describe a cramped apartment. Hygge, on the other hand, sounds like something privates might bark in reply to a drill sergeant (hoo-gah!). Or something a runner might hawk up and spit out to clear his air passage (hoo-gah!).

I first discovered this word in The New York Times via this feature. What it all boils down to is comfort at home. Nothing’s rotten in Denmark if you’ve got a fire blazing, a few dozen candles flickering, a cup of hot coffee, and, of course, big warm socks to fend the cold from your most distant provinces.

You’ll want some porridge, too (you guessed it—Goldilocks was Danish). Hearty stuff with ingredients like rye, barley, black lentils, and bits of pumpkin and turkey. And if it’s late in the day, you can dispose of the coffee and substitute in. You know. Something appropriately Nordic (read: “alcoholic”) like glogg.

What I liked least in the article was it’s not so subtle advertisements for a couple of books on the topic. And its headline, telling Crazy Marie Kondo, the neatnik apparatchik , to move over and give hygge its 30 seconds of fame.

Blah, blah, blah. If you’re hyggelig (the adjective form, pronounced HOO-gah-lee) and you know it, you don’t need no stinking books. Just sort of take the article’s cue and grab the things that make you feel home for the holidays (“holidays” meaning “any day you’re not at work,” which, in March of 2020, translates to “every day of the week unless you’re a UPS driver”).

This is all guaranteed stuff, this hygge. The Happiness Institute (yes, Virginia, it does exist) has proclaimed the Danes princes of world happiness year in and year out. How do they do it? A whole lot of hygge. That and bacon.

Alas, 2020 has hygge on the run. Can we take pandemic-induced cabin fever and turn it into hygge? Is the happiness of it all that potent?

And while we’re at it, I might as well ask this: If hygge is the word despite everything, will we have enough toilet paper to survive all that fireside eating and quaffing, especially if some of our considerate neighbors have stocked their entire basements and attics with the stuff?

OK, one better and a finishing thought: Do you have the mental discipline to enjoy hygge when it is a government-enforced hygge with nary a Dane in sight (unless you’re reading Hamlet)?

Not easily answered, any of these questions. But still, if you can make a punch bowl of lemonade from an entire crate of lemons, you can find some value in this entire concept.

If home is our lot, let’s love it a whole lot. In kid parlance, let’s play “Pretend” and hygge until the cows come home.

Life as a Submitting Author (Hint: It Ain’t Pretty)

mail

Being a writer who submits your work has its charm. One is the perpetual state of expectation (just west of the perpetual state of Tennessee).

Remember when you were young and the Internet was still an idea-in-waiting, how you’d look forward to the postman’s visit to see if you got any handwritten letters? It’s somewhat similar, in a pale fashion, checking your inbox daily for responses from magazines and journals.

Mostly, the following happen to you:

  • Nothing. I mean nothing. For days. Weeks even. Sometimes months. Remember what Mama once told you: “A watched micro never waves.”
  • Nothing goes on for so long that you decide to submit to another five or ten markets. That’ll show ’em!
  • Hint: This is known as saturating the market out of frustration. It is also known as making work for yourself should one of your simultaneously-submitted babies get accepted.
  • Something, in the form of subject lines beginning with RE: followed by a journal’s name. Here you engage in little reindeer games. You open the other emails first and save this one for last. You act like a little kid plucking petals from an ox-eye daisy while reciting, “S/he loves me, s/he loves me not.” Then you finally click it and know immediately by the shape and length of the message.
  • Hint: Usually “…s/he loves me not.”
  • You get a form rejection from a journal that charges a reading fee. You kick yourself (no small feat, even if you have big feet). How many times have you sworn this off? And yet you continue to fool yourself by saying, “Yeah, but this poem is that good!”
  • Hint: No it’s not. Unless you’re already famous. Then it might be.
  • You get rejected by a journal two days after you submitted. Though it’s disappointing, it actually feels good. Why?
  • Hint: It might have something to do with submissions from 10 months ago that still read “RECEIVED” in Submittable (maybe the journal’s name, The Cobweb Review, should have served as a hint).
  • You agreed to subscribe to emails from the journal the day of submission. It sends you a form rejection and your babies (typically five of them) come home downcast and in tears. As retribution, you go into indignant mom mode and unsubscribe to emails from that journal. Here we go again: That’ll show ’em!
  • Hint: This is small-minded, but rejected poets are quick to forgive themselves.
  • You make a run and get three or four acceptances in a row. You’re hot. Like ham and cheese with mayo, you’re on a roll. Now the poetry world gets it! Now they finally appreciate your genius!
  • Hint: Do you actually think they are aware of each other’s acceptances and are jumping on your imaginary bandwagon? Hey. Whatever floats your boat, dreamer.
  • Your run ends with a series of rejections (say, ten), landing you back where you began, unable to break the ceiling of unknown poets (not as famous as the Sistine Chapel’s, but a very real thing).
  • You get a letter in your snail mail box.
  • Hint: Just kidding. And seeing if you’re still reading. No one gets snail mail letters in their snail mail box anymore. That is now the conquered province of bills, catalogs, and credit card application come-ons.

What We Don’t Know About the Brain Won’t Hurt Us

brain

On Star Trek, they used to call space the final frontier. Truth is, there are mysterious frontiers closer to home, including the real estate between our ears.

Go ahead. Ask any scientist. How much do we really know about that cauliflower in the skull? Somewhere between “not” and “much,” from what I understand.

I do know that brains are the switchboard for pain. Your body parts don’t experience pain because your brain does it for them. This is why your brain won a service award in 2019.

If you want to play mad scientist by mixing humor and science (too serious for its own good, anyway), you can let words and associations fly and have a good time of it in a poem. Picture a kid, a blank canvas, and six cans of paint. Picture “artist’s block” as a very foreign term.

All you need do? Embed real words from science with lines and stanzas! The contrast of typically formal terms with atypically informal ones will only highlight your goal: make readers laugh.

What might that look like? Ron Koertge is always a reliable go-to guy. Here he explains the brain in a way your brain has never been explained before:

 

Geography of the Forehead
Ron Koertge

Everyone thinks the brain is so complicated,
but let’s look at the facts. The frontal lobe,
for example, is located in the front! And
the temporal lobe is where the clock is.
What could be simpler?

The hippocampal fissure is where big, dumb
thoughts camp, while at the Fissure of Rolando
dark-skinned men with one gold earring lie
around the fire and play guitars.

The superior frontal convolution is where
a lot of really nice houses are set back off
a twisty road, while the inferior frontal
convolution is a kind of trailer park, regularly
leveled by brainstorms.

The area of Broca is pretty much off limits.
And if you know Broca, you know why.

 

This is truly an example of knowing just enough to be dangerous, and damn, if it doesn’t look fun.

So if you’ve been knocking yourself out and feeling pained (it’s coming from the brain, by the way) in your writing efforts of late, maybe you should treat yourself to six paint cans and have some fun—if not with the brain, with something else. The humerus in your arm, maybe.