Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Find: Small Press Database

Here's a big "thank you!" to Poets & Writers for its Small Press Database, which can help all of us practicing writers research "publisher interests, contact information, and submission guidelines." (And don't forget to support these presses with your purchases, too!)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Resource for Canadian Writers

We get quite a view visitors from Canada here at Practicing Writing. This is for you, friends!

I've been meaning to share this find (which I discovered thanks to the Paying Writer Jobs group) with you for awhile, and now seems to be the time! It's a list of resources and tips for Canadian writers, with a focus on locating grants and awards. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Wednesday Web Browser: Ethics Edition

As has been widely reported, Ruth Padel, recently elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, has resigned the post before formally assuming it. As the Literary Saloon summarizes, "Apparently she was a bit more active in stirring things up against Derek Walcott -- who took himself out of the running -- than she had originally let on." As usual, the same site provides helpful links for those seeking more info.
New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt reports: "It has been a busy week or two for the ethics police — those within The Times trying to protect the paper’s integrity, and those outside, ready to pounce on transgressions by Times journalists."
Since this blog attracts a number of teachers (and students) of writing, I'm curious to know what you all think of online instructors purposely creating false profiles, what The Chronicle of Higher Education calls "'ghost students' that academics...have injected into online courses to kick-start discussions among students, keep them from dropping out, and spy on their communications."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"For Services Rendered" in J Journal: New Writing on Justice

The new (spring 2009) issue of J Journal: New Writing on Justice, is now available. And in the continuing spirit of Short Story Month, I'm happy to tell you that this issue includes my short story, "For Services Rendered."

If you're not familiar with J Journal, here's a brief description:
J Journal: The Literary Journal of John Jay College of Criminal Justice features new writing on crime, criminal justice, law and law enforcement. Housed at CUNY’s John Jay College, one of the nation’s premier criminal justice institutions, J Journal examines the justice issue through creative work, directly and tangentially. Our contributors include established and new writers, professionals in the law enforcement field, lawyers, professors in the humanities and social sciences, and prison inmates. Unlike other Criminal Justice journals, J Journal presents its analyses of contemporary justice issues through creative, not scholarly work. The Journal’s short stories, poetry and creative nonfiction expand the question: What is Justice?
In an earlier incarnation, "For Services Rendered," which is set in the 1930s and 1940s and explores the unusual connections between the family of a high-level Nazi and that of the pediatrician who cares for their daughter, appeared in the U.K.-based Solander: The Magazine of the Historical Novel Society. The story has always mean a lot to me, for a number of reasons.

Mainly, I've always felt attached to it because I began working on it about a year after the death of my paternal grandmother, from whom I'd gleaned the story's kernel: When she arrived in the United States in 1938, my grandmother was 23. She found a job working as a nanny for a Jewish-American family whose baby daughter went to a pediatrician who had himself been advised to leave Germany by a high-level Nazi whose offspring the pediatrician had treated. Later, my father, too, became this physician's patient.

I've always believed that this is one of my strongest stories (most agents and editors have seemed to agree). My faith in it was also confirmed when the story received an honorable mention/finalist status in two national contests.

But I've kept tinkering with it over the years, particularly as some very smart and dedicated agents and editors have offered additional suggestions. And I think it's even better now that it's been through J Journal editorial process.

You see, editors Adam Berlin and Jeffrey Heiman are terrific. They really "got" what the story was about, and they offered incredibly helpful, incredibly respectful editorial suggestions within that context. I never thought that their ideas were "out there," rooted in their own egos and literary preferences (contrasted with, say, the MFA faculty member who kept insisting on a greater role for the Nazi couple's child...perhaps because her own [only] novel featured a child protagonist???). For Adam and Jeffrey, the comments were all about the story, and how it might be improved. I'll admit--it didn't hurt that these editors were pretty complimentary about the story overall, and made it clear that they'd truly be happy to publish it.

And I'm truly happy that they did.

Check out J Journal here. Like all literary journals these days, J Journal could really benefit from an increased subscriber base. If its premise appeals to you--and if you like the excerpts from past issues that are online (so far, excerpts from the new issue don't seem to be), please consider subscribing. Thanks so much.

(cross-posted on My Machberet)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities

Tomorrow is Memorial Day here in the USA, and I'll be taking a break from regularly scheduled Monday blogging.

But you can make sure you receive news about a whole bunch of publishing opportunities later in the week when the June issue of our Practicing Writer newsletter goes out to our 2700+ subscribers. The newsletter is free, and we keep our subscribers' e-mail addresses private. If you don't yet out more here. And have a happy holiday.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Find: Off the Shelf--Writers on Writing

During a recent visit to the Jacket Copy (Los Angeles Times) blog, I learned that the good folks there are bringing us a new series called "Off the Shelf: Writers on Writing." Every Friday, we can expect an essay of that sort. Contributors to date include Art Spiegelman, Taylor Antrim, Nahid Rachlin, and Tod Goldberg. By the time you read this (depending on your time zone), today's essay may have already been posted. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

From My Bookshelf: The Confessions of Noa Weber, by Gail Hareven (translated by Dalya Bilu)

From the back cover of Gail Hareven's new novel (translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu), The Confessions of Noa Weber: "This award-winning novel of one woman's quest to understand her obsessive love for a mysterious man is by turns funny, self-mocking, and brutally honest."

Well, this reader couldn't resist that description, especially when it was complemented by this enthusiastic NPR review and book excerpt (but shame, again, on NPR for not crediting the translator, to whom I also owe my first encounters with such excellent Israeli writers as Aharon Appelfeld and Orly Castel-Bloom). Bonus: I have a recurrent weakness for novels and stories about writers. Noa Weber, the eponymous protagonist, is a writer (and a successful one!).

It happens, as we all know, that book jacket descriptions don't always deliver on their promises. This one does--sort of.

That is to say, the book is, indeed "by turns funny, self-mocking, and brutally honest." But I can't say I think that the first-person narrator--that self-same Noa Weber--is all that interested in understanding her obsessive love for the itinerant, Soviet-born Alek, the father of her child, a man for whom, despite a nominal marriage, Noa is, in truth, more of a mistress than a wife. Talking about it with the reader (note, not with a psychotherapist), yes. Understanding it, I'm not so convinced.

Because, despite the occasional (rhetorical) question, Noa seems remarkably self-aware. She seems to understand and accept the situation.

Further, as a writer, she knows what is an interesting story, and what is not:
For the record I'll simply mention here that I was favored by the luck of the draw. I grew up well fed and protected, and that's another reason why where and how I "came into the world" is not a matter of public interest. People who've survived a holocaust, who were born into a world that no longer exists, they can begin their biographies with "I was born," my heroic father can begin his story with "I am born." Not me. My early history is too boring, it fails to provide any explanation for what happened to me in later years, and I have never felt the urge to examine it or whine about it. Nor do I now.

In any case, it's no great loss, and if the right to say "I was born" has to be paid for in dire catastrophes, stepfathers, orphanages, and picking pockets in the marketplace, I say , "No thanks," and choose to enter this story at the age of seventeen, where the real me begins:

Me and my love for Alek--which against my better judgment I experience as transcendence.
In this case, I'm not sure the lack of an explicit, sustained quest for understanding (if I'm right) is such a flaw. The book works so very well without it.

Especially for this American reader, who considers herself woefully under-read in Israeli literature, who appreciated the book's Israeli setting and context, who is grateful to be able to read the work of a writer who has won the prestigious Sapir Prize, and who, quite simply, looked forward to reading the next chapters for all the recent evenings the book has rested on her bedside table.

Further resources:

--Gail Hareven's profile on the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature Web site.

--An interview with Gail Hareven in The Forward.

--The Complete Review's review of The Confessions of Noa Weber. Much more articulate than anything I've attempted to write here. Really captures the book.

(cross-posted on My Machberet)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Wednesday Web Browser: Wells Tower, Dan Baum, and David Foster Wallace

The hype's been everywhere (or so it seems), but it was this Fiction Writers Review piece on Wells Tower's new story collection that really motivated me to attend a reading featuring Tower the other evening. Great event. Now, I must get the book.
Speaking of hype--I'm sure plenty of you followed last week's big online story about another online story: Dan Baum's Twitter-based revelations of his association with the New Yorker. Here's something a bit different: an interview with Baum, courtesy of The Renegade Writer, focusing on "writing for the big names - and the future of journalism."
And on a sad, yet inspiring note: check out the online home of a spring term Pomona College course, English 166: David Foster Wallace. The site includes a blog maintained by the course participants, as well as a link to the wiki that has emerged from it. An amazing resource for anyone interested in Wallace and his work - and, I think, for teachers of literature and writing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One More Job to Share: Assistant to Director, MFA Program in Creative Writing, Hunter College

Hey, folks. This position was just posted on the CUNY job site yesterday (Hunter is a CUNY college), and I didn't want to wait until next Monday's roundup to share it.

The MFA Program in Creative Writing at Hunter College is looking for an Assistant to the Director.
Reporting to the Director of the Master’s Degree in Fine Arts in Creative Writing housed in the Department of English and working with the Chair of the English Department, the Assistant has overall administrative responsibility for all aspects of the Program.

The three primary responsibilities are: to coordinate the preparation and distribution of all information about the MFA program to students, to the wider population within the college, and to the general public; to manage the office and all liaison with the distinguished writers, speakers and faculty who are invited to participate in the program; and to coordinate the budget and fund-raising for the program. The Assistant will also coordinate and maintain program and event information on the MFA website ensuring that it is updated and the information is accurate and helpful. Prepares reports as necessary, other duties as assigned.
To read the full job posting, click here. And to learn more Hunter's MFA program, visit the program's site.

This message has been brought to you by your friendly blogmistress...who is also a CUNY employee.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities

From Canada: "To celebrate the launch of Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead, Biblioasis and Seen Reading are teaming up to help you unleash the murder we know is in your heart with our Revenge-Lit contest. Pen a flash fiction of 250 words or so...on the (fictional) literary critic whose body once filled the chalk outline and what he did to get there and send it by June 12th." Best entries "will be published as they are received at" Winning entry will receive $100 (presumably in Canadian dollars), publication in CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries, and $1,000 worth of Biblioasis titles. There's no entry fee. Details here. (via
The Guide to Literary Agents blog notes the opening of a new agency (Doug Grad Literary Agency) and, in another post, introduces us to agent Greg Daniel, who "specializes in religious and inspirational works of both fiction and nonfiction. He also accepts nonfiction that has no religious angle."
The SPS Studios Poetry Card Contest offers a first prize of $300, second prize of $150, and third prize of $50. "We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write." Multiple entries OK. Winning poems will be displayed on the SPS Web site. Check Web site for rules/more information. Deadline: June 30, 2009. No entry fee.
And here are a few jobs to bring to your attention:
Media Relations Officer, University of Texas-Arlington
Media Relations Writer/Publicist (temporary), Maryland College Institute of Art
Public Affairs Officer, Columbia University (New York)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Find: Words of Wisdom from Tayari Jones

Author Tayari Jones is about to embark on a month dedicated to her writing, and the post she added to her blog yesterday explaining her imminent departure (especially the part I'm quoting here) really resonated with me:
Why all the drama? Why not just set up a DIY writing clinic in my apartment. I do have a dedicated room just for writing. I’m getting away because I feel that I am been distracted from myself by my life. I have been way too busy being too many things to too many people and I have really gotten out of touch with my work. I know that this happens to everyone, but I feel particularly frustrated because I spend so much time telling other writers to put themselves first. But here I am, in the same trap as everyone else.
Tayari's post really got me thinking. A month seems an impossible dream given my current circumstances, but something shorter should be feasible. I need it. I owe it to myself, for a lot of reasons, to work very hard on carving out some real, dedicated time for my writing.

Because I, too, have "been distracted from myself by my life...way too busy...have really gotten out of touch with my work." And, I, too, feel that I spend a lot of time encouraging other writers (you probably wouldn't be reading this blog if that weren't the case). At some point, I need to encourage myself.

Not sure when, where, or how this gift of time to myself and my writing will happen. But it WILL happen.

And for that, I thank Tayari Jones. Have a wonderful, productive month, Tayari!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Writers Worth Day

Now here's a noble idea whose time has come, particularly within the freelance context (unfortunately, I just can't envision the literary journals all joining in). Writer Lori Widmer has declared tomorrow, May 15, as "Writers Worth Day."

According to the press release, the project is designed "to promote the fair market value of writers through education, awareness, and ongoing support."
"Writers Worth Day was established in response to the increasing amount of job postings that offer little, if any, compensation for the amount of work expected," says Widmer, a veteran writer and editor, who has seen a decline in market rates. "More beginning freelancers accept abominable rates. The message of Writers Worth Day is every writer has marketable skills, and those skills should be compensated fairly and within industry-acceptable standards."

All this month, Widmer’s weblog – Words on the Page – is highlighting numerous career tips for new writers and extending into the blogging community to inspire other established writers to educate and offer guidance to their followers and all within the writing community.
So there you are. Think about it for a moment. Imagine a world where it's more possible than not to support yourself, feed your family, heat your house, and save for retirement through writing. Then go visit Lori's blog and read through some of the tips and advice she is offering.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Wednesday Web Browser: Freelance Edition

Elaine Appleton Grant shares "Five Foolproof Ways to Generate Story Ideas Editors Will Love."
Know what happened Monday? United States postal rates went up (again). If this is news to you, click here for the nitty-gritty. And don't expect the SASEs you sent out early this week to make their way back to you (unless you used "Forever" stamps).
I'm one of the readers Lisa Belkin doesn't quite understand: I don't have children of my own, and yet I follow her "Motherlode" blog with great interest. And because I do that, I was amused by this interview, which a sixth-grade journalist conducted concerning Ms. Belkin's writing career.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Three Full-Text Tales for Short Story Month

I'm not feeling at my blogging best. First I mis-scheduled yesterday's "Monday Markets/Jobs/Opportunities" post (it posted on Sunday). And right now I'm trying to type with very dilated pupils (good news: no eye infection; bad news: no contact lenses for a week to 10 days--oh, vanity!).

So I thought I'd cheer myself up with a small (very small) contribution to the ongoing efforts to celebrate May as Short Story Month. I thought I'd point you to online versions of three stories that I seem unable to read too many times. Every time I read them, I seem to discover something new, and I marvel over the skills of the writers involved.

In alphabetical order by author, the stories are:

--Anton Chekhov's "Lady with the Dog" (also translated as "The Lady with the Lapdog," "The Lady with the Little Dog," etc.)

--Lorrie Moore's "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babblings in Peed Onk." (scroll past the document's "introduction" to get to Moore's story)

--Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Which stories do you read over and over again? Please share, in comments. (And if you can include links to full-text versions online, so much the better!)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities

The Esquire Fiction Contest "is open to all, and the winning story will be published in a future issue of the magazine" as well as online, within "the new online home of Esquire fiction." You must base your entry on one of three titles provided within the guidelines. First prize is $2,500 and publication. Open to "legal residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, and Canada ages 16 and older at time of entry." No entry fee. Deadline: August 1, 2009. More information here. (via Jacket Copy)
The Hodson-Brown Fellowship "supports work by academics, independent scholars and writers working on significant projects relating to the literature, history, culture, or art of the Americas before 1830. The fellowship is also open to filmmakers, novelists, creative and performing artists, and others working on projects that draw on this period of history." The award supports two months of research (at the John Carter Brown Library on the campus of Brown University in Providence, R.I.) and two months of writing (at the Starr Center at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.). "The stipend is $5,000 per month for a total of $20,000, plus housing and university privileges." No application fee. Deadline: July 15, 2009. Check the Web site for details and application instructions.
Oregon Humanities, a semiannual journal of ideas and perspectives published by the Oregon Council for the Humanities, has announced a call for submissions on "Away." This issue "will explore various topics including migration, immigration, displacement, mobility, nationalism, globalism, travel, or tourism." The submission deadline is June 15, 2009. Pays: $50-$1,000 for most work. "At this time, we almost exclusively publish work by Oregon artists and writers" and "we do not accept unsolicited submissions of poetry or fiction." Be sure to read the complete guidelines for features, essays, interviews, reviews, etc. here.
Many thanks to Jolie for pointing me to this Hayden's Ferry Review blog post about a new post-MFA fellowship opportunity at Colorado College.
And I'm always pleased to share with you some job possibilities:
Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, Palm Desert Graduate Center MFA, University of California-Riverside
Director of Communications, Bethany College (Kansas)
Graduate Writing Coordinator, North Dakota State University
Writer/Producer, Denison College (Ohio)
Senior Director of Communications, The New School (New York)
Web Author (Limited-term), Georgia Gwinnett College (Georgia)
And two UK-based positions shared by BJ Epstein:
Judith E Wilson Fellowship in Poetry, University of Cambridge
Lecturer in Creative Writing, Goldsmiths/University of London

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday Find: Writers Helping Writers

I want to use today's post to bring your attention to two writers who could use your help right now.

Over the past several days, you may have noticed mentions throughout the literary blogosphere about poet Craig Arnold, who has gone missing on a small volcanic island in Japan. I don't know Craig, but I do know a bit about the fellowship that brought him to Japan. And I'd like to point you to this blog, Find Craig Arnold, where you can find out how to help the efforts to locate him.

And yesterday, my friend Deb Ross told me about someone else around whom the writing community is rallying. Bridget Zinn is a librarian--and newly-agented YA author--who has been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Her treatment costs are staggering. To help her meet them, her friends in the writing community have organized an online auction. Books, critiques, consultations, and more are up for bidding.

Practicing writers, let's help our colleagues.

Thanks, and have a good weekend.

UPDATE ON FRIDAY NIGHT, MAY 8: For a sad update about Craig Arnold, please visit

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Writing the Life Poetic: An Interview with Sage Cohen

A version of this interview appears in the May issue of The Practicing Writer, a free monthly newsletter for fictionists, poets, and writers of creative nonfiction.

WRITING THE LIFE POETIC: An Interview with Sage Cohen
by Erika Dreifus

Like many of you, I suspect, I've become acquainted with a number of talented, generous writers through the brave, (still-)new world of the Internet. Sage Cohen is one of these bright lights.

Sage is an award-winning poet with a BA from Brown University and an MA in creative writing from New York University. The author of the poetry collection Like the Heart, Like the World, Sage has published widely in journals and anthologies. She writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Co-curator of a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble, she has taught and lectured about poetry at universities, hospitals, libraries and writing conferences as well as online.

I initially "met" Sage through her e-zine columns. Then, as I began to add poetry to my writing practice, I signed up for one of her online classes. Sage is also one of the best bloggers I know, truly bringing poetry into her prose. Although she's currently very busy with multiple commitments (including her joyful, if sleep-deprived, mothering of an infant son), Sage was gracious enough to respond to questions prompted by my reading of her new book, Writing the Life Poetic (Writer's Digest Books). Please welcome Sage Cohen!

ERIKA DREIFUS (ED): Sage, as I read Writing the Life Poetic, I was impressed by the wealth of information it provides; the variety of its "Try This!" suggestions; and its wonderfully conversational and generous tone. I imagine these qualities will appeal to a broad readership, but I'm wondering, too, whom you envision as the book's target audience.

SAGE COHEN (SC): My goal was that this book: serve people who are already writing poetry and want to deepen or invigorate their practice; invite people into poetry who have felt intimidated by or confused about poetry; and support teachers and other ambassadors in generating excitement about poetry. Most importantly, I wanted everyone and anyone who picked up this book to be assured that poetry is available to them if they want it.

ED: The book jacket notes the important truth that "[y]ou don't need an advanced degree to reap the rewards of a rich poetic life," but you do, in fact, hold a graduate degree in writing. Please share with us what motivated you to pursue this degree - what you hoped to gain from that experience - and how it has affected your writing practice in the years since.

SC: I had a daily poetry practice starting at age 14. It was something I did without much self- consciousness...something I did to stay breathing. At age 23, it occurred to me that if I was writing and reading poetry every day, maybe I was a poet. Stumbling upon (and claiming) this identity was a pivotal moment in my life. At the time of this revelation, I was in a corporate job where I was having existential angst about not believing in the mission of my employer--so much so that I was having anxiety attacks. In contrast, the one place I felt certain I belonged was in the realm of poetry.

When I applied to two graduate programs just a few months after this revelation, what I hoped to gain was time. Two years to immerse myself in poetry seemed like the greatest possible wealth. The deal I made with myself was this: if either school accepted me and gave me money to attend, I'd go. NYU accepted me, gave me a full scholarship and a $10,000 per year stipend. I was overjoyed; I went.

My experience at NYU was life-transforming in so many ways. As planned, I completely submerged myself in "the life poetic" for two glorious years in which I ate, breathed, slept and bathed poetry. I loved being jumbled about in the poetic mosh pit of New York City, with access to riches of poetry, music, art and food. Every pore tingled with receptivity to language and image.

I'd say that the most significant gift from that time was having the opportunity to discover my own rhythms--in both writing and living. With my time largely unstructured and a stippling of classes in a few afternoons and evenings, I learned when I write best, when I sleep best, how to keep my inspiration well full, how to balance good health with a wild imagination. In short, I learned how to cultivate not just my craft, but my LIFE. With that first tenuous foothold into a life of poetry, I had the confidence to keep moving toward what I loved most....and the trust that it was within reach.

ED: In the section titled "The Starving Artist Has Left the Building: On Poetry and Prosperity," you advise readers: "Don't expect to make a living writing poetry," and you share the fact that you have a marketing communications writing business that supports your creative writing practice. You also note that many poets teach, and "[o]thers feel that they must do work for money that does not engage their creative mind at all." How did you discover/realize what would work for you, and what advice do you have for poets and writers seeking to find their own paths to jobs/careers that can support their creative writing?

SC: I must confess that I have since reconsidered that statement, which may be the only "can't do" prophecy of the entire book. Today, I am far more interested in how one DOES make a living writing poetry. For example, it's a very slight perspective shift to consider my marketing communications business as a part of my creative process--because the income it generates has funded my creative writing life. Thus, I'm now going to say the exact opposite of what I said in my book: "Expect to make a living writing poetry!" The things we expect are far more likely to happen...

My own employment path was unplanned, somewhat haphazard and in the end quite fortuitous. In summary, I just kept trying work that I thought might fit until I found a direction that actually did. As I mentioned in the previous question, my time at NYU instilled in me a great value for managing my time my own way. So when I figured out that a freelance lifestyle would allow such possibilities, I was hooked. Even thirteen years later, there's still an element of thrill (and gratitude) for me each time I am paid well to write.

What I've learned from my process is to value the "error" part of trial and error; each time we don't get it just right, we get a little more information about ourselves that leads us a little closer to the sweet spot. What I would advise poets and writers is to experiment. Try writing jobs, mindless jobs, day jobs, night jobs, part-time, over-time--whatever it is that feels like it might be both financially and creatively nourishing. And don't give up until you find a comfortable fit.

One word of warning: don't use the challenges of the work day, whatever they may be, to excuse yourself from the glories of poetry that can be squeezed in the margins this very minute. My friend, colleague and mentor Christina Katz says (and is quoted in my book), "People don't have time management issues. They have determination issues." Anyone doing any job can find a way to stay creatively awake and write poems. My invitation to readers is: start finding a way to write poetry around whatever work you're doing today. You can always improve your process and circumstances along the way.

ED: This book contains a number of remarkable poems: Ted Kooser, Rebecca McClanahan, and Sharon Olds are just a few of the bylines readers will recognize. You've also managed to incorporate - without sounding didactic - a number of craft tips from other poets. For instance, at one point you note that "Robert Bly once insisted that if there aren't at least three repeating sounds in every line of a poem, it's not a poem," and then you encourage your readers to "Write a poem that would make Bly proud." Recognizing that elsewhere in the book you also encourage readers to consider a diversity of approaches, even conflicting ones, what are some other craft-related suggestions from poets and teachers that you've embraced?

SC: I think that our most important learning about the craft of poetry comes from reading poems. And this learning is less conscious/thinking than absorbed. Every poem I have ever read has imprinted in me some new craft possibility...In this way, poems are like fun-houses that open door upon door upon door. There is truly no end to the discovery adventure, as long as we keep turning the page.

Of course, there is so much fabulous wisdom out there about ways to tap into the poetry moving through us--and then hone it to a shine. Natalie Goldberg'sWild Mind was my primary teacher in the poetry-generation process in my early 20's. Inspired by Goldberg's example and approach to getting out of our own way and into our flow, I devoted myself to a daily freewriting practice for most of my San Francisco years (which spanned a decade). Now I can often drop into that loose and unedited space without the freewriting because my mind and body have learned how to go there. I'd encourage anyone who is stuck or feeling unsure of what their material might be to stop thinking and start writing!

ED: At one point in the book, you mention that you have an literary agent. Since I'm a Sage fan and have followed with particular interest your ongoing column, "The Articulate Conception," in The Writer Mama e-zine, I was under the impression that Writing the Life Poetic came into being without an agent. Does this mean that you have another book in progress, and if so, please tell us about it!

SC: That's a really good point, Erika! Now that you mention it, I realize that I forgot to mention the agent acquisition step in my most recent column. I think the fact that this is an afterthought belies the nature of this relationship for this particular book. I pitched Writing the Life Poetic directly to Jane Friedman, Editorial Director at Writer's Digest Books, and she accepted. With book deal in hand, I interviewed a few agents and chose the fabulous Marilyn Allen. Marilyn worked with me to review and refine the contract. So my agent relationship in this case came in the final stages of the book deal.

I have about five other book ideas simmering, and will consider pitching again once my multi-media twins *Writing the Life Poetic" and my son Theo are a little more established and allowing me to sleep through the night!

ED: Anything else you care to share with us, Sage?

SC: Yes! I believe that for many of us, poetry is more powerful and more possible in community. So I've created a number of ways to keep a dialogue going with poets and writers everywhere. You can join in the Writing the Life Poetic conversation at my blog,

I'm also getting ready to launch the very first issue of the Writing The Life Poetic Zine, a free monthly publication featuring the panoramic wisdom of ten Portland poets. The zine offers writing prompts, publishing markets, interviews, wisdom and tips about cultivating a writing life and community, and more! If you'd like to receive a monthly muse infusion, just visit and enter your email in the top right box where it says "Sign up for our email newsletter."

For an in-person savoring of the life poetic, you can join me at one of my upcoming appearances and book celebrations. (All events currently on the calendar are in Oregon. I'm in the process of planning events in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia. Those dates will appear here once they're scheduled.) And finally, feel free contact me directly at sage(at)writingthelifepoetic(dot)com.

Thanks so much for having me, Erika. I appreciate your provocative questions and your insightful reading of Writing the Life Poetic! Wishing you and your readers an inspired journey!

ED: Thank you so much, Sage!

(c) 2009 Erika Dreifus

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Wednesday Web Browser: Women Writers Edition

I seem to be having a lot of fun running themed "Wednesday Web Browser" posts. Long may it continue!

--Tayari Jones offers an eloquent tribute to Alice Walker.

--Ayelet Waldman talks to Terry Gross about her new book, Bad Mother. (Warning--some NPR commenters seem to have been very offended by some of what Waldman reveals in this interview.)

--Lisa Romeo, essayist, describes a special "Depression-Era Quilt."

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Philip Roth, Jersey Boy

Philip Roth didn't have to invent a Macondo or a Yoknapatawpha County. From the very start of his career, he situated significant portions of his fiction in a place you can find pretty easily on a map: Essex County, New Jersey.

As someone who spent half her childhood (ages 9-18) growing up in Essex County, I particularly appreciated yesterday's Paper Cuts post on Roth, a most famous literary "Jersey Boy." (Did you know that that his first book of stories, Goodbye Columbus, was published 50 years ago this week? Happy Birthday to Roth's debut book.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Monday Morning Markets/Jobs/Opportunities

The Rumpus is running a book review competition open to all undergraduate and graduate students. First prize is $200 and publication; second prize is $100 and publication; third prize is publication. "The publication date of the book is irrelevant." There's no entry fee. Deadline: June 1, 2009. Details here.
Get to know literary agent Jim McCarthy via this interview on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. According to the intro to the interview, "Jim is looking for a variety of nonfiction topics as well as genre/commercial fiction and literary fiction."
The Guide to Literary Agents blog also announces the launch of a new agency: Priot Entertainment Group. Click here to learn more/find out what kinds of fiction and nonfiction the agency is looking for.
The miniWORDS 2009 competition seeks miniSTORIES (narratives in prose or verse in 50 words or less). Winner receives £250. No entry fee. Deadline: August 10, 2009. Submit up to three entries. Find out more here.
And a few jobs to round things out:
Full-time, tenure-track position in Creative Writing (poetry), Medgar Evers College/The City University of New York
Lecturer in English (creative writing-poetry), Tufts University (Massachusetts)
Publisher/Managing Editor/Assistant Editor, Jewish Review of Books (Ohio/New York)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday Find: Short Story Month

It's May! Which means that it's Short Story Month!

Short Story Month is not quite as institutionalized as, say, National Novel Writing Month or National Poetry Month. But some folks are doing great things for the short story in May. Let me point you to a couple of examples.

Over on Fiction Writers Review, fearless leader Anne Stameshkin invites us to "read or re-read some short stories in May and write to me about one of them that really rocks your writerly world. I’m not talking full-scale reviews (though if what you write becomes something longer, that’s OK)…just a paragraph or even a couple of sentences about why you’d recommend this story to other writers."

Anne has drawn inspiration from Dan Wickett (I always like to describe him as the indefatigable Dan Wickett). Dan's planning to read and comment on just under 100 short stories this month. Amazing.

So, happy weekend, happy May, and happy reading!