Category Archives: Poetry

A Little Collaboration Please

This blog is definitely a little dusty over here at Book Dust. Since my Bread Loaf 2013 experience, I’ve been diving into the deep end of the lap pool that is my writing, completing a grueling 30:30 with some amazing writers (Phillip B. Williams, Nathan McClain, Aricka Foreman, Keith Wilson,  Steven Kleinman, and Diana Khoi Nguyen in spirit), diving head first into revision, and actually sending out my manuscript with reckless abandon despite the rejections that continued to pour in. I’ve had some successes but in the invariable up and down that is the submission process, I continue to work on my new collection. The differences in me and my writing pre- and post- Bread Loaf are glaring to say the least. I’ve met some quality poets who have been honest enough to teach me things about myself in every conversation.

And then there are the days when my two worlds (hair vs. poetry) collide and yield a remarkably fun and artistic result. Recently, for my job with Bumble, I hosted around 80 attendees at an event in the up and coming neighborhood of Brookland in DC. In doing so, I ran into a photographer who was kind enough to volunteer his services to document this inspirational hair event. He did great work and it seems the experience released a bit of his own creative spirit. He began brainstorming about doing a collaborative series where he documents the artistic process of artists. I knew it was a stretch to photograph a poet without seeming to cliche or expected in the portrayal (writer bangs head against wall, writer drowns in vodka, etc.), but we decided to give it a go. We both knew the collaboration could blow up in our pretty little faces but in we went.

Moe Nazemi is a professional delight to work with. He made this silly girl feel very comfortable in front of the lens, and he was patient as I giggled and laughed and screamed in between serious shots because I felt so darn uncomfortable being “serious.” Before the shoot, we got creative with research looking at shots we admired like those by Sally Mann and started getting creative with the shoot. It was literally an artistic collaboration, which was very refreshing for this poet who was beginning to fall down her own rabbit hole of revision. Moe and I decided I would work on a piece that I was revising  during the entire shoot. We wanted the “working” shots to remain authentic and hopefully catch me and my many grumbly faces during my process.

Defeated Face Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Defeated Face
Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Giggly Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Giggly
Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

He came the day of the shoot with an idea. This one idea he had yielded the most creative, fun, and artistic shot of the day. The photo below showcases his creativity, his photography skills, and his ability to capture emotion in one image. Additionally, he managed to change how I will forever look at my front room. I am now completely creeped out by myself. Case in point:

i-sskpm9f-X2

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Then we tried a series, where we took words form the poem I was revising the whole shoot and wrote them on a backdrop. Here’s the result:

Crazy Carrie Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Crazy Carrie
Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

I can't handle myself.  Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

I can’t handle myself.
Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Still Giggly Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Still Giggly
Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

And then, to finish, the wonderful Moe helped me acquire some head shots.

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

Photo Credit: Moe Nazemi Photography

I did something out of my comfort zone. I collaborated in ways I didn’t expect would propel the work forward. I finally finished the revision of that damn poem that was haunting me. I learned something new about myself (I’m really uncomfortable in front of the camera), and I met a talented photographer who I cannot begin to give enough credit to. If you need a photographer for head shots, events, artistic collaborations, weddings, or whatever you want to capture, Moe Nazemi Photography is the real deal. He has a lot of creativity in that head of his, and this collaboration has spurred creativity in me, for my work and for the next photo shoot with Moe!

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I’ve Always Loved Bread

I might be the only poet who listens to Drake and practices the beloved art of twerking in the mirror while packing bandeau dresses and three-inch heels for a writing conference.

I’ve packed heels in my “spare” bag. Not one pair, but four. And not because they are necessary or even relevant to all that I’ll be consuming  over the next 10 days but because without them I feel somewhat vulnerable. I figure at the very least if the Conference determines I’m useless in the poetic space and talentless at best, then dammit, I’ll be wearing some fierce heels when they say so.

I’ve packed three times. Packing and repacking simply to keep busy. Tomorrow I start the 8.5 hour drive promptly at 5 am. Every hour I’ve decided to record one piece of poetic inspiration that will serve as a writing prompt while in Vermont. I’ve been warned by my peers that time is not my own and “spare time” to write is rare and somewhat unrealistic. I’ve been warned that I should pace myself. I’ve been warned I may cry at some point. I have my creative crutches and dear poet-y friends on standby.

I’m thankful for this time. And for that dear man-friend of mine who is so selfless in his sacrifices and his love, I’m thankful for him too.

Off we go…


Finding That Poem’s Voice… Again

SpeakerWe’ve all been there. We inhabit the voice of the poem, we create such a unique, wonderful speaker that we wish we could clone it immediately and allow it to penetrate various other poems. We aim for a series. I’m in the muck of that right now.

Usually in this instance, I recreate the space, the circumstances that surrounded and do some sort of ritual in an attempt to conjure up a voice that even moderately resembles the original. This time, I can’t even remember where I was, what I was wearing, if I was drinking (which would explain a lot), or the mind frame that got me to the voice I want to revisit again.

I long for that speaker. Much like I’ve longed for the feel of good shoes on my feet, a chilled glass of rose (who am I kidding, a bottle), or even that one person who sets the rest of the world at ease around me. I long for that speaker.

This particular voice in this particular poem is one that I secretly want to inhabit. The speaker is everything I want to be. She’s crass and brave and her mind is slightly warped with a lusty tongue. This particular voice is haunting me.

Today, I am trying to conjure her up. So I begin by listening to “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now” by Mark Doty where he emphasizes, “Poetry’s work is to make people real to us through the agency of the voice.”  One section that sticks with me, as I begin my search is as follows:

“The project of poetry, in a way, is to raise language to such a level that it can convey the precise nature of subjective experience. That the listener would envision not just a mouse but this particular one, in all its exact specificity, its perfect details. Such enchanted language could magically dissolve the barrier of skin and bone and separateness between us and render perception so evocatively that we don’t just know what it means, we feel what it means.”

Off I go, wish me luck.


Gargoyle Magazine

Thank you to Gargoyle Magazine for accepting two of my poems in the Summer 2014 issue. Love the expedited process for submission and acceptance.

Additionally, love the description they have given themselves. I fit here.

“Gargoyle has always been a scallywag magazine, a maverick magazine, a bit too academic for the underground and way too underground for the academics.”


The Debate on the State of Contemporary Poetry

I’m not at all getting into the muck of this back-and-forth that has occurred as of late, but I am calling attention to it. Two totally different intentions.

June 20th, Ron Charles wrote a piece in The Washington Post titled “Why is modern poetry so bad?” His piece is in reaction to the original discussion that was instigated in the July issue of Harper’s Magazine titled, “Poetry Slam: Or, The decline of American verse.” by Mark Edmundson. Edmundson, a professor at the University of Virginia utters words like “small, in retreat, painfully self-questioning, oblique” to describe contemporary poetry today. Then he does the unthinkable. He names names. Brave? yes. Accurate? Well that’s up for debate. And causing quite the ruckus.

My favorite line in the entire piece is when he states, “One can’t generalize about it all.” Pot meet kettle. Edmundson does indeed proceed to generalize across the span of poets he lists, leaving a splattered mess of poets in his wake who are apparently up to no good at all with their work. The take away he leaves us with: the poems of greats like Hass, Bidart, Pinsky, and Olds are good but not “good enough.”

What is good enough? Who defines “good” in regards to contemporary poetry? And better yet, if readership of contemporary poetry is continuing to dwindle then dare I ask, does it even matter? A companion asked me the other day: isn’t poetry a dying art? (I have chosen not to name said companion for obvious reasons).

The only good part to this debate is that it might force those of us still writing in a contemporary poetic landscape to stretch our intentions, to consider the readership, to possibly recognize when we are and when we are not playing it too safe. A little challenge never hurt anyone, right? On the other hand, a complete degradation of those essential to the literary canon is somewhat hard to swallow.

I wasn’t the only one having a reaction to the discussion. Seth Abramson posted “Why Is Contemporary American Poetry So Good?” on the Huffington Post. Abramson calls attention to the fact that poetry is in fact in its heyday with more poetry being published, read and written than ever before. He makes a rebuttal to Edmunson’s pieces that is impressive in its scope and ability to showcase how far poetry has come. More specifically, how much more “mainstream” it has become.

The debate is rich and necessary. It reminds those of us in the thick of writing poetry to push ourselves beyond our predetermined limits and to continue reading and continue to fight for the essence of American poetry: “American poetry nourishes and enlivens and congregates and educates and in some cases even saves us the very same way poetry has always done for those with the willingness to stop speaking and listen.” Touche Abramson!


Community: noun – a unified body of individuals

One take away from last year’s amazing trip to Erice, Sicily to work with the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference: the essence of being a writer is directly hinged upon the community you create for yourself. At least for this writer.

Six years post MFA I’m finally “getting out there” in terms of establishing and becoming a part of a poetic community. I was a bit of a recluse for quite sometime, still am in a lot of ways, which is in direct conflict with my personality, but so goes it. In realizing the benefit of a supportive and encouraging group of writers to have surrounding you, what I have become more settled with is that sometimes your best, most supportive community is far-reaching. It’s not under your nose in all cases. It’s not even 10 minutes of DC traffic away. Sometimes you have to travel internationally, across email communication channels, or all the way to the abyss that is the west coast to find that which you seek: open minds, warm hearts – and by that I mean a warm reception where people are welcoming and encouraging most the time, but brutal and honest in the times you most need it.

Over the past year I’ve been blessed with continued relationships with Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick,  Shelley Puhak and Ethelbert Miller. I’ve also expanded my circle to the far reaches of Dubai with Ms. Hananah Zaheer , Ms. Ara Tucker in Jersey, Sonja Livingston in Tennessee, Hope Maxwell Snyder in WV. You see my point.

862459_10200858395248723_1575216453_nAnother instance of community was given to me last weekend in Lost River, WV. The kind souls and proprietors of the Guesthouse at Lost River, a cozy little retreat away form the hustle and bustle of the city life DC offers, have been our neighbors and friends for the two years we’ve owned our little “home away from home.” A few weeks ago, Jesse & Gary of Guesthouse fame and friendliness, proposed to my husband that I come down and share some of my work with them and their guests. My first response was “Thank you, I’m flattered” followed quickly by “I’m not sure how many people I can bring you or what you’d gain from it all.” They were less than concerned with what I could offer them. Their response: “We are doing it to support you!” And support me they did. We chatted often about the ins and outs of the reading, setting a date in April to coincide with National Poetry Month. As I visited over the months prior to the reading I’d see flyers for the reading posted in local businesses, I’d hear business owners telling patrons to attend, local friends were rallying the community to hear some poetry.  I was absolutely taken aback by the sense of community.

I’m not sure this blog post has an epiphanic takeaway as much as it serves as a gigantic “Thank you” to my community.

“By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’” ― Ted Kooser


Oh Facebook Friends, I Duped You

It recently occurred to me in a coffee-time conversation with a good friend that the capacity of individuals to share in and embrace each other’s happy moments is quickly dwindling. Said friend mentioned that the world we live in today has various social media platforms on which to parade around our achievements and happy moments in front of the masses, friend or foe. I was already aware of this shift in communication, and I also knew I was overly participating in the new trend. Then the poignant moment came. He said, and I’m paraphrasing: people are so inundated with each other that no one wants to be happy for your achievements, your progress. But they are quick to jump on the bandwagon of celebrating the negative. It’s a silent participation in your most intimate moments.

UnknownThis may seem obvious but I was hesitant to accept it as reality. I have already begun the downward decline of my appreciation and enjoyment of said Facebook craze, but I decided after this conversation stuck in my craw that I needed to test this theory.

Let me begin with what I concluded from my “test.” 1.) My friend’s hypothesis is true. The masses participate more in random comments or negative observations. 2.) The positive received very little love in the way of “likes.” 3.) People mostly subtly participate (and by that I mean they stalk the hell out of your wall).

Here was my test:

  • To my pool of over 300 friends (maybe 10 actually know of and love the ugly parts of me), I posted a few random comments regarding the ways of the world or something that happened to me. I ensured each of those posts contained a slightly or obvious negative undertone. 
  • The first post received 22 “thumbs up” and 11 comments.
  • The second post received 19 “thumbs up” and four comments.
  • Then I posted an announcement of an something positive. I received two likes the first week (the usual suspects). In the following weeks it slowly raised to nine likes (again the usual suspects).

I found myself genuinely disappointed. What I had feared social media was doing to our ability to interact and communicate with each other was actually happening. A general google search on the subject will bring you a slew of articles that broach the subject and mostly with the results and reactions we’d expect.  The stats yielded from studies will leave you wanting to deactivate everything immediately. The breeding of passive communication and pure laziness has taken over for the fine art form of interpersonal communications, a skill listed on my c.v. for decades that seemed mostly unnecessary until recently. It’s actually considered a practiced skill now. You can interact with other humans without the use of social media or technology? Hired!

Forbes magazine tried to get us to stop the madness before the new year was rung in with an article titled, “3 Reasons You Should Quit Social Media in 2013″ which highlights a UK Study in which 50% of respondents noted that social media has an overall negative effect on their lives.  We all know we should. We simply can’t help ourselves. I can’t help myself.

Last week I was in a funk for what seemed like entirely too long and for reasons I couldn’t identify until I began drafting this post. I was genuinely disappointed with people in general and decided I did not want to contribute to it anymore. I also did not want to continue giving those who don’t actively participate in my life a glimpse of what it’s like. Why call me or visit me if you can virtually do it on Facebook, right?

Now I do realize the irony of the fact that I’m writing this blog post which will post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts accordingly, but I suppose I justify the madness if it helps promote a business, or in this case a writer’s work. So that’s how I’ll trek on.

Just yesterday a good friend told me they don’t have a Facebook, a Tweeter (ha!), or anything of the like. I asked why and the response was so simple and so refreshing a thought: I have never liked people eavesdropping on my conversations. It’s hard to escape a life like that when everyone knows everything. I like me time and it’s hard to be present in certain moments when you are clouded by crap.  


Ostranenie: Making Strange

An article in the March/April issue of Poets & Writer’s Magazine by Tony Eprile recently gave me that all too forgotten feeling of “ah-ha.”

Eprile begins his piece by talking about the examination of the woodpecker and the act of pecking wood out of hollow trees. This grabbed my interest as we have recently identified several pileated woodpeckers on our property in West Virginia. We have observed, heard, and at it’s most basic sentiment simply enjoyed them as little pets on our property. However, not once have I stopped to ask, how can they do what they do. I have seen. I have not observed. Eprile, I personally thank you for this challenge.

It’s one of my focuses for 2013: to be present. I juggle a lot of balls, like most people, but what I don’t do well is be fully present in some of the moments or experiences I’m a part of. As Eprile writes, “You have to train yourself to see as if everything is brand new….” I don’t do this enough. I will do this more.

I’m pretty sure some of my best “readers” would describe me and my work as intense, long-winded, scattered. I realize these are not positive descriptions but in the same breath I can say there’s a certain part of me that revels in the manic chaos that finds its ways into my perspective. As I describe in one poem, “…window frames become film slides in a View-master.” The blurred perspective sometimes gets too discounted and tossed in the “unappreciative” pile. I will slow down. Just a little. 

If I do more observing, more slowing down of one’s perspective, will that singularity of style be stifled? I’m sure there’s some message about balance in here somewhere. Yoga is always on my to-do list. Eprile goes on to explain this ability to observe as opposed to see “requires training and patience.” Patience? I have none. It’s a genetic deficiency. Now What?


This whole article then lead me to thinking about my first college writing assignment centered around descriptive writing and how much I enjoyed it. In college, I was fine with being directly within a moment, savoring it, letting it dissolve on my tongue and mucking around in it for awhile. Today, I’m so concerned with “what’s next” that the absoluteness of certain moments, the singularity of an experience is wasted on me. I have only been seeing. If that. I will try to observe.


Submissive Types

Joseph Scapellato over at Gulf Coast’s blog recently wrote about the process of submitting to literary journals and the reasons we must participate in this act.

The message is obvious, breaking down the why, what, and how of submitting your work. My colleagues know that I will do exactly what Scapellato cautions writers against: wait until I feel it’s 100% to send it out. Note to self: nothing is 100%.

puhakOver the past six months with the urging of Shelley Puhak and her ingenious submission system (that doesn’t sound quite right) that she shared with me, I’ve discovered exactly what Scapellato details in his blog post. I forced myself to send poems that weren’t in my mind in the top 10, hell, even the top 20 of poems stacked in corners of my writing loft begging for a readership. It turns out, the ones I disliked the most were in fact the ones that compelled editors to write to me about their “vigor.”

Submitting is a complicated, time-sucker of a process that is a necessity. Hell, even Gertrude Stein got rejected!

I’m off to work on becoming the submissive type.


Shoes and Books

There are only two things in this world that get more than their allotted amount of attention from me: shoes and books.

Quite often, I am compelled (usually at inopportune moments) to have the ritual of reorganizing and having private little conversations with each shoe or book as I help them find their proper place. The books have been arranged by color, by subject or theme, by author’s last name alphabetically, and even once I took on the laborious task of trying to create a poem by using the titles of poetry books as lines in said poem. It made for a fun project but it took weeks to finalize and once I pulled a book from its spot, it seemed to lose its luster quite quickly.  The shoes have been arranged by color, heel height, season, event and by designer’s last name alphabetically. You get the point. photo-24

It’s more than reorganizing. It’s a bit of a ritual this dance I do every other month where I take them all out, make a mess of them on the floor (this of course applies to both books and shoes), let them breath with no rhyme or reason. Then I take a soft cloth and together we move around the edges, in the folds, wiping dust or debris, polishing these little gems. There is a lot of quiet time involved. Silent conversation becomes quite an intimate process. With the shoes I’m thinking of where they were last wore and with whom. The places they took me and how comfortably I got there. Whether they are “sitting” or “standing” or “stomping” kinds of shoes.

photo-23Today however, it was books. Today’s discovery: I have a lot of books I’ve not given enough time to. For some of them I’ve reread  upwards of a dozen times, and I still feel as if I’ve not given them enough time. As the books are wiped clean, today I’m alphabetizing which I’m sure says something about how my life is craving order right now.  Today, I’m thinking that if all else were lost, these books would make me whole again. I toss them around cars and rooms and bags and scribble in the margins and really interact in a way that is authentic and true to what I need from said books. And at the end of the day, it’s a quite revisiting that happens, similar to flipping through old photos of lovers who for a moment  in time had a piece of you. Had ownership of a quiet moment that even the best wordsmith can’t capture.

Shoes and books. They get my attention. They get my care.


Jeffrey Levine

poetry, publishing, and mentoring

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