☑️ Get Published

My senryu, “her viewfinder eyes” was recently published online and in print by Prolific Press and Three Line Poetry!

 

Read it online here.

Getting published validates the feeling that my work is worthy of publishing and it makes me want to submit more work for publication. I’m at odds with how to react, however, because this feeling that my work is worthy of work is worthy of publishing also makes me want to create more work.

For now, I plan to pursue the latter. I’ve recently had the idea to create a new collection of poetry that follows the theme of rock collecting; experimenting with how pocketing rocks only to stumble upon them later is similar to how we experience and re-encounter memories.

Yesterday was that last day I had to mow lawns to make ends meet, which is a bittersweet occasion because, while the work was monotonous and grueling at times and it ate up my free time, I was often graced with writing ideas atop my humming machine. I guess I will have to find another way to access this semi-conscious brain state.

That’s it for now, I’d love to write more but I have real writing to do!

Regards,
Ethan

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I’ve been a little busy…

This is my first post in what feels like forever. I regret not keeping up with my blog as well as I’d hoped to in the final weeks of my senior project but I’M DONE! I turned in 20+ pages of original, edited poetry to the Simpson College English Department on Tuesday, April 18th.

The Defense

After every member of the department had the week to read each English major’s final project, we signed up for what’s known as a defense.

From my understanding, the defense process is the undergraduate version of what a PhD or Masters student endures when presenting a final thesis/dissertation. The process differs slightly between students who choose to do an academic research-based paper versus a creative project.

For my defense, David helped me to prepare by informing me of some commonly asked questions.

I defended my project on April 26th at 10:15 a.m. As a member of the English department, David was present for the defense, which eased my nerves. As a student at a small school pursuing a major in an even smaller department, I’d taken classes from everyone in the room, which helped me relax as well.

The department chair asked me to introduce my project to get the ball rolling and then I fielded questions about my project for the subsequent 30 minutes.

What was my inspiration? How did the poets I read contribute to my own writing? What did I learn about myself in the process?

The questions progressively increased in specificity as the minutes ticked by, requesting my input on intent in various lines, line breaks, punctuation, capitalization and lack thereof, line breaks.

I was only asked one question I couldn’t answer…

Assistant Professor of English, J.J. Butts: You’ve talked about the various poets you’ve read and how they influenced you, but what poets do you think you’re in conversation with?

Me: … *crickets*

Me again: That’s a really good question and I’m glad you asked. One of my goals for this project was to uncover my voice as a poet and discover what kind of poet I want to be. For that reason, I didn’t have a chance to ponder your question enough to answer it honestly, but it’s definitely something I will keep in mind moving forward.

David said I did really well overall.

It’s very difficult to defend original creative writing from uniquely intelligent individuals, whose life work is to read things as closely and as critically as possible. But, I did it and I left Mary Berry Hall feeling at least 1,000 pounds lighter, floating on the endorphins released from the cool breeze through my sweat-stained shirtsleeves.

Graduation

I graduated from Simpson College three days later amid the final days of a term course, so I’m waiting to receive my papers in the mail. I’m in between apartments in Iowa City at the moment, so I’ve been temporarily listing my mother’s house as my permanent address. I’ll have to let her know to keep an eye out so she doesn’t mistake my English degree for promotional material and throw it away.

What’s next?

I’m glad you asked. I submitted seven of my favorite poems from my portfolio to an undergraduate review called Asterism. I hope to hear back from them in a week or two. I’m living in Iowa City with my girlfriend, Carly, and her brother at the moment, with plans to move in to our own place on the first of June. I’ll be groundskeeping for the Iowa City Community School District full-time during the week and seeking more meaningful employment during my off hours. I have a side job mowing every weekend for my aunt and she’s expressed a desire to build an extension onto her deck at some point this summer if I’d be willing to help. I’m also tossing around the idea of starting my own editing business. Stay tuned for further development on this!

On May 16th, Carly and I are traveling to Portland, Oregon for our own graduation celebration. We’ll be hiking, biking, and craft-beer-drinking our way around Hipsterville, U.S.A. for the week. I hope to catch up with an old friend for a day as well.

Of course, I plan to keep writing and I’ll keep my loyal fans updated via this blog. Maybe I’ll put David’s technique to work and do a little travel-writing while out West.

In the meantime, feel free to read my completed portfolio, Morning Light Today, and as always, caveat lector. Feedback is encouraged!

Thank you, sincerely, to all of my readers.

Senryu synchronism

I’ve recently begun the stage of my project in which I decide how many poems will be featured my final portfolio, in what order…etc. It’s relieving, mostly because I still get to generate original content but there’s less pressure to meet a weekly quota.

One part of the revision process that I was not looking forward to, was dealing with how to format my many senryu poems (same syllabic rules of a haiku, but not bound to a nature theme). They are one of my favorite forms because they encourage me to be more creative than a lot of the other forms I’ve employed thus far, but they don’t play well with the rest of my content.

In my latest meeting with David, he encouraged me to find a common theme between them and join them as a sort of super-senryu. I was opposed the idea at first, remembering that I had written each short poem at different times and that they portray varying states of mind and moods, and possess different subjects.

After many failed attempts at fitting them in between other poems, however, I began organizing them, putting them in an order that I thought made the most sense. This proved frustrating at times, but overall, much more successful than my previous attempts.

After a few sessions of  resituating-and-stepping-away-only-to-return-again-and-change-everything-hours-later, I finally landed on an order that worked well for me. I had to substitute only a few words and remove a few senryu that didn’t fit regardless of the order.

This exercise proved successful after all and taught me an important lesson: don’t be a baby and listen to the instructions of the published poet with decades of experience.

Anamnesis

I dip my toes in

a pool of palatable

broken promises.

My pipe organ pumps

toxins through dark veins, rousing

today’s dissonance.

The morning sunlight

Illuminates a crucial

Time of day: today.

Tomorrow will be…

Another twenty-four hours

That is all I know.

Autumn leaves trees nude

A cool breeze, a dry dead rain

I, alive, fall too.

Love teeters on the

edge of your bathroom sink where

mirrors hold my heart 

Let’s exist outside

Of this fluorescent nonsense,

We’ll share the fresh air.

Her viewfinder eyes,

shutter-finger takes a pulse,

enslaved by the light.

Why don’t you ever

Write about me? She asks me.

I respond, But how?

Your essence is a

part of everything I know

and I know nothing.

Tear the answer from

The back of the book you’ve bound

In your sleepless nights.

Write ambiguous

melodies. I will listen

and sing harmony.

The silence surrounds:

swallowing sound, now louder

than my heart expounds.

Impossible, yes,

the silence cannot listen:

what is there to say?

The beads of sweat roll

like pearls across mirrored plates:

severed heads of fear.

I am not mindless:

I left my mind at home

for you to sustain.

A phosphorescent

glow throws shadows to corner

familiar warmth:

Memory is grace,

a glimmer in my mind’s eye

reflecting your life.

On becoming a writer

As I near graduation I’ve been directing my attention inward, toward the things I have learned about myself in the many years I’ve attended school. The most important thing I’ve discovered is what I can do to produce my best work.

If there’s one thing that I hope to gain from this project, it’s a sense of professionalism—a coming of age with writer as my title. Part of what is so confounding about writing, especially as I try to find my voice, is that nobody is telling me what to do. I have mentors and writers that I look to and read for inspiration, but putting the pen to page is a task all my own: there is no protocol or time to work in class. Becoming a writer involves an intimate understanding of what enables the writing process when nobody’s looking.

Since the beginning of this final semester, my schedule has been such that most of my work occurs outside of class and according to the time I have allotted. I divide my days between two part-time jobs and 12 credits of coursework. In the midst of all this, of course there is the temptation to forget about my long-term obligations. A break is necessary from time to time, but I discover that no amount of hours spent on Netflix compares to the satisfaction that comes at the end of a day of meaningful writing.

Having said this, self-motivation is a constant struggle and combined with a desire to perform well, what results is the equivalent of an aspiring musician unwilling to practice. Writing is my unstructured environment and often making something happen is like staring unblinking at the cursor on a shiny new page, waiting for the magic.

In college I we are faced with countless opportunities to discover ourselves and if we’re not careful, this can lead to a kind of glossed educational experience throughout which we’re too thinly spread across the wide array of subjects before us. I have always felt the frustration of being okay at a lot of things but not especially good at one; harboring jealousy for the decisiveness of the pre-meds and pre-laws of the world. I have no interest in pursuing medicine or law, but I do have an interest in direction and direction requires a decision followed by a plan of action.

When reflecting on my pre-college years, I recall being placed in higher level core classes despite the fact that my test scores were not all that remarkable. As a result of this, however, I engaged with quick minds on a daily basis and this competitive environment encouraged me to perform at a higher level too, so as not to fall behind. Before long, my test scores began to reflect this and I learned that numbers don’t determine my abilities as a student, I do. I am defined by an independent desire to do well and a resulting willingness to dedicate myself to greater amounts of work in and out of school.

This independent desire is fueled by the talent with which I surround myself. As long as I can find a place to immerse myself, I never have to stop trying to find out how to perform at my best. Success in anything—especially writing—is an ongoing relationship.


Ritual Cafe in Des Moines holds an open mic night called “Poetry Unplugged” on the fourth Thursday of every month and I participated for the first time in February. I arrived about 15 minutes early and wrote my name down on the list of readers. When it was my turn to perform, I tried to approach the mic with confidence. I told the audience that not only was this the first time I’d read at Ritual Cafe, but my first public reading ever. Instead of the uneasy silence I expected, followed by a stumbling entrance on my part, my confession was met with applause (thank god they didn’t do those stupid snaps), whistles, and shouts of encouragement.

After reading both old and new originals, the host of the event pulled me aside and said, “This may be the first time you’ve read, but tell me that’s not the first you’ve written.”

I walked back to my car with some music in my step and an intense desire to bring new material back next month.


The reading experience solidified a mission already underway. Right now, in scheduling time for the thing that I want to cultivate, I am paving the path that I will take when I leave college. I’m making time for the things that I want to do, not something that I have to do. I’m building a community and making my “real world” happen right here instead of waiting for it to take me by surprise in May.

For those wondering what my post-grad plans are, I don’t have just one answer for you. I can tell you that I’m looking for a dynamic career that engages my diverse set of skills and feeds my creative interest, or, at the very least, allows me to pursue that interest outside the workplace. I’m looking to engage in creative communities that keep me fresh. I want to get published, maybe edit a lit mag or start a journal, I want to look into MFA programs, I want to travel, I want to live modestly and responsibly, but most of all, I want to make time to write.

I don’t wake up to morning light today

I began an unrhymed sonnet a few days ago and finally put the finishing touches on it at The Java House earlier this evening, one of my favorite work spots. I broke my own rule of no coffee after 5, which is why I’m now posting it at 1AM:

I don’t wake up to morning light today
The clouds break up the sky and shadows of
The blinds are rivers on these weathered sheets
Ten thousand formless poems restless, waking

The outside dimness leaks through drafty windows
And “rain will be here soon,” I say aloud
into the foggy dawning of today
The world decants its thunderous accord

There’s unbrewed coffee waiting on the counter
I take it black, no sugar commonly
and heightened by incessant obligation
Anxiety Americana, please

I know the earthy cure that’s carried on
the breeze. I step outside to drench myself.

Q&A: David Wolf on Writing, Travel, and Rock and Roll.

David Wolf is the author of four collections of poetry, Open Season, The Moment Forever, Sablier, and Sablier II. His work has appeared in The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Poet and Critic, River Styx, and numerous other magazines and journals. A fifth collection, Visions (a collaboration with the artist David Richmond), will be published in the spring of 2017. He is a professor of English at Simpson College, where he teaches writing and literature and serves as the literary editor for Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology, and the Arts. He also writes songs, plays guitar, and sings for the bands Weather Beacon Blue and The Sonny Humbucker Band.

Wolf is serving as mentor to my senior project this semester; prescribing poets to explore and revising my original work week by week. I took his introductory level Poetry Writing course in the Spring of 2015, which helped me to begin taking my work as a writer more seriously.


When did you first become interested in poetry?

I would say in college. My interest likely began in high school when I was playing in a rock band and I started writing songs. I loved my American Literature and British Literature courses. I liked composition, too, because we did some creative writing along with the critical work. I went off to college and didn’t know what I would pursue, but I knew I liked English. I started reading more of the Beats, particularly Ginsberg and Kerouac, and Richard Brautigan as well. During my freshman year I grew more serious about the study of English, and by my sophomore year I’d started writing—mostly poetry. I decided to major in English because I felt needed to learn the tradition—where literature had been, where it was then, and where it might be headed.

So you encountered your interest for creative writing first and came about the English major as a means to guide your study of other writers?

I’d say so. Though the high school lit. courses and my interest in music certainly preceded any attempts at writing. I knew I had to make a living, however, so my first thought was secondary education, but I didn’t even take the first education class. It sounded awful: Educational Psychology and Measurement. I really wasn’t interested in the psychology of learning or measurement. I now appreciate the study of how people learn, having become a teacher. At the time I just thought, well, I’ll just write and be inspired by what I read, and take some creative writing classes for credit. I’ll worry about a career later. It helped to be at the University of Iowa. I saw some amazing writers, reading weekly it seemed: W.S. Merwin, Charles Wright, Louis Simpson. I also had some terrific professors. Ed Folsom, particularly, who taught some the Beats. The Writers’ Workshop folks were not interested in those poets, and there was a real tension present. The Beats as well as the Black Mountain poets and New York School were pretty much dismissed by the creative writing faculty at the time. It was a very conservative, mainstream academic literary environment. So I was always reading outside of class. I remember buying a volume of Brautigan’s poetry from a used book store on my way to my 18th Century Literature class and sitting there, before class started, thinking, I would rather be reading this, but it’s time for Dryden and Pope. I always felt this tension between my required reading and the reading that actually fueled my writing. I was told by certain teachers that my models, which even included such canonical Modernists as William Carlos Williams, weren’t appropriate influences. It was a very prescriptive environment. My instructors were recommending Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Bogan, Philip Larkin, people I didn’t really connect with. Now, I actually admire their work a great deal, and I read less of my original influences, so my tastes have changed over the years. At least I learned how not to teach. I seek to determine what students’ work looks like at present and who might be a good fit, influence-wise. Again, the rejection of certain influences was a Workshop hang-up. The American literature people down the hall, like Ed Folsom and Sherman Paul, were teaching the Beats, the Black Mountain Poets, and they saw them as important contributors to American literature and culture.

I think most would agree with them now.

Yes. Even the workshop has opened itself to more experimental literature, but at the time it hadn’t. Anyway, I found more camaraderie with the American literature scholars than my writing teachers. All of this caused me to believe that once I graduated I would move to Boulder, Colorado, and take courses at Naropa Institute. It was a Buddhist-centered college, where Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, and Anne Waldman taught as regular faculty, and I had taken some courses there when I would visit my brother who worked for the newspaper. I thought I’d settle somewhere where the context was more welcoming. I ended up moving to New York City, which was even better, given the literary diversity.

The melting pot of literature too, then, in addition to culture.

Right. I moved there to pursue a career in publishing. Boulder wouldn’t have been the place for that. I was with my spouse Wini by then, and we both wanted to work in publishing. So we moved to New York. It was expensive and difficult to do but we managed. I didn’t really seek publication until I was well into my twenties. I started attending some open readings, and toward my latter time there we took in a roommate who was an old friend of ours from high school. He needed a place to stay one night, and we had an extra bedroom. He stayed for two years. But he was a student at Pace University and he’d started a reading series and a magazine and had acquired a used bookstore. He created a little scene in Brooklyn centered around the store, Frontier Books, and we developed a little writers community. We began rubbing elbows with some of the more famous folks. I started to publish a few pieces through some of the magazines connected to that scene.

How did surrounding yourself with that kind of presence affect your writing?

My writing matured. I discovered the Language poets who were essentially opposed to the oracular-prophetic mode of the Beat and post-Beat world, and that started to interest me. Many of my influences were rather conflicting. I was trying to work out what kind of writer I wanted to be. New York opened up a lot more possibilities and pushed me further down the road to figuring that out. Many exciting things were happening then in the writing realm and in the art world in general, as is always the case in New York. It kept me going, finding community there, and NYC, of course, was world-class community. I learned a great deal by just immersing myself in not only the literary scene but the music and visual art worlds. I wasn’t discouraged, that’s for sure. You might think it would have the opposite effect, that I’d realize it’s a big world chock-full of talented people, but I was more inspired than deterred.

What made you want to pursue an MFA?

I needed a break from the corporate publishing world. Grad school was Wini’s idea. She said, “Why don’t you just apply to an MFA program—get funded because we don’t really want to go into debt for it—and we can get out of here for a while.” Also at that time, she got transferred to Oxford University Press in England on a temporary consulting gig, and so we moved to England for a while and I applied to grad school from there. Fortunately for my writing it was illegal for me to work. I had some money saved up, so I hung out, wrote, and applied to programs. Basically the plan was to escape the corporate grind, take some time off to write and see what might happen next. I wrote a lot in Oxford—my days at Oxford, I call them—I didn’t have anything else to do. I also played in a band. We were “New York Dave and the Pumpers.” I started hanging around the Jericho Tavern—it was music-central in Oxford. I bought a guitar just to keep up my chops, but I had no intention of being in a band. A spot opened up in a rock group I’d been jamming with, and I ended up fronting it. We were like The Replacements; we were pretty sloppy but that was intentional. We didn’t rehearse much, but we played a lot at The Jericho, often opening for other acts. So that was fun and I started writing more songs. We were pretty alt-country, before that even existed.

Like Uncle Tupelo/Wilco?

Yeah, I guess so. We did some covers and some of my country/blues originals. My mates started calling me “New York Dave, the Legend from Iowa” and that’s how they’d bill me. But that was another nice community to fall into. Those days were a bit debaucherous. There really was a town-and-gown split. Our Oxford University Press friends said, “Oh, that’s a bad lot down there, Dave, you don’t want to hang out with them.” But they were good guys; they just had all the time in the world on their hands since they weren’t working. But anyway, I had a lot of time to write, however, only a few poems I wrote back then survived. I wrote a lot of drivel.

That sometimes happens when we have too much time.

Yeah. Yeah, it does. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to write. The MFA helped solidify that. I had a structure. I had to show up to class and generally behave as a grad student. So I went to grad school not thinking I would ever teach or become a professor. I knew the job market was tight, but I really wasn’t thinking about any of that until I got into grad school. At Michigan, as a TA, I realized I liked teaching and I didn’t want to give that up. Wini and I returned to central Iowa where she was pursuing graduate work in creative writing, and I landed a visiting professorship at Drake University. That allowed me to design more courses and further develop my teaching. I never really saw it as a career change; I knew that even if I returned to publishing I’d always write—I just needed a way to pay the bills.

How has teaching affected your writing?

There are positives and negatives. I do think—it sounds corny—but I do think that my students inspire me via their excitement about writing. My pedagogy remains very learner-centered. It keeps me fresh. I think the most draining aspect is the time I spend commenting on student work. Such work does take away from the creative energy—the writing and attention to revision—needed for one’s own writing, but that’s the job and I try also to think of it as editorial work.

So over the course of your publishing job, your move to England, moving back, grad school, beginning to teach…somewhere along the way was it ever tempting to not write? How did you always make sure writing had a part in your life, in your schedule?

I think I’ve been a person who is just moved to write. I’ll get it done because I want to. I didn’t really have to carve out time to write. It just happens. Either before or after work. The academic schedule does allow one significant time to devote to one’s own creative work. Also, I tend to write with my students in my creative writing classes.

When I feel like I’ve written myself out, my wife always jokes with me. I’ll say I’ve given up, you know. I quit. She says, “Again? You’ll be writing in a week.” An idea or an experience will just arise. Travel is good for me. I think I could be a better writer, maybe, if I carved out more time to do it. One of my teachers, Alice Fulton, maintained that poets can work in very short units and carry things around in their heads. In five minutes you can make some progress with a poem whereas narrative, in my experience, often demands longer stretches of time.

It kind of comes in bursts.

Right. I’ll be driving or walking around and thinking about something I wrote last night or last year and realize, oh, that line needs some work…that’s not quite right. In your head, you can work on it, or with a spare few minutes at the computer or on a bar napkin, it’s amazing how much revision can take place. For better or worse.

Reflect the light that formed your binding when at night your mind unravels

Reflect the light that formed your binding when at night your mind unravels

I was suffering from severe writer’s block on a night that I had dedicated to content creation and my girlfriend came to the rescue and inspired me over a phone call. The result was this free verse poem that will most likely be included in my final portfolio. I have revised it only slightly since the night I wrote it, changing a few words and breaking the phrases into tighter syllabic lines.

for Carly

I am a net
made of holes
eaten through pages of battered books.
Throw me
into a stream of consciousness.
Drag me
through the scum of this floor
‘till I reach rocky shore where I arrive now widened.

You cross your eyes at my dotted t’s,
trying to read between my lines.

Mineral-rich silt
reeking of life lived on the bottom will fall,
painting pictures of every time I dove deep
for what was lying overhead.

I spell out
L-O-V-E
in big letters
for my liberators to see
send them home
with signal fire
and lie on my back
to feel the earth harden along my spine
as I pull new limbs from the banks.

STAND UP!

STAND UP!

And walk along the shore.
Feel these corners impress upon what I once was.
I leave my mark
for the rising tide
and fill these pages with the name
of the one who loved me
long before I came up for air.

featured photo credit Carly Matthew