Friday, February 23, 2007

A Poem from Pontoon 9 by Claire Gearen

In honor of spring, and the fact that Floating Bridge Press editors believe strongly in showcasing the work of Washington State poets, we've decided to showcase one of our poets from the most recent Pontoon 9, available from our website.

To Sophomores Reading Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

Yes. He writes long lines. And they don't rhyme.
The poem is fifty pages long. That's true.
At one point, he calls the scent of B.O. — Ew!
his own B.O. — finer than prayer. I'm
aware of this. And I know about his
strange capacity to love everyone:
woman, child, men. In bathing, splashing fun
twenty-eight hold his eyes a long time. Quiz:

who else has given you permission
to be your whole self, unhindered
by school, by work, by tradition, by din
of people eager to rein you in the heard?

He says, "Unscrew the locks from their doors. Unscrew
the doors themselves from their jambs," about you.

Claire Gearen teaches, writes, and paddles canoes around Lake Union. With students from Kenya, Sudan, Taiwan, and Burma as well as Laurelhurst and Beacon Hill, she enjoys traveling the world in the classrooms of Seattle Public Schools.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Ten Year Journey—Michael Bonacci

Reading each of the entries by previous winners of the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook contest, I felt at home in their stories. So often, those of us who write poetry can get immersed in the cyclical nature of rewriting, resubmitting and having our work rejected to the exclusion of trying to find something new to say. As Annette Spaulding-Convy wrote about her revisions to her poems about convent life (In the Convent We Become Clouds), I, too, made a conscious effort to reinvent my past, or at least the order of it.

I am a great fan of quantum physics, though I barely comprehend any of its principles. The Möbius strip has become emblematic of my poetic vision, if I have one. Time doesn’t have to be limited to a linear retelling, and when I realized the inherent freedom in that act of rebellion, earlier versions of my poems finally lent themselves to being manipulated to fit into the narrative as I wanted it to unfold, rather than the way things literally happened.

I really don’t believe this is an act of deception towards one’s audience either. At least for me, while rewriting the poems that eventually were published in my chapbook The Former St. Christopher, all the events in the poems actually occurred over a ten-year period of my life. But it was important to me that the ideas I had several years later, or realizations that came to me after the events, could be reflected in the current conflict of the particular poem. My “future self” reaches back to my current self to assist me in becoming aware of, but not always understanding or comprehending, the events unfolding in my life or the lives of those around me.

One editor (not at Floating Bridge Press!) once said my poems were relentless in dealing with my partner’s death and my decision to leave the Roman Catholic faith. I eventually came to agree with his opinion. I’m fortunate that the editors at Floating Bridge saw a glimmer in each submission to the chapbook contest that the future version of the manuscript would be more universal in its scope. It was my hope that a reader could be the “you” remembering what it was like to care for a loved one as he or she was dying, or would be able to understand, as I did, that sometimes you have to leave your faith behind, and even stop believing, in order to be receptive to new experiences and new relationships.

It took the painful process of being repeatedly rejected, or being a finalist at Floating Bridge and several other small presses, to scrutinize my collection of poems to the point of completely altering not only their order, but also their viewpoint. You can read similar stories under Kelli Russell Agodon’s entry about her chapbook Geography as well as Tim Kelly’s comments about his decision to focus on “clinically-themed” poems in his collection Toccata and Fugue.

It’s a gift to be in the company of such incredibly talented editors and fellow poets. And each chapbook is a work of art in itself—Jules Remedios Faye is an incredible letterpress artist and lends her vision to each manuscript. I remain deeply grateful, and humbled, to have had my manuscript selected and published by Floating Bridge Press.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Story of My Chapbook—by Tim Kelly

I was wandering in the wilderness of the poetry world with a sheaf of poems I thought made a perfectly lovely booklength manuscript; the problem was that publishers didn’t seem to see it that way. Individual poems had gotten warm receptions at various journals, but the feedback I was getting from the publishers was that some of the poems were too “clinical,” and didn’t mesh with the non-clinical ones.

I should explain that I’m a physical therapist. I write about bodies, and many of my poems are set in hospitals or clinics where I work. I love the work, and it has, not too surprisingly, become my primary source for my poetry. And yes, that means many of the poems contain “clinical” details and “specialized” language/jargon which is out of the ordinary. I hasten to add that I try to keep the strange words and jargon to a minimum, and my intent is always to include the reader in what I’m seeing/describing, rather than excluding him/her; I don’t do it to show off, but to be precise, and because there’s a beauty in the precision.

Then I found out about the Floating Bridge Chapbook contest, and went back and read Michael’s winner from the year before. It was a beautiful book beautifully produced. I looked at the work of some of the Floating Bridge poets, and, dang, that was very fine too. It quickly became clear to me that I wanted to give it a try, and the deadline was looming.

What I did was go to my collection of poems and selected the ones which were the MOST “clinical.” I thought that, for a chapbook, it would be smarter to have a clearly identifiable theme which all the poems could orbit around. I excluded poems which were about my family life, my dog, birds, shoes, politics or pop music, all of which feed my writing, on occasion, too. Having a big chunk of material to sort through really helped me in retrospect, because I was able to select only the poems which were water-tight. Oddly, I also began to see some wisdom in the publishers’ earlier feedback, too; it helped me to focus, to see things as an editor rather than a writer.

I submitted the poems and forgot about it; when I received the phone call from the FBP board in the spring, I was astonished and delighted. I was more astonished that the book appeared in a few short months, beautifully done; my experience with publishers previously was that it took a year or two to move from an acceptance to appearance in the physical world. This was more like the blink of an eye.

Is it possible that the most common strong emotion we, as humans, feel is ambivalence? I straddle the world of poetry and the workaday world of physical therapy; I don’t teach poetry, and consequently I spend much more time at the latter than the former. I’m jealous of poets who seem at ease with all of the levers of self-promotion, poets with great connections and great headshots. At the same time, I try to keep in mind my real-life blessings. I love poetry; it does something to me that no other artform can do; its power can still, on a midwinter Tuesday, leave me awestruck. I love the feeling of writing something I think is really good, even if I change my mind a day later (which I usually do.)

Life is good. I feel lucky to be able to work on people’s bodies for a living. I can’t imagine a richer source of stories, astonishment, pathos, hilarity. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m never going to get rich or famous doing either of my types of work, but they both feel very much like my personal “right livelihood.” The chapbook appeared! I’m just grateful that I’ve been able to persevere, to write, to read, to be read.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Always a Bridesmaid Never a Bride: Breaking the Curse of the Finalist

In May of 2004, I learned that Floating Bridge Press had chosen my chapbook as a finalist in their yearly competition. One of my poet friends informed me, finalists never go on to win the award, they simply disappear. At the Hugo House reading in June, I met Michael Bonacci, whose chapbook, The Former Saint Christopher, had won the 2004 Floating Bridge award. He shared with me that his collection had been a Floating Bridge finalist several years before and after he spent considerable time revising it, his chapbook was chosen for publication. After our conversation, I was determined not to disappear and I was inspired to revise.

The 2004 version of my chapbook, In the Convent We Become Clouds, was loosely unified by the themes of women and water. It contained poems about various women in my family, a result of genealogical research, and some poems based on my experience in the convent. In beginning the process of revision, I decided to focus on just one theme—the convent. I pulled the family poems and from July to February, I wrote solely about the convent I realized that I enjoyed this self-imposed structure, focusing on a single theme, challenging myself to create something fresh as I moved from bible to medieval saints to my current life as poet, mother, wife. I was pleased with the revised collection and with enthusiasm, entered the chapbook in the 2005 Floating Bridge competition.

In mid May I received a letter saying, once again, my chapbook was a finalist. Of course, I was excited and looked forward to the reading, but I was also perplexed as to how I could revise the collection to make it stronger, how I could identify the places where it fell short. At this point, instead of looking at the collection as simply a group of convent poems tightly related by theme, I began to view the chapbook as telling a cohesive story about a woman who entered the convent, struggled with her vocation, made the decision to leave, and what it was like for her to re-enter society. I rearranged the 2005 version and, in the process, discovered that there were holes in the story, areas I needed to work on so that the narrative had smoother transitions and a consistent voice. And here, I had to give myself permission to be creative with my own story. I have always struggled with the idea of integrity in writing poems, that I must be true to my experience as it exactly happened, but I finally realized that I am neither a non-fiction writer nor a creative non-fiction writer—poetry does not have such restrictions. I decided to play with my personal story, to take a risk. What would my mother think when she read a poem in which I disrobe in the confessional, seduce a priest? I think loosening up my attitude about staying precisely true to the facts led to a dynamic tension in the collection. The poems flirted with the sacred boundary of religious disrespect. It became clear that mingling sex and God in a single poem either brings out laughter or indignant anger in the reader and both delight me.

In February of 2006 I sent this new version of my chapbook to the Floating Bridge competition and in April, I received news from Susan Rich that my chapbook had won. Yes! In the following weeks, I worked closely with Ted McMahon in the editing process before the manuscript was sent to the printer. I appreciate the amount of input I had, not only in catching errors in the final draft, but also in being consulted when any changes were considered and even being asked about the color of ink. By this time, my chapbook had become like a child to me, and I was delighted to be allowed to hold its hand as it grew into a real book. Now that the collection is published, I have found the Floating Bridge editors to be extremely helpful in setting up readings for me and in getting the word out that the chapbook is available for purchase. And lastly, I am simply grateful to Floating Bridge for publishing a book about an ex-nun! I had several editors from other presses return my manuscript with little notes indicating my collection was too “pious” or too “offensive.”

Thank you, Floating Bridge!

Annette Spaulding-Convy
Author of In the Convent We Become Clouds
Winner of the 2006 Floating Bridge Chapbook Award