important imposing interesting beautiful

Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.

So said Gertrude Stein and I keep coming back to this line as to the border of a new country, as to a world inside a grain of sand.

It’s so easy to undervalue almost any activity with that creeping, unspoken but pervasive belief that one should always be somewhere else, doing something else.

As I get older though it’s becoming easier – and how sweet and relieving it is – to really believe that the most important thing in the world is what I have chosen to do now, right now.

negative capability & a letter to a young poet

… it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [...] capable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Have always liked that concept, as articulated above by John Keats. Same message from Rilke in the excerpt from “Letters to a Young Poet” envideo’d below:

I thought I knew that Rilke segment well, but, us usual, the ‘voicing’ process made me see I had only half apprehended it before.

who needs words in the age of the image?

…the most important language of our so-called post-literate society. The image. Ours is a world where the ability to communicate doesn’t require anything more than rudimentary reading and writing. And, in fact, sounds and pictures can do the job just as well.And given time constraints today, perhaps better. This is what virtual reality has wrought.The image is the new word. Don’t send a message expressing your emotion, send an image representing the idea.


It would be useful [..] to trace the history of Western civilization with an eye towards evaluating the war between image and word. Start with the Mona Lisa on one side and Don Quixote on the other and count up the wins and losses in each column [...] most realists among the wordsmiths already know that short of some massive cataclysm that lays to waste the electronic grid that makes the delivery of images so easy, we are pretty much done for.

From The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz – read full article here.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his premise, but do think there is a key distinction to be made between written wordsmithing and spoken wordsmithing. Which doesn’t much help the written word crowd, but does make the overall case for wordsmiths somewhat less dire.

revisiting ten questions for poets – on poetry, publication, technology

This series represents a wealth of poetry and po-biz wisdom from a bunch of awesome contemporary poets. I used to have these linked as separate standing pages, but didn’t refresh that format when I changed blog themes recently. Have just added these standing pages back to the left-hand column, and got lost in re-reading while I did so. Thank you once again to the generous poets who participated for doing so! That wonderful group includes Ron Silliman and the late Reginald Shepherd.

- poets on poetry
- poets on publication
- poetry editors on publishing poetry
- poets on technology

poetry book sales survey: results

I’ve closed the informal, unscientific survey on poetry book sales after running it for a couple of days. I was pleased to get a total of 74 responses to its three questions, which were:
1. How big was the initial print run for your book or chapbook? (possible range presented was 50 to 2,000 copies. In hindsight: should have included a ‘print-on-demand’ option, and possibly a ‘more than 2,000′ option.)
2. How many print copies of your book or chapbook were sold? (range same as above, also included a ‘don’t know’ option)
3. Was your book or chapbook published in any other formats? (options were PDF download, website, e-book, audio or ‘no, only print’)
Click on graphics below to see larger versions.

Size of print run: a topic of interest to me since writing this post way back when. The numbers from the survey pretty much confirm the range discussed in that post and exclude the multi-thousand runs of real best-seller poets. According to this survey, nearly 80% of initial runs are less than 500 copies; close to 50% are less than 200 copies; and 35% are less than 100 copies. Our world is indeed a small one…
print run survey results
Number of copies sold: 74% of respondents reported selling less than 500 copies of their book; about 50% reported sales of less than 200 copies; and 27% less than 100 copies. These numbers are skewed, however, by the ‘don’t know’ category, which represented 15% of responses. In reality, each is probably a few percentage points higher.
copies sold survey results
Publication formats: This was the real surprise, although perhaps it should not have been. Almost 90% of respondents said their book had been published in print only. Five respondents (7%) reported PDF downloads as well; four respondents report e-book publication too; while two said their poems were published on a website, and one said it had also been published as audio.

I’ve gone on at length about the advantages of multi-format publishing in previous posts, and will do so again, now that this survey is done. Watch this space…
publishing format survey results

‘the impertinence of being frightened for another soul’

This terrific quote from The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien was just featured by Dawn Potter:

The years … instructed her, as she studied her father’s candid, intelligent face in the sunny parlour of Place des Ormes, that a soul should not take upon itself the impertinence of being frightened for another soul; that God is alone with each creature.

It comes on top of the Toni Morrison quote from A Mercy that Kristin Berkey-Abbott highlighted yesterday:

…to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.

Sentiments that for me complement and complete each other, and come to me at just exactly the right moment – thank-you!

a fog-shrouded minefield and nests of weed

“The borderline between prose and poetry is one of those fog-shrouded literary minefields where the wary explorer gets blown to bits before ever seeing anything clearly. It is full of barbed wire and the stumps of dead opinions.”

Heh. That’s Ursula LeGuin, in a 1983 essay entitled “Reciprocity of Prose and Poetry” collected in her Dancing at the Edge of the World.

Another funny bit:

“Sometimes a Westerner like myself even gets the impression that the territory of poetry lies east of the Mississippi … but generally it seems more like a big fish tank and its inhabitants come rushing out of their nests of weed like sticklebacks in mating season, shouting, Out! Out! Go write novels, go write stories, go write plays and libretti and screenplays and television scripts and radio dramas and descriptions of the universe and histories and speculations on the nature of mankind and the cosmos and all that prose, but keep out of our territory where nothing is allowed to happen except poetry which is none of the above! In here we are poets: and we write for one another.”

She looks at different attempts to define the difference between poetry and prose over the years (Gertrude Stein, Goethe, Shelley and others) but - if I understand the essay correctly – finds them all in some way unsatisfactory, and leads into the back-handedly unifying conclusion that both poetry and prose in origin are a form of translation:

“Increasingly I have felt that the act of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. [...] In translating you have a text of words to work from; in composing or creating you don’t; you have a text that is not words, and you find the words.”

Interesting concept. Makes me think of what I was trying to pin down with this Psalm 22-based lament written during NaPo 08:

dried up like a potsherd
(NaPo lament)

I am poured out
like water all my bones
are out of joint

harry says what’s with
the psalm 22-ing poems are just
zipped files they are all

already written you
poets don’t so much
write them as struggle
to unzip them

there are many free tools
for unzipping files on
the web says harry

I bring him close
to the dust of death

my tongue cleaveth
to my jaws

this is my story

     I am Isaac Tracer, Staff Sergeant in the United Nations Space Command Marine Corps. This is my story.
     I had just graduated out of basic on Biko, a colony planet in the Epsilon Eridani system. Fresh out of boot, I was in the barracks waiting to hear where I would shipped out to. Our DI read out the graduates’ names, one by one. When he finally got to me, he looked up and said: “Congratulations, Tracer, you’re being shipped out to Reach for further training. You are being given the option of becoming an ODST. Are you up for it?”
    Orbital Drop Shock Troopers were the stuff of legend. I had read articles on them through the daily newsletter the camp sent out. I had read that they come out of the sky in flaming pods that land right on top of you. Their ops rarely exceed more than twenty minutes and they leave a trail of destruction in their path.

Whale Boy, who is sixteen and obssessed with video games, especially Halo, and with joining the Marine Corps, is writing a novel. It’s up to 20,000 words and ten chapters and completely derivative. That’s part of the first page. We’re on vacation together at the moment and part of what we are doing is editing what he has written so far.

Which is turning out to mean that I read the story aloud as he has written it and highlight punctuation and grammar weak spots for him to correct as he reads along on his laptop. I’m not doing anything else, not sure I could do anything else. I just want him to finish it. And then maybe write another two, or three, before he actually writes one that is Whale-Boy-created and that he might think about keeping.

His spelling is great, his punctuation appalling. Beyond that, I feel totally lucky and so favored because I have a son who seems to want to write.

poetics tag

We don’t use it that much on this blog, and not sure at this point if that should be an alas/alack we don’t, or a hooray we don’t. We read Reginald Shepherd’s post-avant post with interest, although much of both it and the subsequent comments was over our head. Chris Tonelli over at Ploughshares blog recaps the discussion, makes it more Whale-brain-friendly, and asks a couple of intriguing questions.

Watch that comments box too.

what you want, poets (and what you are going to get)

“Well, a poet might want, in this order: to write a good poem; to get the poem published in a good magazine; to have that poem, and others like it, collected and published by a good press; to receive some good reviews; to maybe be listed for, or win, a prize; and, either before, or after death, to be respected, or at least enjoyed, by either their peers, or poetry readers, or both. Now, all but the most hardened Dadaist would at least grant that this trajectory might accurately model the desires of most poets (I have yet to meet any who do not want to be published, or read).”

Todd Swift sees oblivion as inevitable for most.

Like realizing you’re going to die over all again? Or just another routine baby realization after the main event?

I’ll have to check back in on this in a few years’ time when/if I actually get somewhere on the trajectory described above…

flaws and perfection

Scavella - who writes the best sevenlings – has been busy.

And is making me think about what I’m doing.

I got more or less serious about studying and writing poetry just about two and a half years ago. My first publication - submitted on a monumental dare to myself - came in November 2006 (thanks, Shit Creek Review!) Subsequent submissions were made cautiously, in great trepidation and greater angst.  Fourteen months later, I have a total of 22 pieces either published or accepted for publication.  (Full list here.) I’ve tried to submit only to places I will always be happy to claim as a publication credit, and I think I’ve succeeded.

Rejections were never any surprise. Acceptances always were. Which remains true today.  But the paradigm has shifted over the last year or so, and so therefore has the quality of the surprise.  At the beginning, the rejection of a piece signaled to me a flaw in the piece, and it was dashing for that reason.   Now – after having a number of pieces rejected several times before going on to find good homes – I find I am dashed by rejection more as evidence of failure to connect, than as evidence of a flawed piece. And, conversely, delighted by acceptance as evidence of successful connection, rather than of a perfect piece.

And, now, confused about just what a “flawed” piece is. Or a “perfect” one.

I don’t think either is what I used to think it is.


A real diehard, indestructible, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing. The poet with an obsession never has to search for subject matter. It is always right there, welling up like an Artesian spring on a piece of property with bad drainage.

- Tony Hoagland, Real Sofistikashun

One of the things I did this summer was to look at all the poetry I have written as a body of work, rather than as disparate, random poems. Put it in piles, sort it by themes. I ended up with five main piles — poems of human dysfunction; relationship poems; motherhood poems; God-shaped poems and existential/human condition poems.

I was certainly surprised by the first and the fourth categories. But I wouldn’t call any one of them an “obsession.”

Sometimes I convince myself that all this time I’ve only been picking at the edges of a scab with this poetry lark and that somewhere there is indeed an obsession lurking.  And that I should just bite the bullet and rip it off.

The scab, I mean. To get the Artesian spring of obsession going.

Me being a property with generally bad drainage and quite suitable, I think.