December 9, 2005

Being in the moment

This month's prompt is to write of an occasion when you were "in the moment" completely. We often hear of this from musicians, artists, athletes - but it occurs often enough for all of us, if only for that moment, in our everyday lives.

In his always interesting "American Life in Poetry" column, Ted Kooser talks about our model poem, "The Woodpecker Keeps Returning" by Jane Hirshfield (After - Harper Collins, 2006).

His words: "the speaker discovers that through paying attention to an event she has become part of it, has indeed become inseparable from the event and its implications. This is more than an act of empathy. It speaks, in my reading of it, to the perception of an order into which all creatures and events are fitted, and are essential."

Hirshfield gives workshops in this - "Poetry as the Practice of Attention" If you want to read a bit more about Jane, try or to read a few other poems by her, go to

There is a term "zanshin" which means “the remaining mind” and also “the mind with no remainder.” I think this is related to our prompt too. This is the mind of complete action - the moment in Zen archery after you release the arrow, in painting after the brush stroke when hand and brush lift, that moment after you release the ball... it's complete follow through.

There's a book by Brenda Ueland, If you Want to Write, that talks about being "in the moment" (but not being lost in it) to maximize creativity - to be fully present in an intuitive activity, not an intellectual one. Ueland compares this kind of creativity and connection to playing a musical instrument - sometimes you play at it and sometimes you play in it. Great musicians play in it (even if not always technically perfect). Perfection of technique may not be obtainable, but a kind of "perfect" connection can exist between the reader and poet.
It's interesting it was originally published in 1938 because it sounds contemporary.
A few bits:
"Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say."
"The imagination needs moodling--long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering."
"Think of telling a story, not of writing it."
"When you revise, do not try to think of better words, more gripping words. The problem is that it is not yet deeply enough imagined."
There's one chapter called "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing."

Of course, Zen is often used very loosely (or incorrectly) as a way of describing other practices - like being in the zone in golf, tennis or yoga.

Better to stay with the literary - read "On Poetry and the Reallocation of Concentration: Learning to Forget" by Beth Ann Fennelly who asks " What exactly is happening in our brains when we cease to become conscious of time? "

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. She graduated from Princeton University in 1973. Hirshfield has been a lecturer in creative writing at the University of San Francisco, and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She serves as a member of the faculties of numerous writers conferences and in-school programs, including California Poets in the Schools, 1979-85, and the Port Townsend and Napa Valley Writers Conferences.
Her books of poetry includes The October Palace , Of Gravity & Angels and The Lives of the Heart. Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry is her excellent book of essays on reading poetry, writing and her approach to life.

December 3, 2005

Poetry Competitions and Scams

Unfortunately, there are a large number of publishers, websites, and competitions for poetry out there that are scams.

They accept & "publish" poems without any thought about merit. They accept everything. They make money on accepted poets buying copies of the book their poem is in, and in some cases they run workshops and competition readings that you pay quite a bit of money to attend. Of course, they play off our vanity and desire to be published and known to others. Moreover, no one forces you to send in a poem or pay the fee. (Likewise, you CAN just throw away the Publisher's Clearing House winning entry you get every other week - but many do not) However, you need to be aware of this industry.

I especially would warn new poets and young poets AND those who teach them. When I was teaching in a secondary school, I knew of a fellow English teacher who had her students enter the poetry contest at as an assignment. When I told her that it was a vanity press scam she got very angry with me. She felt that ANY recognition the kids could get for their writing was good. I disagree strongly.

Basic rule to follow - though many very legitimate competitions charge a "reading fee" to enter a poem, no legitimate contest that I know of will charge you to receive the award, get it published, or get at least one author copy of your published piece.

There's a guy named Charlie Hughes who has a good page on all this literary scamming at . There's a list here of scam offers - some of these publishers go under 20 different names. Check before you enter.

He really hits the nail hard several times on the head for (I give them a point for being smart enough to buy a great URL first) by showing just how how dreadful a poem can make it to the semi-finals in their competitions. They are AKA "The International Society of Poets" -you have probably seen their ads. (I've had two good-hearted relatives give me their information and say, "Enter this - maybe you can actually make some money at this poetry thing you like to do.") Hughes' says that they are bad poetry sites, not necessarily bad poems, and he's correct. There are some good poems there sent in by the unknowing.

Like him and others, I sent in a poem a few years back that I wrote on the spot just to see what how they would respond. (Others have sent in telephone listings, cereal box text, newspaper articles - some formatted "poetically,” some just cut and pasted - doesn't matter, all accepted) Fastest reply I ever got from a publisher (OK, give them another point) Not only did I make it into their newest "Anthology" but I later received a nomination for "Poet of the Year 2000" and an invitation to attend their "Tenth Anniversary International Society of Poets Convention and Symposium" to receive my accolades and read my poem (this was the actual competition for poet of the year - Grand Prize being $5,000 and a book contract) in Washington, DC. I didn't go. But, I bet some people did - at $595 a pop.

Want more info? Someone created a whole website on this particular publisher at

Enough free (bad) advertising for them...