North of Autumn | Hymn #3

I’ve been a long time quiet. I’ve been either writing or carpentering. My writing is spent out in the fields, in the cabin I built for my daughter. She’s off in Canada now. I’ve found that getting out of the house and working in the cabin really does help me focus. I wouldn’t have expected that. Don’t know why. Guess I’ve always needed a writer’s cabin.

The last time I posted I was writing 888 words a day. About a month ago I was two thirds of the way through the novel, North of Autumn, and decided there was complexity I didn’t want to force my way through. I wanted to slow down, do some rewriting, editing, and revising—such that the earlier portions would agree with the new direction I was taking. Carpentry also picked up considerably and I’m not the kind who likes to carpenter all day, then come home and sequester myself writing.

So, as it is, I’m very close to finishing my second novel. I’m still sending out my first novel, but no agents are responding. I only have another 10,000 words and I’ll have met my 80,000 word goal. This last week, though, I’ve wanted the poetry to catch up with the prose (poems I’m writing for the novel). As a reminder, the main character’s deceased mother left behind a sketchbook in which she wrote poems in the manner of Emily Dickinson, hence the title: Hymn #3 (the third poem in the sketchbook). Dickinson’s poems were all written in Hymn Meter.

I've seen the threadbare eyes of women
  Their longing turned to doubt.
They pass me by like shrouds, these women,
  Who've looked too deeply out.

I've watched the speechless men go by;
  Their loose and tattered frames.
I've watched—beyond repair—these men
  With their forgotten names.

If nothing else then know there's some,
  Depending where they dwell,
Would trade all heaven's angels singing
  For just one kiss in hell. 

This poems was inspired, in tone, by two other poems that end in ‘hell’. Emily Dickinson’s Parting and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129. I mean and hope to write again soon.

Rough Drafts | Sidewalk Poems

The history behind these two poems is interesting. Middlebury, Vermont invited local poets to send in poems for a sidewalk project in which the poems would be imprinted in the sidewalk’s concrete—part of a poetry project. The poems came with strict line length and word limits. I don’t remember them now. But why not? Middlebury is one of my favorite Vermont towns and Brookway, the fictional town of my novels, is loosely based on it. I submitted the poems and—never heard anything again. Story of my literary life. Since they were written for a very particular location—a sidewalk—I was never sure what to do with them. Now I know. If they can’t be in Middlebury’s sidewalks, then they’ll be in Brookway’s sidewalks—a sidewalk of the imagination. They have a home again.

If despite your hurry
You pause just long enough
To momentarily query
The verses here and there,
You next may ask yourself
If poems aren’t everywhere?—
If maybe all along
(And even by a sidewalk)
There wasn’t always song?
And though that may be true,
It’s true because all poetry
Is truthfully in you.
You mostly needn’t guess
(Or second guess) the season,
You know it more or less:
You know it by the spider
Fattened on the addled flies.
They crowd September’s cider.
And if the weather’s terse
And fitful then it’s likely
April; yet suppose this verse
Is buried under snow?
Your guess is good as mine.
Vermont. You never know.
Every year it’s touch and go.

upinVermont | March 6th 2022

Rough Drafts | Broken

  • As I wrote before, while describing my new novel, Stopping by Autumn, the deceased mother of the main character left behind some sketchbooks and loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry—and wrote poems in Dickinson’s style. To that effect, each chapter is headed with a poem like Dickinson’s—the Ballad Meter, the off-rhymes, the flexible meter.
          Each element best mends itself
          When human beings have erred—
          Metal is with metal welded
          And clay with clay repaired

          But tell me when the last word's spoken—
          If this is how we end it—
          Tell me when the heart is broken
          What element will mend it?

upinVermont | March 5th 2022

The Wages of Art

I’ve been in a strange sort of fall and winter. I started my blog twelve years ago and have written—quite a bit. The blog continues to be well read, I can’t complain, but it’s an odd sort of success that butters no parsnips. I just received another rejection from another agent: Sorry for the form letter; but form letter; at this time; volume of submissions; “project described”; list; doesn’t fit; good luck. Meanwhile, authors are encouraged to tenderly and exquisitely tailor their queries to each individual agent—please enclose perfumed rose petals. Also, if you need help writing your queries, I notice now that agents and editors are offering courses (VISA and MASTERCARD accepted).

I also find myself in the odd position of being treated like the rich uncle. There are many writers, poets and websites who, suddenly my best friends, write me glowing comments, telling me they’ve always loved my website, only to end with a request that I review their poem/book/website. Can you spare a dime brother? This happens a lot. I remember one poet—published, successful and nicely ensconced in academia—who, after I reviewed their book, asked if there were local venues where they could read their poetry, as if I might be their pro bono outreach coördinator. Not long after that they sent me another book to review. Did they ever mention me or my poetry? Did they acknowledge my writing? That other poets and authors ask for reviews or to be mentioned on my blog is okay. That’s called self-promotion. I get it. What rubs me the wrong way is when none of these individuals offer to return the favor—and that doesn’t take much. They don’t mention my blog on their own sites and never comment on my poetry because, of course, they’ve never read it and apparently have no interest in doing so.

As far as blogging goes, I’m struggling to feel motivated. For three straight years I wrote a post a day. That’s a lot. Writing this post is maybe an effort to motivate myself.

If any of you wish that I’d discuss this or that, let me know. I haven’t been posting much if only to avoid being repetitive. Presently, I’m working on more poems and still developing ideas around my next novel. I’ve written the opening pages but am already thinking of all the many ways I can make it unsalable—including poetry, stories within stories, the blurring of genres upmarket/YA/women’s/erotic/magical realism/literary etc… It’s what I do. I write meter and rhyme when the rest of the world writes prose. I write, apparently, what (so far) nobody wants to read or publish. This may simply be a reality I need to accept.

There’s also the possibility that I’m a poor judge of my own art. History is littered with mediocre talent unable to recognize its own limitations. I don’t think that’s the case, but of course I would say that. It’s possible that my writing is universally rejected because I’m just too mediocre and daft to recognize it. I see it in other poets, writers and artists every day. There’s no reason why the same shouldn’t afflict me.

What do we do in life when nothing works out the way we expected? Don’t ask me. I’ll just write a poem or story about it. Once one has decided to paddle across the ocean, quitting mid way probably isn’t going to end well.

        field in February's snow—the inexplicable

            February 8th 2022

Morning Glories

No luck last year interesting agents in my novel, Tiny House Big Mountain. To prove to myself, if to no one else (and with mixed results) that I’m not above accepting advice and criticism, I’ve both refused to farm out my MS to an editor but have also spent the last month gradually editing down my 110,000 words. Having a year between myself and the novel’s completion makes it easier to edit. I almost read it as written by someone else, and I’ve found lots to clean up. I’m half way through and I’ve already weeded out 5,000 words. That’s just a little here and there, page by page. I haven’t cut any passages but have removed redundancies (the same that I criticize in others); and have removed expository/narrative passages (anywhere from a couple sentences to a paragraph) that add nothing to the plot or momentum. I’ve begun to think that a reasonable goal might be to edit the novel down to that magic 100,000 words.

I’m also going to change my query letters insofar as plot description goes. I hadn’t wanted the novel to be treated as a YA novel, and so when I described the plot I put less emphasis on Cody, the 11 year old girl, than I might have. She is, though, largely the main character and the risk in not emphasizing her is to somewhat muddy the central thesis of the story. We’ll see if I’m right.

I’ve also started my next novel called Stopping by Autumn—a Romance. This time I want to more tightly integrate the poetry into the story’s narrative. The deceased mother of the main character has left behind poetry. I’m planning on twelve chapters headed by twelve poems. I asked myself what kind of poetry the deceased mother would write, and decided she had had a garden and was a fan of Emily Dickinson; and that she would write Hymn Meter in honor of her favorite poet. So, here is the first poem of the first chapter written in 8s,6s or Common Meter.

The Morning Glories may mistake
Whatever wall they try
And in their slow mistaking take
A window for the sky.

They press against the glass and reason
They touch the celestial sphere
(Above Earth’s evanescent season
Divinity is near).

How strange and unaccountable
Is heaven to these flowers—
My indoors unpronounceable
And foreign to their hours.

As if I were a deity
They watch me come and go,
Their guileless spontaneity
More God-like than they know.

These flowers searching the sidereal
For something like perfection
Might almost witness the ethereal
Yet miss their own reflection.

~ Morning Glories
   January 2022

We had a snow storm move through. By Vermont’s standards, not so much—around six or seven inches. The foxes and owls are out. They can hear the rodents tunneling in the snow; and I’ve seen the owl pluck a rodent straight from its mid-field hideaway. Unlike the arctic fox or owl, our foxes and owls still sport their summer coats.

       winter's squall—the owl's unchanging

    — January 19th 2022

two haiku for the end of the year

        a lemon in half—winter nights already

    103: December 27th

        where the Milky Way goes after the road

    104: December 30th 2021 | bottlecap
  • I hope you’ve had a good Christmas and are having a happy New Year. Writing December’s haiku has been like tipping a teaspoon of milk from an empty bowl. By this point I’ve written close to 1,800. Maybe I can save myself from further repetition, if not too much already, by making these two haiku my last. I wish all the best for the coming year.

six haiku for mid-December

        end and the playground's empty seats— 

    97: December 6th

        standing among the stumps—the ugly

    98: December 9th

        slips limb to limb—evening slips

    99: December 13th

        the way her hair turns and twists—

    100: December 16th

        mists—neighbors' lights barely

    101: December 20th

        Basho—I begin to think a bowl is

    102: December 23rd

three haiku for the start of December

        winter's moonlight—the bones

    94 November 25th 

        in the sidewalk's ice—walking

    95 November 29th 2021 

        crow after another and another—night

    96 December 2nd 2021 | bottlecap

And a little something for a moment’s meditation:

For blockprints:

And for more reels:

four haiku for late November…

        falls whispering into the whispering

    90 November 11th

        her umbrella—evening folds into 

    91 November 15th
        wanted—her doll's button-eyes still

    92 November 18th

        leaning sunward—the withered wild-

    93 November 22nd 2021 | bottlecap