Trying To Care About Publishing

Dorothy Parker said (supposedly) “I hate writing, but I love having written.”  I can totally relate to that, but what is even more true for me is that I hate sending poems and manuscripts out to be published (or more likely rejected), but I love having been published.  A conundrum.

For me, the joy of writing poetry is in the invention, the discovery, and the solving of whatever the particular puzzle of that poem is.  Once I’ve done that, I’m kind of done with it and ready to move on to the next puzzle.  This is a problem, because I also like to share my work and have readers connect with it, and (less so, but still) have publications and stuff to add to my resume.  If there were such a thing as an agent for fledgling, unknown poets, that would be great, and I would happily pay a percentage of all my exorbitant poetry earnings (cue hysterical laughter here) to someone who would take care of this end of things for me while I scribbled away and tossed each finished poem into hands other than mine to deal with, not to be handled again by me until I was called to make some kind of grand acceptance speech.  The rejections, in the meantime, would be handled by the agent, and I would never even see them.  I would not even know I had submitted to The New Yorker or Poetry Magazine until the congratulatory messages started showing up on Facebook.  An idyllic existence.  And like most purely idyllic existences, impossible.

This has been an issue for me for decades, and the fact that I have anything published at all is kind of miraculous.  I remember Bill Borden, a dear departed poetry friend, chastising me at a reading about not submitting.  I said to him “I think if I just keep quietly writing poems, and they are halfway decent, eventually The Paris Review will call and say ‘Hey–we heard you have some poems.  Can we see them?’.”  We laughed at how dumb that was, and then, right in the middle of our laughter, Liz Minette, who was editing North Coast Review at the time (the Duluth , MN one, not the other one) approached and asked if she could publish the poems I had just read to the (sparse, in that poetry reading kind of way) crowd.  I hope I didn’t injure Bill with the elbow-in-the-ribs I gave him at that point.  That experience, however, as Bill knew, is the exception, not the rule, and I guess if I want publications I am going to have to get off my duff and send things out.


Just yesterday, in fact, I got a gently nudging message from one of my beloved poetry mentors and thesis advisors, the wonderful Laura Wetherington, asking if maybe I had dusted off my almost-two-year-old thesis and sent it out.

Um.  No.

Her message was accompanied by a very tempting, pie-in-the-sky-ambitious call for manuscripts and an offer to look over a revised version of my thesis.  Totally sweet and generous.  So sweet and generous that I can’t really say no or ignore it, can I ?

I’ve committed to writing something here weekly after a long hiatus, and I suppose it’s time to commit to sending out the poems I have moldering away in the back corner of my office.  I mean, they are already written and everything.  Which is why they bore me.  But I do like having been published, and there is only one way to get there.

Here goes.

Heavy sigh.



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Katie Ford’s Blood Lyrics: A Review

This is a book review I wrote for Ilyse Kusnetz’s class in writing book reviews at Sierra Nevada College, while working on my MFA.  As Ilyse told me, it was probably not timely enough to have published in a journal, as the book had been out for 2 years at the time I wrote the review, but I offer it here, as both a recommendation of one of my favorite books of poetry and a remembrance of Ilyse and her good teaching.  Ilyse lost a battle with cancer and left this world last year, just months after so brilliantly teaching this class.   Ilyse’s husband, Brian Turner, and others have immortalized her words and her voice in a very cool new project called The Interplanetary Acoustic Team.  I encourage you to click on the link and listen to the teaser track, “Light Sketch,” at the bottom of the page, featuring both Ilyse’s poetry and her voice.  Anyway, here’s the review:

Blood of Our Blood

            Katie Ford, whose background as a divinity school student has always led her to explore how we position ourselves in a universe where violence and suffering exist and God looks on, continues that theme in Blood Lyrics, her 2014 poetry collection (Graywolf Press). This collection addresses the questions of her earlier books: Deposition (Graywolf, 2007), which Ford describes in a 2007 interview with Red Mountain Review as exploring “clear correlations between the ways theologians and religious leaders [write] and [speak] and the ways humans perpetrate violence”;  and Colosseum (Graywolf, 2008), which, according to Sasha Dugdale’s 2009 Poetry magazine review, addresses “spiritual desolation” in the face of a “backdrop of constant mortality.”

In Blood Lyrics, Ford explores motherhood and its lines of conjunction to the decimations of war.  Certainly that alliance has existed through time—Mother’s Day was originally conceived as a banding together of mothers against war, and various groups have formed such as the turn-of-the-20th-century American War Mothers and the more recent Another Mother for Peace.  Ford, here, draws a parallel between her own fear and struggle in the days following her daughter’s extremely premature birth and the struggles of soldiers on the battlefield, observers of war, and all who are touched by combat and its corollary violences.  It is the best kind of parallel that is drawn in this collection: the kind we should be able to see but don’t, until a poet as deft as Ford shows it to us.  Of course mothers feel each other’s pain. Of course the enemy combatants are the sons and daughters of mothers. Of course it is blood that connects us.  Of course.

            Ford begins Blood Lyrics begging intercession, casting a desperate spell offering an unnamed power “my lights, …my most and only opal,/  all that is nimble, …/my eyes,/…their cotton” in exchange for compliance with one demand: “do not take my child.”  Throughout this first section, Ford takes us through the terrors of parents on the brink of losing a child, a daughter born too early, a “child of grams” who “weighs seven hundred dimes,/ paperclips, teaspoons of sugar”.  We are taken into the Children’s Hospital, where “a child’s body breaks the heart/and the mother can’t know/if she counts as a mother”. The fear is palpable, the terror  of living on an earth where this could happen, where “the earth laid down/its brutal head/ [and] would not lament” .

Ford laments, and not only for the child she may lose, but for the children of other mothers in far-away lands from whence we get news, though the relationship between motherhood and war is more implicit than explicit.  Occasionally however, Ford gives us signposts on our road to recognition: “Here is the board, here the water./  Baptism is as bad as they say”.  The enemy (whether foreign or not) is humanized, made banal: “Torturers button their canvas shirts/…straighten their cots…bite their toast” and one can hear the unspoken and have mothers, too, when Ford tells us,  “theirs is the zeal of children.”

Ford grapples with beauty in a world where, in Baghdad, “loosened souls” are “hastened into the kingdom/of unspecified light”; where, in Bobigny, “not one in seventy tongues/…are speaking now” and where prayer “chants your own secret incompletion into death”.  She asks that, in such a world, “the pear and fig fall prior to their time,/…the radios die/…each year decay and each decade”.  In this world, “gratitude is not allowed…not without offense”, and yet there is still beauty; there are still “vineyards and orange groves/ [that] rise after seasons of sudden freeze”. Even amidst that beauty, there is disillusionment. “To bomb them,/we mustn’t have heard their music,” yet this poem’s speaker “[tries] to believe in us” and receives “a letter/from a friend: don’t be naive.”  Again a question is asked: “How God can bear it…”; not how God can bear the calamities of death and injury, but how God can bear “the sound of our florid voices, thankful/for the provisions at our table”.  How to manage that?  How to live in a world where “[our] lives should feel like cut-outs of lives,/ paper dolls drifting to the ground, /ready for chalk outlines” but don’t?  How to live in a world where “the garden plot [is] wasted at the gate/…the finch…/so trivial”?

That Ford provides us with such minimal answers, such inadequate remedies (“make an instrument of your broken lung,”  “photograph the massacre”) is a clear-eyed antidote to the empty jingoism to which so much of 21st-century America subscribes.  She wants us to know that she knows we might dismiss her position in “that sentimental watershed called new motherhood”.  She knows that we might think “because [her] child was threatened” she may “too quickly conclude/that no one should be threatened,/that we shouldn’t kill those asleep in their bedclothes/somewhere we haven’t heard of”.

Few readers will leave this collection unaware of the blood that runs through us and through our children, the blood that is spilled in our names, the blood that bonds all mothers to each other and to children.  Few readers will assent to Ford’s invitation at the end of the book:

If you wish, call me what the postpartum have long been called:

tired mother, overprotective bear,

open sore,

a body made sensitive

to the scent of fire or fume,

just as your mother would have been

when you were born, you are alive

to read this now


We are alive, and we are more alive having read this collection. Only time will answer Ford’s ultimate question: “whether something outside of us can reach in and affect change”.




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Back at it, finally


I have let this blog languish for almost a year.  How did that happen?  It’s not just the blog that has languished.  I have not written a poem in over a year, either.  Friend, master writer, and professor Heid Erdrich told me “Nobody writes for two years after their MFA.”  I know that’s not true for everyone, but it made me feel slightly better.  2016 was a year crammed with writing milestones–two intense MFA residencies in Tahoe, finishing my thesis, spending a month writing (sort of) at the Vermont Studio Center, graduating, and receiving the Region 2 Arts Council’s Artist Fellowship, plus a couple of readings here and there.

2017?  Not so much.  My focus there turned from writing to teaching, and I added online teaching for Lake Tahoe Community College to my regular full-time high school gig.  Part of my assignment at LTCC is teaching in the Incarcerated Student Program, and the work that I am doing and have done with incarcerated students has been interesting and fulfilling, as is all of my teaching.  So, now, I teach full-time-and-a-quarter.  But what about the writing?

I resolve that in 2018 I will send out my thesis manuscript to possible publishers/contests, send out individual poems for publication, apply for jobs that will afford me more time and focus on writing, and, most importantly, carve out time to read, think, and write (the holy trinity).  Part of that is the commitment I have made to a group resolution of many poets to blog at least once a week for this entire year.  This is my first post to that end.

Now I’ve said it out loud, so I have to do it.  Stay tuned, and check out some of the other poets who I’m joining in this pledge.

Happy new year, all.  You’ll be hearing from me again next week!



Here’s a list of poets who have committed to blogging at least once a week in 2018.

Kelli Russell Agodon-   
Donna Vorreyer –  
Mary Biddinger – 
Dave Bonta –
Heather Derr-Smith –   
Jeannine Hall Gailey  – 
Erin Hollowell – . T
Trish Hopkinson
Crystal Ignatowski –
Anita Olivia Koester –
Courtney LeBlanc –   
Lorena P Matejowsky   
James Moore –   
LouAnn Shepard Muhm –
January Gill O’Neill  – .  
Bonnie Staiger –
Hannah Stephenson –
Stephanie Lane Sutton
Christine Swint –   
Dylan Tweney –


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Online Class Offered

Once again, I’m offering my class in Writing the Short Poem online through The Loft Literary Center. It’s a 10-week fully online class for poets at all levels who are interested in honing their craft and generating a lot of new poems. For the purposes of this class, we call 15 lines or fewer a “short poem.”

Class begins January 25–I’d love to see you in it!

(lots of people take this class more than once, so , former students–repeaters are welcome!)

Click here for more information and registration.


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So, This Happened

So grateful to be living in the state with the highest per-capita arts funding in the country!  Minnesota values the arts and artists.


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Eventful October

I’m thrilled that my October is full of poetry events!  On October 15, I will be the keynote speaker at the League of Minnesota Poets fall gathering at Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, MN, 1:30 pm.    (click for more info).  Title of the talk TBA.

I also was honored to be asked to judge the Brainerd Writers’ Alliance annual poetry contest.  I will be presenting the awards and saying a bit about the winning poems at the BWA Fall Festival at Northland Arboretum  on October 29.  Winners will be invited to read their poems.

Finally, after a two-year hiatus for graduate school, I am starting my online teaching for The Loft Literary Center again, and registration is now open for Writing the Short Poem, a 10-week intensive craft class for poets of any experience level who are serious about studying craft and improving their poetry writing. Click HERE for more info and/or to register. It’s a class I absolutely love teaching, and I’ve missed it!  For previous members of this class, an advanced short poem class continuing our work together will be available (tentatively) in the spring.  I’m working on the course proposal now, and I hope that The Loft will want to offer it.  Watch for an email from me asking about interest from former Writing the Short Poem participants–if I can show that there’s real demand, I’m sure it will be offered.

A little further out, I’ll be reading at the Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis on December 9 with fellow Minnesota poets Wendy Brown Baez and Michael Kiesow Moore.  More details soon.

I’m about a quarter of the way through my semester-long poetry writing moratorium/recovery-period/fallow-time-in-anticipation-of-later-harvest, and I’m already getting an itch to start writing.  I’ll resist it, because I want it to grow into an irresistible compulsion, and I’m not quite there yet. Meanwhile, I’m really happy to have these events on the schedule to tide me over.





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Letter from Camp

I’m coming to the end of my month at the Vermont Studio Center.  It’s been a month of revelation, frustration, breakthrough, and stagnancy.  I’ve gotten both more and less done than I had imagined I would, and I’m figuring out how to be OK with that.  I’ve finished less writing, but I’ve done lots more thinking and research that will lead to writing when I’m ready for it.  I’ve made starts on poems that need to cook for awhile.  I’ve written a few things that I like. I’ve met an incredible group of writers and visual artists who inspire me, challenge me, and just generally make me feel like the world is a lot better than it sometimes seems.  I’ve revisited a part of my family and my family history that I haven’t seen for a long time.  All of that is good.

The revelations have been many, and I can’t explain them all.  Some are things I feel without words.  A few that I can articulate are:

  • A month is a really long time to sustain focused creative work.
  • Putting pressure on yourself to write things that aren’t ready to be written is counterproductive.
  • The above are really good rationalizations, but they are rationalizations. Getting the work done means getting the work done.
  • I’m possibly past the point of communal, dorm-style living, but there are parts of it I love. I don’t need to experience those things again for a really long time.
  • Writing is hard.
  • The breakthrough is always just on the other side of the frustration (collaborative credit to Tiffany Besonen on that thought).
  • I’m glad I was with these good thinkers and good hearts during the brutal news cycle July has been.
  • I miss my regular good thinkers and good hearts.
  •  I write better in shorter spurts, and when totally alone and silent (a challenge here).
  •  I’ve been intensely focused on reading, writing, and poetry throughout the last 2 1/2 years in a way I never have before, due to my MFA program and this residency, and it might be OK to give myself a break after I graduate in a couple of weeks.
  • I can’t let the end of this residency and the end of my MFA program let me get lazy about writing (after the aforementioned break).
  • The past two years have been really, really hard on a personal level, and I’m not sure I’ve fully acknowledged that.  Lots of losses. Lots of pain.
  • The past two years have been full of joy, too.
  • I really like driving my car, and miss it a lot.

OK, so that is a lot of revelations.  But it’s still only a fraction.

Friday, I leave here, and Sunday I head to Tahoe, for the last residency of my MFA.  I defend my thesis (oh yeah–I submitted my thesis, BTW), do a reading, and graduate, in addition to the usual residency stuff.  Then I don’t go to school there there anymore.  Which is hard to take. There will be tears.  Lots of tears, I think.  Happy ones, and emotional ones, and sad ones.  Waterproof mascara has been purchased.

So I graduate, I go home, I do tons of laundry, and then what?






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Good News

A few months ago, I wrote in this space:

“I am extremely grateful and surprised to have been offered a scholarship and a month-long residency at Vermont Studio Center, the largest international artists’ colony in the United States.  That I have been offered this gift and that I am actually in a place in my life to be able to accept it seems miraculous to me.  A couple more miracles will be required to actually make it happen, but then, what doesn’t require a miracle or two?”

Well, guess what? Miracles do happen!  I am very happy to report that I am the recipient of a Region 2 Arts Council Individual Artist Grant, and that this grant will make my residency at Vermont Studio Center possible. I’m a little slack-jawed with the wonder of it.

I have the voters of Minnesota to thank for passing the Clean Water & Legacy Amendment in 2008, which provides a tiny fraction of our sales tax to continuing our Minnesota tradition of beautiful, clean waterways and our legacies of art and culture as well.  So many fantastic artists and their work have benefited from this fund, me included, and I couldn’t be more proud and happy to live in a state that not only values the arts and artists, but puts its money where its mouth is in supporting them and us.

So now I come back to the questions I posed in that November post:

“With all excuses removed, how will I do?  Will I rise to the occasion, or will I find out that all the things that I thought were obstacles were not the obstacles? Now that I’ve gotten what I thought I wanted (or a piece of it anyway), will it be what I’ve imagined it to be?”

I tell myself again (and again and again):  Leap, and the net will appear.

Thanks, Minnesota.



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On Being Challenged, and Being Challenging

So, I read this thing, and couldn’t believe that someone finally said it out loud:

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity.

Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  

(from “Inside the Box” by Jessica Olien on

Reading the article made me think about how much of a satisfier I am, and have been.  Less and less as I’ve gotten older, I think, sometimes to good effect and sometimes not, but like most people, I’ve made far too many decisions based on what was expected of me, or what I perceived to be expected, or on what I thought would create the least conflict and rejection in my life.  I’ve wanted to fit in, and to be liked, and to be smiled at, more than I’ve wanted to be original, and to be iconoclastic, and to be self-directed.  I know some people probably see me as quite willing to go out on a limb for what I believe, or to reject the restrictions the outside world would like to impose, but that’s just it:  only I know what a tamed-down version of my real self I show the world.  Only I know how many times I hold myself back.

Don’t read this as a plea for reassurance.  It’s not.  Reassurance is what causes the problem in the first place.  Or needing reassurance is.  I’m not looking for that here.  I’m not looking for anything, I think, except the clarification of my own thinking, which has always mostly happened for me through writing.  Of course publishing the writing, even on a blog that few people read, is an act of communication, so I suppose I do have a purpose beyond self-examination.  Maybe it’s to have an honest conversation with other creative people about all the ways we capitulate.  Maybe it’s an attempt to own my individuality, however difficult,  and to stop trying to fit into a world that keeps me smaller than I could be, and does so with my full permission and cooperation.

Part of this is fear of success.  If I reach some of the goals that I have in my secret heart but that I would never talk about, will I still have the life I’ve grown comfortable in?  Will the people around me be happy for my achievement?  The simple truth is, sometimes they’re not.  I’ve already seen that, even with the modest level of success I’ve had in my life.  Everybody who has accomplished something has.  It’s easy to say “just don’t worry about those people,” but I worry about people.  It’s what I do.  It’s what I’ve been taught to do.  It’s what I’m expected to do.  And you do it, too. It’s an integral part of the system in which I must live. Or the system in which I have lived. Whether I must continue to or not is the question.  Whether I am willing to sustain the losses I will sustain is the question.  Whether the gains will be enough to make up for the losses is the question.

That is what is revolutionary to me about the line of thought in this article: it tells me that it’s not just me; that the system is schizophrenic–saying it wants creativity and originality, but punishing those who take it at its word.

You will read this and you will think, the people who aren’t happy for your successes are not people you want in your life, anyway.

You will read this and you will think, change is hard, but a person will never move forward into the future unless they let go of the past.

You will read this and you will think, no one should make themselves smaller to fit in anywhere, ever.

And then you will go back to your comfortable life, to think your comfortable thoughts, to bite your tongue when you think it’s prudent, and to answer your “crazy” dreams with silent admonitions to be realistic and to focus on achievable goals.

You will do this.

Maybe I will, too.

Or maybe neither one of us will.

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Reading and Book Signing 12/19

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a reading in my own town!  I will be doing so next Saturday, 12/19, at my favorite indie bookstore,  Beagle and Wolf Books and Bindery.   I’ll be there from noon-2pm.  The reading part will be from 1-1:30, during which I’ll read new work of my own (not the same old poems I’ve read before!), and a few poems from Mary Oliver’s new collection, Felicity.

This event is happening in part because I haven’t done an event in Park Rapids for a long time, and partly because the owner and manager of Beagle and Wolf, Sally Wizik Wills and Jen Geraedts, are incredibly supportive of me and my work,  but also to celebrate the inclusion of a poem of mine in a new anthology from Blue Light Press, River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the Twenty-First Century. According to editor Diane Frank, “This anthology features more than 100 poets, mixing the best voices of our generation with the grass roots — poets who have won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, along with lesser known poets who also deserve to be read.”

There will be copies of the anthology available for purchase, as well as my own book, Mary Oliver’s Felicity, and various other books of poetry.

I hope you will stop by!



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