Tuesday, April 30, 2013


You know, I’ve been brooding over something the last few days because someone I know made a derogatory remark about unions last week. And the remark they made assumed all union members are lazy “featherbedders”. And it’s hurt and rankled ever since. But, I’m not in a position to say anything to that person, so I’m saying it here instead. 
My parents were both very hardworking people all of their adult working lives. They were also Teamsters. The living wages they were able to get because they were part of a union is what put clothes on our backs and food in our fridge, shoes on our feet, and pay for things like glasses, coats, boots, books and school supplies, not to mention the heating bill, the water, the garbage and the mortgage on the small trailer my mom bought.

In fact, before my mom had a union job, there were times when we had problems with many of those issues.

Teamsters living wage along with financial aid, made it possible for me and my sister to attend university.

Teamsters pension helps fill in the gaps for my parents where social security and medicare don’t always go.

I am now also a member of the National Writers Union and the Freelancers Union. Hopefully, being part of this union will help me find more freelance gigs and because I’m part of these unions, I have a better chance at finding affordable healthcare.

I remember in high school over half my friends had parents with union jobs that also put clothes on their backs and food on their tables. And those parents were not “featherbedders.” They were hardworking folk who earned every single red cent they worked for.

So, before anyone goes off badmouthing people in unions, just think about what life was like before there were unions – when children were working in factories and people worked 7 days a week for wages that did not put food on the table or clothes on peoples backs and did not provide healthcare for them. Think about the people you know who grew up with parents who were in unions or who are in unions themselves. Teachers are some of the hardest working people I know. They are professionals who deserve a professional wage, yet if they didn’t have their unions people would spare no thought about taking away their living wages. And if you can’t afford to pay for good teachers then you will not have good education in your school systems and your children’s education will suffer.

Our lives are collectively better because of unions. Because unions asked for a 40 hour week, we all have a 40 hour week. Because unions asked for holidays and vacation pay, we all get those. Or should anyway. This is 2013, you’d think we’d not have to worry about any of that anymore, but some people still think it should be 1913.

I just want to be able to say this loud and publicly, that unions are a good thing and the hardworking union members do not deserve to be considered lowlifes or lazy when I know how hard they work, how hard my parents worked.

In Honor of Poetry Month: Emily Warn

Once upon a time, in a land far to the north in a hamlet known as Bellingham Washington, there lived a young woman who wanted to grow up to be a poet and a writer. She worked in retail and loved hanging out with her friends, so her days were very full. But in between she tried to work on her writing. Most of the time she couldn’t afford going to writers workshops and came up with writing exercises on her own, but at least one time she was able to make it to a poet’s workshop.

It was a two-day workshop in the tiny Fidalgo Island (well, an island that looks like a peninsula) village of Anacortes Washington, and she could really only pay for one day there, not being able to afford overnight accommodations at the time, or the second day. So, she decided to go the first day and make the most of it. Over hill and dale she drove, over the Swinomish Channel that separates island from mainland by a mere sliver and on into the little town.

The work shop was being conducted by Emily Warn, a poet from San Francisco who had also lived, worked and gone to school in Detroit, Seattle, Lynchburg Virginia, Port Townsend Washington, Taos New Mexico and all sorts of other places.

The young woman learned several things from this poet including the difference between “practice” poem and a poem that digs deep and searches for the “thing” it wants to describe. And also that the religion one is born and raised with is as much a part of one as anything else and while one may walk away from it, it will always be there. So it’s best to turn around, face it and deal with it and how it will or will not be part of one’s life.

The young woman left the workshop with exercises and notes in hands, as well as a slim, autographed chapbook of poetry. The drive after dark through island fog taught her another thing, how to get past the fear of ending up in a ditch in the side of the road in the dark and just move on, as slow and steady as needed, through the white mist, illuminated by white lights burning from a white car.

Below is a poem, “Trouble,” from the chapbook, The Book of Esther, by Emily Warn.


Began in trouble. Began in pacing
the Detroit desert until I found Esther
pacing on the boundary. She knew God.
Told me not to worry. That the ways I’d found
to survive were good. Then we compared manna.
Whatever you can imagine, like the law says.
Esther observed the laws. She knew them
inside out for each day of the week,
but there were homemade flaws,
especially on Shabbas. I watched her stare
right into the candle flame
without hiding her face.
When she tossed the Kiddush wine
into her mouth, it was in celebration
of her rebel ways. And God, she said,
didn’t blink. Then I knew Esther
was as great as God,
because her elaborate beautiful
offerings made her unafraid.
Esther is my hope and comfort;
she would laugh.
Yet I know she has lived through God’s terror;
she doesn’t take anyone lightly.
Not even me.
Not even my small fears
that grow wide and blank
as the midwest sky.
Impossible to speak out against them.
But Esther does. Then she dances
in her stocky certain body, a dance
you would do in a kitchen, careful
not to break the dishes or bang the pots,
but knowing if they break, they break.

She told me once that she too was afraid
but that won’t stop her dancing.
Knowing that helps, but I still cry out
and become brittle when the dogs bark
or the house creaks. And I sleep
facing the door, ready to greet God the stranger.

O what can anchor Esther to earth,
to her large bowl of sifting memories,
to five thousand years of Jewish graves,
to the notion of authority in a random universe,
if not for my caring for Esther’s
drifting spirit, for her separated self?
How could Esther have found her way
back to her body, how could she have kept
from floating through the ceiling,
how could she have hoped to be whole
if not for my containing Esther’s absolute
terror as she rose.

You can check out more about about Emily Warn at the website above or here, though it looks like she hasn’t checked in with her website or blogs for a couple of years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

In Honor of Poetry Month: Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

Crossposted from my Blogetary:

I forget how very talented my friends are sometimes. They’re my friends. We sit around drinking tea and coffee and discuss physical and emotional aches, pains, triumphs and losses. And the fact that they work very hard at being the best writers or artists or dancers or actors that they can be slips right by my brain pan most days, especially when we end up talking about their cats or dogs or boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses and children.

In honor of poetry month, I’d like to share a couple of poems by one of my friends, Angela Consolo Mankiewicz. This poem was published by RadiusLit.org December 2012:

“The Machine Stops”
By Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

It may be our only hope:
shoot down the satellites, dynamite
the grids, melt the cell towers ….

Let whole populations die out
leaving just enough to burn
or bury the dead and dot
large isolate masses of land;

and light, let there be no light
other than the sun to read by
and read only what is at hand
and what is at hand is only Euripides,
Dante, maybe Dickinson,
Shakespeare, something Zen.

And something else — no priestesses, no priests;
maybe a Keeper to distribute refinements
to inhale, drink, bite into and swallow
to keep us from agitating over more /
better / different / other / mine
something to help us believe life is / can be /
will be good, something to help ease
a beloved’s death, something to ease our own
something to dissolve the depression of being
however temporary the sensation.

We are savage creatures, like most,
and as improbable, in need of taming —
quickly — before the 2am last-call is proclaimed
by a rattle in the species’ throat.

We did it once, brutes to less-brutes,
less brutes to gentlemen and women
despite remaining “all the same
under this fancy linen”

We can do it again: re-generate generosity,
charity, mercy, kindness the Greeks and Dante,
Shakespeare and Zen, maybe we can
confound the gods and do better this time
even build a better machine that self-destructs
at just the right time.

This poem, Beyond Loneliness, is from Full of Crow:

“Beyond Loneliness”
By Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

At the edge of the ocean,
perhaps the only ocean,
you wheeze recollection
and hope into your lungs.

You have been led here
to the edge of this ocean
by the smell of salt.

The water is warm over your toes,
warmer than expected;
perhaps that is a good sign.

You turn away,
lift your chest as best you can
and raising flimsy arms, wail
one more time, a long,
hollow cry that breaks no heart.

You count the usual number
of unclocked minutes, then smile
at the familiar blank reply
freeing you to proceed.

It has been a very long time
since you had access to books
to tell you what to hold to,
what to love, what to hate,
what to respect and what to despise*
but you are no longer lost and confused.

You kneel, dig your fingers
into the sand around you
for a sting, a snap, a hop perhaps
but there is none.

Like a child, you lean on your hands
and pull yourself upright, like a child,
unburdened by shame, you turn back
to face your ocean; you are
what the world was known as; you,
it has all come down to you.

*From the last page of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground

Angela Consolo Mankiewicz, originally from Brooklyn, now lives in Los Angeles and is the author of four chapbooks, the newest being An Eye, from Pecan Grove Press and As If, from Little Red Books-Lummox. She has also been the Contributing Editor and Regional Editor, respectively, for the small press (now defunct) journals Mushroom Dreams and New Press Quarterly. The title of this poem refers to a 1928 short story by E.M. Forster.

You can read more of her poetry on Rusty Truck here and you can follow her blog here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Words are going extinct! Save an endangered word today!

Crossposted from Blogetary:

Did you know that there are who knows how many obsolete and extinct words that used to be used in everyday speech but have fallen out of use and been forgotten, only to be found occasionally lost and forlorn in old books and dictionaries?

Yes. It's true!

Words like "airgonaut," "boreism," "crassulent," and "phalerate" can be found on The Phrontisery, otherwise known as the Lost Words website. And you can find a few such as "jirble," "California widow," and "snoutfair" here.

Personally, I have chosen to adopt two.
  1. Wonder-wench: A sweetheart — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk.
  2. Bookwright: A writer of books; an author; a term of slight contempt — Daniel Lyons’s “Dictionary of the English Language”, 1897.
I hope one day to become a wonder wench, but not necessarily in the meaning given above. I just think it would be cool to be known as the wonder wench. And, I'll continue to work everyday to be that annoying bookwright that normals don't care for, which truly delights and amuses me. Ludo et Vexo!

So, what old, obsolete/extinct/endangered word will you adopt today?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Honor of Poetry Month: H.D.

Hilda Doolittle, who went by H.D., was a poet, novelist and memoirist in the early 20th century. Born into a Moravian family in Pennsylvania in 1886, her father was a professor of astronomy and her mother loved music. She attended Bryn Mawr in 1905, but left after three terms. She knew Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence and Sigmund Freud, among others. She had a very interesting life that spanned two World Wars and a host of friends, lovers and experiences.

With Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington she became one of the “original imagist poets.” Their three tenets for writing poetry were:
  1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome.
The book Hermetic Definition, by H.D. has three long poems of several parts: “Hermetic Definition,” “Sagesse” and “Winter Love.” “Winter Love,” which is titled in parentheses “Esperance,” was written in 1959 and is a set of short “Helen” poems. According to her editor, Norman Holmes Pearson, they were meant to be a “coda” to her Helen in Egypt poems, but she decided later not to publish them together. Below is the first part of “Winter Love.”

. . . ten years?
it was more than that, more than that;
your hand grips mine — masterless?

I was masterless while men fought,
and I only found Spirit to match my Spirit,
when I met Achilles in a trance, a dream,

a life out-lived,
another life re-lived,
till I came back, came back . . .

You can read more about H.D. here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Giving Back to the Community....but Which Community?

Crossposted from my Blogetary:

About a month ago I was asked to help volunteer at a local garage sale. I was asked at the beginning of the week and a conditional (to me) “yes” popped out of my mouth. I tend to promise more than I can do, though. But I thought I would try. I had work, freelance and otherwise, as well as extra paid work coming in and I needed it all. But I also had a couple of previously promised “pro bono” pieces to do that I was running behind on. And then there was basic housekeeping and bookkeeping to catch up on. I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

As the week went on and I took on more of the paying work coming my way, I of course ran out of time and energy for freelance work and the “pro-bono” volunteer stuff, and kept shoving it all until later in the week. And then later in the week came and suddenly it was Friday evening, and I still hadn’t completed all I had promised – freelance or otherwise – still thought about helping at the garage sale and still had guests coming over on the Sunday, so I needed to clean the house on the Saturday. Still hadn’t gotten caught up on spreadsheets and bank balances. So, I decided to power on through on Friday evening and see how much I could get done.

It was 6 a.m. Saturday morning before I could say I was finished with both “pro bono” and paid work and my “maybe” volunteering at the community garage sale turned into a “no.” But I felt really guilty about. I believe in giving back to the community, whichever community that is. But I realized I also felt resentful, which shouldn’t be the case. Volunteer is volunteer. And yes, if you’re going to volunteer to do something, you should commit to it, but ultimately, it’s still volunteer. Right? And when it means the difference between your health and the function, well, choosing your health is the better thing. An example: One summer during college I worked at a nursing home and they were short one weekend and I took on a double shift. I normally worked swing shift – 3 to 11 p.m., so I stayed on through the graveyard until Sunday morning, 7 a.m. And then, because I’d committed to going to church, went home, took a shower, changed clothes and went to church. Well, it didn’t do me a bit of good as I kept falling asleep in the pew, which distracted the people next to me and I actually got called out by the pastor during the sermon because of it. The better choice would have been to go home and go to bed. There was nothing wrong with taking the extra shift, just as there was nothing wrong with powering through to get things done the night before the garage sale. But at some point meeting those volunteer commitments just to meet them becomes prideful. You are no longer meeting those commitments because they’re good for you and the community. You are now doing them because you have some pride in them or because you’re expected to and what if you don’t!? Oh, my! The sky will fall in and everyone will think so much less of you! Not. The point is the initial impulse to help disappears behind the “keep up with the Jones and our reputation” mentality.

This all made me think about volunteerism and the nature of volunteerism. People understand the nature of volunteerism in neighborhood communities – to help people in the neighborhood or to clean it up and make it better for everyone – but not everyone understands that volunteerism also encompasses other communities – say your online communities, your writing communities, your school and Alma Mater communities, your genre communities, pet/animal shelter communities, church/temple communities, etc. And volunteering in these communities is just as important as volunteering in your neighborhood communities.

For example, there are a number of small online and in print magazines that would not be up and running if it weren’t for countless volunteer readers out there who are willing to go through the slush piles and suggest to the editors which ones to consider and which ones to kindly pass on. Many people wouldn’t be able to go forward very well in their careers if it weren’t for mentors volunteering to help them. My college Alma Mater, Western Washington University, runs an online mentoring program and also contacts mentors to help with their leadership classes – all on a volunteer basis. Many public libraries have reading programs where volunteers can come in and read books to kids on a regular or semi-regular basis. Some of those same libraries usually have a Friends of the Library group that help with used book sales and other ideas to raise money for our libraries. But even outside of these organizations, whenever you volunteer to help out someone in your field, it helps make that field a little bit better for everyone in it. Or so I believe. That’s why I volunteer to read slush for an online zine, do online mentoring for my Alma Mater and also volunteer within the writing community to do things like interviews or reviews, etc. I want to give back to communities that have given to me, and I hope that in return has helped someone else.

If you take on too much it can be overwhelming, and as noted above you can also lose sight of why you began volunteering in the first place – to make your community, whatever community that is, a better place. But, in my opinion, if you can keep it in balance, start out slow, then you’re doing that much more to make your community just a little bit better, a little bit friendlier for everyone involved. And you probably make your life a little bit better, too (Plus, you can put it on your resume).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Honor of Poetry Month: Sarah Kemble Knight

Crossposted from my Blogetary:

One of the first books I ever purchased at the Student Union bookstore at Western Washington University my first quarter there was The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 by Emily Stipes Watts. It wasn’t for a class, I just remember seeing it and thinking I had to have it. Each time I’ve moved I’ve thought of donating it somewhere. I just can’t seem to let go of it, though I rarely open it.

The chapters cover different sections of time. Some of the poets covered in each chapter are well known and some are not so well known. According to Watts, Sarah Kemble Knight was “a diarist, a poet, and a businesswoman” who lived in Boston. She was married to Richard Knight in 1689 and they had a daughter sometime before he passed away in 1706. Madame Knight, as she came to be known, was a landowner of property in Connecticut as well as a shopowner in Boston. On a trip from Boston to New Haven to New York she wrote a journal that was later published in 1825. Below is one of the poems found mixed in with her journal entries. Apparently she was a little annoyed with some of her fellow travelers.

I ask thy Aid, O Potent Rum!
To Charm these wrangling Topers Dum.
Though hast their Giddy Brains possest–
The man confounded with the Beast–
And I, poor I, can get no rest.
Intoxicate them with thy fumes;
O still their Tongues till morning comes!

Reminds me of little things I’ve written to get something out of my system. That is, after all, what some of writing is for. Not just to blather online about something or write that famous book or poem or screenplay, but sometimes to get out for ourselves what’s in our head down on paper, in private, for our eyes alone. It’s a form of self-reflection, a part of cultivating our inner lives and growing as people.

You can read more about Sarah Kemble Knight here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is it procrastination or is it work?

Crossposted from Blogetary:

Way back in the 80s and before, when I was much younger and before I had any access to computers, I was writing with pen or pencil on paper and then when I got that down, I would set it next to my typewriter and do my best to type it up and revise it as I typed. And then when I went through that draft I’d set it aside and after a time I’d go through it again, writing by hand bits to stick in here or there and crossing out chunks and then sit at the typewriter and type it out again. Sometimes I had notes written on napkins, paper bags and bits of paper all just stuffed in my purse or backpack or riding somewhere in my car.

It was a long process. Sometimes I’d go through magazines for inspiration. Sometimes I’d make up writing exercises for myself to get better at characterization. I subscribed to an art magazine for a time as a way to get a better grasp on a more visual way to approach writing.

But in the end, I still had to take all that input I had gleaned from the research and exercises and actually sit down and get all those ideas out of my head and onto the paper. And that meant writing it out by pen and/or pencil on paper and/or typing it out. And going through it over and over and over again.

Now, this is not a post about how things were better in the “bad old days.” I don’t think they were better. It is much easier to come up with a readable draft for yourself and others these days. Sure, some people start out with handwritten drafts, but more often than not, we start with typing it out on the screen. And it’s so much easier – the keyboard doesn’t require the punch of fingers, just the mere tap. Correcting mistakes is a walk in the park – no onion paper or back spacing on the correction ribbon, no white out or keys stuck together if you type too fast. Some writers swear by all the tools they use in Scrivener or Final Draft. And then there are the writers who do the whole Post-It Note thing and there are boards (all online). Research doesn’t mean going to the library basement to peer at hard to read microfiche or pouring through the Readers Guide to Periodicals to find the handful of articles you’re looking for to make sure you know how a musket works or some such thing. You can Google it. And if you like what you find, you can download the book. Right there! You can check it out on your e-reader. Need to do research on a personality? Great – find them on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram.

But along with this new ease of getting things out on the page and all these fantastic new “tools” has come, I think, a new set of distractions. New ways of putting off the basic writing of the draft in favor of the online research, the “pinning” of topics, putting together playlists for each story or each character, creating a “platform” and “fostering” an audience that we may or may not have using Facebook, Twitter or blogs, creating outlines so detailed that you might as well just sit down and pound out the words themselves. One of those things “they” have told us out there in writer world is to ask ourselves where we see our book in the bookstore. And so we obsess over that. We make ourselves busy making style books for our characters but forget to actually get those characters into the story. We get so preoccupied with making sure our plots fit into the three-act arc or the two-pillar structure or that all our narrative bits are no longer than 150 words (because God-forbid someone might get bored as you actually describe the setting or what’s going through the character’s mind – but isn’t that what you read the story for? To get all those juicy details? Otherwise you might as well just watch a movie!). We want to make so sure our story will fit into all the correct slots and don’t write anything bad before we even put anything on the page. So, we don’t write anything at all! I actually saw a post by a writer who was so terrified of writing anything bad that he just stared at the screen for hours. He’s probably been paralyzed by so many “rules” floating around out there that he can’t get himself to just get the darn story on the page.

Because that’s the point. The point is to get the darn thing on the page. All those other things are just procrastination. It’s just the editor part of the brain trying to keep the creative side from doing anything “wrong.” Only the thing is, part of being creative is putting all the crap out there and seeing what’s good enough to stick. But you won’t do that if you’re so busy being worried about doing something wrong or puttering with outlines and style books and “methods.” All that stuff may help, I’m not saying it won’t, but it doesn’t do a darn thing unless you actually get to writing and go through the actual process of writing your tale, complete and whole, on the page. You have to give your creative side free rein. And that means sitting down in front of a blank screen or page and waiting long enough, usually whilst writing the complete crap that you’re going to delete anyway, until the editor part finally takes a walk or a nap or relaxes and lets your creative side out.

Later – after you have gotten the complete (or as complete as you can get it) story on the page, then and only then, can you go back and take a look at it through the eyes of your editorial self. Then you can take all that work you did on the outlines and style books and decide to either use them or throw them out. After you have completed that draft, then you can decide whether it fits into a certain form – or NOT. Then you can double check how a musket works, or whether a celebrity would do this or that.

All I am saying is that one of the things writers are so very good at is procrastination. We are champions at procrastination. We have created whole groups and industries on tools that may be useful, but that we use to procrastinate doing the actual work.

So, again, I’m not saying to go back to the “bad old days” of handwritten manuscripts or Underwood typewriters, but I am saying that before you set up that style book or pinterest page, before you make those playlists or set up outlines and file folders – consider how much of all that work is actually going to be used for your story and how much is just procrastination.

Friday, April 12, 2013

To Paraphrase Bob Dylan: Des choses (things) they are a changin’!

Crossposted from Blogetary:

Back a few months ago, Sam’s Dot Publishing merged with White Cat Publications. And many assurances were passed onto the authors at SDP that this was not a way of getting rid of SDP, but a way to save it, to keep it going. They weren’t going to be orphaned. And then there were delays getting some publications out (I still haven’t received my January copy of Beyond Centauri), but that happened with SDP sometimes. And then some of the major editors started resigning (to be fair, they were probably burned out and needed the time off before the merge, they just didn’t feel they could). And then some of the publications were taken over by White Cat, while others went to Alban Lake and Nomadic Delirium Press. (Maybe publications that White Cat felt didn’t cover their purview? Or some of the editors had visions for those magazines and wanted to keep running with them. I don’t know.) Guidelines are changing. And then some of the book titles are being moved to White Cat while some are staying with SDP. And then who knows about the royalties.

About a year ago or so I was one of the authors who had to go through Drollerie Press closing down, so this all feels way too familiar. The editors at SDP tell people not to worry. And, its not as if we’re talking about Random House and Penguin. But it does underscore the changing face of publishing, whether we’re talking ebooks or print copies, and whether it’s about large publishing companies or small presses.

It doesn’t matter, though, it still doesn’t feel very good. Sigh.

All that is to say, that many of the links I have collected over the years to lead people where to buy my lovely books, poetry and short stories may be changing soon. Not right away, but eventually. I will try to keep track and keep up with them as they change, but a few may be missed. If there’s something you’ve been meaning to get and when you search for it you find the link is broken, your best bet is try at my author website first – RachelVOlivier.com – and if you have no luck there then email me at rachel(a) NO SPAM rachelvoliver dot com (making all the obvious changes to the address, of course).

And now for those of you who are trying to remember the Bob Dylan song so you can have that earworm, you can find it here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Honor of Poetry Month: Geoffrey Chaucer

Crossposted from Blogetary:

It gets forgotten sometimes, I think, that most great stories from before a certain time were written in verse. So, in celebrating National Poetry Month, we're not just celebrating free verse, sonnets and haikus, we're also celebrating great authors from the past such as Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Geoffrey Chaucer lived at the end of the 14th century (1343 to 1400) and is known as the "Father of English Literature" for several reasons. One was that instead of writing in French (the language of the educated and aristocrats) or Latin (the language of the educated and the Church) he wrote in English (or Middle English). He wrote in the vernacular of the people. And he also developed different types of meter and rhyme and told stories of the people. You can read more about Geoffrey Chaucer here.

In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he has a framing tale of people from all walks of life at that time traveling together in the good spring weather to go on a pilgrimage to a holy site, as people did in those days. These people were a nun, knight, miller, lawyer, wife, summoner, friar, parson, wife, pardoner, clerk, physician, yeoman, merchant, cook and manciple (and maybe a few others as well).

Within this framing tale are the tales told by each pilgrim as they go on their way. Some morality tales, some comedic, some are rather raunchy, and some are serious. Below is a first section of The Prologue, which describes the setting and the characters in this pilgrimage before going onto the individual tale. The verse on the left is in Middle English, while the verse on the right is in modern English. To read The Prologue in its entirety, go here.

The Canterbury Tales : Prologue
Here bygynneth the Book
of the Tales of Caunterbury
Here begins the Book
of the Tales of Canterbury
1: Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
2: The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
3: And bathed every veyne in swich licour
4: Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5: Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
7: Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
8: Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
9: And smale foweles maken melodye,
10: That slepen al the nyght with open ye
11: (so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
12: Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
13: And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
14: To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15: And specially from every shires ende
16: Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
17: The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
18: That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weal

I've never tried it, but I imagine telling an entire story in verse (or writing a play in verse) would (to put it mildly) take some work. Maybe one day I'll try it, a really short story, more like a flash story really. Well, we'll see.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Are You Searching for Love (Writers Critique Groups) in All the Wrong Places?

Crossposted from Blogetary:

First off, I do not promise to be the end all/be all authority on writers critique and/or support groups. But I’ve been to a few and I was a vice president of a small neighborhood group for a few years. I’ve been on the look out for critique partners as well as writers support groups and workshop groups and been involved with ones that worked and ones that didn’t work for me. Recently, I’ve either read about the search and/or necessity for writers groups (or not) and as well as spoken with people who have been vastly disappointed about the experiences they had with turning to fellow writers for help and critique.

So, I’m going to say what I read somewhere else years ago that has put me in good stead in seeking (and finding) good writers critique/support partners/groups. Just relax and enjoy the search because it’s a lot like dating. Just like dating, you’ll run into egotistical and insufferable jerks, and just like dating, you’ll run into those nice people that you want things to work out with, but it just doesn’t ever quite work out for you. And then sometimes, just like dating, you actually run into someone, or maybe a few someones, who work out for you. Sometimes it works out just for the short term and other times in the long term, either way, the critique and help you get from these people is to be treasured. I wish I could remember what writer’s blog I found my help on, but these are some of the tips I remember from it and have found useful in looking for (and being in) a writers group or a critique partner.

Of course the first rule, above all else (and I do remember where this came from): Be kind, be kind, be kind. I remember reading that first rule at least 20 years ago in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Being kind doesn’t mean being “soft” or not pointing out what needs to be worked on. It does mean making sure that you point out the positive as well as the negative aspects of a piece of work. And that when you do point out the negative aspects, it is in an objective and constructive manner. It is not a time to rip things to shreds, make anything personal or be mean. You’re trying to help this other writer become a better writer, not tear them down so bad they end up rocking back and forth in the bathtub for a week.

Critique Partners
1) Compare types of writing. Do you and your prospective critique partners write in similar genres and work in similar areas? You don’t have to, but it can help. Are you a romance writer and the person you’re going to trade manuscripts with a horror writer? It might work. If there are aspects of a specific manuscript that you think the horror writer can address, then at least for that one manuscript, it could be a good match. Or if you like reading horror and they like reading romance, then you’ll probably be fine. But if you don’t like horror and they don’t like romance, it probably won’t work. If you’re going to work with someone else over the rocky road to a hopefully publishable manuscript then you have to at least enjoy the type of writing they do. On the other hand, you don’t want to both be working on types of stories that are so similar that it fosters a competitive spirit that might get in the way of being an object reader of someone else’s manuscript. And it also helps if you’re both going to be working on the same types of writing (novels, short stories, scripts, screenplays, poetry, etc.)

2) Compare your WIPs (Works in Progress). I don’t mean in one of those “So, what have you got there?” ways. I mean take a good, honest objective look at your writing. And then when you look at their writing, take an equally, honest and objective look. If it feels like you are fairly equal when it comes to where you are in your writing level/ability/talent (I’m afraid whatever I say here will spark someone on a discussion on what all that means and I’m trying to bypass that), then proceed. Sometimes that’s hard to judge or we feel unfair when we make the judgment, but if you feel like things are not equal when it comes to where you are in your writing – then if you feel like they are leaps and bounds ahead of you ask for help. Ask them to look at your WIP and see what they say and then move on and find a more equitable partner. If it’s the other way around just remember the above and be kind, be kind, be kind. Offer constructive criticism. Look for the good. And move on to look for a more equitable partner.

3) What is it you want to get out this partnership? Do you want someone who will catch every single mistake you’ve made? Or are you looking for someone who will read and give you general feedback? Or something in between? Are you both going to the same place with your writing? Is it a hobby for one or both of you or serious business? Do you want to meet weekly? Biweekly? Monthly? Every couple of months? Everyone has a different schedule and a different goal, so it’s important with critique partners, just as in dating, that they understand where and what the other person wants and if it’s similar to what the other wants.

Writers Support Groups
1) What do you want out of going to a writers group? Sit down and figure it out. Do you want light support and camaraderie so you don’t feel so alone out there in the world while you’re trying to write? Do you want substantive critique? What is it you’re looking for? Write it down and keep a look out for groups that sound like what you are looking for. Are you looking for a free group, are you willing to pay dues or are you looking more for a “class” group, a workshop where you might end up paying more money?

2) What is the focus of the group? You’ve found a group. Great! Now, is the focus of the group in line with where you are with your writing? Sometimes a group is there just for support, to talk about the ups and downs of writing, share the victories and sorrows of attacking a book, and maybe share some of what each person has written. Sometimes most of the people in the group are hobbyists, they just pen the occasional verse or essay. Sometimes the focus of the group is pure workshop critique, down to business. Sometimes it’s in between. Nothing is right or wrong, but you have to decide what works for you and what you are looking for in a group (see above) and look for that. If you’re just getting into writing or back into writing after a long time away, maybe what you need is a pure support group to hear about other people’s journeys in the writing world. Maybe you want more of a workshop group. The point is, don’t complain about a group that doesn’t work for you. Look at what you gain from it. If what you gain outweighs what you don’t like about the group, then stick with it and get as much as can out of it until you find a group that is a better fit. (And remember this group is supposed to help you in your writing journey, so don’t use it as a reason to procrastinate.) If you are not gaining anything, then move on. The group doesn’t need you if you are going to pull them down with dissatisfaction and it’s not going to help you either to stick with a group that you don’t like being a part of anyway.

3) If you can’t find a group then put one together yourself. Yep, that’s right. Wrangle together your writer friends (you know who they are) and start your own group. Figure out what you want it to do and want it to accomplish, how often you’d like to meet, and start it up. Appoint a leader or two, but use consensus when making group decisions. I would suggest once a month at first, maybe on a Saturday or Sunday at a coffee shop or a home. Make it always the third Saturday or second Wednesday at a certain time. It might take a while for it get off the ground, but if enough people are like minded, then you’ll limp along long enough until you realize one day that your little group has been helping each other with their writing endeavors for a number of years and that you have probably accomplished more than you thought with your own writing along the way.
If you are a writer, then you know that this is something you are involved with for the long haul. You understand that writing is not just a way of gaining “passive income” through some fantabulous book deal. Those fantabulous book deals or self-published e-books that take off like wild fire are few and far between. So, if you know you are in this for the long haul, don’t try to do it all alone. There are other writers out there and it’s good that we find each other and help each other out. In the end, it will help us become better writers.

Last note - on the Blogetary blog a friend pointed out another thing to watch out for is that sometimes critique groups can become like high school cliques. And then all sorts of things can happen like picking on someone's work rather than being objective or trashing someone's work rather than being constructive. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Honor of Poetry Month: Blueberries by Robert Frost

Crossposted from Blogetary:

I fell in love with Robert Frost in college when I took a class that covered both his poetry and Emily Dickinson's (fell in love with her poetry, too). Below is one of my favorite poems at the time, though I haven't visited it in a while. It was the poem I was set to explicate in front of the class and the professor didn't know how to take my approach (you'll see). It's down below with the correct line breaks and names (per my book - the online version used "Mortenson" instead of "Patterson" for some reason), though the link it came from so I wouldn't need to retype it is here (and they didn't include the correct line breaks).

The poem "Blueberries" first appeared in Frost's poetry book North of Boston, which came out in 1914. Try to read it straight if you must, but way back in 1985/86 and even now, whenever I read it, it's with the cadence of a Dr. Seuss story. And like Dr. Seuss, this carefree blueberry picking poem has more going on than just two people discussing the wheres, why fors and rights over wild berries.


By Robert Frost, 1874-1963

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Pattersons's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"

"I don't know what part of the pasture you mean."

"You know where they cut off the woods--let me see--
It was two years ago--or no!--can it be
No longer than that?--and the following fall
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall."

"Why, there hasn't been time for the bushes to grow.
That's always the way with the blueberries, though:
There may not have been the ghost of a sign
Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine,
But get the pine out of the way, you may burn
The pasture all over until not a fern
Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,
And presto, they're up all around you as thick
And hard to explain as a conjuror's trick."

"It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.
I taste in them sometimes the flavor of soot.
And after all really they're ebony skinned:
The blue's but a mist from the breath of the wind,
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned."

"Does Patterson know what he has, do you think?"

"He may and not care and so leave the chewink
To gather them for him--you know what he is.
He won't make the fact that they're rightfully his
An excuse for keeping us other folk out."

"I wonder you didn't see Loren about."

"The best of it was that I did. Do you know,
I was just getting through what the field had to show
And over the wall and into the road,
When who should come by, with a democrat-load
Of all the young chattering Lorens alive,
But Loren, the fatherly, out for a drive."

"He saw you, then? What did he do? Did he frown?"

"He just kept nodding his head up and down.
You know how politely he always goes by.
But he thought a big thought--I could tell by his eye--
Which being expressed, might be this in effect:
'I have left those there berries, I shrewdly suspect,
To ripen too long. I am greatly to blame.'"

"He's a thriftier person than some I could name."

"He seems to be thrifty; and hasn't he need,
With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed?
He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,
Like birds. They store a great many away.
They eat them the year round, and those they don't eat
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet."

"Who cares what they say? It's a nice way to live,
Just taking what Nature is willing to give,
Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow."

"I wish you had seen his perpetual bow--
And the air of the youngsters! Not one of them turned,
And they looked so solemn-absurdly concerned."

"I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
I met them one day and each had a flower
Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower;
Some strange kind--they told me it hadn't a name."

"I've told you how once not long after we came,
I almost provoked poor Loren to mirth
By going to him of all people on earth
To ask if he knew any fruit to be had
For the picking. The rascal, he said he'd be glad
To tell if he knew. But the year had been bad.
There had been some berries--but those were all gone.
He didn't say where they had been. He went on:
'I'm sure--I'm sure'--as polite as could be.
He spoke to his wife in the door, 'Let me see,
Mame, we don't know any good berrying place?'
It was all he could do to keep a straight face.

"If he thinks all the fruit that grows wild is for him,
He'll find he's mistaken. See here, for a whim,
We'll pick in the Pattersons' pasture this year.
We'll go in the morning, that is, if it's clear,
And the sun shines out warm: the vines must be wet.
It's so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground,
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard,
Unless when you said I was keeping a bird
Away from its nest, and I said it was you.
'Well, one of us is.' For complaining it flew
Around and around us. And then for a while
We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile,
And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout
Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out,
For when you made answer, your voice was as low
As talking--you stood up beside me, you know."

"We sha'n't have the place to ourselves to enjoy--
Not likely, when all the young Lorens deploy.
They'll be there to-morrow, or even to-night.
They won't be too friendly--they may be polite--
To people they look on as having no right
To pick where they're picking. But we won't complain.
You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Poem to Kick Off National Poetry Month

Created on April 2, 2013 at www.jacksonpollock.org.
Black & Green
Shards of eternity embedded in their flesh —
they kept fighting —
no one to stop them.

Rachel V. Olivier
April 2, 2013

Note on Black & Green: Woke up from a dream on March 10, 2013 where two immortal beings were fighting over space and time. They looked human, sort of, but weren’t. As they fought through the blackness of space they grabbed bits of eternity, eerie green shards which they had broken into long, jagged pieces that they used to stab each other with. And no one could stop them. They were eternal and they would be fighting forever.