The Long Slog by Devon Miller-Duggan–publishing a poem after decades of rejection

The Long Slog

I keep telling my students that it can take years for a poem to find a published home. The poem posted below is one I wrote in my early 20s and had put away a long time ago. Actually, I put a bunch of poems from my 20s away about 10 years ago—they’d been rejected by so many journals—both hi-end and mid-range—that I figured they were just drenched in Editor repellent and there was no point any longer. I pretty much lost track of them altogether and was vaguely befuddled when they resurfaced last year while I was re-ordering computer files. I kind of liked several of them—which is as good as it gets for most of my poems–so I started sending them around again, and they started finding homes. Weird. They weren’t cutting-edge back then, so it’s not like I can claim to have been ahead of my time. I find the whole business mysterious. There are journals I’ve been trying to “crack” for years. Occasionally, I figure out why my work doesn’t fit, but often when I’ve done that, there are poems in the next issue of the journal that are close enough to my aesthetic/subject material/voice to make me scratch my head. I scratch my head a lot. I’m lucky to have a scalp left, let alone hair on top and bone beneath. Sometimes I just give up after the 12th rejection. At some point in the distant past, one of my teachers mentioned that, on average, poems get sent out 11 times before they’re accepted. That’s the sort of statistic that tends to stay with you. Since I doubt Billy Collins gets many rejection letters, I figure that makes my math even worse. I could check my log and do the math, but I’m a poet, so I don’t.
Mostly I don’t care about rejections. They’re just part of the business, and I understand on a very concrete level that for most artists most of the time, rejection is the dominant experience of their careers. That being said, it’s impossible not to look at the other poems in journals which have rejected mine and go back to scratching my head. Poor head.
Most journals took the time, at some point, to compose a civil note that they then printed up in bulk. This is reasonable—very. I don’t think most editors are making a living at lit. journals, so they’re working for love and with hours they’ve carved out from the work that buys the groceries and their relationships and their sleep. Form rejections are fine. You just send the poems back out pretty much immediately and go back to waiting. This persistence is neither heroic, nor in the top 10 traits of character or virtue. Maybe it’s just the actual dues for membership in The Club (Serious Writers Stubborn Egotists? The Deluded? I don’t know what the club is—there are no meetings, unless you count the AWP convention, no benefits, no secret handshake, and certainly no golf courses, just dues.). And sometimes poems get accepted and published and no matter how small the journal, more people read your poem than would have read it if you hadn’t sent it out. Which, it turns out, is enough.
Oberon’s Law (http://oberonslaw.com) is a new on line journal, and I am feeling very warm-and-fuzzy toward start-up on line journals since I’m in the process of starting one with some friends (I’ll post here when we’re ready to start reading submissions). I found them on Duotrope and sent them three poems. Here’s the one they took:

LILITH

I cannot die by heat or cold or blunt or sharp.
I cannot die in dark or light.
I cannot die starved. I cannot die gorged.
I cannot die bleeding, or pregnant, or hollow.
I cannot die by water.

I have cut a ribbon of skin from another man’s body,
Dried it by the full moon and made a noose to bind you.
But you slide in knots like a bursting child
From the broken seas of birth.
I slide from knots.
I would break around your body.
In the blackness between red skies,
I would be the opening of your veins.
I would carry your blood in my mouth
And drown like the moon
And never leave the sky.

I have grown white with cold.
I have learned the lips of devils.
My kiss is cold.

Survivor Apples by Terry Wilson–Dixon Apples May Be Covered in Ash But Still Tasty…

SURVIVOR APPLES

I’m addicted to apples; I admit it. Which is why last Saturday morning, having only slept 3 hrs., I bundled up in winter clothes and left home at 5 am., meeting my friend Diane in the dark of the Kingston Retirement home parking lot as if we were off to negotiate a drug deal. It felt like a long drive out past Cochiti Lake, considering it was dark all the way. I kept expecting to see the little Dixon apple signs along the road as always, but finally when we got there at 6:10 am., all we could see was the silver crescent of moon in the inky sky. “Do we just sit here in the road?” Diane asked me because there already was a line of cars ahead of us once we got to Cochiti. Finally, as we sat there in the car, we all turned off our cars and headlights, but shortly after that, a guy directing traffic told us to park in the Phillips 66 lot. We got out of our cars and walked over to what looked like the end of the line. It stretched into the darkness beyond where we could see. We were ready to buy apples. Diane hadn’t gone to the orchard before, so she didn’t know the protocol–she’d been ready to pull off the road and park somewhere, anywhere, just so we wouldn’t be wasting gas.

“You have to stay in line!” I told her. She got the idea then that the Dixon crowd was cutthroat, but it isn’t. It’s just that you can’t cut! We grabbed our heavy coats and lined up in the dark with the other people; it was about 50 degrees at that point, so everyone was shivering. But Diane and I have worked together for so many years that it was fun to catch up while we waited in the cold. The others in line were a motley crew–one woman in a big, colorful shawl seemed the friendliest. I asked the people ahead of us (hoping someone would answer), “Do you think Dixon will reopen?”

“Not next year,” one guy said, acting almost angry that I would ask such a question. “Gonna take them a long time to rebuild.”

In the dim light, it didn’t look like we were too far back in line, but it was hard to tell. The line was not moving. It was now about 6:45 am. and Diane and I were taking pictures of each other and of the line in front of the moon. There was one Dixon apple sign I could see now, right next to a big adobe building that the line curved around. An old guy with gray hair appeared and was talking to the crowd, one group at a time, moving down the line. When he got to us, he started again: “Only one bag per person, folks, but you get to pick out your own apples. Some of ’em have dings in ’em, some have peck marks. And a lot are covered in ash, so be sure you wash ’em before you eat. You’ll see most are the champagnes, but there are a few red ones–they’re Rome apples. We sure appreciate you coming out today.” Then the line started to move, and by then it was getting light out, just before 7 am. We filed up to tables with cashiers who took our money and handed us a large plastic bag; each bag cost $20. I had the cash in my pocket, and so did Diane, but the woman at the table (before we got to the field with all the apple bins in it) asked a surprising question.

“How many bags you want?”
“I thought we could only have one,” I said. Diane had her checkbook with her, so we decided we’d split a third bag, and off we went, excited to finally fill our bags with those treasured apples, a New Mexico tradition.

In the roped off field ahead of us, all the people in line who’d gotten there earlier than we had were wandering around from huge bin to bin, picking and choosing which apples would go into their bags. Diane and I had decided we wanted only the champagnes because Rome apples tend to be soft and spoil much faster. But mixed into the bins were some small red apples! “Those are not Rome’s,” I told Diane. “Those are sparkling burgundies.” Which is my second favorite apple and the other patent that Dixon owns. I grabbed all the burgundies I could see, along with champagnes that didn’t have too many peck marks on them. All the apples seemed to have a film of ash covering them, but some bins were worse with apples that looked almost gray.

I have to say here that I feel sad about this whole thing, grateful that at least 5% of the fruit was saved from the Las Conchas fire, yet how strange it was on Saturday to be in a flattened out field where people were picking from among the remains. For the past 12 yrs. or so, I’ve been going to Dixon Orchards every September, sometimes twice in as many weeks to get the champagnes and sparkling burgundies, and standing in the cool morning air surrounded by steep mountain cliffs in Cochiti Canyon, everyone so happy to be there among the thriving trees and bustling apple business. People were always talking and laughing, some even selling their own wares as the line snaked toward the apple house in the pre-dawn hours. Last year, a woman hawked homemade burritos as we waited for the apple house to open. Now there is no apple house because it’s been destroyed by the fire and floods, along with the Mullane’s house, and all their equipment has been covered with mud from the heavy August rains that caused the river to overflow onto their land.

But back to today–there were probably 40 apple bins, and I said to Diane, “The people who come later will have to take the ashy fruit.” The problem was, there didn’t seem to be that many people behind us; only single people straggled in after us and there were only about five cars on the road. Had everyone heard too much about Dixon’s misfortunes this year? But later I found out that thousands showed up later on Saturday, so apparently they were wiser than I was and decided to get a good night of sleep! I stood next to a burly African American guy who was digging down to the bottom of the bin to get his apples while his small daughter waited next to him.

“The better ones are underneath,” he told me, though I found it hard to dig through all the apples, so he grabbed me a few of the primo ones once his bag was full.

I picked up a large red one. “This is not a Rome apple!” I said to the guy next to me.

He said, “I think they’re the burgundies!” When I turned to look at him, it was my friend Tom who had been the best man in our wedding! You never know who you’re going to meet, getting apples.

Finally I picked up an apple I knew was a Rome and showed it to Diane, comparing it with the imposter Romes. “Look at the difference!” I said to her. “The Romes are much flatter, wider and redder.” We decided to taste one we thought was a burgundy; Diane went first.

“Tastes like a Macintosh,” she said. “I love Macs!” I decided to forfeit my lipstick and bit into it, tasting its sweet tartness.

“It’s a burgundy!” I said, thrilled that the freezes, floods, and fire had not killed off all the burgundies. If this was the last time I ever got the Dixon apples, at least I’d managed to taste my two favorite apples one final time. It was such a victory to carry off samples of those two magnificent apples, despite what nature had thrown at Dixon’s.

Since I’d only napped a bit the night before, when I got home, I jumped back into bed and slept all day, dreaming of apples snatched from the jaws of death.

If you want to send a donation to help Dixon’s apple orchard rebuild, or if you just want more information, their website is www.dixonsapples.com.

Glass Kimono

Karen La Monte‘s work at the New Mexico Museum of Art–saw it yesterday after the Axle haiku reading:

a glass kimono
sculpted like a bow, what else
can you see right through?

a glass obi
curved bridge arches away
Ikkyu’s crow caws

a glass sleeve flowing
the cliche–your heart is ice
might tell a story

a glass robe folded
one way for the living
one way for the dead

ice on the river
autumn deepens towards winter
a glass kimono

James Baldwin’s Harlem

This week in Memoir class, we’re reading some James Baldwin, among others. I’m re-blogging a book review/essay which appeared in the early months of this blog.
***
James Baldwin was born in Harlem, a simple fact, but one with far from simple impact on his character, destiny, and art. Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem Hospital His mother was Emma Berdis Jones, part of the African American migration from the south and away from segregation laws and the threat of the Klan. Baldwin never knew who his father was, and was raised by an often abusive step-father, David Baldwin. Harlem, with all of its conflicts, ambiguities, and social levels gave birth not to just James Baldwin the man but to Baldwin the writer. Even though he left as a young adult, never to permanently return, Baldwin’s formative experiences were those he would mine forever as a writer.
Herb Boyd’s biography of James Baldwin, Baldwin’s Harlem, makes this influence clear in all its details. Published by Atria Books, the biography chronicles Baldwin’s early years on hard streets made harder by the Depression. But Harlem also had tremendous cultural vibrancy. Although the literary movement dubbed the Harlem Renaissance had waned, important figures from it such as Langston Hughes still remained. Countee Cullen, a poet from the Harlem Renaissance, was actually Baldwin’s teacher in junior high school. Theater, music, and politics still filled the air. And Baldwin observed, looking back from 1980: “The poverty of my childhood differed from the poverty of today in that the TV set was not sitting in front of our faces, forcing us to make unbearable comparisons between the room we were sitting in and the rooms we were watching, neither were we endlessly being told what to wear and drink and buy. We knew that we were poor, but then, everybody around us was poor.”
If the threat of the south was the Klu Klux Klan, then police brutality presented a similar threat in Harlem. And class distinctions also flourished. While Langston Hughes, who had moved to Harlem, praised it Baldwin felt a resentment against the black middle class, and there was often tension between West Indian immigrants and the native born. In terms of class, Baldwin observed “There were two Harlems. Those who lived in Sugar Hill (the famous black middle class neighborhood) and there was the Hollow, where we lived. There was a great divide between the black people on the hill and us. I was just a ragged, funny black shoeshine boy and I was afraid of the people on the Hill, who, for their part, didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
A commitment to his family and younger siblings kept Baldwin from totally leaving Harlem, but he moved to Greenwich Village as soon as he could as a young man, propelled by a need to get away–both as a writer and as a homosexual. Indeed, Baldwin soon became a permanent ex-patriot, first leaving for Europe in 1948. And while he was frequently ambivalent about Harlem, in particular condemning its ugliness and housing projects, the true love urban of his life was Paris, which he always characterized in glowing terms.Yet he never lost touch with American political movements, supporting the fight for Civil Rights, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.
Baldwin of course is best known as a writer, the author of Go Tell It On The Mountain and If Beale Street Could Talk. However, the portrait of Baldwin that emerges in Boyd’s biography is a highly complex one, not just that of a prominent black writer in America bent on expressing personal and political experience. Indeed, Baldwin’s relationship with other black writers began, and remained, highly conflictual. He attacked pioneering–and famous–novelist Richard Wright by comparing him to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and calling them both propagandists. He feuded with Langston Hughes, and never credited Countee Cullen with much influence. In a way, Baldwin as a writer exemplified what critic Harold Bloom called “the anxiety of influence”–a desire to be seen on his own and as a self-made artist.
Although conflict characterizes Baldwin as both man and writer, that conflict was also a source of creativity. Ralph Ellison, the revered author of Invisible Man roundly criticized Baldwin for his political involvement, saying “This is a great mistake you’re making, getting involved in the civil rights movement. The artist must maintain a certain esthetic distance.” But this was not James Baldwin, and his art did not suffer, and certainly nor did his conscience. Also, Baldwin knew when to be true to himself. His novel, Giovanni’s Room, is about a tragic gay love affair, and has no major black characters in it. Rather than being his ruination, as predicted, the novel is considered by many to be among his finest works.
Boyd is at his best at the center of his subject, what he calls “Harlem, Real and Imagined.” He writes: “To a great degree, Harlem tended to be just another character for Baldwin, he treated it with the same brush of contradiction he used on his other subjects. For the most part, though, Harlem was typecast as the lowlife harlot, consistently present in his non-fiction and only occasionally beautified in his fiction.”
In his introduction to the book, Boyd writes: “The Baldwin I have discovered through interviews, with friends and relatives, and his essays and novels is as complex and indefinable as I expected.” In the final analysis, it is not only Harlem which is a place of contradiction, it is Baldwin himself. And Harlem remains both a prison Baldwin escaped and a muse he always carried within him.

Two Bird Poems by Marsha Mathews

I don’t usually post notes to accompany poems, but these were of real interest. And I know the readership of this blog is interested in process, as evinced by the lively discussion of revision on “White Nights.” Let me encourage contributors o send work with explanations or questions of writing process.

***

Sanctuary
 
 
                                                Driven by cancer’s dark-winged threat,
                                                she finds her way to a forbidden shore
                                                where thousands of seabirds
                                                nest in the underbrush.
                                                This time, it’s the human
                                                who’s out of place —
                                                no highways or high-rises, here.
                                                Only scrub palm & sea oats
                                                & the calls of a thousand gulls.
 
                                                Here death seems a natural thing:
                                                cartilage, sand, & eggshell — one,
                                                she can almost forget
                                                the cool tubular stuff of hospitals.
 
                                                On the beach
                                                shipwrecked memories wash jagged rocks.
                                                A white-faced pelican swoops down,
                                                its pouch a loose-skinned rumple.
                                                On fat webbed feet, it flip-flaps
                                                up to her. She strokes its wing,
                                                pallid but warm
                                                against her open hand.
 
 
1 in 3: Women with Cancer Confront an Epidemic    (Cleis Pres)
 

Pygmalion’s Song
 
                                                            St. Pete Beach, Florida
 
                                      Every evening at eight,
                                      the heron
 
                                                swoops & soars
                                      through pink-streaked sky,
                                      a silver sheath—
                                      futuristic, majestic, prehistoric: one—
                                      floats
 
                                                down
 
 
                                                          down.
 
                                      On spindly legs,
                                      lands light
                                      among tall grass & prickly pear,
                                      blends into willowy sea oats,
 
                                      disappears.
 
                                      Only to appear
                                      again beside a pool
                                      where a stone heron waits.
                                      One lack leg tucked,
                                      he stands
                                      eye fixed to painted eye
                                      so still so long, he seems himself a statue.
                                      Huge, seven feet tall, paint-chipped,
                                      legs & tail merging into basin.
 
                                   
                                      Content? Complete?
                                      Or is it in the wait
                                      we rise?
 
                                      Water trickles beak to breast,
                                      tap-taps ivory pebbles,
                                      swirls free
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Pygmalion’s Song.” Zeus Seduces the Wicked Stepmother in the Saloon of the Gingerbread
 
            House: Myth, Fairy Tale & Legend for the 21st Century. Ed. Susan Richardson. Boise,
 
            ID: Winterhawk, 2008. 22-23. Print.  ISBN: 978-0-615-19969-6
 
 
 
 
 
“Pygmalion’s Song” alludes to Ovid’s story of the sculptor who fell in love with his own creation, having carved a beautiful woman from ivory. I watched a blue heron at my sister’s house in Florida stare at a statue without moving for several hours, and voila, the poem! “Pygmalion’s Song” first appeared in Zeus Seduces the Wicked Stepmother in the Saloon of the Ginerbread House:  Myth, Fairy Tale, & Legend for the 21st Century (Winterhawk Press).
 “Sanctuary” portrays a woman fed up with medical treatment and hospitals who makes peace with death on a rare spot of pristine Florida coastline when a pelican approaches her. This poem was first published in 1 in 3: Women with Cancer Confront an Epidemic (Cleis Press).

Marsha Mathews is an Associate Professor of English at Dalton State College, GA.

Giant Veggies and Pygmy Goats–New Mexico State Fair

I love the giant vegetables, and rush to see them first. This squash weighs more than most members of my immediate family. A guy walked by and muttered–“A whole lot of calabacitas there!”

(You can find out more about the grower at http://giantveggiegardener.com/category/giant-veggies-other/giant-long-gourd/)

The model trains now include our prized Railrunner!

Then off to see the pygmy goats, coo over them, and express my unattainable desire for a goat:

Unexpectedly, there were Matachine dancers, which I adore. Along with the bull dancer fighting a guy with a whip.The audience was invited to dance at the end, and I went up. Many many years ago I danced with a clown at the edge of the Matachines at San Juan Pueblo, Cristmas Eve Day. Who knows if I’ll get a chance again.

Photo by evangelineartphotography.wordpress.com

From New Mexico Magazazine

The midway looked beautiful and alluring, all lit up. I can’t go to the State Fair but think of Charlotte’s Web, and Fern on the ferris wheel.

Falling Drops of Rain by Akira Watts and Niomi Fawn

Falling Drops of Rain by Akira Watts and Niomi Fawn.

I saw this project at the AHA fair and was immediately fascinated. What was a novel doing in a booth of its own? Turns out to be a collaboration between writer Akira Watts and artist Niomi Fawn, whose work is described as Neo-Pastiche, a photographic college technique to create alternate realities.

Akira explains: Basically, my goal in the collaboration was to come up with a way of presenting text in a visual/tactile/interactive way, beyond simply having passages of text coupled with a visual interpretation – we both wanted a way to integrate text and images into an immersive experience (for me, the work I did on the Meow Wolf’s Due Return, in particular on the archival component of the show, was a spark that set me off in this direction.) 

So we started with the text: extracts of an in progress novel that I’ve been battling for two years, and which Niomi has been as immersed in as myself. We took four passages, non-contiguous, and Niomi came up with multiple images/pieces to accompany/complement/enhance each one. In addition, I wanted to come up with an interesting way to present the footnotes that litter my writing (I personally love footnotes, because they can fragment the narrative in an interesting way,  allowing the creation of alternate stories, and letting me, as an author, intrude into the text). That led to the wooden blocks, each of which represented a single footnote from the source texts hung on the wall. I’m happy with how they turned out, although their actual meaning/function in the piece wasn’t always immediately obvious. 

1.

WHAT I WANT TO SAY right here at the beginning is that the one thing he wanted since long before he knew, was to go into space. To hurtle to the planets and stars in a lonely empty metal shell caked with the dust of galaxies. To go somewhere so new that no one had even thought to think it.
This needs to be so very clear because it is the one thing you must know about him before all this begins. He wants to go to space and this isn’t science fiction and the ending is determined and so he never will. This breaks his heart.
And so it must break mine and yours.1

1. Outside of footnotes, there is perhaps no greater cliché in the literary world than that of a writer commenting on his own writing.