Sunday, August 24, 2008

For Those Who Are Currently Sending Out Poetry Manuscripts

A warning and an education.

Birds and trees and such

It's raining in Seattle. I have a porch, which is nice because it means I can see the rain close up without feeling it directly.

And in the trees in front of my porch, I see birds (this one's for you, Laurie).

I think this is a Steller's jay. It makes a sound like those noise-makers one finds at children's parties. You know, the stick with a box at one end that, when motivated with a swift wrist motion rotates around the stick. In other words, a grinding sound.

(Steller's jay flexes like a superhero). A good friend's older sister used to pronounce the word "bird" as "pyood" when she was a kid. I like the sound of it. I like pyoods. This one is especially stellar.

In other news, against a backdrop of monotone sky, coniferous needles take on an aspect like tatting:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Working Woman for a One Day

My temp agency has landed me a sweet gig ushering and handing out clipboards for $10/hr at a motivational seminar on Monday. I have to dress "Business Professional," which is a genre of attire that is not currently represented in my closet. So tomorrow I will go shopping and spend more on the clothes than I am likely to make from the job. For justification, I look to Clinton of TLC's What Not To Wear, who says "If you’ve got rotten teeth, you don’t just bleach them to make them look better. You fix them. If your wardrobe is rotten, you can’t just throw on a cute shoe and think it’s going to work. Throw out the garbage and start replacing it with pieces that work." I'm not sure how to feel about the dental metaphor, but my wardrobe is rotten. And you know what they say: You've got to spend money to make money. The clothes make the (wo)man. Dress for success. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have (Which is why I'm sitting at the computer in my astronaut helmet, balancing the alien harpoon on my knees. Just in case.)

Unfortunately, I've always thought that people of my height (or lack thereof: 5'0") look ridiculous in business suits. Should I tuck my lilliputian mits into the double breast of my fitted dark neutral blazer and declare myself emperor of the French? Should I march up and down the corporate halls, drunk on the clacking power of my Naturalizer 2-inch heels? Honestly, striped coveralls, cowlicks and lollipop sceptres seem more appropriate. And more fun.

I am, however, quite excited about the prospect of working a motivational seminar featuring the likes of Colin Powell, Zig Ziglar, Suze Orman and Terry Bradshaw. Motivation has been a real problem for me since graduation. Maybe I'll learn something. Also, I love Terry Bradshaw. I've seen Smokey and the Bandit II, like, a kazillion times. If that guy can't give me the key to unlock my future, no one can.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A list of my brain's list

The pure banal joy of an herb garden. In my kitchen! Those little captive seedlings.

I noticed two typos in my thesis manuscript upon (now three months too late) much closer inspection. The first, a misspelling, "even" for "ever"-- in my epigraph nonetheless. The second, a missed (misplaced, forgotten, delayed) period in the last line of a poem. Sure, easily misconstrued to my benefit as the "opening of possibility past the end of the poem/page". Ah but what shame! And now you all know, too.

Considering the remote possibility of formatting and sending out a chapbook-size selection of my thesis, the following possibilities: Flume Press, Tarpaulin Sky.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Yay. The first post-MFA publication! Just found out one of my poems will appear in the Sept. issue of Fawlt magazine. Theme: Perfectionism.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Guest Blogger Amy Schrader on Having Fun with Writing Again

At the very end of July, I was reading the 4Culture newsletter, looking for the mother of all grants that will solve my financial problems (do they have a credit card debt consolidation grant?). I found this instead.

So now I’m participating in the Poetry Postcard Fest 2008, sending a poem-a-day handwritten on a postcard to consecutive strangers on a list for the entire month of August. I have cheated once, and used one previously-written poem (In my defense, it was on a day that I was suffering from a particularly nasty head cold.) But all the rest, so far, have been written daily, written quickly, and written (mostly) without anxiety.

This is kind of a big step for me, since I haven’t been writing regularly at all since graduating from the MFA program over 2 years ago. Then, pray tell, you ask, what have I been doing? Well, mostly obsessing over the fact that I’m not writing regularly. Dreading those literary social events where I’ll run into people who were in my program, knowing that we’ll all stand around awkwardly with plastic glasses of wine in our hands, asking each other “So…are you writing?” and experiencing a sharp, secret glee when anyone answers, “No, not really.” I’ve been submitting my poems to journals and my manuscript to contests, and garnering many fine rejections. Reading my “free” 1-year subscriptions to journals after entering their publication contests, and seeing name after name after name of poets that I know contained therein. Feeling sheepish and discouraged when my friends use words like “anaphora” and “semiotics”, but I have the tendency to say “awesome” over and over in general conversation. Wondering if I am, maybe, not really a poet after all.

But I have been a poet for ten days’ worth of postcards now, and it feels pretty good. It’s such a relief not to be bound up in the “Am I writing? Am I not-writing?” mental debate, and to be able to give myself permission to write a little poem, a fast poem, a casual poem…even a bad poem! I’ve also been able to practice non-attachment, since I’m writing the poems and then immediately sending them out into the world, where they will belong to someone else.

In the absence of the pressure to be a “serious” poet, writing poems is suddenly fun again. I’m back in the habit of writing every day, even if it’s just for a little while. I’ve been reminded that I actually like to write. And, of course, my young Jedi apprentice, once you stop worrying about writing something good, oftentimes you do write something good. And that’s pretty awesome.

Amy Schrader holds an MFA from the University of Washington. She was a semifinalist for the 2006 and 2007 Discovery/The Nation poetry contests and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin Parachute Postcard Review, Willow Springs, Pontoon, and the Tupelo Press Poetry Project. Amy is a 2008 GAP grant recipient and she lives and works in Seattle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dog-Vomit as a Metaphor for Post-MFA Life

I’ve just returned from a month in Prague. We receive our pug back from his grandparents. “He’s had a wonderful time,” they say. “He was an angel—absolutely no trouble,” they say, and I know it must be a lie because if there is one word in the English language that describes this pug, it’s trouble. To a T.

Next morning we wake up to the sound. Those of you who have four-legged furry pets know it—the *gulp, blurp, blub* that precedes a hairball or a vomiting episode. No big deal. Happens all the time. I rise, groggy and bloodshot, to clean the mess. Next morning: *gulp, blurp, blub*

Hmm. Odd. Like clockwork almost. Like a very regular, very nauseating alarm clock.

“Maybe he’s pregnant,” jokes my partner, wielding rags and Lysol.


Padraig (that’s his name, it’s pronounced “Patrick”) has been going through some changes lately. A month-long trip to Portland, being weaned off his puppy chow in favor of big-boy kibble, our feeble attempts at training him with little more than pleading tones and broken pieces of Milkbone dog biscuits, a recent move away from the only home he’s ever known. I know how he feels. So I begin with the little changes. No more Milkbones for a while. No trips to the dog park, where those ruffian Seattle dogs could be harboring any number of virulent diseases. A larger portion of puppy chow in his morning meal (I’d never heard of regression as a treatment for vomiting, but it can’t hurt, right?).


It’s the middle of the night and there’s that familiar sound again. I get up. I step in a puddle of mucous. I turn on a light and track mucous through the house to the computer, where I Google a number of combinations of “pug,” “vomit,” “symptoms,” and “treatment” until I find this sage advice: withhold food for 12-24 hours and begin a bland diet of chicken and rice.

The next morning, I leave Padraig starving at home to go grocery shopping. Raw chicken makes me want to vomit, but I love my dog, so I buy the least offensive and cheapest package in the meat case. I remember that we’ve got a package of basmati rice at home. I debate: Is basmati rice bland enough? I still don’t have a job, so I wonder, Is it cheaper to purchase new, crappy rice now or feed Padraig the expensive rice that I already have? I decide to go with the basmati and head home.

For dinner, I boil the rice and chicken in separate pots, keeping the chicken water for soup stock (I’m poor now, so it seems like something I need to do even though I never make soup and I have no idea how to use chicken water in the process). When the chicken is done, I cut it into miniscule, easy-to-digest pieces. I add the rice and smoosh it all together. I add water because Padraig might be dehydrated from all the puking. I smoosh it all again. I give it the smell test: smells OK. I wouldn’t eat it, but it smells OK. I give it to Padraig, who eats it with gusto and promptly vomits it all up again. And as I stare at it, lying on the floor like one of those perfectly shaped domes of rice they serve at Chinese restaurants except for having been in my dog’s stomach for all of 3 seconds, I wonder if maybe I should leave it there. Maybe he’ll eat it again. Maybe I won’t have to cook more chicken and rice and smoosh it and add water and smoosh it again if he just eats his own puke. And while I’m engaging in this fantasy, Padraig has already retired to the bedroom to sleep it off.

So I decide maybe I fed him too much. I go back to the drawing board. Boil. Cut. Smoosh. A much, much smaller portion this time. I wake Padraig up and coax him to eat. Never one to turn down food, he does so willingly. I spend the next two hours glancing at him, listening extra hard for the sounds of imminent vomit. Nothing. We enjoy the rest of our evening and go to bed. Three A.M.: *gulp, blurp, blub*

I’ve had it. This is where the metaphor comes into play. All of a sudden, my dog’s illness represents every anxiety of my life. I can’t do anything right. Something is terribly wrong and, despite all of my good-faith efforts, I can’t fix it. This is my life now: dog vomit. I apply for jobs; I don’t get them. I send books and chapbooks and poems to contests; I don’t win. Morning, noon and night for the rest of my days: dog vomit and my vain efforts to staunch it. I am inconsolable. My partner is tired and disgusted and in no mood to deal with my existential crisis. He sends me out to the couch to try and get some sleep, promising that he’ll deal with any other episodes that may occur during the night. But I can’t sleep. It’s gotten so bad that even in the silence of nothing happening I hear it: *gulp, blurp, blub*


It’s the morning of the fifth day of puke. We have broken down and taken the pug to the vet. The vet is a lovely woman. She is going to fix everything, I just know it, because her last name is Lamb and that's like Jesus and when she fixes everything I’m going to kiss her full on the mouth. She checks Padraig’s stool. Negative. Her assistant checks his temperature. Normal. She pokes around his abdomen, feeling for blockages. Nothing. She looks at his gums. Pink, slimy, perfect. There appears to be nothing wrong with my dog. So she prescribes some meds and some hydration and she subcutaneously injects a bunch of fluids into his shoulder and tells me he’ll absorb the stuff throughout the day and it should help and eventually the unsightly lump of fluid on his back will go away. Right now he looks like Quasi Modo with his quavering little back-hump. Or a camel. Or Fergi.

So it’s been almost eight hours with no puke. I haven't gone back to the vet to kiss her on the mouth just yet. Padraig is resting comfortably on the couch, having uneventfully eaten his evening meal. I am cautiously optimistic. Maybe, for now, this one problem has been fixed. Of course I am left to wonder whether there’s a subcutaneous hunch-back cure for chronic unemployment and rejection. But I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. At the moment, I’ll settle for vomitless nights.