Sea glass, egg shells, and virtual poetry
It’s spring, it’s summer, it’s actually warm here in Milwaukee where I continue to spend much of my time. I usually forget just how gratifying this kind of post-winter sun is until it actually arrives.
Tomorrow evening at 7:00 CST, I’m doing my first virtual reading in a while through Woodland Pattern. Everyone is invited!
This will be the book launch for Maria Elena Scott’s self-published hybrid collection Love Letter to My Brother Juan: A Memoir in Prose, Poetry and Found Text. It’s a remarkable set of stories about separation and wholeness. It’s an investigation of family across geographic and linguistic borders. And, as the title indicates, it moves between literary modes and does this in a way that mimics its themes of cultural/personal connection/division.
The third reader is Angie Trudell Vasquez, one of my first poetry mentors from wayyy back in the day, who has published some new, beautiful, community-loving books in the last couple of years, and who is a long-time publisher in her own right. She’s one of my artist-activist role models and the poet laureate of Madison!
Those of us connected to universities are wrapping things up this week or thereabouts. (We made it!) My semester was meaningful as I navigated family caregiving for my dad while many of the students dealt with their own life events. We were able to support each other in a way that felt feminist, flexible, rigorous, and creative. And even though we’re not gathering in person, eating cookies on the last day, etc., I’m pleased about the strong finish-line-moment we’re having this week.
I’ve been working on some research projects related to the cultural history of the author interview. I’m presenting some strategies for designing more inclusive and empathetic college courses at a conference in a couple of weeks.
And I’m also planning to spend some time this summer looking into the archives of Decker Press, one of the largest poetry presses in the 1940s in the United States, which was, to my surprise, housed in rural Illinois, though the press met an untimely—and macabre—demise after over a decade of publishing.
Publishers who gain notoriety in unexpected places have long been an interest of mine. Poetry publishing is typically a labor of love (“labor of love” is an interesting phrase unto itself), and there’s something subversive, it seems, about running a major publisher out of the backroom of a pharmacy in a town of fewer than 1,000 people.
Talk to enough poets, go to enough open mics and you’ll find projects like Decker Press growing like dandelions: persistent, edible, full of color and vitamins, their ubiquity tricking you into believing they’re unremarkable. But they are—they are everything. I think these projects might be one of the real ways that poetry stays alive.
This summer, I’ll be teaching an online course called Begin Submitting Your Poetry to Literary Journals through the Loft Literary Center. I intend for it to be a low-pressure, celebratory, informative space for anyone who has a goal of publishing poetry in literary journals. We’ll go over nuts and bolts, but equally importantly, we’ll talk about how to persist in the face of rejection, how to navigate the realities of gatekeepers, and how to stay nourished and optimistic.
We’ll also talk about ways to sustain ourselves. Self-publishing a zine every few years is one of the things that has kept me going, and I don’t know that the MFA-etc. crowd talks about this kind of thing enough. I’m not saying you have to start your own Decker Press, but each of us does have to locate the community/readers/people who prove the purpose.
What’s keeping you going? What are you embarking upon this summer?