Where do the poems go?

Trail in a forest; image from Office.com

What’s the next project? The next direction? Where can I go–with poems?
I like to work on larger projects or series. I take comfort in knowing what I’m exploring. It gives me a starting point. But when one of those projects feels finished, I need to find another one.
Finding the next project shouldn’t be hard, because I make lists and more lists. Subjects that suit my fancy at any given moment. Currently on the list: Chagall, Nijinsky.
But does an idea have the power, the pull to go the distance for an entire book or even an entire chapbook?
Even with my series tricks, lately I’ve been stalling out, spinning my wheels on the September poems–and then questioning everything I’m working on. Where is that spark?
For me, my best poems are the poems I have to write.
Into the Rumored Spring was that way–poems saying, “Hey, hey, write me.” Poems waking me up.
I’ve been reading Breach, by Nicole Cooley, and I get the feeling that maybe she had to write those poems. They have that kind of urgency.
But not every path I start down pulls me that fiercely. Or maybe I’m practicing, trying to learn something new. Even deliberate practice is still practice. Exercises. And can exercises be poems? Sometimes, but they still become isolated as one-offs, not fitting into any bigger picture. (Yes, even though I’m a messy person, I like all my poems to fit in somewhere.)
I know writing consistently is important–the practice, the habit. Learning all the time helps me to be ready when I do trip into that next compelling trail to follow. And late this afternoon I realized that I could maybe find that next project by exploring those one-off poems. Maybe one of them is the key to the door to the next adventure.

But for now, I’m going back to the three (!) projects I thought I’d finished–a combination of much self-doubt and wanting poems to work on. I’m writing new poems for those used-to-be-old projects or I’m diving into deep revision on existing poems–trying to keep my voice limber and my skills sharpening. It gives me the comfort of a project and some open space to explore. Which means I never finish anything. And my mom could have told you that.
Do you like to work on long projects? How do you discover your projects?
Or do like your poems one at a time?
Have you worked on a book-length poem? (That might be the best of both worlds, but I haven’t tried to light that fire yet.)
And how do you exercise your writing?

Gratitude, snow & gone

I posted a photo of the Italian Garden last Sunday, in our first snowfall.

Here’s what it looked like later this week.

Italian garden under snow

I’m thankful for the snow–the way it changes the world.

Rosemary in the snow

I’m thankful for T.’s account of walking through the snow and White Mountain icing.

And now that it’s melting, I’m thankful for the wet/dry vac Tom brought home from the shop. I’m thankful the roads down the hill are clearing–and we still have power!

I’m thankful for yesterday’s sun so bright I needed my shades! The whole week was supposed to be like today: rain rain rain rain rain. And then a little sun. But yesterday was blue and bright and gorgeous. It was a beautiful day for my second cousin’s Bar Mitvah service.

I’m thankful for him and his journey and for a chance to gather with our family and share in that passage.

Thankful for a poem acceptance this week. This morning, I received two rejections in less than half an hour (wow!), so I keep reminding myself of the acceptance that came on Wednesday.

I’m thankful for the hummingbirds.

I’m thankful for hearing Suzanne Vega on the radio this morning talking about Carson McCullers. Back in 1985, I was reading The Lonely Hunter and Carson McCullers’s stories and novels. And in the early fall of that year, at the Folk City 25th Anniversary concert, I heard Suzanne Vega for the first time. Two big influences in one Sunday morning, before coffee.

Snow day, and thankful the power came back on

Kale under snow
The Italian garden in Winter: Kale under snow. I took this picture early, before the snow began to fall thickly and covered everything completely.

Yes, we have snow! And yes, it’s lovely. Crunch walking, and all the branches limned in white, trees looking fluffy.

Winter pansies in the snow
And some winter pansies...

And the power was out only for about three hours. It wasn’t even dark out, although the light was getting mighty gray. Then just as Tom built a fire in the fireplace,  juice! Light, heat, and an oven–what’s easy to take for granted until it’s gone, even for a little while.

I’m thankful for the chance to read at The Elliott Bay Book Company yesterday, and thankful the reading went well. John had his harmonica and shakers, Stephen had his kids’ megaphone. And we all had poems.

I’m thankful for my book club and another fabulous meeting plus discussion on Saturday. (We’d read The Submission, by Amy Waldman.)

I’m thankful for waking up on Tuesday and hearing a song by Penguin Café Orchestra on the radio. It was a piece I choreographed to back in the ’80s. A tender nostalgia to start the day.

I’m thankful for all the ideas and inspirations, no matter how quick or small. And persistence. I could work on that more, but I am thankful.

Finally I’m thankful that my cold is slowly going away. Good-bye!

And as I look out at the snow glittering under the streetlights, I’m thankful for the City Light workers and shelters and blankets and everyone who works to keep everyone warm.

Open the door. Open my heart.

Mea typo

Yes, the woman who rails against inconsistent punctuation and misspellings in poetry submissions has done it. I have done it.

Mea culpa.

In my cold-slackened state, I posted a poem with a misspelling.

Yes, the phrase is in a different language–but really, if I’m going to use other languages in my writing, I need to proof those parts, too. I hope that in my next life I’ll be able to spell this one on the first try.

I discovered the error while typing the poem’s title into the cover letter field for the online submission manager.

“I should probably double-check that…”

I’ll say!

A flurry of deleting the file I’d attached, updating my copy, uploading the corrected copy.

Not until after I clicked submit did I remember I used the same phrase at the end of the poem.

And I thought, “Really, they might not even get to the end of the poem. It’s a long poem.”

I thought,”Really, how likely are they to accept and publish it anyway?”

But then I thought, “Oh, come on–it’s $3, and who wants to have mistakes in front of people?” Or something like that.

I clicked Withdraw–and then the system asked me “Why?”

I fessed up. And started over.

My revised–and, I hope, pristinely correct everywhere–submission is now once again in play, and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled cold.

Do you have any technical tricks or tips for proofing your poems–anything that tricks your eyes into looking at the words new?

Gratitude in the glorious long days

I’m so thankful the days are getting longer. Bit by bit… And one of these weekends I’ll need to take the lights down.

But this weekend, I’ve had the Bad Cold. I’m thankful it wasn’t the stomach flu again. And I’m thankful for pharmaceuticals. I know I shouldn’t be (and probably shouldn’t take them and shouldn’t support that whole industry), but they enabled me to have a few active moments yesterday and a good sleep last night.

I’m thankful for that good night’s sleep (now that my nose is running again).

And I’m thankful I got to spend time yesterday with friends who were in town for MLA. They had a busy schedule, but they were able to fit in some time for a little lunch at Café Presse and a jaunt to Open Books and then back to The Elliott Bay Book Company for coffee and more books. A great afternoon (sponsored by cold meds).

I’m thankful for morning pages, where I have time to reflect and think through problems and honestly face the scariest parts of my day or myself and the most daunting aspects of any poem I’m trying to write. Some mornings, it’s all blah, blah, blah–but some mornings, I learn things, find new ideas or new directions that can help me and help my poems.

I’m thankful for optimism–and inspiration! With a little blue in the sky this morning.

Open the door. Open my heart.