The Indifferent World

7 posts

For Authors, Goodreads’ “Giveaway” Program Becomes a Misnomer

Sherpa

News Flash: Four days remain for Goodreads members to sign up for a free copy of my new book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness. If you do the Goodreads thing, you can sign up for a lightning bolt’s chance here.

I’ve spoken to the GR’s Giveaway program before on these pages and have decidedly ambivalent feelings about it. For publicity purposes, I signed on three different times for my first book, The Indifferent World, and dutifully sent books out to the lucky winners.

Unlucky me, however. Not one of the winners bothered to review the book, and as the losers do not buy books once they fail to win the freebie (at least in my experience), it’s a net loss for the author–in this case, the cost of three books plus postage.

The news flash I trumpeted above will be my swan song with the Goodreads Giveaway program. As of January, they will be turning to pay-to-play, charging authors $120 to use the program. Of course, to the big publishers, this is nothing. But to small independent presses like Future Cycle Press (which accepted my first manuscript) and Kelsay Books (which accepted my second), it’s a bigger deal.

The small presses cannot afford marketing, so it’s all on the author. Can I afford $120 to play in the Amazon-owned Goodreads Giveaway program? I don’t think so. I’d have to sell an awful lot of books to justify the cost. Meantime, the rich (although that word doesn’t quite capture the dimensions of Amazon’s wealth) get richer. And Amazon adds to its growing reputation as an author-unfriendly bull in a china shop.

I argued against this move in the Goodreads Feedback group, and was somewhat amazed at the number of posters who praised the move by Goodreads. You are a business, one poster lectured in browbeat mode, as if authors from Dan Brown to Ken Craft were the same animal worthy of the same broad brush.

Uh, no. Not all authors are the same.

Nothing in life’s for free! the pro-paying posters chirped. Plus this should weed out the dreck we freebie hunters have to swim through–all those self-published books and that other stuff.

I guess I fall under the category of “other stuff,” as all published-on-demand (POD) books– even if they undergo the process of being read and accepted by small independent presses–follow the same model as self-published ones if they use a publishing outfit like Amazon’s CreateSpace. It’s all one to those who argue in favor of payment for services.

Of course, I would argue that readers who post reviews on Goodreads (many of them not only beautifully but professionally done, all of them for free) should be paid if we’re following the same logic.

After all, do these free reviews drive sales and feed Amazon’s insatiable money machine? Rhetorical question. Amazon has buttons under every book on Goodreads, each leading to the Mother Ship sales juggernaut.

Different, though, the naysayers cry. What’s good for the golden goose (Amazon) is not good for the old gray gander (every day readers’ reviewers). Meantime, ironically enough, most small presses who cannot get precious shelf space in bookstores must sell on the Mother Ship’s web site. That’s right: Amazon dot all-is-not-calm.

Anyway, to come full circle, there’s a free book if you want to enter and take your chances by December 10th, midnight eastern standard time.

After that? I hope you’ll buy a book and strike a blow for the little guy (publisher AND poet). If you like poetry or feel the call to reconnect with the genre, it’s better than Dan Brown, I think you’ll find.

But then, I’m a little biased. Just a little.

Take the Free Book (and the Long Odds)!

TIW

I’ve written about Goodreads’ Book Giveaways before. To say the least, I have ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, they’re good publicity for the little guy (read: humble author) who’s lost in a big jungle (read: the published world). On the other hand, the odds of winning (meaning you) are longer than a certain island off the Connecticut coast, and the odds of garnering a review (meaning me) are wider than a certain mouth in the White House.

In any event, for the third go-round, The Indifferent World, is now available as a Goodreads Giveaway until June 9th. Yes, you could win a signed first (and no-doubt last) edition for free, and yes, you could get hit by lightning (unsigned, I’m guessing), but that’s why Hope waited til last to slip out of Pandora’s box. It’s also why you might just enter your name.

I’m rooting for you, trust me. The fact that you’re reading this post tells me you’re a fan of poetry’s, or at the very least, a fan of writing’s. That means you’ll probably actually read the book if you win. It also means you’ll be kind enough to write a review.

If I could fix the damn giveaway, I would. This is the Age of Authoritarians, after all, so one can dream about silver linings that work in one’s favor, no? The past three GR Giveaway books I’ve mailed into the world, suitcases packed with destination stickers, have disappeared into a void. Nothing but nothing in response! Just Simon & Garfunkel’s dreaded “Sound of Silence” (cue melancholy disc jockey).

Those books, I fear, were snapped up by the Freebie Junkies, the professional Goodreads Giveaway people who have 398,875,193 books on their “To-Read” shelves and 0 books on their “Reviews” shelf.

But, no. This time–perhaps the last time–I have faith. And, as the New York Times has failed to publish this version of the “Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book” series, I’ll slip it in here in case free things intrigue you:

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

The idea lies in the first of the book’s four sections, titled “Woods & Lake.” This suite of poems was inspired by my years on a Maine lake where time seems to have stopped because not much has changed there since the Eisenhower Administration. Were he alive, even Thoreau would be at home there. (Thoreau gets a cameo in one of the poems, by the way).

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

By God, I can write poetry! Originally, the plan was to write short stories with a long-term plan for working up to novels. In fact, I actually completed a young adult novel in the 90s. The feedback from one New York editor was something to the effect of “wonderful descriptions… it’s the plot that needs attention!” Like my lake surroundings, my prose often took leisurely turns toward lyricism and imagery. Poetry in prose’s clothing, in other words! Coupling that realization with a full-tilt teaching schedule, my shift to the more compact (and challenging) genre was complete.

In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Some writers start with a master plan, an endgame in sight before the first word is writ. This would not be that book. The Indifferent World evolved as I wrote and rewrote it. Eventually I noticed common themes and grouped the poems accordingly. The four parts are entitled Woods & Lake, Homebodies, Mysteries, and The Indifferent World.

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Most of the book was written to his music. It fit the mood I was trying to create. I wanted the poems to be simple yet thoughtful, something readers could relate to. Like Pärt’s music.

Persuade someone to read “The Indifferent World” in less than 50 words.

The poetry is approachable. It’s also not afraid to break “rules” because, frankly, I was not up on the “rules” when I was writing it. I did not avoid certain words, like (gasp!) “darkness.” I did not avoid certain topics, like dog poems. Instead, I wrote what inspired me, figuring that would inspire readers, too.

Garrison Keillor Reads One of My Poems

index

In the “Things I Never Thought I’d Write” Department, we have this: Today Garrison Keillor read one of my poems on his nationally-syndicated program, The Writer’s Almanac. Yep. The very same Writer’s Almanac I’ve listened to on the radio and read on-line countless times.

The poem, “Snapper,” tells the simple story of a snapping turtle that labored up a sandy hill on our property to lay her eggs. My son and I witnessed the event, and it came to a bad end.

For the eggs.

Luckily, I can’t say the same for the creative process. Watching the turtle inspired the poem, which in turn was selected for reading on TWA. And no one reads poems like Garrison reads poems. It was an honor listening to him wrap his voice around my words!

And the thought of him reading with a copy of my first book of poems, The Indifferent World, in his hands? Let’s put it this way. It didn’t leave me indifferent.

As Andy Warhol never said, “Two minutes and ten seconds of fame is better than none at all!”

 

You Won’t Find This Quiz on Goodreads*

gr2
*But if you did and took it, you’d probably be in first place thanks to this sneak preview.

 

Nota bene: This quiz is for experts–that is, anyone who has ever read a poem (ANY poem, even “Roses Are Red–Still”). Having read The Indifferent World itself is not a requirement. It only helps a little, I promise. So go ahead. Impress yourself!

 

What is this poetry collection about, anyway?
___ Non-GMO Corn Flakes
___ John Calvin, predestination, and midnight Skip-Bo games in Plymouth
___ our world
___ nobody knows

What does “indifferent” mean, anyway?
___ quiet, shy
___ perspicacious
___ shrinking
___ Who cares?

How many rhyming poems will I find in this book, anyway?
___ one
___ eleven
___ twenty-one
___ none, which makes it more fun

In an earlier Goodreads life, the author went by what pseudonym, anyway?
___ Bwana
___ Newengland
___ Talleyrand
___ Alfred E. Newman

What lake is pictured on the cover of The Indifferent World, anyway?
___ Lago Maggiore (Frederick Henry’s favorite in A FAREWELL TO ARMS)
___ Lake Tahoe (Mark Twain’s favorite in ROUGHING IT)
___ Lake Victoria (Queen Victoria’s favorite in Africa)
___ Lake Anon (Anon Ymous’s favorite in Goodreads quizzes)

What is the author’s favorite infinitive, anyway?
___ to eat
___ to sleep
___ perchance to dream
___ to craft

After writing a novel (unpublished), a collection of vignettes (unpublished), and numerous short stories (unpublished), why did this author choose to write poems at such a very late age, anyway?
___ It was free (verse).
___ He was out of options.
___ He met a Muse on Facebook.
___ It was the only genre to take the “un-” out of “published.”

The first poem in this collection is about what pressing social issue, anyway?
___ A hunter choosing to shoot a deer.
___ A hunter choosing NOT to shoot a deer.
___ A hunter choosing to watch “Bambi” or “Old Yeller” on Wednesday night.
___ We’re going to build a wall.

According to GR reviewer Alex, poetry is WHAT, anyway?
___ “…sublime” (as opposed to sub-lemon)
___ “…supreme among the arts.”
___ “…like an onion left in the root cellar too long.”
___ “…dumb.”

How difficult was it to create ten questions about a 98-page poetry collection containing 80 poems, one that POETRY magazine said nothing about and THE NEW YORKER chimed in with “We’ll second that!” anyway?
___ very
___ very
___ very
___ all of the above

 

Answer key: 
Do you really need one?

 WHAT IT MEANS:

None Correct: Now that’s indifferent (then again, who cares?)
1-2 Correct: You know, infinitive! A verb with to in front of it….
3-4 Correct: Poetry. You’ve heard of it, right?
5-6 Correct: It was the sub-lemon that threw you, right?
7-8 Correct: Very, very, very (all of the above) good!
9 Correct: Call Mr. T! You’re on the A-Team!
10 Correct: You know me better than I know me. Drop me a line, why don’t you. I’m still trying to find myself and California’s a long way aways.

Ekphrastic Poetry (of a Sort)

november

“Ekphrasis” is a Greek word meaning “description.” In poetry, it conjures a poem describing a painting or sculpture. Using the adjective form, we get “ekphrastic poetry,” and although I have not written about a painting or a sculpture, I have written about a photograph.

Is this “ekphrastic poetry”? Durned if I know. I suppose strict interpretation sorts will say, “Sorry, but no,” but strict interpretation sorts aren’t allowed on my lawn, so I’ll take credit for one ekphrastic poem even though it’s shy about announcing itself as such.

It is “Provide, Provide” (thank you, Robert Frost), and what I love about the photograph (besides its inspirational value) is its symbolism. It shows an old Maine farmhouse in November. The perimeter of the concrete foundations are skirted with rectangular bales of hay. Nearby is a wood shed filled neatly with cut wood. Photograph or no, you can almost smell the scent of the wood, the shavings, the cold November air.

And the old man who has authored it? Been doing it all his life. Taught by his father, no doubt. All business. Old New England. Taciturn, but seemingly saying, “Bring it on, Old Man Winter!” (And Old Man Winter never disappoints.)

Here’s what became of the photograph when it took on an alter ego in words:

Provide, Provide

Clem buttresses that old house
with bales of hay against the foundation,
rivets metal roofing over buckled
tar paper, and feeds his splitter, revealing
the striated blond bellies of halved maple
logs and spewing the fine dust of sweet
wood into his khaki-confettied hair.
As if he sat at Job’s knee as a child,
that old man stacks his wood into a cord,
builds a square meal for his winter stove,
and doesn’t glance up once at the leaden
bottoms of November’s indifferent clouds.

— Ken Craft, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016)

Like Frost, I’m a fan of the fall. Summer heat and humidity are OK in small doses, but the cool-to-damned-cold autumn? I never tire of it. Stark realism, thank you. The world without pretensions or make-up (I’m talking after the leaf show, folks). A season custom designed for the Protestant work ethic if ever there was one. No room for old slackers.

And then there is Clem and his splitter. The wonderful look and texture of cut wood. The stacking into a new design (order as beauty). The concomitant feeling of satisfaction and fatigue.

Oh, yes. And the ant ascendant. Grasshoppers and their cellphones are long vanquished from the scene.

Providence (sans Rhode Island) at its best!

 

Playing Favorites with Your Own Poems

weathercock

As any parent knows, you don’t play favorites among your kids. You can HAVE a favorite, of course, but you take that scandalous secret to your grave. If you have a toothpick of common sense, that is.

For your children, circumspection is clearly called for, but what about your poems? Publish a book and people will inevitably ask, “So, which one is your favorite poem in the entire collection?” Sharing this knowledge will lead people to flip to that page and read that poem, so you hedge. What if they don’t like what you have crowned “the best” and think it’s so-so? They will assume the rest of the book is so much poetically-licensed garbage (see Jersey Turnpike, Exit 157), that’s what.

OK. Maybe I exaggerate. Slightly. In fact, although I’d rather know what my readers’ favorite poems are (which I don’t ask because it presumes they’ve read the book cover-to-cover–a healthy presumption), I will admit here that I do have favorites (plural, thank you). Having more than one is safer (the old “safety in numbers” adage). One of them is the second poem in the collection, “Barnstorming the Universe,” which first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Off the Coast, that estimable poetry journal from Maine.

Why do I like this poem so much? It’s playful. And it harbors a story (but then, most poems do, kind of like the “surprise inside” you expect from a box of Cracker Jacks). Here’s the poem. Ostensibly it’s about an old leaning barn in Maine. Ostensibly.

 

“Barnstorming the Universe”

The big barn must have landed
overnight, the jolt of its descent
crippling one side so the whole
structure leans south. The white
paint, curly from reentry, looks
foolish as a washed cat.
The roof, too, shows evidence
of atmospheric stress, the mottled
landscape of its green top—tar
paper from missing shingles
probably scattered from Pittsburgh
to Poughkeepsie—having the look
of some moody old bass lurking
in the shallows, scales flaked and
grated at the speed of light.
Incredibly, atop the cupola, a rusted
and outraged weathercock still claws
the ridge. His wattle and comb hang
sideways, one eye searching for
intergalactic beetles, black-backed
fugitives from Andromeda or the
Crab Nebula. A sliding door is ajar,
exhaling the stench of stardust,
of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead
Martians matted on rotted hay.
In the side window, a single shard
of glass clings to the sash. If only
the barn could speak of the yawning
silences, of the teeming nothingness
that peered inside as it hurtled
its way home to this Maine field.

–Ken Craft, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016)

 

In the summer, I run 5-8 miles most every morning, and when I do, I pass this barn on the top of Mayberry Hill. It is, in fact, nowhere near as bad as this poem says it is, but the roof! The roof was the image that inspired this poem. Some shingles are there and others are missing, giving it a mottled green and black look and reminding me of the scales on an old fish that has been through the wars. Atop that roof is a tilting weathercock which no longer abides by orders, the wind’s or God’s.

From those two visuals, I imagined a leaning, disheveled barn that landed overnight in the middle of a Maine field–a barn that had witnessed things that NASA’s astronauts had not even seen.

Barns with a history like that belong on the endangered structures list. I don’t care what condition they’re in. Thus we get the shingles “scattered from Pittsburgh/to Poughkeepsie,” the “rusted/and outraged weathercock” clawing the ridge, and–my favorite–the “stench of stardust,/of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead/Martians matted on rotted hay.”

If you’ve ever wondered how runners pass the time as they jog along country roads, wonder no more! Their bodies may be on automatic pilot, but their minds? God only knows. Some planet the Starship Enterprise sailed past, maybe. All the poet has to do is make his entry in the Captain’s log when he gets home and downs his chocolate milk. Sometimes that leads to favorite poems, even.

Just don’t tell anyone. Because it’s only one of them. Honest.

Who Gets to Determine a Poem’s Meaning?

deer

In a 2005 press release upon the death of one of their own former professors, Louise Rosenblatt, New York University published an obituary that included these words about Rosenblatt’s pioneering work on reading theory:

“While teaching literature to college students, [Rosenblatt] developed an approach that broke with the dominant academic model (the New Criticism), which elevated ‘the text,’ declaring it accessible only to those trained in unlocking its code. By contrast, Rosenblatt stressed that every act of reading involved a ‘transaction’ of reader and text in which both were essential. In her view, any text–Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a car owner’s manual, a poem–was lifeless without a reader who is active: active readers create multiple readings of the same text; no reading is uniquely ‘correct.’ At the same time, Rosenblatt argued against the purely personal and subjective approaches more popular in recent years. She noted that some readings were more defensible than others and worked for a community of readers who sought to refine their reading and test their responses against the text. Rosenblatt maintained that this approach–respectful of the individual’s response while dedicated to serious communication and debate–is essential to fostering citizens equipped for democratic life.”

The lead-off batter in my new book, a poem called “Trigger,” could be the poster boy for Rosenblatt’s transactional theory. The 18-line work, first published in Gray’s Sporting Journal in the fall of 2014, is split into two stanzas, the first focused on the speaker, a hunter, and the second on the white-tail deer that is his quarry.

Before I comment on the poem and the assumptions that weigh it (and any poem) down, read it yourself and draw your own conclusions:

Trigger 

This is where I held
my breath—
a stand of red pine,
needles and snowdust
scribed about my boot,
cold crescent
resisting a swollen
finger itchy-numb
with November.

This is where a buck
held its breath—
mouth mid-meal
amid the mast,
a single line
of berry drool
spiking the fur
of his white and
wild-cherried chin.

Ken Craft, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016)

Seems rather straightforward, no? Most readers would interpret this to be the moment before a hunter pulls the trigger on the deer he has in his sights. And that is a legitimate interpretation, perhaps even the most sensible one.

In truth, however, casting myself as the hunter (I hunted with my father, brother, and family friends when I was a young man), it reads differently. It works instead as a poem about the moment before a hunter decides not to pull the trigger.

Note, for instance, the word “resisting” in L7 of the first stanza. A trigger does not resist without an accomplice, namely the man holding his finger to it. Note also the anthropomorphic portrayal of the buck. It “held its breath–/mouth mid-meal/amid the mast.”

Would a buck, even alerted to danger (and he seems too preoccupied with dinner for that), really hold its breath?

I propose, then, that the poem can work either way, as a frozen moment in time before action or inaction. As the writer-reader, I hold with the latter, but realize that I do not get the last say, given that all poems are subject to a fair negotiation between their readers and writers.

Still, there’s the problem of assumptions. When the poem was first published, a few readers–people I knew, mind you–questioned how I could write about such a cruel act. Why kill such a beautiful creature? they asked (as if words in a poem could serve as hunters themselves).

Let’s play along with that line of thinking, then: Even if these readers’ interpretations are correct, are we to assume that said speaker/hunter did not treat the animal with the same dignity as, say, Native American Indians, who would honor it before cleaning it and using every part of its body for the good of family and tribe? Who can read that deeply into a poem and know that much about the speaker’s character and intentions?

Suddenly, I’m led to conclude, a poem becomes as much a reflection on the reader and his/her background, prejudices, and fairness as a reflection of a poet whose actual intentions remain cryptic.

That said, say and write what I will, my poem about not shooting a deer will remain, for most readers, a poem about a hunter preparing to shoot one. Some will shrug it off as the first of many examples of the world’s indifference, little different from hyenas pack-hunting a gazelle. Others will outright wonder why such topics rate a poem.

Me? In my mind, it’s a simple moment of truth, one where seeing a deer as a personality leads to its salvation–justified or not.

In that case, the poem ends but the deer does not.

_______________________________________________________________

Ken Craft’s new collection of poetry, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press 2016) is available at futurecycle.org or by requesting one from me here at kencraftpoetry.org.