Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing Prompt: Halloween

Glover Park yard scene in Washington, D.C.

Happy Halloween!

As you open the doors to trick-or-treaters or go door-to-door with your own goblin, think about your own early Halloween costumes and rituals. Choose a year and describe what you wore, where you went, who you were with and what happened.

If you can, work to create a vivid scene by writing in the present tense. Relive your own anticipation and excitement of knocking on a stranger's door and waiting for a treat with your open bag. (It is a strange custom, right?)

Write for at least ten minutes nonstop. Set a timer, if you like. If you get stuck while you're writing, simply repeat something like, "I'm writing about Halloween." Eventually you'll get bored and return to the scene. Of course, if the prompt brings you somewhere else, that's fine, too. A prompt is meant to get you started, not necessarily to tell you where to end up.

When the ten minutes are over, re-read what you've written and underline the most interesting ideas, images or lines. These particular words and lines, as well as the brainstorming, might be the beginning a new piece.

If you like, share your writing or experiences below in the Comments section. 

Click through for more original writing prompts

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Help Hurricane Sandy Victims

Support the many victims of Hurricane Sandy by donating to the Red Cross. The devastation is incredible. I've spent most of my life in the NYC-metro area and I can't believe the pictures I'm seeing.

Here's what the Red Cross says on their website:

Hundreds of thousands of evacuees have already rushed to emergency shelters with their loved ones, and your support is desperately needed to help us keep as many people safe from the storm as possible. Please make your tax-deductible gift to the American Red Cross right now.

Hurricane Sandy has already wrought extensive damage in vulnerable communities along the coast, including severe flooding, power failures and wind damage. There’s no telling what kind of devastation communities will face in the storm’s aftermath, which means we must be ready for the worst.

How much help we can provide in the coming days will be determined in part by your generosity right now. As the storm’s effects become more widespread, more people will need our help. We’ve got to be there for every one of them.

With your help, the Red Cross has already:
Opened shelters in 7 states, deploying more than 1,000 Red Cross workers to support relief efforts
Mobilized nearly 170 Emergency Response Vehicles to move at a moment’s notice
Secured more than 230,000 shelf-stable meals
Readied thousands of supplies such as cots, comfort kits and clean up kits

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rite in the Rain: Literally. Write in the rain

Thank you to Rite in the Rain, all weather writing paper, for a recent sample. Just in time for the perfect Frankenstorm.

The paper really does "shed" water as they say. Why wait for a sunny day to write? Pick up a pencil and start writing - no matter where or when. 

Be safe in the storm, friends. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Good Rejections" and the Rejection Wiki

I've written that rejection letters can be cause for celebration because you've succeeded in getting your work ready for publication and then took the risk of sending it out.

Some of the rejection letters might be better than others. If the editor adds in a personal comment or invites you to submit again, then you've received a "good" rejection letter (of course, I use quotations since the work still isn't accepted.)

How do you know if you've received a "good" rejection letter? Well, now you can compare, contrast and even upload your own sample rejection letters on the Rejection Wiki. Organized alphabetically, this (strange?) database is collecting "standard" and "higher tier" rejection letters (without personal information, of course) for both poetry and prose.

Does the Rejection Wiki ultimately make me feel better or worse about myself? I'm not sure, but I do know that I'm pretty fascinated by it.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Unrest: Blurbs

Thank you to everyone who has supported my forthcoming chapbook, UnrestIf you haven't purchased your copy yet, I hope you'll consider it. The pre-sale period continues through the first week in November. Since the pre-sale numbers will determine the book's print run, this period is particularly important to the book's future.

Purchase a copy today from Finishing Line Press. You might also enter to win a signed copy on Erika Dreifus' blog through Thursday.

Today I thought I'd post the full blurbs by early readers: Renée Ashley, Nicole Cuddeback and Thomas Lux. A big thank you to each of them for their kind words.

These poems rest easily in the world because they are so much of it: family, love and loss, mixed  inextricably in the crucible of food, of consideration and preparation, literal and figurative, of artichokes and lemon water, tomatoes, figs, of guava paste on dry toast, foods that seduce and sustain us.  Yet the unrest from which she draws her title is, indeed, present—because we are made of that as well. “There is a wanting,” she says, and we know exactly what she means. Miller recognizes the abundance of possibility in “earthly flavor,” and these poems are so precious to her readers because it’s that flavor that “binds us to what we understand.”

— Renée Ashley, most recent book is Basic Heart

Many lines of Miller's lure me back: a bag coming “unhinged in transit,” a daughter massaging her father's eyelids “as if petting a goldfish,” and the sore humor of, “She was no one's first love.”  At her side, we manage to navigate a memory without breaking its seal and then painfully must also admit with her that it is indeed we who “haunt the dead to bring them back . . . We write, selfish.”  “Haunt me,” she conjures, while the reversals in grammar and syntax this poet enacts come back to haunt us.

— Nicole Cuddeback, author of The Saint of Burning Down

Unrest is the perfect title for this collection of haunting, edgy, spare-to-the-point-of-great-expansiveness poems. This is an exceptional debut by a young poet unafraid of being understood while at the same time writing with utter originality. Read this book!

— Thomas Lux, most recent book is Child Made of Sand

Learn more about Unrest and reserve your copy today from Finishing Line Press.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Blog Post: W. M. Rivera on the Writing Life

Thanks to D.C. area poet W. M. Rivera for sharing the path his life and writing has taken, as well as some thoughts on writing. He shares, “I am drawn to poetry because it is direct and feelings and insights can be expressed in a few words.  And when the few words are just right, I find the result volcanic.” His poetry chapbook The Living Clock is forthcoming and available for pre-sale from Finishing Line Press. For a taste, be sure to read the two poems below. 

W. M. Rivera grew up in the Irish Channel of New Orleans, from the mid-1930s until 1950. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1955 with a major in French language and literature.  He subsequently worked for the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and for the Organization of American States (in Mexico).  He was then employed by UNESCO and later the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (in Paris).  He completed a Masters in Economics at American University and later a Ph.D. in Adult Education at Syracuse University. He retired as professor of agricultural extension education from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2009.  He began writing poetry early on and published a book of poems titled “At the End of Legend’s String” (Views Press, 1960, Washington, DC), which was illustrated by Jose Luis Cuevas, Mexico's most prominent contemporary artist.  Although he wrote poems throughout his career, after retirement he returned to writing poetry on a regular basis. He currently resides in College Park, MD.

W. M. Rivera

Until I was 10 or so I didn’t know there was any other occupation than poet, my mother, or educator, my grandmother.  It was only when I went to college that I realized I would have to earn a living as well, which took me on a fascinating journey.

From paying for college on athletic scholarships, swimmer and gymnast as well as short-order cook, agricultural worker, construction and whatever else would pay my food bills, to finding relevant and exciting work at the Library of Congress as a documentalist, art critic in Mexico City, to international civil servant in Paris at UNESCO, as well as university professor and consultant for the World Bank, FAO and other international agencies I have always been involved in critical change among adults through education and personal choice.  This has taken me to over 30 countries from the Middle East, Africa, India, the Soviet Union, Europe, as well as Latin America, which hopefully broadens and deepens my work as a poet.

All the while I was a poet athlete, a poet educator, consultant, husband, father and international citizen. The greatest influence in my life was growing up in New Orleans, a city of oddballs, characters, individuals who refuse to be categorized.  This, combined with my grandmother, an inveterate individualist, who started the first adult education program for immigrants in New Orleans, as well as taught me that all individuals were equal, has formed my ridiculously optimistic outlook that people can change and master their destiny.  However, New Orleanian optimists always have a dark frame to their optimism.

The other influence in my life was knowing my father was Mexican.  An illegal immigrant, he was forced to return to Mexico when I was an infant, but his family continued to send presents and reminders of my Mexican heritage, which further marginalized a southern boy living in the northeast.

I have always written poetry, publishing my first book, The End of Legend’s String (Views Press, 1960) -- brilliantly illustrated by the fabulous Mexican artist, Jose Luis Cuevas, in those days a companion of mine, and organizing poetry readings in Washington, DC which attracted poets such as Richard Eberhart. After that period, I did not submit my work for publication, not until I retired recently as full professor at UMCP, then I began devoting 100% of my time to writing poetry.   My work routine is to get up in the morning, do Tai Chi, perhaps answer correspondence, and then work on my poetry.   As Robert Frost is often quoted as saying, ‘writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration’.  I work from 9 to about 5, taking time out for lunch and, depending on the inspiration, numerous breaks.  When I am not inspired I spend time editing my poems which is a never-ending process.  As Paul Valery said, a poem is never finished. 

Much of my writing is influenced by early events and people in my life, as well as by my different careers and more significantly perhaps by my concern to explore and learn more about the nature of things. You mention my 30 years as an adult and agricultural extension education policy professor; both of these interests have resulted in traveling to as many countries. From Uzbekistan to Trinidad, while I worked to promote adult and agricultural development, I was constantly taking in the world around with some vague plan that at some later date I would process everything into poems. Travel in fact has been a major motivator in my life, influenced as I was by Sir Francis Bacon (16th/17th century English philosopher, statesman, scientist, and author), who said that travel is the best education. 

While I am not a painter,  the visual arts always attracted me and accounted for the connection my books have, through illustrations, book covers, and the poems themselves.  The book cover of my recent book, Buried in the Mind’s Backyard (Brickhouse Books, 2011) is illustrated by Miguel Conde, prominent and superb artist now living in Spain, and one of his sketches will be the cover for my forthcoming book, The Living Clock. 

Since retirement, I have had to start over in a sense.  My poem “Rebooting” is illustrative.


I didn’t expect the beginning when I was clearly
in the middle of things and close
to the ending.  But there I was, asking why
had I stayed away so long?  Everything different
from before, despite my closeted hobby horse,
the urge to ride right off into the race.

I look for analogies: the maple tree outside I cut
and cut again, demanding that it die, but there it is
dropping resin on the roof as if nothing happened
or the ivy I smashed flat and ground into the ground,
meaning to finish it off for good, but there it is as if nothing
made a difference, defiant, new…overnight. 

But these green parallels deceive, have little to do
with perennials, detour decades, corners cut short.

                                                                                    (Published in Gargoyle)

The contemporary world of poetry has changed considerably since the 50s and 60s.  I have had to learn to hold on to tradition while at the same time letting it go loose.  My early poems have tended to mimic the poetry masters of earlier eras. It is exciting to renew exploration of what it means to write a poem. “Latecomer,” I think captures that feeling.


All the good stuff is gone
and my brown bag is full of grease spots
and small,
smells fine but it’s not
petit fours. 

The conversations buzz along.
On edge, not even sticking out, I am
no proverbial sore thumb,
more like the petunia among silver-belles.

And who is that
staring?--some Baudelairian brother?
the host? or someone hanging on
the words of others, unhappy to see
another carpenter bee boring out of the woodwork.

Should I barge over?  
I have come this far with my greasy brown bag.

How refreshing now
to walk back out
into the night air
alone with the ice-sickle Lorca moon I sighted
before sticking my foot in the door, everybody fixed
in place, and I knew
few would be tempted by my grits with jalapeño cheese.

In “The Living Clock,” I didn’t consciously think in terms of themes or narrative threads.  In retrospect perhaps three, maybe four themes are noticeable.  There is the impact of personal relationships, which continually demand exploration (my grandmother who raised me, my father in Mexico who I barely knew, and of course my relationship to myself).  Travel accounts for several of the poems: experiences in Paris, Prague, South Africa.  I am also fascinated by the connection and tension between painting and poetry. There is as ever ‘life on the fly’ and time’s ‘winged chariot’ that shapes our view of the world as it passes.

Athletically I was a short-distance sprinter, 50 to -100-yard competition swimmer and in college a nationally recognized gymnastic rope-climber. As a ‘sprinter,’ the novel and other long-distance writing has never appealed to me.  I am drawn to poetry because it is direct and feelings and insights can be expressed in a few words.  And when the few words are just right, I find the result volcanic.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Unrest: Guest Post & Giveaway on Erika Dreifus' blog Practicing Writing

Thanks to Erika Dreifus for featuring me on her blog, Practicing Writing, yesterday. You might remember an author interview with her last year about her collection of short stories, Quiet American. 

In yesterday’s post, Erika asked me about the collection’s unifying structure. My response begins, “These poems sit uneasily on the edge of comfort. The title Unrest is meant to identify the space that we enter where we – our thoughts and bodies – cannot entirely rest. That is to say, they address issues of loss and mourning, both private and public, in an effort to understand this experience.” Click to read more. 

If you comment on Erika’s blog, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Unrest. Here are the guidelines:

Giveaway alert! Chloe has kindly offered to give a signed copy of Unrest to one of our commenters. Please let us know your thoughts about chapbooks: your favorites, your to-be-reads, your experience with chapbook contests and publishing. Comments will close next Thursday (October 25), and one lucky, randomly-selected winner will receive the autographed chapbook once it has been published (U.S. addresses only, please). Thank you, and good luck!

Enter to win your copy here.