JC’s Confessions #23

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

National Poetry Month Edition:

I’ve been struggling to regain my sense of myself as a poet.

This is ironic because, when I first turned to poetry as a means of self-expression ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any problem calling myself a poet. I was writing poems, so I was a poet. I remember early on reading a short essay from a person who had an MFA in poetry, had published at least one book, and was editing a poetry journal, but couldn’t bring himself to say that he was a poet because he wasn’t suffering for his art. I was perplexed.

I managed to still think of myself as a poet through the labyrinth of dealing with years of family health and caretaking issues. I was still writing and workshopping and doing residencies with the Boiler House Poets Collective and doing sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and Broome County Arts Council. I wasn’t submitting to journals as much as I should have, but I did put together two manuscripts, one chapbook and one full-length collection, which I started submitting to contests and publishers. In recent months, I have also been submitting individual poems to journals more often.

Perhaps I had forgotten the level of rejection that is inherent in the submission process. Some of the recent rejections I have received with manuscripts have chosen one for publication from a field of 800-900. I mean, do the math. Somehow, though, even knowing that the odds are not remotely in my favor has not shielded me from questioning whether I am a publishable poet, or even a poet at all.

Meanwhile, several of my poet-friends have published or are in the process of publishing their first books. I’m very happy for them and buy and help promote their work but it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I’m only garnering a long list of rejections. What does it say about me that, when I see publication credits for other poets, I can often mentally tick off which of their presses have rejected me?

Things are better these past few weeks. The publications of my work for an Ekphrastic Review challenge and in Wilderness House Literary Review buoyed me through the latest round of journal and manuscript rejections that the spring has brought. I’ve participated in National Poetry Month projects with the Broome County and Tioga Arts Councils. Binghamton Poetry Project has been having their spring workshops, so I’ve been working on craft and writing from their prompts, once or twice a week. I’ve even gotten several unsolicited comments from my blog posts, saying that I am a good writer, which is somehow still encouraging of my sense as a poet. Writing is writing, whatever the form.

The question is whether I can keep my re-discovered sense of my identity as a poet from being buried by the avalanche of rejections that are sure to come. When I first set a goal of publishing a book by the time I was sixty, a goal that I failed to meet, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I ever published a book. After all, it’s not that I write for a living.

It would be best if I can get back to concentrating on reaching people with my work within my community sphere. I do consider myself to be an accessible, community poet. If I can do that, then I could look at publishing in a broader context as a bonus if it happens, not as a measure of my worth as a poet.

Please remind me when I am in doubt again.

what I’ve been writing

Although you can’t tell from the count of my recent blog posts, I have been carving out some writing time.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell that from my poetry output either, although I do have one recently written and accepted piece that I will share when it is published. I have had to compose a fair number of cover letters as I have done quite a few chapbook and full-length submissions, as well as some individual poems. I’ve gotten a number of rejections, but currently have the chapbook manuscript under consideration in four places and the collection in nine. I can hear my fellow poets saying that’s not enough, but I’m hoping to get a few more in later this week.

I spent a major amount of time thinking about, writing, and editing comments for a listening session with our bishop in preparation for a diocesan synod and the World Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis to discern the future path of the church. The official title in English is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. In keeping with this, individuals were asked to share our hopes, dreams, and experiences with the church and our visions for the future. I chose to focus on the voices that have been marginalized in the church, concentrating on the voices of women. I prepared written remarks and then a shorter version that I could read aloud at the session within our three minute time limit. I do not like speaking in public but, inspired by others, especially some teens and young adults, I managed to do it. There was a lot of “speaking truth to power” at our session, one of at least twenty planned for our diocese, which is doing a credible job in reaching out to the people. Some diocese around the world are not doing much outreach, which could limit the effectiveness of the process when the bishops convene in 2023.

I have also been doing some holiday-related writing. My first priority was to write a letter to people on my parents’ Christmas card list who may not have heard about Paco’s death in September or even Nana’s in May 2019. It was difficult to write but I’m glad that I made myself do it because I heard back from several people who expressed their sympathies and shared memories with me. I also had the opportunity to do some reflective writing about this in conjunction with a support group I have been attending on preparing for the holidays after the loss of loved ones.

After sending out the letter to my parents’ friends, I tackled my own list, which was a bit more complicated. I did a family newsletter, still a difficult thing when having to report a death, that went in some cards, while others got a handwritten note or just a signed brief greeting, depending on how regularly I have been in contact with the recipient. All the addressing, stuffing, and stamping of envelopes adds to the time involved but most of them are in the mail now. A few are set aside for other members of the family to complete.

Now, there is, finally, this blog post. I’d like to say that I will post regularly from now on but I know that would be more wishful thinking than promise. B, T, and I are preparing for an extended holiday trip, which could create more leisure time for writing or be a total whirlwind with too little sleep to be cogent.

Which will it be? Stay tuned…

Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2021

So, I haven’t been posting as much as I intended these last few weeks, but (for once) I have a writing-related excuse.

I’ve been spending a lot of my creative time on poetry.

The most vital piece of that has been connected to my full-length poetry collection. I was finally able to hold a long-delayed workshop session with the Grapevine Group, my local poetry circle, and do revisions. On Friday, I sent out the newly revised manuscript to a publisher for the first time. I hope to send more submissions for both the collection and my chapbook over the next couple of weeks. Given the necessary slowdown of my writing activities during my father’s final months, I haven’t submitted much for a long time, but the rejections have been rolling in, leaving me with very few active submissions. Besides manuscript submissions, I hope to put in some individual poem ones, too. Fingers crossed…

Meanwhile, the Binghamton Poetry Project has been holding its fall sessions. I chose to attend a workshop called Poetic Yearnings: Desire, Place, and the Placeless with Nicholas Kanaar. I write a lot of poetry of place, so it was a good fit for me. Due to the pandemic, we are still meeting online instead of in person. Our fall 2021 online anthology includes three poems I wrote in response to prompts from the workshop along with the work of other BPP poets. Yesterday, we also held a reading via Zoom. I chose to read three poems of place from my manuscript, which revolves around the area from which I and several generations of my family hail.

I am determined to get more submissions in soon and will try to update you on my progress. If I get anything accepted, I will certainly let you all know ASAP. The only way that will happen soon, though, is if I manage to get accepted in a publication that has a very quick turnaround time. Most journals take a few weeks or months to reply and book submissions are several months to a year. Odds are very much against acceptance, especially with books. One recent book submission pool I was in chose four books out of 1,400 to publish, so…

update to the chapbook update

Motivated by writing this post yesterday, I started searching for more opportunities to submit my chapbook for publication. After not finding any contests currently available – I could find lots for collections, but not chapbooks – I started looking through the Poets & Writers database of small presses that publish poetry.

I was looking for presses that are currently open for unsolicited chapbook manuscripts, but had to wade through broken links, the almost inevitable changes in schedules due to COVID, and the unfortunate number of presses that seem to have disappeared since they had listed with Poets & Writers two to three years ago.

I did manage to find what seemed to be a good match. The database said they accepted unsolicited manuscripts from September through December, but, when I visited the press’s site, I found out that they had moved up their open reading to the summer and were closing to submissions September 6. So, as it was September 5th, I stopped searching and got to work on the submission.

Given that I had the manuscript in my google docs, you might think that it would be relatively quick and easy to get the submission in, but it actually took a couple of hours. The press preferred a .docx in 5.5×8.5 inch format. I admit that I don’t know Word as well as google docs. I got the page format changed relatively easily, but struggled a bit to get the margins the proper size. I usually write short to medium length lines, but there were some lines long enough that they didn’t fit with the smaller pages. In some instances, I wound up changing my lineations. For the handful of multi-page poems, I had to be mindful of the page breaks to make sure that they weren’t falling in awkward places. I was grateful that there is an easy way to update the table of contents, as it changed considerably.

In the end, I was able to complete the submission yesterday, so, at least, I didn’t send on the very last day! It took a while, but I learned some new Word skills.

And the next time some press wants a 5.5×8.5 inch format, I’ll be ready.

chapbook update

This spring, I entered my chapbook manuscript in eight contests. So far, I’ve received five rejections, although I was a semi-finalist in one of them, which is encouraging, even though it is still a rejection. I expect to hear back from the other three sometime this month or next.

I did another round of revisions and have entered this newest version to one (knowingly virtually impossible to be accepted by) press. I have two other contests in mind, but should probably get myself motivated to search for others.

As long as we are on the topic of things I should do, I should also try to do some journal submissions. While I have made some strides in improving my poetry, I am still a neophyte when it comes to the world of publishing. Trying to choose among hundreds of journals which are most likely to consider the kind of poetry I write is perplexing. Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out where not to send something, such as the contest that wanted you to prove you had read all their requirements by quoting your favorite rap lyric in the cover letter – and I don’t know any rap lyrics. Most often, you read a sampler from the journal and try to guess if they might like your work. Because there are usually reading fees involved, it helps to try to figure out which journals are most likely to be interested. With so much else going on, I have trouble getting myself motivated to slog through lists and databases and spend time following all the different rules for submission, knowing that then you are looking at waiting periods of various lengths and most likely a bunch of rejection emails.

Still, if you want to be published…

Time to get to work.

chapbook update

In a too-rare burst of energy in the late-winter/early spring, I finished, workshopped, edited, and submitted to contests an expanded version of the chapbook that had been a finalist in a 2017/18 contest with QuillsEdge Press. By the way, part of being a finalist was inclusion in an anthology, IN TRANSITION, which was published in conjunction with the winning chapbook, Skin Gin, which is available here.

The rejections from that batch of submissions have started to roll in. I’ve received two so far, although I did make semi-finalist in the CutBank/University of Montana contest. While being named a finalist or semi-finalist is still a loss in real terms, it is encouraging to know that your entry has been well-received by some part of the reading team. I have six contests from which I am awaiting notification, but, the odds are that they will be rejections, so I am gearing up for another batch of submissions.

A dear and generous poet-friend recently did a close reading of the manuscript and I have done another round of revisions. There is one poem that has changed significantly enough that I’m workshopping it with my local poetry circle. After those revisions, I’ll be looking for more contests and open reading periods for the next batch of submissions.

Back when I was starting to think about the possibility of publishing a book, I set the age of sixty as a goal. I will turn sixty in October, so I’m definitely not going to have a book in print by my sixtieth birthday.

For now, I’ll hold out hope for the book while I’m sixty, although maybe I should make the mental move to in my sixties, so there is less chance of being disappointed.

If I do get an acceptance, you can read all about it here, although it’s possible that you may hear my excited screams first!

Hair – and a poem – and a prompt

One of the pandemic topics that has gotten a surprising amount of media time here in the United States is what people are doing with their hair without having access to hair salons. Celebrities and politicians face scrutiny if they appear well-coiffed. Did they break the rules and call in a professional? Are they sheltering in place with someone who can manage to trim hair? Did they manage to give themselves a haircut? Are they wearing a stylish headband only to keep their bangs from falling into their eyes?

There are also a lot of stories of hairdressers delivering hair color to clients and giving them instructions on how to apply it – from at least six feet (two meters) away, of course.

Some people, though, are letting their hair grow naturally, revealing their hair color which they themselves may not have seen in decades.

Maybe a few will embrace the natural look. That has always been my choice.

Back in 2016, Silver Birch Press was doing a series called “My Mane Memories” with poets submitting work about their hair. One of the poems they chose was mine: “Crowning Glory” which I will also copy below.

Crowning Glory
by Joanne Corey

“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory…” Proverbs 16:31*

Friends recognize me
in a crowded theater
down the street
across the restaurant
among the congregation

Strangers comment
how beautiful
how they wish
theirs looked the same

I smile
remember the first silver
that appeared
among the brown
before I was in high school
multiplied after my daughters were born
until at fifty just a bit
of brown was left

Then I let it grow
past my shoulders
down my back
in silver waves
finally

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

By the way, Silver Birch Press is offering a free kindle version of their May poetry anthology from May first through fifth. Details here:  https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/free-kindle-version-of-may-poetry-anthology-5-1-5-5-2020/

In this time of pandemic, they have also revived their themed series on their blog. Right now, they are soliciting poems/short prose on wearing a mask:  https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/call-for-submissions-wearing-a-mask-poetry-prose-series/

Welcome back, Silver Birch Press!

 

 

JC’s Confessions #7

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

Poets are supposed to submit work to journals or publishers on a consistent basis. I confess that I have not been doing this. Not even close. Other than a few stabs at Rattle’s Poets Respond series, which only takes submissions written within the last week on news items and is a very, very, very long-shot, I have only done one submission this year, which I did because a poet-friend asked me to do. (I am not counting poems published in Binghamton Poetry Project anthologies because they are not a competitive venue.)

Given how complicated these last months have been, I suppose it is understandable that I haven’t been submitting for publication. I confess that I find the process of figuring out to whom to submit which poem daunting and incredibly time-consuming. I get nervous about the formatting requirements, which never seem to be the same among different publications. I also need to be in a mindset that can take a lot of rejection, because the vast majority of submissions will be rejected.

The result of all this is that it is even more difficult than before to get motivated to work on submissions. Not publishing also erodes my already fragile sense that I am a poet – or, at least, a poet good enough to be published.

Which makes it harder to get motivated to submit and adds to my lack of confidence, and so on and so on…

Later in the fall, I may/will have more time to devote to writing and poetry. Will I be able to get my act together to do submissions?

I don’t know.

Stay tuned.

the demise of More

I was perturbed a couple of months ago to receive a copy of Everyday with Rachel Ray when I had been expecting More magazine. There was a letter enclosed, saying that More had ceased publishing and that my subscription had been transferred.

I was not amused.

I didn’t feel that Rachel Ray was a a good substitute, so I contacted the publisher to cancel it, but the larger upset was the loss of More.

More was designed for middle-aged women, featuring articles and interviews on more serious topics than most similar magazines. While there were also pieces on fashion, they acknowledged that women in their forties, fifties, and sixties should be themselves, and not try to emulate the look of someone in their twenties or thirties.

It was refreshing.

Maybe I cursed it, though.

I had submitted a personal essay to them which I had submitted to several other magazines over the course of years. I think More makes the fourth magazine to which I submitted it that stopped publishing, three of them before they officially rejected my manuscript.

Perhaps, someday, I’ll give up and post my essay here, instead.

At least, I have control over the content – and possible demise – of Top of JC’s Mind.

News from submissions

On Monday, I posted about putting in my first poetry submissions of 2016 and promised that you would be among the first to know if I got an acceptance.

I am pleased to announce that Silver Birch Press has accepted my poem “Crowning Glory” as part of their upcoming “My Mane Memories” series.

Poet-friends, submissions are open through Feb. 29. The call for submissions is here. Unlike many publishers, Silver Birch Press accepts previously published work. Short prose (up to 300 words) is also part of the series.

I will post the link here at Top of JC’s Mind when my poem appears. You’ll also be treated to a new photo featuring my silver mane!

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