Jul 21
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What Finally Drove Me to Enter a Poetry Contest

28 January 2009

I'll admit up front that I want two things from contests. One is money. My car skidded and is in the shop. (On me, not a scratch. God protects writers.) But when the repairs totaled $4000 I asked myself, where else does a poet have a chance of getting money? So I'm a-going for the green. Knowing very well the odds are long: estimate is between 800 and 1200 to 1. BUT NOWADAYS THAT'S ABOUT THE SAME AS THE ODDS OF GETTING A JOB. (P.S.I already have a second job.)

Next, I want honorable mentions, something nice to put on apps for writers' colonies, grants and the like. We all know good work is not enough. Publication is not enough. Someone from the outside has to declare you special. A fiction writer I knew turned "second place" and "finalist for the Umpteenth Named-After-Famous Writer Award" into a resume so awesome people in a neighboring state were talking about her in hushed tones two years later. Of course it takes a fiction writer to do that.

Collateral benefit: getting the work revised, updated, and in order. Somebody stop me, please, if I try this again.
Jul 21
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"Focus" for Productivity

24 January 2009

Experimented this month with telling myself, when I'm drifting-- "Focus!" And then focusing on the task at hand. It helps. Drifting wasn't daydreaming exactly. It's numbness from overload [insert long backstory here] or it's odysseys through the Web and its news, like trying to find out what John Updike died of. My Updike story: Another writer and I, back in our 20s, strolling in our paradise of Harvard Square bookstores, spotted John Updike -- he'd just passed us on the sidewalk. "I hate his books," said my friend. "I hate his books too," I replied. We turned around and yelled after him, "We hate your books!"

But I was talking about focus. It helps to say it aloud or have it on a Post-It. With this discipline, production and revision improved vastly. Now and then one must relax, but I do that 75 percent less than formerly, and do it consciously. Life is short and art is long. It seems that focus fits them together.

Note: 21 July 2011: In late January 2009, my former husband, whom I'm caring for, is dying of cancer; he will die February 6. My "boyfriend" broke up with me. I can't stop crying. I'm working and teaching two night classes. Meet Me is in production and I'm trying to get it proofread and finalized and get copyright permissions from 13 writers. My left breast is looking odd (it will be diagnosed and removed in May 2009). I was still writing?! And telling myself to focus!
Jul 21
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24 January 2009

An anonymous comment on my "Self-Portrait with Dead Goldfinch" poem, posted at poemhunter.com: "I am reading this in a public library," it said, "and it made me cry."

Since writing it I have learned of a well-known 1829 painting on the same theme, "Boy with Dead Goldfinch," by Vasily Tropinin. The boy is wearing what we call a poet's blouse, and his goldfinch was caged. He appears to be a bit angry, not just grieved; I believe his faith in the life of beautiful things has been tarnished a little.

Today was not a good day for me; my faith has been tarnished in every area but my writing. So I turned towards it. There, it's eternal summer. A place where only words die -- to be replaced by better ones -- and lovely things may live forever. The page is calm and shows no grief at having been written on. The craft is tedious, absorbing, taxing, and in doing it you renew your faith. The times faith and words have failed you eventually fade from memory.
Jul 21
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What's Your Name?

21 January 2009

You don't need a website. But you do need to register your name before someone builds a website for you -- that isn't about you. If your name is common, someone probably already has your name-dot-com, but you may have the option of registering your name dot-net or dot-tv or dot-biz or something else.

Through Namesecure.com I registered catherinerankovic.com for 10 years at a cost of $90. You can use Godaddy or some other service to register. But register.

Why? If people want to find writers on the Net, they tend to type in writer's-name-dot-com. Ntozakeshange.com was registered and is owned by someone who is not Ms. Shange. Ms. Shange would have to buy her own name from those people if she wanted, for example, to build an informational author website. She would have to pay them whatever they asked. And in the meantime whoever owns your name can build any sort of crazy insane possibly pornographic website using your name. A popular exercise-show host didn't buy her name-dot-com and when you type in that URL you get a crazy insane anti-abortion website.
Jul 21
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Inaugural Poem: My 2 Cents

20 January 2009

Elizabeth Alexander had to try to write a poem that would please 300 million people and offend not even one. No movie or book has ever accomplished that. Given her task she did a good job and maintained her dignity and her own reserved poetic style. Congratulations to her. (She did some time teaching at Wash U., so I'm not judging her only on her performance today.)

I am thrilled that the planners of the inauguration even thought about including a poem. Furthermore they didn't ask Maya Angelou, who's become poetry's biggest bore, even though she is the "right" color and gender. Congratulations to the planners for going for substance rather than show.
Jul 21
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The Kindness of Writers

19 January 2009

The same day I asked them, two writers gave me permission to use their photos and literary excerpts: poet Eric Pankey and journalist/novelist Harper Barnes. Jeannette Cooperman, of St. Louis Magazine, another great writer, helped me find an E-mail address. How wonderful, and knock me over with a feather: All this within a few hours, on a federal holiday.

Yesterday at the St. Louis Poetry Center monthly workshop Pamela Garvey was the guest critic. Friday I attended the monthly Loosely Identified workshop. At both I got help with my work, and hope I helped other writers in the process. I am so grateful that writers gather in workshops to support each other, and build individual and collective confidence.

Writers are generous, quick, and wide-awake, and knowing them is a pleasure!
Jul 21
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Among Friends: Books Published or to Be Published

16 January 2009

Just to show it does happen, a list of recent book publications/acceptances (2008 and early 2009) by local writers I personally know and like:
  • Claire Applewhite, The Wrong Side of Memphis (L&L Dreamspell), novel
  • Mary Ann deGrandpre Kelly, Marlene Miller, Niki Nymark, Marilyn Probe*: Nothing Smaller than Your Elbow (Bluestem), poetry
  • Mary Ruth Donnelly: Weaving the Light (Cherry Pie Press), poetry chapbook
  • Pamela Garvey, Fear (Finishing Line Press), poetry chapbook
  • Colleen McKee* and Amanda Stiebel, Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (Penultimate), anthology
  • J. Roger Nelson*, The God Whom Moses Knew (Thomas Nelson), novel
  • Niki Nymark, A Stranger Here Myself (Cherry Pie Press), poetry chapbook
  • Angie O’Gorman*, The Book of Sins (PlainView Press), novel.
  • Catherine Rankovic: Fame: Writers in St. Louis in the 1990s (Penultimate), nonfiction
  • Suzanne Rhodenbaugh, The Whole Shebang (Word Press), poetry
*=formerly my student!

I would LOVE to see in this list next year:

Denise Bogard (novel)
Janet Edwards* (nonfiction)
Rebecca Ellis (poetry)
Matt Freeman (poetry)
Julia Gordon-Bramer (poetry)
Susan Grigsby* (poetry)
Tim Leach (poetry)
Steven Schreiner (poetry)
-- and YOU.
Jul 21
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Midweek Delight

15 January 2009

Two outstanding poets I know and admire, Pam Garvey and Tim Leach, will be reading at The Pointe on Sutton Ave. in Maplewood, Mo., Tuesday Jan. 27, 7:00 p.m. Tim's public appearances are very rare. Don't miss him. He's the best unrecognized poet in St. Louis.

Last night after work instead of TV I drove to the Chesterfield Arts Center to hear poetry from Niki Nymark, and Steve Schreiner. I'm a fan of both. I bought Niki's new chapbook, I'm a Stranger Here Myself (Cherry Pie Press) and had her sign it. Steve's book is Too Soon to Leave (Ridgeway Press, 1997) and I wish he'd publish another. So does he. He said publishers don't like the title he gave his new manuscript. Poets' books should be what the poet wants.

It was a very intimate reading in an art gallery rather like a living room. The poets made us laugh, sigh, blush. Both Niki and Steve write good love poems. (Something I can't do.) What a delightful place to have spent a Wednesday night. St. Louis has many great poets. Give up "the media" one weeknight and hear them for yourself.
Jul 21
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Surprise, Surprise

10 January 2009

Ten months passed and I forgot about the poem. Then two months ago I heard the mag had been published. Was too busy writing new stuff to inquire as to why I didn't get a contributor's copy. And I'm kind of far along in life and in art to grouse about contributor's copies. But through my own efforts I got a copy. Today, read it. So much good stuff that I went into that altered state that readers of poetry get into. And when I met my own poem I began reading it as a stranger might. It's better than I remembered. It belongs. It's worthy. I'm pleased with it.

How refreshing! And quite a boost to morale. Basked in it for about 15 minutes.

Now, place fingers on keyboard, both you and I, and let's hunt up the next good poems we're going to write.
Jul 21
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8 January 2009

This past week I drafted new work that I think is crazy: way, way off my usual path. This is the good kind of crazy for a writer.

That was during vacation time. Now I'm back to being mentally healthy, according to the standards of this culture: A clock wakes you, you shower and go to work and earn money, and try all day not to destroy your body, bank account, and relationships. You never tell your co-worker or boss, "I need time to myself" or "I'm busy writing a poem; go ask somebody else to do that" --that's so seriously nutty that they call it career suicide. If they catch you working on your novel or memoir (or blog), they won't listen when you explain that you are DRIVEN to do it by unknown forces and that you were born that way.

So we writers lead two lives from the start. One is crazy (according to non-writing mom, stepdad who wanted me be a court reporter because they really rake it in, boyfriend who thought writers get thousands of dollars when they complete a book, etc.). The crazy one is the fun one, the one with the starry dream world and infinite potential. That's also the one with the workshop that is happy, even thrilled, to read each other's crazy writing.
Jul 21
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Unagented YA Manuscripts Sought

3 January 2009

Wide open market for UNAGENTED young adult fiction -- a new Harlequin imprint, actually -- reported on Tricia Grissom's Coffee and Critique blog. I know that you know somebody with a YA novel, so please pass the information on.
Jul 21
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Spring Course in Advanced Creative Nonfiction

2 January 2009

If you're working on nonfiction and need a workshop, I'm teaching an evening workshop called Nonfiction Seminar at University College, Washington University, this spring. It's a 3-credit workshop course for memoir, essay, biography, travelogues, and nature writing; or narrative, as-told-to and other forms of creative nonfiction. The course emphasizes professionalism and publishability.

The course meets Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30 p.m., begins January 13 and ends May 5. I am happy to answer any questions. Please pass the word. Thank you.

To register, go to ucollege.wustl.edu and click "Courses and Registration" The course number is U11 313, under English Composition, and tuition is $1495.

I'm also teaching a course Thursday evenings, same place, U11 323, called The Art of the Personal Essay.