I’m back from my trip to Albuquerque, and one of the coolest things about the city is all their public transportation is free. I was able to transverse the city to see places I could never have seen—and spend money at businesses I wouldn’t have otherwise visited—if my only options were walking or rideshare.
A rant on American cities
I’m gonna say something that may seem extreme (though I’ll bet not to most reading my blog)—public transportation should be a guaranteed service that every municipality provides. I’m not saying it’s a human right the way housing should be; I mean it’s self-evidently beneficial for every town/city/county/state/country to provide a way for its citizens to get from A to B. Even if you’re only looking at things through an economic lens.
Libertarians may believe in the myth of self-sufficiency, but the rest of us know that we depend on each other & the collective resources of our communities to do literally anything. And I do mean the classic definition of “literally”. Usable roads don’t exist without taxation, city councils, regulation. Let alone things like first responders, teachers, & drinkable water.
Speaking of community, public transportation also seems like a good baseline step for fostering one. American cities & towns rarely have the infrastructure necessary to bring people together—whether that’s functional metros & buses or something as basic as sidewalks. You know, places for human beings to safely exist. I think of churches as the way we’ve historically brought people together in the U.S.; but since younger generations like mine are less likely to attend church (for just so many reasons), there’s really no universal meeting ground. And even if we had some reason to congregate, how would we get there? I often don’t leave my house (even pre-COVID) because it’s not worth the hassle of driving and searching out & paying to park.
Take my current city, Nashville:
- The suburban layout separates areas of living, of industry, & of commerce.
There are few-to-zero bars, restaurants, or other types of recreation where people live; and almost no one lives near where they work.
- You must own a car; human beings have no safe place to exist outdoors.
Many areas, even just a mile or two from downtown, don’t even have sidewalks. There’s a grocery store 0.2mi from my house, but to get there on foot, I’d have to walk in the narrow shoulder of a dangerous road where people often drive over 50mph. If I had to jump out of the way, it would be 8ft down into a drainage ditch.
- Public transportation, such as it exists, is useless.
Nashville has no public transit except a bus system that employs a spoke-hub distribution model. Because all routes run inbound or outbound from the city center, it turns quick errands into half-day excursions.
Example of useless public transit
Let’s say you lived north of the city, and wanted to get to a grocery store that’s 2.5mi east. That’s about 45min of walking if you have no physical limitations. By car, less than 10min.
But you don’t have a car, so you have to rely on the buses. Here’s Google’s recommended route:
The southern loop (the most-often recommended) requires two buses—the bus to the Central terminal is 5mi; the bus from Central to Kroger is another 4.5mi. With the transfer, it takes longer to get there with transit than to walk it. Hart Lane happens to have sidewalks along most of its stretch, so at least you don’t have to worry about drivers dicking around on their cell phones.
In the interest of fairness—yes, there are closer grocery stores to that random house. But they’re a Piggly Wiggly & an HG Hills, which are both only slight upgrades over a Family Dollar, and would both require walking down a busy 5-lane road that has no sidewalk.
So you really have to own a car in Nashville (or anywhere in the South).
Aside from some small clean-up efforts, the only real news to share is that I’ve been in touch with a couple professionals in the book publishing industry: Dr. Kathi Inman Berens & Emily HagenBurger Keough.
My focus right now is to finish a couple outstanding poems and finalize the order so the collection is ready for reviewers. I still have to decide how to distribute it to them. I currently have it in a public folder of my Dropbox, but this requires them to download the site to a local drive. It will open & operate in a browser as normal, but it seems like more effort than necessary, and I suspect some won’t be willing to download the project onto their computers out of the (very reasonable) fear of a virus from a stranger.
A service like ngrok will host the booksite, but I think I would need to keep a local server (my laptop) running 24/7. If I let my computer sleep, the booksite would be unavailable. I need to do some more research into temporary hosting.
Promotion & publicity
My biggest takeaway from Emily’s advice is to focus on reviews, interviews, & features in advance of publishing the book. So I’ve identified a decently sized list of bloggers & journals who do book reviews, and some other outlets who may be interested in interviewing me about the book or its underlying technology. For the most part, soliciting reviews is a simple submission process. But since everything about my booksite is non-traditional, even this is complicated:
- Some reviewers want a physical copy.
I don’t and will likely never print this collection—not to mention that much of the project is eliminated outside a web-based medium.
- Others are fine with a PDF or ePub.
That’s functionally equivalent to print, so again, a no-go.
- Some that are not on my list require payment.
I think that’s fine; the review is, after all, work. But I’m not a business, and don’t have a budget for this. A big outlet like Kirkus charges $500! I also don’t want to spend money only for someone to publish a review that basically says “This project is dumb and the poems are trash”.
By “features”, I’m referring to readings or events where my poetry is featured. I think I have another feature coming in 2023! Which would be my first since March 2020. But there’s the issue—reading series book out 12+ months in advance. And COVID still complicates whether it’s actually safe to hold the reading. I’m planning to chat with some people who run open mics that include a feature poet (usually a 15–20min set).
I’ve also been considering house readings, where a friend hosts a reading in their home. This requires a pretty big commitment from the friend, though; not to mention the logistics of planning an event (food, drinks, chairs, merch, PA system, etc.). I’ve never participated in or been to one, but it seems like it could be intimate & fun.
My last forthcoming publication (Poetry Salzburg Review) is now out in print.
No regular journal submissions recently; though, I have applied & submitted for other opportunities:
Got my National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant application in. Having completed it in 2020, it wasn’t as awful this time around. But wow, what a malicious application process. If they had intended to make it as frustrating & confusing as possible, I don’t see how they could have done a better job.
I’m grateful that American writers have the opportunity to receive these funds, which are set aside simply to perpetuate art—but there’s really no excuse for such a poor user experience. I’m not going into detail here because, among writers, the NEA application is famously awful, and much is written about it every spring.
I also stumbled across a poetry-specific fellowship in my hometown with the Just Buffalo Literary Center. It includes a stipend, lodging for a month, & a reading at their Silo Reading Series. I grew up close to those grain silos, in the neighborhood of Riverside. They’re giants in my memory, prominently featured in many of the first poems I ever wrote. To read there would be magical for me.
At the beginning of the year, I noticed a few relatively inexpensive chapbook submission opportunities, and finally put one together on the theme of masculinity. I submitted to:
- Rattle (already rejected )
Even though I’m releasing the booksite as a full manuscript later this year, I think having my name to something with an established publisher will augment my promotion efforts for The Great Permission.
My favorite poet remains Jack Gilbert; his collection, The Great Fires has easily been the most impactful book on my writing. I want a half-sleeve that represents the last line of his poem “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart”:
What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.
I decided on a literal interpretation that simply includes:
- a block of amber
- an archer with a bow
- a quill of cinnamon
- a horse
- a blue swallow
The tattoo artist I really want to work with finally opened her books for the first time in a full calendar year. I didn’t get a response last year, so I’m hopeful I’ll get to schedule with her this time around. If not, I found a couple other artists whose style I like.
My parents made the decision to put down their dog in March. He was about 17, and his body had been falling apart. I did get to say goodbye to him when I helped my parents move back to Buffalo in mid-February. It was painful to watch him struggle to walk; his hips seemed to be detached from their sockets. I had to carry him down the few steps to the backyard so he could pee & poop. He had lost his senses of smell & hearing long ago, and I think he was mostly blind by the end. His body was covered with (benign) tumors, and his teeth were rotting (the dentist had said years ago that he was already too old to be put under).
Still, I’m grateful I was able to see him one last time. It’s rare to have & recognize that opportunity. Here’s the IG post I wrote about his death.
- The title of this post comes from brenda hillman's collection seasonal works with letters on fire