Evolution of the Poem: at the barre …

pia04937orig1Recently, I was combing through old poetry, and ran across an early draft of my scifaiku poem “at the barre …”, complete with a list of markets that had rejected it.

Now, I love the completed version of this poem, which reads:

at the barre
the graceful arms
of a spiral galaxy

— first appeared in Rattle‘s Issue 49, Fall 2015, Tribute to Scientists

And I was excited when this scifaiku won an award, placing second in the 2016 Dwarf Stars Award given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

But the poem didn’t start out that way. In fact, the early versions were downright terrible.

My inspiration for this poem came from my daughter, who was taking dance class at the time. One of the ballet positions – fourth, if I’m remembering correctly – had one arm curved over her head and the other curled around her front. She reminded me of a spiral galaxy.

So, I began to research spiral galaxies, and discovered that their arm positions determine whether they are classified as spiral galaxies or barred spiral galaxies. The shape that reminded me most of my daughter was barred – an SBc.

I thought this was a nifty comparison, and conjured a row of little galaxies standing in front of a ballet barre. Such a lovely image should be easy to put into words, no?

This is an early draft of my poem (yes, I actually sent this out):

spiral galaxies —
intergalactic dance troupe
in “b” position

Um, yeah. It’s my poem, and it doesn’t even make sense to me.

But I knew I liked the concept, so I hung in there and kept editing. Barre was a lovely word to use because it both evoked the ballet and gave a nod to barred spiral galaxies. Once I put that word in there, I could take out the line about “b” position (the “b” stood for barred anyway), and I didn’t need to use the word dance. Elimating that clunky verbiage allowed the poem to flow from there.

So, please, my poet friends, hang on to your poems that speak to you, even if they start out rough. Haiku or scifaiku, in particular, can be deceptively tricky to write. Some short poems practically write themselves, but not this one. “At the barre …” needed distance, perspective, and research to come together.

Photo credit: That’s spiral galaxy Messier 81 above, as imaged by NASA/JPL/Caltech/University of Arizona/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

Self-Doubt

I didn’t win.

Recently, I entered a popular humor writing contest. I read the rules multiple times; I made sure that my entry conformed exactly to the guidelines; I was certain that I had captured what the judges were looking for. I was wrong.

My take-away message? I’m a loser and I’m not remotely funny. I even have the contest results to prove it!

Okay, I know that I’m over-reacting, but rejection still stings. When I first started out as a writer, I experienced this feeling of displacement a lot. Every returned manuscript, every rejected pitch, every contest loss, made me doubt what I was doing and wonder if I should throw in the towel.

Experience has taught me that there’s a niche out there for each type of writer; the goal is to keep plugging away and trying new things until you find your place.

I’ve had some success as a poet, but I went through ages of self-doubt before I hit my stride. For years, I tried to write long narrative poems because I thought that was what journal editors wanted. And maybe they do. I’ve never been comfortable writing longer poetry though. I don’t even like reading it. Give me something over ten lines and I want to edit it down into three.

Discovering a vibrant short form poetry community on Twitter was a godsend. I’ve learned to let go of my poems and stop worrying so much about publishing them. Enjoying the process of writing has primed my mental pump.

But it still hurts to lose. Expanding my writing into a new genre has opened up a whole new avenue of self-doubt.

So, I’m going to spend today wallowing in self-pity and chocolate. But tomorrow, I’m going to dust myself off, hold the line, and continue writing. I trust that eventually I will find my place.

20140317-175440.jpg

Culling

My main poetry goal for the year is to put together a manuscript of scifaiku. In looking over my poems, it has been interesting to see a theme of extra-terrestrial romance flowing through the images. So, I am trying to line up my poems so that they tell a sort of love story while writing new ones to fill in the gaps. It is a challenging process because it is so new for me. I feel like I have a handle on submitting individual poems to contests or magazines, but a collection is a different animal – it has a different feel and it requires a different skill set.
When I was a little girl, my mom and I used to garden. One of our favorite things to plant was carrots. I think they intrigued me because they looked so different below the surface. A big leafy top didn’t necessarily equate to a big root. And every year, when it was time to thin the carrots so that the remaining ones could grow larger, we had a hard time doing it. My mom used to say that the carrots worked so hard to be born, she didn’t want to stop them now. Often, we just left all of the carrots in the garden to fend for themselves. So none of them ever grew very large.

Preparing a poetry manuscript is a lot like weeding carrots. If you want individual poems to flourish and be successful, you need to retain the best and remove the rest. But culling is hard. These poems are all my poetic children, so to speak, and I worked hard for them to be born. How can I choose?

Scifaiku Contest – Win a Year’s Subscription to Poets & Writers magazine!

Christmas Gift by Petr Kratochvil

The good folks at Poets & Writers are running a two-for-one holiday offer for current magazine subscribers, so I thought I’d pass along the extra subscription to one lucky winner by way of a poetry contest.  I’m partial to scifaiku (science fiction haiku, read a good definition here and see some examples at Scifaikuest), so here’s your challenge:

Leave me one original scifaiku in the comments section of this post before midnight EST December 24, 2012.  I will choose my favorite and announce a winner on or before December 28, 2012.  Please leave me enough contact information so that I can track you down.  If you are chosen as the winner, I’ll need a street address so I can tell Poets & Writers where to send your subscription.  I reserve the right to choose a different winner if I can’t locate you.

Rules & fine print: One entry per person.  Odds of winning depend on the number of entries.  The decision of the judge (me) is final.  Scifaiku do not have to adhere to a 5-7-5 syllable scheme, but should be roughly around that number of syllables.  The winning prize – a one-year subscription to Poets & Writers magazine – can not be converted into a cash prize.  This contest is not sponsored by Poets & Writers, Scifaikuest, or anyone else (except maybe my 11-year-old son, who suggested the contest).  Void where prohibited by law.
Please note: All rights to any poems remain with their authors.  However, numerous journals consider ANY appearance online to be publication and, if you place your poem here, these venues may not consider your poem as an unpublished submission.  When in doubt, save your best work for your favorite journal.
Good luck!

Poetry Book Giveaway 2010 for National Poetry Month!

***Update! Congratulations to Evie Shockley, of may I have a word with you?, winner of Edward Hirsch’s The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems and Stacy Lynn Mar, winner of Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 by Lucille Clifton. I will be contacting both of you shortly so I can get your books sent to you. Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting!***


April is National Poetry Month and Kelli over at Book of Kells came up with this great idea for a poetry giveaway. What if bloggers all over the world gave away two books of poetry this month to their readers — one of their own, and one from a poet they admire? What a wonderful way to discover new poets! I had to join in.

Now, I don’t have a book of my own in print yet, so I thought I’d give away books by two poets that have influenced me:


Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980
by Lucille Clifton contains “Homage to my Hips,” a marvelous poem that taught me to love my curves. I had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Clifton read her work at Duke before she died and I have a signed copy of one of her books in my collection (sorry, I can’t bear to part with that one!).

The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems by Edward Hirsch is my second, although no less worthy, choice. I really wanted to give away Wild Gratitude, but it isn’t in print right now. Edward Hirsch came to speak to my writing class in college when I was just 17. Wild Gratitude had just come out and the world had no idea how big Hirsch’s influence on modern poetry would be, although I suspect that my poetry teacher might have had an inkling. I wrote a poem in response to one of Hirsch’s and he signed my copy of Wild Gratitude acknowledging my poetic response. As a poet, that signed book is one of my most treasured items (again, another book I can’t bear to part with!).

Please leave a comment on this post only by April 30th if you’d like to win one of these books. Be sure to include some contact information. I will choose two names at random with the help of my husband, Itinerant Cryptographer (he’s handy with numbers). I will draw the names on May 1st and announce the winners here, on this blog post, by May 2nd and I will try to reach you then. As soon as we make contact, I’ll order your book and have it sent to you. If I can’t reach you by May 5th, I reserve the right to draw another name.

Be sure to drop by Book of Kells — she’s running a list of bloggers participating in this giveaway along the left-hand column of her blog. The more blogs you visit, the more likely you are to win a book of poetry!

Happy Poetry Month! Good luck!

Win a copy of 2010 Writer’s Market!

This contest is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!

[Update: Well, the 10-sided die has been cast … and lightverse, you are our winner! Congratulations! Please contact me and let me know where you’d like me to send your book. And thanks to everyone who entered. You made my day!]


To celebrate the launch of this new blog, I am giving away an unused paperback copy of the 2010 Writer’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books. This tome is a great addition to any writer’s toolkit, containing listings for 3,500 places to publish your work. I already own a copy and received this extra one at Christmas — a perfect opportunity for a giveaway!

To be eligible for the drawing, please leave me a comment about science, poetry, or both, on this post only.

  • Tell me about your favorite scientific subject, describe a fun science activity, tell me what you like about my other blog, Mama Joules, provide a link to a family-friendly science website, or tell me anything else about science.
  • If science isn’t your thing, (drop by my family-friendly science blog, Mama Joules, and then) talk to me about haiku, tanka, haiga, alliteration, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, or anything else relating to poetry.
  • And if, like me, you enjoy both science and poetry, share your thoughts on Scifaiku, Fibonacci sequence poetry, or some other topic similar to both.

You must include something about science, poetry, or both, in your comment to be eligible for this drawing. I reserve the right to delete any comments that contain spam, sexually explicit references, swearing, or other overtly troll-like content. Please make sure to include enough contact information that I can E-mail you back if you win!

I’ll be accepting comments here for roughly two weeks (until 8 pm EST January 20th) and then I’ll have my husband, Itinerant Cryptographer, help me pick a winner at random (since he does that sort of thing for a living). At that time, I will announce the winner here, by updating this post, and I will request that you contact me by E-mail to claim your prize.

If you are chosen as the winner and haven’t contacted me by 8 pm EST January 24th, you will forfeit the prize and I will draw another name from the list.

I look forward to reading your comments. Good luck!

Photo credit: Francis via flickr // CC BY 2.0