The first time my poetry got published

When I was in junior high — Pioneer Junior High, home of the Bears — our school newspaper had a poetry contest. I had moved across town from another junior high, Orchard, home of the Bulldogs, a couple of years before.

Annuals from Orchard Junior High and Pioneer Junior High, 76-79.

Annuals from Orchard Junior High and Pioneer Junior High, 76-79.

It has been a long time, and I believe both junior highs are now middle schools, and neither one has newspapers anymore.

I don’t think the poetry contest was a regular yearly thing. I think it was a “one off” that our school newspaper was trying out in my 9th grade year; it was a glorious “one off” as far as I was concerned.

I remember being really excited at the prospect of a poetry contest. I figured that this was it. This would be the thing that would prove I was a writer. And I think it was also the first time I actually considered sharing my poetry with others. Before this, I don’t think I ever really thought about other people reading what I wrote — I mean, not really (other than silly day dreams, and Paul McCartney songs on the radio in the early morning helped with that). The whole concept that someone other than my teachers or my mom might read what I wrote was foreign. On the other hand, I knew I needed to enter this contest. And I think my mind filed the poetry I’d be submitting in the “homework” portion of my brain to keep me from freaking out about it.

So, I approached it as I would any homework, like I was working on an essay for class, and assumed that only the teacher advisor, and maybe the newspaper students, would ever see the poems I submitted.

The little house on Pear Lane.

The little house on Pear Lane.

But maybe I should back up a little — give you a little history.

When Gramma and Grampa decided to leave Wenatchee, my mom and my sister and I moved from the little house on Pear Lane with a double corner lot, a huge back garden, a little play house and a cool basement, to the tiny two-bedroom duplex on Dakota on the other side of town with a dime-sized yard. Not very far as things went, but far enough to put me in a different school district. Far enough to leave behind friends I’d made my first year of junior high, leave behind track and volleyball coaches and orchestra teachers and cute boys I had crushes on, and then have to get to know new friends or old friends from grade school again, whilst wondering if I would be able to please my new track and volleyball coaches and orchestra teachers. Would I find new boys to have crushes on?

So, what I’m trying to say is that even after being at PJH for a year, I felt the need to prove myself. I really was holding onto this poetry thing like a lifeline to do that.

When we’d lived on Pear Lane, my sister and I had shared a room in the basement. We’d built forts out of our closets and beds. We’d played “avoid the monsters on the floor” (the creamy linoleum floor had those pink, gold, and black star things on it) and other games. When I wrote it was with visions of becoming another Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, or L.M. Montgomery. In my world, I was Jo March.

The window I left open so Peter Pan could visit.

The window I left open so Peter Pan could visit.

My sister’s bed had been by the door at the bottom of the stairs and mine had been by the small window that was high up in the wall. I’d left that window open every night when I was really young in hopes that Peter Pan would come to visit. Later I kept it open just to annoy my sister. (It was a basement window with a screen, hidden at the side of the house, in a small town, so no one cared I left it open.)

When we lived on Dakota, once again my sister got the bed by the door, and I got the bed by the window. But this time we were on the ground the floor and the windows looked over the little hedge and the yard onto the small street. We had carpet on the floors and shared a closet with a sliding door and were older, so no more did we build forts or play “keep away from the monsters on the floor.” Instead, we — what would they call it these days? We were “establishing our territories.” We put duct tape down the center of the room. We charged each other 1/4 of a penny every time we touched the other person’s side of the room. Trouble was, my sister’s side was by the door. I had to run down the short hall and do the long jump to get to my side of the room without touching hers, which was only successful about half the time since that was not one of the things I was good at in track.

I probably still owe her money from then.

I still loved being next to the window, though. It was my own little corner of the world. The windows were larger and let in more light. They only opened out a little ways, though, and I didn’t leave them open at night as much anymore. I was old enough now to have seen scary movies and know about the monsters who broke into houses. I wrote messages to my friends in runes or codes, coloring the paper with mom’s leftover coffee so it would look like parchment (she was so annoyed when she found out). And my bed by the window is where I sat to work on my poems for the contest that year. I remember sitting there in the early morning, and sometimes in the evening, looking out the window while I wrote and rewrote lines, crossed it all out and started over again.

I remember working on two poems that year. One I had written mostly while we lived in the little house on Pear Lane. It was simple, following the seasons of the year, and about being a kid in a small town: riding bikes, running along canal roads, running through the sprinkler in the summer, playing in the snow in the winter. I began it on Pear Lane, but I finished it on Dakota. I remember calling it “Childhood.”

Then there was the other poem I worked on, but only on Dakota. It was specific to my immediate condition and was full of young teenage angst and yearning. It hurt so much to express all that that it felt good. I called it “Alone.”

I had put my entire young self into those poems. And then, somehow, I had the confidence and bravery to actually enter them into the contest. A contest where people might read them who hated them, who might point at me and laugh at my ridiculousness. But at least one of them, “Alone,” made it. I think I remember getting third place, but that didn’t matter. It placed, and because of that was published in the school newspaper.

I was so proud! So happy. I don’t even remember the other poems that made it in. I think I remember some semi-cute guy offhandedly saying to me, “cool poem” in one of my classes. It put me over the moon.

I brought home my copy of the school newspaper and swore I’d always keep it. This would always be mine. No one would take it away from me. I’d always have this newspaper as proof I’d been published somewhere.

But, well, things don’t always turn out the way you think. I learned a valuable lesson — to always keep extra copies of what you’ve had published, to keep tearsheets, to keep the original poem or story somewhere safe. Because I lost the copy of that school newspaper with my poem in it, and the copy of the poem as well. I’ve moved several times in my life since then. Every time I have to go through old boxes I think, “I wonder where those poems went.” I look again, just in case. Still not there. They’re long gone in some landfill, probably decomposed by now.

I used to go online every so often and see if anyone had scanned in old copies of the annuals and newspaper from back then. Maybe I’d run into my poem. I even wrote Pioneer Middle School to see if they kept copies of their old newspapers (they don’t). The real world is not Sunnydale and I don’t have a Willow to hack in online and find things that aren’t there.

While I know from the perspective I have as a middle-aged adult that these poems were probably childish first attempts at poetry, “juvenalia” as a friend calls such things, they were my first attempts at poetry. My first attempts at poetry where I actually won something. My first attempts that got published. I will always honor them. I will always miss them.

 

Workshopping through “Clear Out the Static In Your Attic” — A Review

When I went to a poetry reading recently, I entered a door prize raffle and won some poetry books and a book of writing exercises, “Clear Out the Static In Your Attic,” by Rebecca Bridge and Isla McKetta, published by Write Bloody Publishing, September 2014.

Some of the door prize swag from the poetry reading.

Some of the door prize swag from the poetry reading.

Why this book?

I have enjoyed some of the poems from the poetry books I received, but I think the gold nugget in the door prize I received was this book. Previously, I blogged about getting into some of the exercises in this book as a way to self-workshop. I was going to leave it at that, but decided it might be good to leave an in-depth user review for anyone who might be on the fence about spending the money on it (hint: Long story short, I’m for it. And if the price is steep for you — $10 for Kindle or $13-15 for paperback can be steep when you’re trying to make ends meet — try tracking down a used copy or see if it’s available on BiblioBoard or somewhere).

If you don’t have the time to track down or create a writers group or can’t afford a workshop on your own, then something like this book might help keep you fighting the good fight in the writers world. “Clear Out the Static In Your Attic” (still think it’s an awkwardly worded title, but there, not my book) won’t replace a good comprehensive six-week course, of-er-course, which can cost anywhere from $300 to $600 or more. And going through a book will never take the place of interacting with other writers, getting critique and feedback, or reading your own or others’ work aloud (great for catching all sorts of problems in your writing, especially the ebb and flow of dialogue), but for $15 this book will help motivate you to get back into writing shape or get you to start looking at what you are writing differently.

That’s how I approached using this book. When I delved into it, I hadn’t worked on my poetry or fiction for at least a year. While I do write some small filler articles at the community newspaper where I work or occasionally write resumes or bios or letters or other copy for clients, that’s not the same as using my creativity muscles or stretching my storytelling bones. You need to have writing stamina to work on poetry of all types or specific characters or story line or plot over time. It’s like any other exercise; you need practice. So, that’s how I have been using this book, to help me get back into the practice of writing creatively on a regular basis. This is what I have learned.

Pros:

This book has 47 chapters, which means that if you only did one chapter a week, you would get a whole year’s worth of use out of it. You might not do that. You might do several exercises in one night, skip a couple of weeks, and then go back to it. Perhaps you’re setting yourself a goal to write every day, so you might also do one exercise a day, that would be a month and a half. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend a hurried or slapdash method like that, by the way, as many of the exercises require the writer do some prior research or homework. So, a weekly appointment with a chapter seems the best way to go, in my opinion.) The point is, one could use this book to keep one writing for a sustained amount of time, and so get in the habit of writing regularly, just as one needs to get in the habit of exercising regularly. So, for me anyway, it belongs in the “useful” category for that alone.

Also, while this is a straightforward book of writing exercises, the writers understand how the creative brain works and have set it up so that the creative part of your mind can anchor to something to help it create. It won’t get bored. So, the book is set up as if a brain was like a house with an attic with all sorts of boxes and closets of things in it. These things in the metaphoric attic can inspire writing. Each chapter looks at a different part or something stored in the attic. Here we find a secret, there we explore a lamp or a floorboard, old letters or a sewing kit. And the writer is to use that as a starting point in a writing exercise, to create a scene, poem or essay, or whatever.

Each chapter also has slightly different input from the two separate writers as to how to approach that part of the attic to accomplish the writing exercise, so it’s not just one person’s point of view. An example is usually included, as well as a brief list of books for further reading. Sometimes I read the example and look over the list of books, sometimes I don’t. I don’t always need it or want it (though they make for interesting reading).

For the most part I have found the exercises fairly intuitively based and easy for me to grasp. I think they are natural exercises for a writer to undertake. Some require doing homework, but it’s the kind of homework that needs doing anyway, such as eavesdropping into conversations to hear the cadences and ebb and flow of speech patterns (writers are a nosy lot). Or looking up poems, sayings or old photographs for inspiration. In fact, one of my past exercises was to go out and eavesdrop. And my next exercise is to look for an inspiring photograph to write a story or poem on. As I write in the kitchen with photos of my family staring down at me, all I really need to do is look up on the wall to find something if I like. Or I could go open up one of several boxes I have stored. I have my pick. (I had to try a little harder to find a spare seat at a cafe and listen in on people talking. That was hard.) The point is, though, that when I was writing stories and poems regularly I didn’t need to be told to go look for a photograph. Sometimes it was just necessary to go look for that picture of that garden of my Grandmother’s because that was the one I was trying to describe. Again, this book is getting me back in that habit.

I haven’t gotten further in than the first eight chapters, though I have peeked ahead to see what’s coming. And the exercises do appear to get more difficult and demanding as one goes along, so if one keeps at it, it will make one push oneself and grow in one’s writing. This is a good thing. I had assumed that the exercises would be all easy when I first began, but it’s nice to know that there are challenges coming up that will push me into writing better, writing more close to the bone. To borrow words from the publishing company that put out the book, to write more bloody.

Also good is the fact that, for the most part, these exercises can be accomplished with little more than paper and pencil or pen. There are a couple that may require going to the computer or the internet to get say a photo or run a program, but mostly it’s done with what’s in one’s head and at hand. Since I work looking at a computer screen most days, typing on a keyboard, I find that a good contrast for me. My hand sometimes cramps up with the writing while working on the exercises, but it’s better to give my eyes a rest, or I wouldn’t do any writing at all. And the contrast also seems to spur me to go off on jaunts that I might not otherwise give myself permission to take. And while I am in danger of repeating myself, I will say it again, a writer needs to build up stamina. If I need to build up the muscles in my writing hand so I can churn out better poetry and prose, so be it.

Cons:

The only real con I can see with this book is how people treat it. I think if the writers were asked they’d say that these exercises are meant to be jumping off points for the person going through them. These exercises are meant to be suggestions, not rules. However, there are people out there in the world who will read through these exercises and think of them as “rules.” Some people are just like that. They see a recipe in a cookbook or read in a magazine what the next fashionable cut of something is and take it as “gospel,” with no thought of improvising something to suit themselves, or just for the hell of it.

If you are one of these people I do believe you can still get a lot out of these writing exercises, however, I beg you, please, give yourself permission to improvise and explore, because that’s what these exercises are all about. Throw the rules out the door and just treat these exercises as suggestions for mental play.

For example, you tell me you can’t write about an attic because you never had one? Well guess what, neither did I. The most attic we ever had was the space between the ceiling and the roof that Grampa kept us out of because he’d put insulation up there to keep down the heating bill, but otherwise it was dangerous for anyone to be up there.

But, I had a really cool basement growing up, and I have known old houses with all sorts of nooks and crannies and rooms hidden here and there. I grew up reading about wardrobes that were doorways into far off lands, and I watched TV shows where a police box was bigger on the inside and space ships could take me galaxies away. So I can imagine quite a bit for my writing exercises, et voilà! I have my inspiration, just the same as if I had my attic.

So, as long as you’re willing to improvise, go with the flow, use your imagination and use these exercises in the spirit in which they are presented, as jumping off points to get you writing more, writing better, then you’ll find this a very helpful book.

Teddy tells me it's time for bed.

Teddy tells me it’s time for bed.

 

 

 

 

Getting out there — starting — again …

Previously posted on former Blogetary 1.0 on 5/28/16.

Today, for the first time in like — FOREVER — I went to a club. Heard some good stuff, only had one beer, but that’s what $5 will get ya. The cover was $5, too, so the $10 tapped me out.
Okay, so at first, I wasn’t going to stay. I was going to go with a friend, but she was feeling under the weather, so she couldn’t make it. But man, I haven’t been out in ages. I haven’t written anything in AGES (and it does feel like eons, but it’s only been like a year — albeit of year of death and change). But nothing gets the ol’ creative juices flowing like a live performance. I really needed to go out!
But-but-but — I’m not good in new places on my own unless I have a book, or a pen and a notepad.
But nothing. I needed to go.

Just around the corner. Walking distance. I live in a city for godz’ sake. Time to take advantage of it. Forget the purse. Forget changing or trying to look good. I’m not some 20-something anymore trying to get laid. I’m a grown woman and this is about going and doing like a grown woman does. Lipstick — check. Mascara and eyeshadow — check. How bad do I smell? Do I smell like the curry I had for lunch? Run a comb through my hair. Where did those cool urban boots go that I used to have? When did I give up the leather jacket? Where’s my China Rain? Why am I grabbing the old green cardigan to wear? Why am I so dowdy?

WHATEVER! Just stuff what I need in my pockets and go. Get OUT! Make sure I’ve got $5 for beer and $5 to get in. That’s all I need.

Say goodbye to Teddy, once, twice, okay, now GO!
I almost turned around and went home a couple of times. But I made it through the door; it was too bright, too loud, too many people — none of them familiar. Rhythmic music pounded out over the speakers; it all felt glaring and cacophonous.

But I’d paid the $5 cover already. Too late to leave. There’s a door prize, too. Go figure. I never win anything, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring. Why not? It’s free.

So, I made a joke with the girl by the raffle table. She was young and pretty and nice. Pretty red dress with gold 1950s-style strappy pumps. And she talked to me like a person. I mean it’s her job, but she did a good job of it.

These people know each other, brought friends, or know how to walk up to strangers. Me? Someone introduced herself to me (someone running the show) and to a guy she was talking to; he and I shook hands and promptly walk in opposite directions.

*sigh*

But there’s beer. Or wine. But this feels like a beer night. I’d have taken Jack if they had it, but sadly, they did not. So. Beer it was.

Now I was stuck here. The performance hadn’t begun, but I could see that like all clubs, musical chairs was in force and I needed to snag one or I’d be stuck.

I chose a comfy chair in a corner, pulled out my phone and texted a friend of mine. “Okay, so I made it out. Now what?”

“Get up! Go talk to another wallflower!”

I looked around. Everyone, it seemed, was talking to someone. Lots of tall, leggy actressy/LA-looking girls (okay, women, but in my head, they’re girls) with tight dresses and five-inch pumps. Guys in tight t-shirts looking around, eyeing the chicks with legs that go on forever. Except the guy I was introduced to, who was looking at his phone like I was.

“What other wallflower?” I texted back.

“Just get up and move around.”

“Okay. In a minute. After I finish my beer,” I lied. I tucked my phone away. I looked at my beer. I was about 3/4 of the way through. When the beer is gone, I vowed, I’m getting up and leaving. Can’t stand this music and I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate everyone here. I’m not going to win anything and they’ve yet to start the show. I’ve got a Grimm episode at home with my name on it….

The Emcee bounced up to the front, played with the sound system, read a name for a door prize. Not me. I looked at my beer. There was an inch left.

He read another name. Not me, again. I took another sip.

And again. Another name. Not me. I swallowed the last bit of beer.

I needed to leave now. Except he was reading another name. And this time, it WAS me!

I was getting up now for real, to get my prize. I didn’t pay attention to what I was getting. I was just so happy I got something. Then I turned around to find my seat now taken by a wallflower I hadn’t seen who’d walked in late. Yup. Musical chairs was in force.

And then the Emcee was announcing the act and congratulating us all on coming out of our hovels to make it to a civilized place to hear other writers reading poetry and fiction.

Yeah. That’s right. I was at a writing club — Hatchery Press. The door prize a cache of indie-author poetry books and writer doodads.

I felt like the only cavewoman in the place, except for the fact that the Emcee seemed to assume that we were all having a hard time interacting and made us introduce ourselves to each other.

But don’t think this was a room full of geeks and dweebs. I mean, those were present, but so were the cool guys, the rockstars, the poetry groupies and the writer roadies. All the high school cliques were present, just in a writerly way.

Short story followed by poem, slipping into a memoir, back to poetry, then a memoir, then poetry, poetry, poetry…..

Folk, contemporary, punk, indie rock, hard driving steel guitars, soft a cappella, screaming vocals — if we’d been listening to music in a dark smoky club, that’s what I’d compare the readings to. There was an appearance by James Fearnley of the Pogues reading from his book; readings by emcee Derrick Brown, one of which would have had him arrested in some parts of the world, and Brendan Constantine, who works with the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. There were also several others I just can’t remember the names of now, but who all did a great job of standing there before their peers and opening up many-times folded pieces of paper to bleed out their hearts and souls in front of us.
There were times when the “poetry reading lilt” got to me. You know the lilt. Poets who read or perform their poems fall into this habit of ending each line in a lilt, an uplift of the voice. It’s why I avoid coffee shop open mics. But then the young poets get better, and get rid of that, and instead every line has no intonation at all whatsoever. It’s just got this weird thrust at the end. Not said like a real person talking. Better, but still annoying.

Why can’t people just read the damn poem.

But most of the time, the material was good enough, and the poets were good enough (one guy in particular was really good at performing his stuff and I mean, this is Hollywood. I overheard him saying something about doing some acting…. hmm… side thought…. improv classes for poets…) — um — what was I saying? Oh, yeah; the lilt only raised its ugly head a couple of times.

So, yeah. I ended up staying. Go figure.

It was funny, walking around after the performance with my writer swag, checking things out. I got asked a couple of times, “So are you a writer?!” And my inner voice, the one who talks like Janeane Garofalo, wanted to say, “Would I be here if I weren’t? I mean, come on!” But then the outer me was all polite and shit. “Yes, I write a little poetry, some sci-fi/fantasy.” Usually, people’s eyes glaze over at that point, though one assumed I was a screenwriter. (Cue the Janeane Garofalo scoff.)

Anyway, so, the “writers country club” (my nickname for the Hatchery) isn’t so bad after all (they charge $150 to $350 a month to be a member, I mean, do you know any writers who can afford that, cuz I sure don’t — although at one point they were asking if we made “less than $ XX and I kept having to lift my hand and it was kind of embarrassing. Maybe I am the only broke writer in Hancock Park). Found out I can pay $5 for the occasional workshop or class and not have to sacrifice rent, groceries and kitty litter for the occasional writing class. Besides, I live alone and have a perfectly good home office and / or kitchen table for writing. I don’t need that aspect of it. I just want some inspiration to get me going again.

Just something easy to get to, you know, that will prod me into slicing open my veins and bleeding onto the page.

In Honor of Poetry Month: Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

Previously Published on Blogetary 1.0 April 2013

I forget how very talented my friends are sometimes. They’re my friends. We sit around drinking tea and coffee and discuss physical and emotional aches, pains, triumphs and losses. And the fact that they work very hard at being the best writers or artists or dancers or actors that they can be slips right by my brain pan most days, especially when we end up talking about their cats or dogs or boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses and children.

In honor of poetry month, I’d like to share a couple of poems by one of my friends, Angela Consolo Mankiewicz. This poem was published by RadiusLit.org December 2012:

“The Machine Stops”

By Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

It may be our only hope:
shoot down the satellites, dynamite
the grids, melt the cell towers ….

Let whole populations die out
leaving just enough to burn
or bury the dead and dot
large isolate masses of land;

and light, let there be no light
other than the sun to read by
and read only what is at hand
and what is at hand is only Euripides,
Dante, maybe Dickinson,
Shakespeare, something Zen.

And something else — no priestesses, no priests;
maybe a Keeper to distribute refinements
to inhale, drink, bite into and swallow
to keep us from agitating over more /
better / different / other / mine
something to help us believe life is / can be /
will be good, something to help ease
a beloved’s death, something to ease our own
something to dissolve the depression of being
however temporary the sensation.

We are savage creatures, like most,
and as improbable, in need of taming —
quickly — before the 2am last-call is proclaimed
by a rattle in the species’ throat.

We did it once, brutes to less-brutes,
less brutes to gentlemen and women
despite remaining “all the same
under this fancy linen”

We can do it again: re-generate generosity,
charity, mercy, kindness the Greeks and Dante,
Shakespeare and Zen, maybe we can
confound the gods and do better this time
even build a better machine that self-destructs
at just the right time.

This poem, Beyond Loneliness, is from Full of Crow:

“Beyond Loneliness”

By Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

At the edge of the ocean,
perhaps the only ocean,
you wheeze recollection
and hope into your lungs.

You have been led here
to the edge of this ocean
by the smell of salt.

The water is warm over your toes,
warmer than expected;
perhaps that is a good sign.

You turn away,
lift your chest as best you can
and raising flimsy arms, wail
one more time, a long,
hollow cry that breaks no heart.

You count the usual number
of unclocked minutes, then smile
at the familiar blank reply
freeing you to proceed.

It has been a very long time
since you had access to books
to tell you what to hold to,
what to love, what to hate,
what to respect and what to despise*
but you are no longer lost and confused.

You kneel, dig your fingers
into the sand around you
for a sting, a snap, a hop perhaps
but there is none.

Like a child, you lean on your hands
and pull yourself upright, like a child,
unburdened by shame, you turn back
to face your ocean; you are
what the world was known as; you,
it has all come down to you.

*From the last page of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground

Angela Consolo Mankiewicz, originally from Brooklyn, now lives in Los Angeles and is the author of four chapbooks, the newest being An Eye, from Pecan Grove Press and As If, from Little Red Books-Lummox. She has also been the Contributing Editor and Regional Editor, respectively, for the small press (now defunct) journals Mushroom Dreams and New Press Quarterly. The title of this poem refers to a 1928 short story by E.M. Forster.

You can read more of her poetry on Rusty Truck here and you can follow her blog here.