Welcome, Dear Reader! How happy I am to have your fine company here, where I share information about my books and the books of others.
Recently, I’ve been posting on what I’m referring to as “the constellation of pluses” around my during-the-pandemic-published poetry collection, The Minuses. Pluses take the form of reviews, interviews, and readings I and my poems have been lucky to receive. In this post, I will also take account of books with which I’ve engaged this year, my third annual personal Big Read: #mypersonalBigRead2020.
First, the possessive—my book, The Minuses, 2020 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award Poetry Arizona winner. When I knew a winner’s certificate would be arriving, I felt a tinge of—what?—embarrassment, silliness, or some other mysterious flavor of self-consciousness. Then, wouldn’t you know, the certificate arrived—along with a wash of pride and joy. Funny that.
Above: The certificate, framed with pride and joy!
Second, books written by others. Just as in 2018 and 2019, this year I intended to read a book/volume a day. With the advent of having a book published and the work associated with wanting to be its best ambassador to the world, with the pandemic, and with the vicissitudes of life, that intention became read when I can—even, if I can.
Above: Three terrific anthologies I read in January—before there was a pandemic.
Reading was more of a challenge than intention could manage this year. The global worry made for mega preoccupation, and plainly, and inability to focus and concentrate on the page from March onward. What eventually tethered me to the page again was writing a poem-a-day in July. This daily bringing-to-words practice was more grounding and joy-inducing than I knew possible under the circumstances. I was in need of both in this time of great loss. I have known my reading practice to lead to writing. Now, I know my writing practice leads to reading. The practice is a marvelous two-way! Now, three years into it, I have the sense of my reading practice sending its tap root deeper.
Above: Three terrific books from Barrow Street Press.
At the close of 2017, after becoming aware of the anxiety and overwhelm from the book towers I was erecting around my desk, I resolved to start a reading practice in order to bring into some balance the acquiring, coveting, reading, and give-away of books. To answer the anxiety’s call: Just start reading, I soothed myself, see what you can do. Et voila!
From this reading practice, I have been gifted much. Much. For instance, I’ have learning things about:
Attention–what keeps mine
Comprehension–it’s dependent on attention
Taste–how not to judge myself for what I like or don’t
Company–what I read for
Inspiration–O, to read what hurries me to the page
Above: One of my favorite favorites from the year.
Regarding numbers, even when I knew I was not going to surpass my personal big read of 2019, I still kept count—and kept reading. I’m heartened by that—by that not giving up I witnessed in myself.
Here, I present
[ the Results! ] #mypersonalBigRead2020
96: Full-length collections of poetry 35: Chapbooks (poetry & nonfiction) 56: Journals, Magazines (literary, etc.) 21: Fiction, Nonfiction, Memoir ____________________________ Total = 208 individual volumes in 2020!
To the right: Another favorite favorites of the year.
The total is 95 volumes fewer than last year. That is a fact, not a beating up of myself. The big difference is in how many poetry chapbooks (29 fewer than in 2019 ) and full-length poetry collections (70 fewer than in 2019) I read. Notably, I read about the same number of journals and magazines (51 in 2019, 56 in 2020)There is a one volume difference between 2019 and 2020 in the fiction, nonfiction, memoir category.
I hasten to add that included in what I read in 2020: Terrific writing by the 60 writers with whom I had the pleasure of working, teaching, and editing; plus 500 poetry submissions sent for consideration to The MaynardSpring and Fall 2020 issues.
The results for the previous two years follow.
[ the Results! ] #mypersonalBigRead2019
166: Full-length collections of poetry 64: Chapbooks (poetry & nonfiction) 51: Journals 22: Fiction, Nonfiction, Memoir ____________________________ Total = 303 individual volumes in 2019!
[ last year’s Results! ] #mypersonalBigRead2018
205: Full-length collections of poetry 67: Chapbooks (poetry & nonfiction) 21: Journals 7: Fiction, Nonfiction, Memoir ____________________________ Total = 300 individual volumes in 2018!
The expansion of my reading experience continues and the stacks in all categories continue to melt along with the overwhelm and anxiety. Now, there is more confidence in myself as a reader, and there is the all-sorts-of knowledge gained from the experience of this deep reading practice. Plus, I’m filled with gratitude at the privilege that allows me time and books to read.
There are still some hours left in 2020. To books!
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+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to you, dear reader, for the gift of your attention! If you have any questions or comments, write me!
+ Thank you bows to the writers and publishers who brought their grand accomplishments of books into the world.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to publisher Stephanie G’Schwind, and Mountain West Poetry Series editors Donald Revell and Kazim Ali, et al interns at the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP) for making The Minuses with me.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to Beth Svinarich et al at Unversity Press of Colorado for their beautiful support to me and The Minuses.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to monsoon storm chaser and marvelous professional photographer, Liz Kemp whose monsoon photograph storms the cover of The Minuses.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to Vincent K. Wong for his friendship, creative collaboration, and for taking my author photos.
+ This bears repeating: Thank you bows (continuous!) to you, dear reader, for the gift of your attention! If you have any questions or comments, write me!
Continuing, dear reader, with the pluses congregating around The Minuses. You may be wondering what are “the minuses” and how do the poems of the book address and express them… To satisfy your wondering, here’s an encapsulation of what the poems take on and talk up:
The Minuses beckons attention to ecological and feminist issues and the co-incidence of eating disorders, sexual harassment, family and intimate partner violence, homelessness, suicide, environmental destruction, and other forms of endangerment. Seeking escape from relationship, belief and self, multi-perspective survivors claim voice as contemplators of natural splendors, and as seekers of incarnate desires. These voices amplify the precariousness that predicates women’s lives and the natural world, laying bare the struggle and faith required to endure with integrity and spirit intact.
The duality between “the minuses” and “the pluses” is an aspect of the physical word being lived and survived within the poems of The Minuses.
That there are pluses occurring around the poems of The Minuses and in a continuum of readers and their responses given to the poems. Well, that’s everything to a poet. By which I mean: an expansiveness, transcending the physical world and belonging to the spiritual world.
Here, I give you an excerpt of Paul’s “Some Notes on The Minuses,” which he posted on his site on July 10, 2020. Click on Paul’s blog title or the date to read his notes in full; it’s worth the click (!) because of the context he offers on Postmodern poetics and Charles Olson’s “dodge of discourse.” Here’s the excerpt of Paul’s “Notes”:
Notes on The Minuses: Paul Nelson
To celebrate that 5% of North American poetry (a number I simply pulled out of some wet, warm place) one must savor the books that go beyond the dodges of discourse. One which came across my desk a couple of months ago is The Minuses by Jami Macarty…
As I was reading The Minuses I took some notes as if I were going to interview her. So, this is not a “review” which is not my forte, but some notes on The Minuses.
First note is from the poem Two-way:
In many North American indigenous cultures Raven is associated with death, or transformation. A trickster like coyote in some traditions. In J.C. Cooper’s book An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols (a go-to book for me) Raven represents prophecy, is a symbol of “blackening and mortification” in alchemy and also “The raven sent out from the Ark by Noah represents wandering, unrest and the unclean.” Here’s where we remember the allusion to violence in the back blurb and recognize the divinity the author sees missing from the situation. I love how she ends the poem, referring to a helicopter taking off, leaving “the earth-abandoned swirl.”
There is the poem Site Record:
Take THAT you SOB!
And one could go on like this, pointing out the very sharp perceptions, the moments where one feels aligned with the poet, perhaps re-experiencing the worst moments of relationship (though as a straight man, I am much less likely to experience physical abuse or violence in a relationship) … In the notes at the end of the book, which are helpful and not “here’s what this poem means” which is what you might find in a book of naïve or “workshop” poetry, she writes that the poem is “indebted to Leslie Scalapino and Rosemarie Waldrop.” Here are two poets that are both well known in “outsider” North American poetry circles and gives you some sense of the poetry ancestors she has allied herself with...
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I feel very lucky to have Paul’s “Notes”; these are the sort of thoughts-in-action, reader’s response most precious to a poet. You are most cordially invited to go directly to Paul Nelson’s site and read the entirety of “Some Notes on The Minuses.”
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Also on July 10, as luck would have it, Talking Poetics #22:How Poems Begin, a piece I offered to ottawa poetry newsletter, curated by rob mclennan, was published.
How does a poet begin a poem? Does the poet begin a poem or does the poem begin itself? These questions are the basis of my inquiry on how “my” poems begin and from where, from what energy and impulse. Read what I wrote on the matter of beginnings:
Talking Poetics #22 : Jami Macarty
How poems begin
Nuts and bolts. Which comes first? The answer interests me. Sometimes bolts; almost always nuts! At other times, especially when writing is happening in real time, the question is forgotten…. When a poem is beginning or middling or ending then there’s no need for the question. Questions about how a poem begins seem especially instrumental as points of departure when no poem is forthcoming or beginning. If I can know how a poem begins, then maybe I can begin one. A poem, it seems to me, is always beginning.
From another angle, who knows how a poem gets started? When confronted with this question, I don’t. In so many ways and a lot of the time, the beginning arises out of mystery. Some immaculateness.
If a poem’s a living thing like a plant, then its beginning is a seed. Or, the beginning is a bird that eats and passes the seed on, somewhat fortified, to a locale where conditions are more favorable and growth more likely.
This process may suggest silence, but monitor for heartrate and you’ll hear one. Ah ha! That seems to be the way a poem gets started for me—auditorily. Via a seed sound, word, or phrase. I hear something whispered, overhear speech or a birdsong or a gate creak—flints that spark my mind or serve like a hand shot straight up inquiry.
As I think about these spokens and overheards some qualities emerge. They are typically the most obvious things said: Something is not right here. Often declarative. Ambiguous. A double entendre. Often paratactic: I’ll be mercy if you be a killer whale. Sometimes mishearings: Age of Aquariums. Alliterations. Assonances. Aphorisms given new life. Chiasmic reversals and antimetabolic turn abouts—Let me go, so I can come back, my mother said. Repetitive echophenonomena like the Gila woodpecker beak-banging the corrugated roof. Syllogistic.
So, there’s a sound, a phrase, a statement, an utterance of varying qualities whose wind thrums my mind. I use a notebook. The words get written down. Often there is more listening and recording on the page. Collages of meaning and tone. If not then, later.
A parallel visual process may also unfold. Instead of hearing the phrase, it’s read or misread. It gets written down. That may lead to an on-the-spot erasure or mining of language, words, word pairings. More phrases written down.
Mood may dictate. Mood of listener, reader. Mood of what’s heard and read. Or, is that intuition talking. Both filter and factor the selection process while ‘I’ stays in the background. One part of the brain is occupied with listening or looking, the other finding. If the spell breaks and self-consciousness or willfulness interrupts this program, then it’s over for that sitting.
There isn’t necessarily sitting to make this happen or even with the intention for it to happen. There’s only openness to happening, then noticing when it does. A going with that.
It has always been like this. Since I was a kid, writing things down as if transcribing the sounded world. Writing things down because of how they sound. The pleasure of sounds coming together in meaning, in a way that interests. Of course, this implies that there’s an awareness of interest. An awakening alertness to sound, to how something sounds.
When considering starting a poem with a “loose structure” it takes a while for an example to arise. It happens, but not often. When it has, the structure is anaphoric: I’ll be… if you be…; I’ll be… if you be… “Ideas” tend not to be my flints either. If ideas, then they tend to reference subject matter. Maybe I’ll write about bees… Honestly, though, I can’t make anything happen in the beginning or ever. If I try or force bees, I get stung. Writing and beginning to write work in flow and flight and if I get out of the way of words. Plenty of sparks from words themselves. Their sounds unbound and bounding.
At the beginning, in it, there’s not the presence of knowing whether it’s the middle, beginning, or end. Order is a thing later discovered. The beginning is often the end, and then writing that proceeds is often writing to a beginning. Knowing where, when, what next, that can be a thing in the revision process. Often what feels satisfying is only so to no one else.
Reading. Reading takes place to sprout language, tone. To get in word mood. To warm up eyes and ears. To see if the conditions for writing arise. It’s the ears again; they have to hear something. When they do, the language boat is underway. Could be a short writing-reading spell or a day or night.
Bits, pieces, get assembled. Reorder can be a thing. What comes out is often disrupted on the way, so attention is given over to discovering what’s backward, diagonal, and sideways. From there line breaks.
At first, when typing from notebooks, assembling fragments onto a screen page, line breaks and lengths are left as is. In subsequent drafts and the more the assemblage is heard, the more apt the breaks and length are to be changed.
There’s a favoring of line as unit of meaning. One that adds to or contradicts the conveyance of the whole. Lines tend to accumulate via caesura and hemistich. All line lengths are to be loved equally. For breath rhythm and visual intrigue, a poem may mix line lengths. Love sentence as much as line, but sentences save themselves for prose poems. Delineated poems tend not to be made up of sentences. When they are the sentence is disrupted, disguised, an intervenor and sometime conscious objector.
Some of this is true. Some contradictory. Unkempt. Am I always excavating language? Not always. I think of relative. I think of instinct. I know that place. You know that place. You’ve been there. We recognize the artifacts.
I like beginnings, but can’t pretend I understand or know them. I think there may be a simple answer to the question how my poems begin—they just begin—but I only just thought of that—at the ending.
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I hope you will check out rob mclennan and his various projects supporting poetry in North America, including his ottawa poetry newsletter and Talking Poetics series. There, you will find, a cornucopia of inspiration! You may also read my contribution to Talking Poetics #22:How Poems Begin, in situ there.
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+ Thank you bows to Paul Nelson for reading The Minuses, offering his beautifully personal, contextualizing reading “Notes” on the poems, and for featuring The Minuses on his Cascadia interviews blog.
+ Thank you bows to rob mclennan for including me in the Talking Poetics series in ottawa poetry newsletter and for publishing my Talking Poetics #22:How Poems Begin.
Dear Reader, an interview is a chance to practice the high art of conversation. A conversation is a plus!
I bring to your attention the June 9, 2020 plus of an interview that the most lovely human and excellent poetry reader, Dayna Patterson conducted with me and The Minuses. Dayna and I met in our conversation on the Poetry Hour (4-5pm PDT) that she hosts for Western C.A.R.E.S. (Community, Activities, Resources, Education, Support) at Western Washington University.
Watch and listen to conversation here (use password: 8Q.A!M.?)
The Poetry Hour interview took place over Zoom, of course. The photos and compilation above are by Vincent K. Wong, my good pal and a terrific experimental photographer. Vincent attended the event, with 40 other souls, and took these photos of Dayna and me.
I didn’t realize the background image of Sonoran Desert and its saguaro cacti came through and interpentrated the live image of me, shifting foreground and background, the live and the still until Vincent sent me the series of photos he took during the event. I love the photos and the special effects are a perfect visual component to a quality of feeling I’m trying to get at in the poems of The Minuses.
We’re here to discuss your recent collection, The Minuses. When I think of the phrase, “the minuses,” I usually hear it in conjunction with “the pluses and the minuses.” With that title holding only the last part of the phrase, I expected that the book would press into themes of loss, negation, and deprivation. It certainly did that, and in ways that surprised me. For example, the book seems to be built from the scrap of a wrecked relationship. Is that an accurate description? Would you read the first piece for us and talk about why you selected this title for your book?
There’s a lot of verticality in this collection, a motif that in some places conjures, for me, a feeling of vertigo, and in other places a kind of longing to be detached, above the fray, so to speak. How were you working with notions of verticality vs. horizontality in this collection? (Read “Flight Hours,” “Mountain Hypotenuse,” and/or “Nor’easter”)
How and when did you become so intimately acquainted with the landscape of the Sonoran Desert and its environs? What was your research process for the poems in this collection? (Read “Monsoon Desert,” “At Gravity’s Feet,” & “Music 5:30.”) I’m particularly interested in the phrase “I sent myself into the desert to become a third person” in “At Gravity’s Feet.”
Can you talk about the way these poems lean into the colon and the double colon? For you, does the colon represent a kind of mathematical equation rendered into syntax? (Read “By Virtue of And”)
A poem that really resonated for me from this collection is “Door Ratio.” Would you mind reading that one for us?
Your notes section is expansive, specific, and generous. Why include the Latin name for each species you mention in the notes? How do you decide what to put in the notes to a collection?
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the making of this book?
What are you working on now or next?
Who are some of the writers or artists that inspire you? In particular, are there contemporary poetsyou’d like to recommend to our audience today?
And, here I am endeavoring to arrive at answers, to be responsive.
Dayna’s and my conversation was followed by a Q&A with our audience of listeners and joining souls.
Watch and listen to conversation here (use password: 8Q.A!M.?)
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+ Thank you bows to Goddess Dayna Patterson for reading The Minuses, for her thoughtful questions, and for featuring and hosting me on the Poetry Hour for Western C.A.R.E.S. at Western Washington University.
+ Thank you bows to Western C.A.R.E.S. at Western Washington University and Goddess Athena Roth for offering her very fine administrative support during the event.
+ Thank you bows to the 40 souls with their beautiful ears and minds who joined me et al for the June 9 interview and conversation.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to publisher Stephanie G’Schwind, editor Donald Revell, et al interns at the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP) for making The Minuses with me.
+ Thank you bows to you, dear reader, for the gift of your attention!
Dear Reader, I want you to meet some of the wonderful people who, along with you, are the pluses, congregating around The Minuses.
March 5-7: The Minuses debuted at the Association of Writers & Writing Program (AWP) conference, which took place in San Antonio, Texas.
There, publisher Stephanie G’Schwind hosted me for a book signing at the Center for Literary Publishing booth. In the photo above: the Center for Literary Publishing booth all set up and ready for the conference. That’s The Minuses centered on the table! Below, that’s the lovely intern (name lost in the shuffle, on left) with publisher, Stephanie G’Schwind (right).
At the beginning of March were early days and much about Covid-19 was still unfolding. There had been much debate about whether or not to cancel the AWP conference. When the conference went ahead, thousands of registrants cancelled their attendance. Imagine a poet’s heart. A poet has waited for years to find a publisher for her book, and that’s finally happened, only the world is cancelling. Of course, my poet’s heart is only part of the equation. Many others had a change of heart, deciding that conference attendance was too risky. As I assessed the risk for myself, my gut guided me that it was safe to go. So I did! Others join me there…
I’m glad I went to the conference. Lovely people were seen and communed with (picture above): Danielle Hanson, James Arthur, John Barger, Trish Hopkinson in a Plath (!) T-shirt, Beth Ann Fennelly, Stephanie G’Schwind, Rusty Morrison, Andrea, Jim Johnstone (w/John Barger), Kenneth Pobo, Adrienne Drobnies, and Sean Singer. Special others (not pictured): Emily Perez, Sara Meeks, Desirée Alvarez, Aaron Graham… et al. Typing their names, remembering them fills my heart again with the pleasure of their company. Plus, my publisher sold all the books she brought, which I happily signed. Smiles all around.
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March 22: The celebratory reading of The Minuses in Tucson, Arizona was planned. Joining me: long-time poet friend, Eleanor Kedney, whose poetry collection Between the Earth and Sky was released in early March. With a lovely venue booked, invitations to 125 people sent, and cupcakes ordered, Eleanor and I were excited. So was Covid-19; cases were on the rise. So to be sensitive to our guests’ concerns and still hold our event, we decided to move the reading online to Blackboard, a platform available through Simon Fraser University. This was before Zoom!
My generous partner, John Welch, set up the event and hosted me, Eleanor, and 50 supportive souls who showed up for us and our poems. The event came off with ease and joy. Plus, our gathering together let me know that my community was still there, congregating around me and my poems.
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+ Thank you bows to Stephanie G’Schwind and each of the interns at the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP) booth at AWP for making The Minuses available and for your support to me during the conference.
+ Thank you bows to everyone who visited me at the CLP booth, who bestowed the best of all book-buying support, and who shared conversation and meals with me at the conference!
+ Thank you bows to John Welch for setting up and hosting the March 22 reading!
+ Thank you bows to Eleanor Kedney for reading with me!
+ Thank you bows to the 50 souls who attended the March 22 reading!
+ Thank you bows to you, dear reader, for the gift of your attention!
after burning the owl-high stack of manuscript versions,
after disposing of every last ashen comma and colon,
after the boxes containing the books arrived at my door,
after the boxes containing the books were opened,
and, after eyeing and drinking in the realization that The Minuses is in print! is published! books are in hand!
I’m resting on my laurels*.
*After spontaneously using this phrase, I did a bit of reading on the orgin of the laurel wreath and its associates in Greek mythology, namely Eros, the god of love, Apollo, patron of archery, and Daphne, a river nymph. The story: Apollo made fun of Eros’ use of arrows, so Eros took revenge by shooting Apollo with a gold arrow, instilling him with love for Daphne, and shot Daphne with a lead arrow, instilling her with hatred for Apollo. To be free of him, Daphne was turned into a laurel tree, which is evergreen because Apollo rendered it thus. Fashioning himself a wreath out of the laurel branches, Apollo turned Daphne into a cultural symbol for him and other musicians and poets. Rather perfect, yes?
Current mood: a yellow rose and desert monsoon, gratitude-infusion!
Thank you bows to my publisher: Stephanie G’Schwind; the photographer of the cover image: Liz Kemp, and the horizon of poets, who offered their endorsements to the book: Gillian Conoley, Claudia Keelan, and Daphne Marlatt.