Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Poet Emeritus? Already?

            I was recently asked to judge a regional poetry contest along with the great Howard Kogan. I eagerly accepted, although my own preferences in poetry are so peculiar that I really should not have. I expect that Howard’s level-headedness will cancel out my impulsiveness, and all submissions will receive a fair shake. 

            However, as part of the bigger picture, I’ve noticed a trend. Earlier this year, I was invited to become a part of a screening committee for the local arts center, representing the literati of my city. I’m also now on the board of CAPS (Calling All Poets), a Beacon based group that hosts a monthly open poetry mic that is streamed online around the universe. My longtime nickname, “Diva,” has inspired a lot of faux scraping and bowing over the years, often by my chronological elders. I am wondering if lately perhaps the notion of some sort of elder status has imposed itself on my poetic career. 

            It may be that merely by hanging around long enough one attains a sort of eligibility for committees and the like. I have lived in the Hudson Valley for 35 years now, and have been active in the poetry scene here for almost that long. For 10 years I hosted the annual Sylvia Plath Bake-Off, a now defunct midwinter love letter to the late poet that in later editions included a baking contest in addition to an open mic. As friends and family began to exit the planet, I lost my taste for morbid mockery, even as it may be creeping back as a way to stay sane in my later years. 

            I’ve participated in readings from Cape Cod to Waterloo Village, and all points in between. I’ve published a bit of work here and there, but not nearly as much as some of my fellows. I’ve put out a few handmade chapbooks along the way, even before computers and home printers made that self-indulgent act far too easy. 

            Now that I think about it, I was a judge for a contest put on by the Stone Ridge Poetry Society back in the late 1980s, a one-day affair they called “Day of the Poet.” My friend Don Levy was one of the other judges, and I believe we both qualified because we’d previously been winners, or at least placed. “Day of the Poet” was brilliant. In one day, three rounds of readings were held, each smaller than the last, and then finally a winner wast chosen. Judging was based on performance as well as words. It was efficient, enjoyable, and even left room for musicians or truly established poets (hello, Ed Sanders!) to round out the activities. It’s a concept that bears repeating. Hmmmm… maybe I should bring that up at the next board meeting. Any board meeting. 

            Have I crossed the line from ‘new voice’ to ‘elder statesperson’? Is there a line at all? Is it a good thing to be asked to judge the work of others? How do others judge me, let alone my work? All good writing prompts. But then again, the fortunes in cookies are often excellent prompts. And I suppose the answers to be above questions might be as easily obtained. So much for wisdom of the elders… 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Submit! Submit! OK!

              In the last few months, I have been filled with a new sense of urgency. It’s a double-edged energy, however. The more I see the futility in activities like cleaning and decorating, the more I am inclined to involve myself in these temporary details. They are so important that they don’t matter at all, which makes them joyfully important. It’s a sort of weird circle that doesn’t do much for my organizational skills, but frees me to follow the flow of my mood.
          I am sifting through the material possessions I’ve accumulated, and discarding what no longer works for me. The Al-Anon literature goes. The pointy red shoes. The poetry books I have yet to crack. The jewelry that I got as gifts, and have never worn, but am afraid to get rid of in case the giver one day asks me about it. My eventual goal is to only have on hand items that will serve my life and my writing in the future. I’ve cleared out old files, gotten rid of tax returns older than seven years (mine went back twenty, as if anyone would care). And, I am putting together chapbook manuscripts consisting of the thirty-plus years of poetry languishing in my careful files, organized by year, first draft (be it on a napkin or a coaster), and “final,” typed copy. 

            In this new push, no version of a poem is final. I am grabbing poems by theme and style, although the ones written even five years ago are very different from the way I’m writing now. I am revising quickly, trying to bring the group into some harmony. I don’t yet know how successful I’ve been. I’ve submitted one chapbook manuscript to two potential publishers, and am working on a second with a deadline of the end of July. A small collection of horse poems will be combined at some point with childhood poems for a more rounded perspective, but according to my records, they are still floating around at some publisher or another in a previous configuration. 

            New work is still being written, but it’s nice to take time to revisit the old, with the fresh eye of time elapsed to give you the objectivity required to tighten and slash what I’ve already produced. New projects, incidentally, include a new poem every month beginning with the weather, and concluding with the current events of that month. These I am typing and tucking away, and will deal with early next year. I am hoping by the very fact of their similar origins that there will be a natural cohesiveness, another chapbook. 

            I have been inconsistent about submitting work over the years. With the Internet Times upon us, I no longer have an excuse. First drafts are always in longhand, preferably on yellow legal pads, but now second drafts are in the computer, stored on a flashdrive, and printed for the old paper files. I have mastered Submittables, and I understand how useful it must be for the little mags. I no longer discount online zines as not rrreeeaaallly being “published.” 

            I continue to research the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, and am aiming for something to be completed by its one-hundredth anniversary. I’m not certain of the voice yet there. I hope to pull together a presentation of Kingston, NY poets to help fill the new performance space at the Art Society of Kingston. And then there’s that darned memoir…. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

**Reading in NOHO**

           A few months ago, I was invited to be one of the featured readers at the monthly NYQuarterly poetry series, currently held at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. Knowing how Hudson Valley winters can be, I postponed until the warmer months. Thank goodness! Making our way to the train station would have been harder than actually hiking to New York on foot! As it turned out, May 10 was an unusually balmy day, and for once I dressed accordingly in a cotton skirt and sandals. When we walked into the Club, recently redecorated after being closed for a time, I felt underdressed.

            The atmosphere is that of a swanky nightclub. Piano ballads flooded the air, and my Handler and I relaxed on a blue velvet sofa up front, opposite the bar. I had been hesitant about the reading for the last couple of weeks, mainly because I felt the PR machine hadn’t been set on stun, as is my own habit. I have few contacts in the City, and even fewer who might be convinced to sit through a poetry reading, even for my sake. A last minute email blast did little to reassure me, and neither did my last minute realization that I’d be reading on Mother’s Day. Even the most devout poetry worshippers are difficult to pry from their moms on her day. I remembered that the reading was, however, an open mic, which usually has a built-in audience if only of other readings. I made the effort to let go of expectations, and tried to be open to what the experience would bring.

            My fellow readers, Michael Homolka, Naomi Replansky, and  Bill Zavatsky, trickled in one by one, with host Doug Treem following close behind. His warm greeting and good humor eased any lingering doubts. He also made quickly clear that he’d done his homework about each reader, and quizzed me immediately about the Sylvia Plath Bake-Off and what I might have been thinking! I volunteered to read first, because I don’t have a problem with reading first, second, third or twenty-ninth but many poets do, and perhaps I returned the favor of his hello.

            The other features were accomplished, and an interesting spread that demonstrated how we live and incorporate poetry into our lives. I was the least academically inclined of the bunch, but I like it that way. I don’t know how others perceive me, but I like to fancy myself as able to run in that pack from time to time, though I’m more comfortable in the pubs and galleries. The audience, about twenty-five in number, was attentive and gracious. I was even more impressed that this was the case when I realized that there would be, in fact, no open mic. I even sold two chapbooks. That basically covered the cost of two coffees and a crepe in Grand Central. Of course, if it had been about the money, I’d have quit long ago.

            They’ll be no quitting, much as I whine and complain. I like to read. I’m pretty good at it. My Handler thought I was a little off yesterday, and that was probably the case. I am consciously trying to expand my circles, read and listen to poetry in different spaces, in different voices. It’s always intriguing, and yet there’s a sameness to our perspective that makes me feel at home no matter how many crystal chandeliers hang over my head (did I mention the chandeliers?)

            We were advised by Doug to shake the hand of Bill, who in turn had shaken the hand of Pablo Neruda as a youngster. Neruda, many years before that, had had the great fortune to shake the hand of Walt Whitman, one of my favorite Long Islanders. I didn’t even have to leave my chair. Bill came to me, and gave me the give of that handshake. Feel free to shake my hand when you see me. It’s too much for me to keep to myself.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Breakfast With The Muse

           Balancing my writing and personal lives is a constant struggle for me. I promise myself I will use an afternoon off, or an evening alone to “get some writing done,” as if inspiration is a switch that can be turned on and off. It is true that I have several long-term projects in various stages laying around at all times, and even a half hour of filing would be a constructive way to spend my time, even though it doesn’t feel very “poety.” 

            I think I scare myself by making too many plans for large chunks of time. We all have something else to do with those minutes, things that somehow seem to take precedence, but don’t hold up when I apply my Hundred Year yardstick (“What will really matter in a hundred years?”). Ultimately, I end spending no more than an hour or two doing what I intended to spend the whole day doing, if that, and beat myself up for “wasting” time on anything else. 

            I have finally accepted that the structure of my days is not going to change in the near future. I need a 9 to 5 job not only to keep myself afloat financially, but to give my days a framework. Freelancing left me with too much leeway, and perhaps I need a little imposed distraction to make me appreciate time away from work (sad but true). Luckily, my current position is overall a pleasant endeavor, and I don’t come home wounded and depressed as I had in the past. 

            One thing I have learned over the years is that I work best, words flow best, in the morning, before I’m bombarded with sunlight and radio and all the other sensory stimuli that seem to cloud my early visions. Therefore, I have begun a routine at 6:00 a.m., the time my alarm clock is set for anyway. I get myself out of bed (perhaps after the weather report. Weather has been a big issue lately, and I gain some false sense of control and security by listening to the daily guess at what’s ahead), go to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee which I may or may not finish, and head back upstairs to my desk. 

            After all that, I may only get twenty minutes to get something done, maybe half an hour. It depends on whether I plan a shower before work, packed my lunch or picked out my clothes the night before, or even on the blasted weather itself. But in that twenty minutes, I can put down a first draft of a poem, type out a few first drafts I’ve accumulated, or even do some revising. I have several years worth of feedback from my faithful Goat Hill Poets salon that I’ve yet to consider in the revision process. It’s twenty minutes more a day than I’ve been spending, and I’ve quickly seen work begin to pile up. I’m even inspired to sometimes grab twenty minutes in the evening to file or get submissions together. 

            I prefer most nights to spend most of my nights with my Roommate. That is why we live together in the first place. Quality time with Michael is beyond the Hundred Year test. We will never have enough time. But he goes his way and I go mine at some point in the evening, and after doing a token few dishes, sorting socks or unpacking my lunch bag, poetry is finding a place in my day. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but what do studies say about creating a new habit? I am hopeful. And the bottom line is, it’s up to me. I cannot continue to bullshit myself about some future time when it’ll be more convenient. It truly is now or never…

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

**ME & GLENN WERNER - WPS Reading**

"Poets CHERYL A. RICE and GLENN WERNER will be the featured readers, along with an open mike, when the WOODSTOCK POETRY SOCIETY & FESTIVAL meets at Golden Notebook (Upstairs), 29 Tinker Street on Saturday, February 14th at 2pm.

The readings are hosted by Woodstock area poet Phillip X Levine. All meetings are free and open to the public.

CHERYL A. RICE'S work has appeared in Baltimore Review, Chronogram, Florida Review, Home Planet News, Metroland, Poughkeepsie Journal, The Temple, Up The River, and Woodstock Times, and in the anthologies, Wildflowers, Vol. II (2002: Shivastan Publishing), Riverine (2007: Codhill Press) and For Enid, With Love (2010: NYQuarterly). Recent publications include Kingston Is Burning (2013: Flying Monkey Press) and My Minnesota Boyhood (2012: Post Traumatic Press), and the CDs Nobody Slept Last Night (2003, Another Poor Bastard Productions), and Girl Poet (2007, Flying Monkey Productions). She has presented her Random Writing poetry workshops for over a decade. Rice, founder and host of the notorious Sylvia Plath Bake-Off, is a Long Island native, but has spent the last 35 years in New York's Hudson Valley. Her poetry blog, Flying Monkey Productions, is at: http://flyingmonkeyprods.blogspot.com/.

GLENN WERNER has been part of the Hudson Valley poetry community for a little over 15 years. His work has been published in Chronogram, The Waywayanda Review, The River Reporter’s Literary Gazette, Up The River, A Clean, Well Lighted Place, 4th Street, Snow Monkey, and Home Planet News, where his poem "Anfortas Waiting" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is a member of the board for the Calling All Poets Series in Beacon, NY."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

**The Stuff That Poems Are Made Of... Supposedly**

    I just got back from an unexpected trip to Florida on Thursday. My father, who has been ailing for some time (both parents have actually) has been in the hospital for over two weeks now. His long-term prognosis isn't good, and it could be weeks, or longer, before he is even able to return home.

     I haven't seen him in person for a couple of years, since his last visit to Long Island. Finances don't allow me to travel that far very frequently, and until recently I have counted on their visits to New York for my chance to see them. Probably they won't be coming back to New York anytime soon. I'm not sure when I'll be able to go back to Florida, either.

      I won't go into detail here, but I am relieved that I have been completely free of the urge to write about all this in poetic form. I'm guessing it'll all be fodder for the poetry furnace later on, if I continue to write. Not in the mood for any of that. I am inspired to get to projects that I've been putting off for decades, doing what needs doing now, or crossing it off my list, the never-ending list of 'things I'd like to do some day.' THERE IS NO SOME DAY!! I have to be reminded of this from time to time, and usually in the worst ways.

     This is one of those worst way times. Here's a picture of what I've been working on today:

For twenty years, I've been planning to use my great-grandmother's doilies to decorate a set of blue sheets and make a duvet cover. I have been trying to figure out for twenty years how to attach the doilies to the sheet. Sewing seemed too complex. The doilies are fragile, old cotton thread, and some are even ripped in small places. Suddenly I remembered a fabric glue from Youtube that might work. I did a little research and settled on another product, Mod Podge for Fabric. It's working so far.

     It's nonverbal, it's creative, and it's long overdue. As Maureen O'Hara says in, "The Quiet Man," I want to have my things about me. I want to do more in my home with what I have. I don't want to waste any more time. I want to pretend that everything's OK.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Online or In Hand?

I used to be tremendously prejudiced against online literary magazines, likening them abstractly to online dating services. In the early days, websites were awkward, intermittently updated, and just not "real" to me. I was a strict traditionalist, and continued to submit to publications that only published "real" magazines, on paper or, in the case of Home Planet News, newsprint.

Truthfully, I still have a hard time sitting down and reading a whole "issue" of an online 'zine, but my harsh opinion of them seems to have softened a bit. As the technology becomes more user friendly, the looks of them has improved, and if I had a tablet, I might even be tempted to crawl into bed with a couple one night, Roommate be damned.

I am certainly aware of the tremendous start-up and maintenance costs of keeping a literary magazine afloat. There is still something about the feel of paper in the hand, the seductive variety of papers hanging in the art supply store, that inspires me to bang together a homemade chapbook every year or so. But that’s not for profit. That’s not even with an expectation that I’ll break even when the cost of supplies and labor is figured in. It’s art. It’s an expression, made all the easier by my handy dandy HP printer.  

I suppose the Web is here to stay. I might as well make myself comfortable. Look up a few attractive candidates. Reminisce about the old days, when it took more than pressing a few buttons to send your poems out for the world’s consideration. On the other hand, isn’t it nice to get an email response in just a few days, yay or nay, rather than a few months?