25 September 2021

Submissions, Old and New.

I'm still waiting on a lot of submissions from last spring, but I know a lot of journals slow down during summer months. I had work out at a few dozen places, but this week, I've sent out to four or five new presses. At least a couple are entirely new to me, like Bellingham Review and Cheat River Review. I've never submitted to them before. 

A poet I met this summer at Community of Writers, Carrie Nassif, has organized a virtual workshop with some of the participants, extending our ability to get feedback from this wonderful group of writers. We share our work and offer input via Google Doc; it's been a great way to stay engaged with the process of revision. I need to really channel the momentum and get back to drafting new work. 

Monday is the start of fall term. For the most part, my courses are ready to go--I put tremendous amount of time into updates last year. Today, I might try to do a bit of yard work, if my knee cooperates. I threw together a chocolate chip muffin mix, and I plan to work on my submissions a little, but I also want to relax and enjoy the next two days.

23 September 2021

A break from the blog and from my work.

It's been a couple of months . . . I was feeling quite guilty about taking the time off, but I'm going to be honest about a few things. First, my job--my teaching--was so stressful last year. I was teaching online from home, but the administration was acting as if faculty members were somehow getting away with something . . . I always felt so much anxiety, never felt appreciated, and I was due for my five-year evaluation last year during the pandemic. All of it was HARD. Then, I participated in the Community of Writers workshop in June, and I wrote a whole string of poems about Mr. Greene and our marriage and his death. That suite of poems wiped me the fuck out. 

I taught summer school, then took three weeks off in the first part of September--no work, no writing, no home projects. I feel as if I'm starting the school year (still online) in a much more restful, peaceful place, and I think this may become my September plan every year. There is a new president at the college, who seems to be on faculty's side of things, for the first time in a long time we're feeling heard and appreciated. Our provost was removed yesterday evening--she is no longer with the college--and with her goes more stress. I'm starting the school year without anxiety for the first time since before the shooting, to be honest. I'm delighted--I feel so hopeful. 

Classes start Monday, and I'm still online this fall. I think I'll be having knee surgery in January or February, so I'll likely be online in winter term, too. Now that the provost is gone, that won't be a fight. A good friend has stepped in as our department chair, and she is a capable, excellent chair. So much feels right for the first time in a long time. 

So, today, I recorded the few rejection letters I've received since July, and updated my Duotrope records. I will be planning to send out work again starting tomorrow . . . and today, I sent my manuscript out to four first book awards:

The Black Ocean Debut Book Award

Silverfish Review's Gerald Cable Award

The Juniper Prize (University of Massachusetts Press)

Copper Nickel's Jake Adam York Prize

I did not submit to any of these contests last year . . . and in late October, the first deadlines for contests I DID submit to are coming back around again. While I'm still waiting to hear from the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press), it's the only remaining contest where my work is under consideration. I figure that it's high time to get that manuscript out there again! 

I will be trying to write blog posts more regularly again, now that I'm starting the school year, it's easier to keep a schedule for submitting and blogging.

02 July 2021

Phantom Drift takes "This Daughter."

The non-profit publication Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism has accepted my poem "This Daughter" for inclusion in the next issue. 

I am really thrilled--"This Daughter" is a new poem, and this is one of the first places I sent this piece. Several of my 2020 and 2021 poems contain bits of magic or fairy tale imagery, but fabulism is generally new to me as a writer. It's encouraging that several of these weird poems have found a home quite quickly. 

I am still recuperating from Community of Writers--I tried to work on some found poetry this week, to get my mind focused on combinations of words, at the very least. However, my brain is just not ready to start thinking about poetry again. 

I did catch up on my submissions records, and I sent a selection of poems out to both Smartish Pace and Sugar House Review this week. 

Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism

01 July 2021

Looking back at my week with Community of Writers.

Now that I've had a few days to recuperate from that seven-day intensive online poetry program, I've spent a bit of time this morning updating my submissions to journals, and my records. I'm planning to get busy pulling together new submissions, as quite a few selections were rejected in the last week or two of spring term. 

After only three days off, I launched into the intensive Community of Writers schedule, so I'm taking this week off, for the most part--I've slept in until almost 6 am a few days, I've loafed around, spent too much time on my phone, and put a bit of time into straightening up my hell-hole of a house. I'm still dealing with my knee injury, and the weather has been excessively hot, so my yard and garden are a mess. This year's veggie garden is likely going to be mostly a loss, though I think I'll be able to get the tomatoes on track with some pruning this week. Summer classes start on Monday or Tuesday, but it's just one literature section, online, so I'm not too stressed about it. I'll probably spend some time getting the course shell together on Sunday--leaving me a few more days of decompression. 

So, the workshop last week! It's an interesting concept--we workshop every morning, after submitting a brand new poem we've written in the 24 hours since the last workshop. All comments are focused on what's working--not on suggestions or constructive criticism. We meet in the afternoons for an hour-long craft talk. Everyone, in theory, leaves the week with seven brand-new works. I was able to do that--though it felt really impossible on a few mornings, as I was writing at 4:00 am to make deadline. 

I wrote seven new works, and all of them are narrative/confessional, which certainly tinges much of my work, but I think of narrative poems as what I wrote when I was younger. This week, though, I wasn't really able to wait for a better topic or a better avenue into a new draft. Five of the seven poems are about my second marriage, and one is about my first marriage, and one is about marriage in general.: )

I realized, as a key takeaway, that I made a habit of not openly talking about the awful aspects of that second marriage. I didn't talk about it, because if I didn't cross that threshold, my ex wouldn't do so, either. While there were a lot of hard feelings on both sides of the divorce, it was kept off Facebook and our mutual friends weren't asked to pick sides. I felt good about that, and I still do. What I'm finding, though, is that much of my feelings from that time have been entirely unexplored in my writing. So, I think that topic was something I grabbed out of desperation on the first morning of the workshop, and that first poem just opened the floodgates. It was cathartic, and it was therapeutic, too. I feel lighter as a result. I really don't know if those poems will go any further, but a few of them have some promise. I'm grateful for having written them. 

As for the rest of the week, the craft talks were insightful, and I met some truly wonderful poets in my fellow participants. I am hopeful that a few of us might start writing together via Zoom on occasion, or at the very least, workshop each other's drafts. The poets leading this week were gracious and brilliant and encouraging and very human. All writers have a public persona, so my impressions of them, even the poets who I've seen read before, are richer because of this experience. They each had something valuable to impart to us. 

I had a few instances of feeling less than worthy of the experience, because the work I was generating is not indicative of my practiced, revised work--but I worked hard to quash these feelings and not get caught up in worrying about who was better than me and who acted as though they thought they were better than me. That competitive edge to workshop is a bad habit I picked up in graduate school. I feel I focus much more now on what is working in another poet's writing, and I am working on asking questions versus making suggestions for revision. This week was great practice, and honestly--my fellow participants had a lot to offer. They pointed out choices in repetition I'd not really been aware of, and on point of view, and I took lots of notes in order to apply "what's working" to other poems. I am so glad I applied, and I will apply again in two years when I'm permitted to try again.

One of the participants whose work I really liked has entered at least a few of the first book awards that I've entered this year--I only know so because he made the list of finalists for one of them. His work is incredible, and I don't think it will be long before he's offered a contract. I look forward to reading his work in print.

Well, that entry is all over the place. I'll be back to writing with a bit more frequency now that finals are over and the poetry week has concluded.

20 June 2021

Just a quick update, post orientation.

Yesterday afternoon was Community of Writers' orientation, so I spent several hours getting acclimated to what will happen for the rest of the week. 

We had to write a poem for this morning--to be uploaded by 8 am--so it was a difficult thing to manage this morning. We didn't really have any craft talks yesterday, so it was without a prompt. I don't think my poem is great, but I did draft something, which is a step in the right direction. 

Yesterday, as we began, poet Brenda Hillman said that earning a place in the workshop is fairly competitive. She went on to say something akin to, "if you received an invitation to attend this week, then someone read your poems and really loved them." What a wonderful way to think about the process of selection. 

This morning, our first full day of work, I am assigned to work with Sharon Olds. I wish my poem was better, but I am still really looking forward to the experience. Excitement is outweighing anxiety. Robert Hass is attending as a participant this summer, and he's in my morning session with Sharon Olds. 

I may as well get all of the nervousness out of the way by jumping right into the deep end.

19 June 2021

Today is the day! It's the start of the Summer Poetry Workshop!

I am really excited that the Community of Writers' Summer Poetry Workshop is finally here--we begin at 2:00 pm today! 

I finished up with school on Tuesday afternoon--I had to work five 12-hour days in a row, through last weekend, to get everything done, but I was able to add an auto-reply to my email and leave UCC behind until July 5th when summer school begins. (I'm only teaching one literature course, so it will take up a small fraction of my time.)

This spring term was really rough--I was so busy, I felt, all the time. I was up for my five-year evaluation this year, so during a pandemic, I was also pushing myself to return student work with grades at a break-neck pace, just so my response time was impeccable (I am sure no one checked--but it made me feel good to know I could be that responsive under the pressures of this remote work year). I had some trouble with a student this term, too, and that took up a good deal of free time. I haven't been writing, and I've not been submitting as regularly. Fortunately, I still have work out in the world, but I need to spend some time in the next week or two getting my submissions updated and sending out new work into the world. 

So, this impending workshop couldn't have fallen at a better time. I've had a few days off to sleep and relax, and starting today, I'll have craft talks and interactions with authors and participants to inspire me and motivate me. I am really looking forward to using this week-long workshop as an opportunity to recharge and generate some new work. I love that we'll be focusing on new poetry each day--I'm guaranteed to have at least seven new poems by this time next week, and I'm thrilled about that prospect. 

We did receive our schedules for the week, and each participant gets to work with each instructor once . . . but we work with one instructor two times. My "two time" instructor is Kazim Ali, which I am really excited about. I am new to reading his work, but it's beautiful, and I can't wait to learn from him. 

So, I will likely not be posting any updates this coming week, but starting on June 27th, look out. I will be done with the workshop and looking to focus my energies on my poetry.

01 June 2021

Treading Water.

It's Week 10 of spring term, and next week is Final Exam Week. I am buried in grading and general prep work for the end of the term, yet I can't believe it's been over two weeks since I posted to the blog. 

I haven't been writing, and frankly, I've wasted a lot of time while dealing with my knee injury. I'm now going to physical therapy, and I meet with an orthopod on the 8th, so I'm hopefully close to the end of my knee being an excuse. 

Just this week, though, I did move a pile of brick pavers that have been stacked against my house since I bought the place 3.5 years ago. I moved just a few bricks at a time, never overexerting myself. I used my garden cart to carry the bricks, too. I made two circular raised flower beds out of them, and I have enough left for a third bed, but I'm not sure if it's in the cards. I want to leave enough room in the back yard to add a fruit tree this fall.The great part of adding these beds is that it's where I've been able to throw all the clumps of lawn and sod that I'd dug up to add those blueberry bushes earlier this spring. Eventually this summer, I plan to move my whole compost pile into the second of those empty beds, and let it continue to decompose until next spring.

Today it's supposed to hit 99 degrees, and I don't have air conditioning. Hopefully, I'll be getting a new ductless system installed in the next few weeks, but I'm left to suffer in the meantime. Yesterday it was 90, and it was bearable, but it didn't cool off overnight like I'd hoped. 

So, I'm cooped up in the house, windows closed, and I'm trying to slog through the last two recommendation reports I need to grade for my technical writing course. 

I'm trying to take baby steps toward getting back to the home improvement chores that I had to abandon when I was hurt. I'm hoping to get the living room painted before the HVAC guys come, but I just don't know if it's going to happen yet.

12 May 2021

A Personal Day.

I decided to take a personal day today--middle of the week, end of the year, for no real reason. I am still dealing with a bum knee, so my original thought was to go out to the coast and walk on the sand or shop a bit, but I don't think my knee can go like that yet. (I ended up with bursitis in late March, from working in the garden.) 

However, I did go to the post office, and I walked through Goodwill for the first time in at least a year, and I looked at flowers at Lowe's for a short bit. My knee started aching a little, but no twisting or clicking or threatening to give out. I didn't push it, and I'm on the couch for the rest of the day. 

At Goodwill, I found a great little Mexican terracotta bird, and a small turquoise, three-bowl dish that I plan to use for holding earrings/safety pins in the bathroom. OH! And I found a really great pair of 18" tall Christmas trees made out of mother of pearl. I usually pass up holiday decor in summer, but these were 4.00 each, and really striking, and I'm always looking for more shelf-filling decor for the winter holidays.

The garden plans for this year have been hijacked by this knee injury, though--I'd planned on expanding the back yard flower beds, and planting a fruit tree, but it's not happening now. I did get one long new bed added, and I put in two blueberry bushes and transplanted some lupines there. I have a lilac bush I'd still like to plant, but it's going to have to wait until June or July, because that knee is not ready to for heavy digging or tearing up more lawn right now. This fall, I will definitely be adding a fruit tree, and hopefully a few grapevines, too.

My raised beds in the front yard are already filled with veggie starts, and I bought some sweet basil and marigolds to add there. I am still getting a few spears of asparagus every week, the strawberries are in heavy blossom, and my sugar snap peas are getting tall. Everything is growing as fast as it can, and I've already been watering for weeks now. It was a warm, dry spring.

Anyhow. I was still up early this morning, as usual, and I sent a ton of poems out into the world. I sent work to SHiFT: A Journal of Literary Oddities, to juked, and to The MacGuffin. I also sent submissions to The Ilanot Review and Poetry South. I actually had a poem published by juked while I was working on my MFA at Chatham. So, my submission total is back up to 60--sixty presses are considering either a small selection of poems or the full-length manuscript. 

According to Duotrope, I have sent out 594 poems in the last 12 months.

07 May 2021

Community of Writers Summer Poetry Workshop!

Well, it's been a while since I've written a blog post--it's been a bit of a busy term, and grading has taken up a good bit of my time in the last two weeks. 

The biggest, best news is that I was accepted to the Community of Writers Summer Poetry Workshop! Applicants are picked by writing sample, and I am delighted to have made the cut. I will spend a full seven days working with six incredible poets, including Susan Olds, who is one of my all-time favorite poets. I look forward to this opportunity, and while I'm a bit nervous, I'm excited, too. 

I am using professional development funding to attend--the tuition is 900.00, and it's a big help to have that taken care of.

I looked back over my recent blog posts--I can't believe that I didn't mention applying to the workshop! I was worried they would be overrun with applications because this summer's workshop is virtual. For writers on a budget, it removes a week's worth of food and lodging in Lake Tahoe, plus the airfare and pet sitting. (Really--with five cats, pet sitting is a significant expense when travelling. And right now, I'm between sitters.)

On the submission front, things have not been as rosy; holy crap--I think I've received ten rejection letters over the last week. It's like everyone is clearing their desks off. Now that I type that, I realize that schools on semesters are closing up for the summer break--so it's quite likely that my rejection slips are coming from that last minute drive to whittle down the stack of submissions before heading into the summer months. Regardless, it stings a little when they come at me in quick succession. I have, honestly, been aiming a little higher with my choices of journals, so it's also likely part of the reason.

While I'm still clawing my way to getting caught up on grading, I sent out some poetry this morning, so that I'm keeping things in rotation. I'm still trying to send to journals that are a bit more exclusive in their selections . . . I've sent to 32 Poems, Agni, and RHINO this morning. I'm hoping to get a few more packets sent out today, too. The rejections have freed up a good bit of work.

17 April 2021

My poem "Domesticity" finds a home at Plainsongs Poetry Magazine.

This past work week is ending on a bit of a grumpy note--I had a migraine for most of Thursday, and it's back today. My knee is still healing, so the house is a wreck, and every weed in the yard is growing on an accelerated schedule due to this warm, dry spell we've had. I have a half-dozen proposals to grade this weekend, but otherwise I'm grateful to be caught up. I plan to rest my eyes for a while this afternoon.

Yesterday, I received an acceptance from Plainsongs Poetry Magazine out of Hastings, Nebraska . . . they are going to publish my poem "Domesticity" in their summer issue. This is a recent overhaul of a poem I wrote while working on my MFA at Chatham University in 2005. 

At the time, I was living in Carnegie, PA, and my husband was working as a restaurant chef in Squirrel Hill. We were making it work while he commuted and spent long hours in a new restaurant kitchen, and I commuted 45 minutes in one direction to teach full time, then returned home to commute across downtown Pittsburgh to graduate school classes. (Did I mention that I teach writing? All spare time was grading--always grading--student essays.) We were both busy and exhausted, and I wrote a lot of poems about what being a wife meant, and what being in a marriage meant. Obviously, two divorces later, I am not a professional when it comes to either. 

Looking back at work that's 15 years old is shocking to the system in some ways, but I've also found that my age and experiences since that time inform my older work in new ways. In one view, "Domesticity" is a brand new poem, because the point of view has shifted and softened. The tone has evolved. I don't think my poetry is as angry in some ways as it once was. 

Ultimately, I am glad this piece resonated with the editors and found its home. It validates that the revision set the poem on the right track, after all these years.

I've also sent out work to Slipstream this morning--they have a call out for a themed issue on SEX/FOOD/DEATH. I found a few sex poems and a few death poems to pull together a submission, as I'm trying to consider themed issues more frequently. I also sent a selection of five poems to Colorado Review this morning. I am also trying "bigger name" presses mixed in with the micro-presses. It is likely a shot in the dark, but I think the submission is quite good, if I do say so myself. : )

Plainsongs Poetry Magazine

15 April 2021

A rejection, but with a healthy dose of encouragement.

I was just speaking with my mom last week about migraines, and how I don't get them as frequently. I woke up this morning to a nasty migraine that is stubbornly hanging on, despite a few different medication attempts. I have about 45 minutes left in my Zoom office hours for the morning, and then I think I'm going to take some sick time for the rest of the day.

I know it's been about two weeks since I've last posted, but getting my manuscript out to those first book prizes was exhausting, and I've not been generating new work in the last month. I have work out--both manuscripts and small sets of poems--at 60 presses right now, so I'm just taking some time to rest. 

I have received a few rejection letters in the last two weeks, which is usually not something to crow about, but I received a really encouraging rejection email from Pokrbelly Press's Sugared Water. They had five poems of mine for almost six months, and they ended their otherwise standard form rejection with this:

While this particular work was not right for us, we were intrigued by what you're crafting, and would like to see more. Please consider submitting to us in the future.

To be honest, my newer work is a lot weirder than my poetry usually is. It is full-on crone poetry: full of dark fairy tale imagery and ghosts and gardening and being swept out to sea. Porkbelly Press is small--but I think of it as edgy and cool. It's the kind of place I don't often submit, because I tend to think I'm not pushing the boundaries of edgy OR cool. 

Despite their editors' decision to pass on the work I sent, I am immensely encouraged, and I will submit to them again in the future. I think the five poems they read were a bit of a mixed bag, and I look forward to curating another, stronger submission for them in the near future.

On the book front, my chapbook manuscript is still under consideration after being submitted during American Poetry Journal's fall reading period, and my full-length manuscript is still being held with submissions to BOA Edition's A. Poulin, Jr. Award. Those are the last two fall book submissions, and from what I can tell via Duotrope, those two contests haven't sent any rejection slips yet. I believe BOA announces in May. 

I will be waiting for results of the spring first book awards for quite a while, but my submissions at Ghost Peach Press/Birdcoat Quarterly, Trio House Press, and Elixir Press have all moved to "In-Progress" at Submittable. The deadlines for Ghost Peach and Trio House are April 30/May 1, so they're already reading the submissions they've received--Elixir's deadline was March 31.

29 March 2021

More "first book award" submissions on the last day of Spring Break, and starting big projects at the last minute.

Well, an artist friend shared a publishing resource over the weekend that details an exhaustive list of book awards for poetry. I am reluctant to share it here, because the creator has intended it to assist women and non-binary writers who do not have the time or access to research this level of information themselves. And, while I certainly am aware of some of the opportunities she has included, there are many presses (and several first book awards) that were not on my radar. I am appreciative for the assistance that this resource has provided for me, and if you want more information, feel free to email me. 

Through this resource, and from my own list, I was able to submit to seven first book contests over Spring Break, and I sent a sample of work to an eighth publisher, Acre Books. I am exhausted, but very excited that I had a little bit of money set aside from tax returns to cover the cost of submissions.

My manuscript Faster Than Hares and Rabbits is now under consideration at the following additional presses: 

Birdcoat Quarterly's 2021 Book Contest

Tupelo Press's Berkshire Prize for First or Second Book

Trio House Press's Trio Award for First or Second Book

Switchback Books's Gatewood Prize

I hope that some of the smaller/less publicized awards may provide a greater opportunity for success; I am confident that my manuscript is strong, but it's difficult to put oneself out there. 

There are a few other presses that have open reading periods this summer, and Milkweed Editions and BkMk Press have reading periods coming up, too, so I will probably wait until the end of April and submit to 3-4 more opportunities, as well. 

Spring term begins this morning, but I started to paint the living room ceiling yesterday. LOL--I'm hoping to get the whole living room done this week or next, so that I can rehang the art and start planning my next project. 

I have blueberry bushes and a lilac to plant, and several perennials to transplant, so that should happen this week, ASAP.  The back yard beds are going to be expanded 2-3 times the size they are now, if only from making space for the transplanted lupines. Grass is already high, and it's going to be 75 on Wednesday, so I think I'll be in the yard for a good chunk of the day. 

I've also decided to start a new perennial from seed--I picked milkweed, which can take up to three years to mature and bloom. Like the lupines, they will pay off eventually. (I've also tried to start poppies and echinacea from seed, and neither one made it through the first winter.) I also bought seeds for foxglove and cleomes (which i LOVE), but they should mature and bloom this year. I'm eager to add more flowers to the back yard that will attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

The bathroom could stand to be painted, too, but I will have to move the washer and dryer out of there, so it's a huge hassle. The kitchen walls and ceiling need painted, too, but I have to buy new kitchen lighting. I'd also like to paint the exterior doors eventually--I have a deep fuschia color picked out. I'm hoping that those projects will happen over summer. It's time to focus on the garden--and to take some time to teach and work on the tattoo project, so my aching joints can heal a bit before another paint job. 

So, I'm back into the waiting game regarding submissions--my work is now out at 64 different presses, if I count small submissions + the manuscript.

27 March 2021

Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.

Sometimes, I think all I need to do is complain about something a few times, and I'll feel good enough to take care of business. I spent some time last night on a CV from 2017. I was surprised I had it--I thought for sure it had been at least 10-12 years since I updated one. 

So, this morning I opened it up, reorganized a few things, proofread it, and I sent my manuscript + CV to the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. 

The results of two fall contests haven't been announced yet, so my book is under consideration at five publishers right now, I feel really good about that! And, I have a chapbook manuscript out at a fall contest, too.

26 March 2021

Spring's crop of "first book" awards.

I finally pulled together a completely new version of my full-length poetry manuscript, Faster Than Hares and Rabbits--I removed about a dozen weaker poems, making the collection more cohesive in the process. I have done a little work at a time, then today and yesterday, I put hours and hours of work into revising some of the poems and organizing the whole thing. Culling poems was easier than I'd expected--I'm hoping a leaner manuscript of higher quality will work in my favor. 

This afternoon, I sent a copy to the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize at Kent State University. Tracy K. Smith is the judge, and while I find that intimidating, I did not let it dissuade me from submitting. I passed on a few fall contests because I was worried that my work didn't have anything in common with the judge's work, but I am trying not to overthink the process. I am proud of my recent work, and I am trying to be more confident about it, too. 

I also submitted to Elixir Press's Antivenom Poetry Award, which is for a first or second book of poetry. Both of these contests read blind--no names, no acknowledgments, to identifying information. I prefer this--I feel like my poetry should stand on its own, without someone also weighing how impressive my publications are. 

I plan to submit to the University of Pittsburgh Press's Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, too, but as I was reading requirements today, I realized that they want a curriculum vita included with the manuscript. So, I have until the end of April to get a CV pulled together. I am discouraged, because it makes me feel that my spotty publication history, and perhaps even my position as a community college instructor, could be used to subtract value from my manuscript. I will absolutely submit, but I'm glad I have a cushion of time in which to tackle the curriculum vita. 

On a positive note, my publications from 2020 and 2021 are multiple, and I have generated a lot of new work. So, the manuscript no longer relies on poems that were published 10+ years ago. I feel that if I must include acknowledgments, at least my manuscript of March 2021 looks more current/relevant that my manuscript of September 2020.

24 March 2021

On Tuesday, poetry was work.

I am supposed to be reorganizing my collection for the spring crop of first book prizes, but I spent most of my Tuesday working on revisions and on sending my work out to new publications. 

As I have mentioned this week, I received a number of rejection slips in just a few days--while offset by a couple of acceptance letters, the rejections did leave me in a position where I had work that could be sent out again. 

I revised a few older poems, and four brand-new poems were revised and made ready to send out into the world for the first time. All told, I sent 3-5 poems to five separate publications yesterday. And, I submitted to one more this morning.

I sent to Still: The Journal, which published Appalachian writers exclusively. While I do consider myself very deeply connected to the area where I grew up, and my family is still there, I know that my current location may hinder my acceptance there. My work is not connected explicitly to that region, but I do think that some of my tendency toward magic realism/fabulism in recent work is absolutely a response to growing up in an industrial town where much of my escape came from books and movies with magical elements. It might be a stretch for any editor, though.This is my first time submitting work this this journal.

I also submitted to Gold Man Review for the first time--they focus on writers from the West coast states. Here I am, trying to straddle the entire United States. LOL.

I also sent some work to Phantom Drift, after spending a little time researching publications that focus on publishing fabulist authors. And, I submitted for a second time to Outlook Springs. Their editors write that the journal is "devoted to fiction, poetry, and non-fiction tinged with the strange." These are the sorts of journals where I hope my work finds a home, but I'm never quite sure if my brand of strange is what they're hoping to find. 

And, I submitted to Fugue yesterday, as well, for the first time. This morning, I sent four poems to North American Review. 

Interspersed in these submissions was the new poem "Witchcraft," as well as three other new works: "This Chapter," "Pickpocket," and "This Daughter." I need to back away from using "THIS" as the first word in poem titles for a while--I'm afraid I've come to rely on "this," and I know that's not good. I just hate writing titles.  

So, my Submittable account is bulging with newly-submitted work, and I am caught up on recording rejections and acceptances in my own records and at Duotrope. 

So, today will likely be my manuscript revision day, though it's Wednesday of Spring Break, and I'm tempted to jump in the car and take a drive out to the coast for lunch and some junk shopping. I also have a living room to paint and lupines to transplant . . . but I'm trying to take it easy, too. Faculty have gotten no extra time off this school year, despite our extra work as the whole college moved online/remote for a year.

I deliberately did not make a long honey-do list for Spring Break, because I have no honey to do it all. Ha! But, that is not a gripe. I enjoy living alone, and while I sometimes wish I had a partner to share chores and expenses, I know what it's like to have a partner who didn't contribute at all. And, I know that my first husband dealt with me going to graduate school twice--the second time, while commuting an hour east to teach full time, then commuting home, only to commute another 45 minutes across downtown Pittsburgh to grad school at night. I wasn't necessarily lazy, but I know I didn't help out enough at home. My life was school--I just wasn't there. 

Anyhow. I'm going to go to the grocery store, and hopefully to pick up some garden soil, so that I can con myself into getting those lupines in the ground, at least. I started them from seed three years ago, and they took over the raised bed where I've had them growing while they mature. I don't want to lose them--so much time and effort went into getting them to this point!

22 March 2021

HeartWood Literary Magazine accepts two poems.

I've really been struggling--the rejection letters have been doing a number on me, when I'm usually able to shrug them off. It's just been a while since I've had an acceptance thrown into the mix, and I've been starting to doubt my newer work. While I'm working to reorganize and reconfigure my manuscript, I'm starting to feel like my individual poems just aren't reaching the right editors. I'm working on reading more journals, on really paying attention to what's being published and where--but I often feel like I'm flying blind. 

Today, I sent out work to four places--Black Fox Literary Magazine, Neon, Broad River Review, and The Swamp Literary Magazine. I've not submitted to any of these publications before, and I'm hoping my work will fit what they might be looking for. Neon publishes speculative literature and horror--I sent a few of my creepier works, but I find that speculative literature is much like erotic literature--there are many different flavors, and my own take on the genre isn't always well-received. We'll see how it goes. 

I had really hoped to send a selection of work to the Fairy Tale Review during their current reading period, but they are looking for nonce poetry, and it's just too new of a concept to me. I'd not heard of it until a few days ago, and I am not confident that I wouldn't be wasting their editors' time. Their current theme is dreams and sleep, which is right up my alley, so I might get brave in the next week or two and send something to them, but I doubt it. 

And in a weird bit of timing, I received an acceptance email from HeartWood Literary Magazine, which is associated with the MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. They are going to publish my poems "That Long, Vacant Room" and "Ephemeris."

"That Long, Vacant Room" is very new--I believe I wrote it over Christmas break this year, so it's only a few months old. "Ephemeris" is about 18 months old--a short, little poem that I really like. Both poems contain teeth imagery, by chance. I am glad to see them both find a home. 

So, the weird timing--I just sent "Ephemeris" out as part of my submission to The Gettysburg Review yesterday, and "That Long, Vacant Room" went out to New Ohio Review yesterday AND to Black Fox Literary Magazine today. I feel strange about having to withdraw work that was submitted less than 24 hours before, but what can I do, really? I hope none of the editors are too irritated.

HeartWood Literary Magazine

21 March 2021

Santa Clara Review, and the ebb and flow of poetry submissions.

After having very little movement on the poetry submission front, the last few days have brought a flurry of rejection letters . . . I received a few more since my last post, and High Plains Register has gone on hiatus, so my submission there was released. 

I did receive an acceptance from Santa Clara Review--they are going to publish my poem "Spell-casting." This poem was written in early March 2020, while I was in San Antonio attending AWP. That trip was only a few days after Mr. Greene, my second husband, died--and the poem is about him. I am glad it will be published; I really like the poem, thought it's a little more sentimental than my work usually is.

I spent a good chunk of my morning pullng together submissions to send back out into the world, and I submitted to The Gettysburg Review and New Ohio Review today.

Santa Clara Review

Winter term is put to bed, and Spring Break's rejection letters.

My winter term ended on Friday, but I graded through Saturday afternoon . . . which isn't that bad, all things considered. I woke up today knowing I have the whole week to myself.

I had decided to work a light grading day on Thursday, and then I was lucky enough to be called on Thursday afternoon to receive my first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. I was tired and cranky on Friday, post vaccination, so what I should have been able to finish on Friday was left over until Saturday morning. 

I am grateful--getting myself online at the computer on Saturday made it easier for me to prep my spring term classes. I am teaching WR122 and WR227 in spring term, and fortunately, I taught both in winter term. I was able to get those online classes ready for the whole term in less than an hour each. 

My literature course has to be built from the ground up, due to an unexpected change in textbook, but I built the first week's module and all introductory materials last weekend . . . so, I am able to focus on taking a spring break. I won't log back into the college website until early on the 29th.

Here at home, my vegetable garden is already tilled and fertilized and ready for tomato and cucumber starts once the nights warm up a little more. Having that done, I'm hoping I'll be able to carve out some meaningful time to work on drafting new poetry. I also have some AWP panels I'd like to watch before my access expires to the conference materials. 

I have to pick up a stack of poems from Staples--I had everything printed out, so I can organize a better, stronger book manuscript this week. There are 3-4 first book contests coming up, so I want to focus on presenting the best manuscript I can. I think some of my newer work is going to end up in this new version of the book.

This week, I've received several rejection letters, meaning I have some work to revise and send out again. Rattle rejected my submission; they're publishing a tribute to Appalachian writers, so I thought I might have a chance. They had my work for a really long time, but they apparently received work from over 900 writers who identify as Appalachian. Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Bennington Review, and Poet Lore also sent rejection letters this week. It was a bit discouraging, but I know it's part of the process.

15 March 2021

Just under the wire, all original work is graded in my winter classes. Whew.

Well, I promised students in my composition class that they'd have their grades by Monday morning at 8 am, and I literally submitted the last score at 7:58 am. Sunday and Monday combined, I rewrote an extensive rubric for the assignment (a Toulmin model argument/research paper) and graded 13 papers. 

This morning I've graded the few smaller assignments due in Week 10, and now, Final Exam Week is officially underway for my students. That prep work was done last weekend, so it's been nice to feel a bit of weight lift from my shoulders this morning. Still many, many revisions to grade before end of day Friday, but I am confident I'll get it done AND be able to reclaim a bit of my Monday to make up for the weekend I sacrificed. 

I have another twenty minutes in office hours, and I'll be able to spend a few hours outside in the garden again--rain off and on yesterday and overcast skies have given way to some blue sky and white puffy clouds today, and I am ready for it. 

I received a rejection letter this morning from Rubbertop Review, out of University of Akron. It is a small journal, and frankly, I regretted submitting to them as soon as I recorded it on Duotrope. Apparently, they're still reading submissions as if nothing is outdated, but their website is a year or more out of date, and their submission period didn't open when it was supposed to open in February. This happens every once in a while--I look at the publication's website and not notice that it has 2019 dates all over the place. Duotrope pays a lot of attention to this, and I just forgot to look up Rubbertop at Duotrope before submitting. Regardless, they didn't select any of my poems. I did get an invitation to submit again, so encouragement, too.

I think the selection of poems was fairly strong--I swapped two out for other works, and I submitted a new selection to Quarterly West this morning. 

In other news, Rattle apparently did a mass rejection of a ton of poetry submissions in the last week or two, and they've not yet rejected my submission from last July. I'm hoping that this means my work is in the final cuts for an upcoming issue. They have an issue on Appalachian poets coming up, and I am hoping I have a real shot at being included. They reject 99% of what they read, so it would be huge.

14 March 2021

A manuscript rejection from Perugia Press. You can find me in the garden.

I received a rejection letter from Perugia Press yesterday on my full-length book manuscript. They only select one book per year to publish, so it's a very small chance--but it's always a first book by a woman, so I gave it a shot. I'm disappointed, but not heartbroken.

I am looking forward to Spring Break--which starts next Friday on the 19th. This coming week, I have to focus on both getting all of my grading done AND on prepping my spring term courses, so that I can have a full 9 days without UCC. 

During that time, I'm hoping to reorganize my full-length book manuscript and swap in a few poems that I've written since fall. There are several first-book contests with late March deadlines, so the week off will be extremely helpful, and I'll be able to focus on my own work for an uninterrupted week. 

I started working on my raised beds a few times this past week, but I overdid it a little on Friday--my left knee has been giving me problems lately, so I took it easy yesterday. Today, I was up and ready to go, but it's miserable and wet and chilly outside. 

I did get all of my strawberry plants cleaned up--most of them made it through the fall, when I cut back on watering. My "clean up" is cutting off last year's dead leaves and replacing any dead plants with new starts. I have a LOT of starts; so many, I'm going to end up composting some of them. I'm pulling strawberry runners out of the garden pathways, out of the rock borders, and out of all other corners of the beds. Some of the runners have runners--I'm guessing it was due to the mild winter. My raised beds are made of cinderblocks, so the strawberries are planted in the holes in each brick. I have 80-100 plants--more than enough to grow sick of strawberries before I ever run out of them. It works well--it keeps slugs to a minimum, and the berries tend to grow ripen and hang off the bricks, so they're easy to pick. 

I still have to fertilize my asparagus and add a layer of fresh compost to them, and I have some lupines to pull from the artichoke bed before I finish cultivating around them. The lupines will be moving to the back yard this spring--I'm excited; I started them from seed three years ago, and they are huge and healthy this year. And I bought some sugar snap peas to plant--hopefully those will go in this week, too.

I bought a manual tiller--something called a soil ripper. I've always looked at them and wondered if they'd be easier than a cultivator or rake, and I'd assumed they'd be a waste of money. I finally bought one, and I can't believe I've lived without it! My raised beds get root bound from trees and shrubs in my yard, I think . . . I was worried I was going to have to move the soil and line them this year, but the soil ripper is amazing. It is still a workout, but it's much easier on my back. 

I am putting off grading the last of my students' original work--I have to quit looking for ways to procrastinate. 

07 March 2021

UPDATED: A Congress of Freaks.

I mentioned "Congress of Freaks" photos in an earlier blog post, but I thought I'd share a small collection of the congress photos I've found in the past few years. Congress of Freaks photos are dated group photos of all performers in a circus or sideshow.

Circuses often contracted with photographers like Edward J. Kelty to take photos of circus performers--I'd assumed these shots were used for press materials and souvenirs. According to Art Blart online, though, Kelty paid Ringling in order to be permitted to take these photos. 

This complicated my simple belief about these "congress" photos, because many sources claim that larger circuses like Ringling had their own in-house photographers for souvenirs and marketing. 

Part of my update on 3/15 is to sheepishly admit that I'd forgotten that I actually own a book on Kelty and his photographs. My circus/sideshow/tattoo history library isn't that big, but the copy I own is missing its dust jacket, and I completely forgot about it until I was doing some online research, scouring the interwebs for any books I still need.

I do not regret spending a bit of my early afternoon leafing through Kelty's photographs today. And, I did some fact-checking.

Kelty might have had to pay an up-front fee for access to the circus grounds, but he was given wide access and took photos throughout the day--some larger group and "congress" photos, and some of individual troupes and performers. He would then develop the negatives and print proofs on a very quick turnaround, to provide both the performers and the circuses the option of purchasing prints from him. There were other photographers who took the circus's photographs during the show and inside the tent, but Kelty made a name for himself with his large group photographs before the shows and behind the scenes.

The usefulness of the photographs for my purposes isn't really affected by how and why the photos came to be. They're rich with information that I could not and would not be able to find anywhere else, and certainly not while a pandemic has me trapped at home in rural Oregon. 

Bear with me as I'm organizing the photos by tattooed lady, not necessarily chronologically.

Betty Broadbent

I'm going to start with a few congress photos that include Betty Broadbent, one of the best-known tattooed ladies working in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States. 

The first photo below is from the Sells-Floto sideshow in 1931. It features Betty Broadbent on the bottom row, left side. And, Broadbent is standing next to Frances O'Connor, who worked sideshows as "The Living Venus de Milo"--such acts were known generically as "armless wonders" in the sideshow business. O'Connor was one of the stars of the 1932 film Freaks. You can see that both banners to the performers' right actually advertise O'Connor's appearance.

 
The second image here is from the 1937 season of Ringling/Barnum & Bailey's Combined Circus. This photo was taken by Kelty, and it shows Betty Broadbent in the lower row, left side. From this I know where Broadbent worked (and with whom) in the summer of 1937. And, at some point between 1931 and 1937, she moved from working under the smaller Sells-Floto sideshow to working with the Ringling/Barnum & Bailey Circus. 
 
 
It's important to note that Sells-Floto became part of the American Circus Corporation in the late 1920s, and in 1929, Ringling bought the American Circus Corporation. This move gave them a monopoly on traveling circuses in the United States. So, by 1931, Sells-Floto may have still operated their sideshow under the Sells-Floto banners, but they were part of the larger Ringling family. 
 

Ada Mae Vandermark and Betty Broadbent

This rare photograph that shows Betty Broadbent several years earlier, in 1928, working with Ada Mae Vandermark. Both women are on the bottom row of the photo--Ada Mae on the left and Betty on the right. This is Betty with her hair cut into a flapper-style bob, which she only had in the early years of her career.


I've never read anything to indicate that Betty Broadbent was ever anything other than the only tattooed lady on a bill, so seeing Ada Mae alongside Betty is an unexpected bit of history that can't be disputed.

 
Ada Mae Vandermark and Lotta Pictoria

To take a closer look at Ada Mae's resume, this photo from the 1927 Ringling/Barnum & Bailey season shows Ada Mae Vandermark on the bottom row, toward the left side. She is wearing a large snake as a boa; being a "snake charmer" or "snake handler" would have increased her popularity and her ability to draw a crowd--so it would have been a real value to hire her. Interesting to note, in 1927, the circus traveled with a second tattooed lady--on the bottom row toward the right, you can see Lotta Pictoria, too. It is interesting to note that this photo is included in the Kelty book, and the tattooed ladies are billed as "Miss Artorio, tattooed wonder" and "Miss Pictorio, tattooed girl." I have seen Ada Mae identified with the last name "Artorio" in a few other places, and now I can surmise that it's not incorrect, but that it was a stage name she used.

I've not found any research that speaks to these tattooed ladies knowing one another or working together, so this is another exciting morsel of information to find in a photograph.

  

And, while the following photo is not dated, it also features Ada Mae and Lotta together again. This may be another shot from the 1927 season, given the overlap in other performers between the two photos. 

 

Ada Mae Vandermark

To take a step forward to 1931, the photo below shows a much smaller Congress of Freaks from Ringling/Barnum & Bailey's 1931 season. The solo tattooed lady that year was Ada Mae Vandermark, pictured here on the bottom row.

And Ada Mae also appeared in Ringling's "Golden Jubilee" season in 1933. She's on the top right.

  
 
Lotta Pictoria
 
And, not to be pushed to the side, a few years earlier, Lotta Pictoria was the sole tattooed attraction in Ringling's 1925 lineup. Here she is, on the upper left:
 

 
 
Stella Grassman

And although a bit out of order, the photo below, from the 1929 season of Ringling/Barnum & Bailey, shows Edith "Stella" Grassman as the tattooed lady; she's on the top row on the right. Her husband, Deafy Grassman, was responsible for all of her tattoo work. I originally thought this photo was labeled the 1924 season--it's hard to read--but that date would have made Stella only 15 years old. So, 1929 it is.

Deafy worked as a tattooist in both Philadelphia and NYC. Stella is easy to pick out in photos--her chest piece is a large butterfly--much more feminine than the patriotic tattoos that cover most tattooed ladies of this era. She also often wore a costume that had a custom-tailored neckline to highlight her chest tattoo.

Here is a second congress photo with Stella in about the same spot on the top row--I don't believe it's the same year, as there are several differences in the roster, but this photo is not dated. My guess is that it's probably from 1930. Also interesting to note is the autograph or signature on the lower right bottom of this photo--every copy of this photo on the internet today is a copy of THIS print. I can't find a single copy online that doesn't include that signature, or that does include a date.

Lady Viola 

The photo below shows Ringling/Barnum & Bailey's congress from the 1932 season. In that year, Ethel Vangi, who worked under the stage name Lady Viola, was the featured tattooed lady. She is pictured on the top row, on the right.

That means that Lotta Pictoria worked for Ringling in 1925, but Ada Mae Vandermark and Lotta Pictoria worked together as Ringling's tattooed ladies in 1927, and Ada Mae and Betty Broadbent worked together for Ringling in 1928. Then, Stella Grassman was the tattooed lady in 1929 and at least in one other season, possibly 1930. Ada Mae Vandermark was back as the tattooed lady is seasons 1931 and 1933, but it looks as if Lady Viola was the tattooed lady in Ringling's 1932 lineup.

And while I can't guess at whether these performers worked an entire season or just part of a season, or if their contracts regularly overlapped like Ada Mae's and Lotta's or Betty's, but it's an intriguing look at some proof of a tattooed lady's reputation and employment. 

And none of these photos show Trixie Richardson, though she is supposed to have been working for Ringling in the late 1920s. I am certain that none of the women pictured above is also Trixie Richardson. 

it's just another puzzle piece, and I'm many puzzle pieces short of a certain history for any of these women.

Through these photos as well, I've seen a few costumes that I've not seen Ada Mae wear in any other surviving photographs--out of all of the tattooed ladies included in my research, Ada Mae seemed to have more costumes in her traveling wardrobe than anyone else working at the same time. 

Many of the tattooed ladies who were photographed for pitch cards in New York photography studios of the time actually wore the same handful of costumes and jewelry. This has lead me to believe that certain photographers kept a small wardrobe of costumes for circus attractions to wear, not unlike the "old time" photography studios that we still see today at tourist destinations throughout the United States.

04 March 2021

Two new submissions, and some thoughts after the first day of AWP.

As I was sitting in my studio watching an incredible panel on women writing over 50, I realized it's been a month since I've sent out any poetry for publication consideration. When I checked this morning, I haven't sent out work since February 9th. Close enough. It's easy to start thinking I'm just not working hard enough, not putting enough time into the process--I"m grateful I started tracking my submissions on Duotrope in addition to the excel spreadsheet I've always used.


Duotrope reminds me that I've sent 452 poems out into the world in the past year, and that is pretty fantastic.

I did receive a rejection letter yesterday from Superstition Review, so submissions were already on my mind. (And who doesn't love a rejection during AWP? LOL) I pulled together a selection of five poems for Cream City Review and another four poems for Waxwing, and I sent those out this morning. Both journals have deadlines at the end of March/start of April. 

I also scratched out a rough draft of a new poem titled "Witchcraft" yesterday afternoon. That's a working title; I'm certain it won't stay.

I have really enjoyed the first day of AWP's conference, and the second day is just about to begin. At first, I thought there seemed like so many less panels this year than usual, but they've also spread the panels across Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday--when all the panels are usually concentrated on Thu-Fri-Sat. So, there might be a few less options, and the book fair experience is difficult to replicate virtually, but I like the more gradual roll-out of panels. I'm really impressed with the panels I've sat in on, and I loved the reading I attended yesterday afternoon of contemporary Muslim literature.

I know I'm going to have to spend some time this week on grading, but I really want to focus on my own writing and craft this week.

03 March 2021

AWP starts today, and new tattoo books!

I made the decision to attend AWP this year as soon as it was announced that the whole thing would be virtual. Yes, it means that it was less expensive than usual to attend, but I usually look forward to having those four days in a hotel room, alone, to incubate new ideas and generate new drafts of poems. I am sure that the interruptions of the cats and of trying to stay focused on writing when I can see my house is a wreck is going to present its own set of challenges. However, I am really looking forward to being able to revisit panels and readings while I'm on spring break at the end of March--having access to all AWP conference offerings for a month after the conference is an amazing opportunity for attendees like me who are in Week 8 of a 10-week school term, when student emails and freak-outs begin to ramp up in anticipation of final grades. 

As I mentioned earlier this week, I bought myself a few new books on tattoo history and one on the history of the dime museum in the United States. I decided my 50th birthday was reason enough to spend the money on these five books, but truthfully, they'll all have bearing on my larger project. The most amazing book--a collection of Dutch tattooist Henk Schiffmacher's vast tattoo history archive was just released by Taschen in January, and it's gorgeous. 

 
 
 

There are some high resolution photographs of tattooed ladies--nothing I've not seen before, but larger and crisply in focus. The most incredible part of the book is that the limited history that's included via the photographs' captions reinforces some of the conclusions I've come to myself about tattooed ladies and about tattoo history in general. And, there is a revelation about Trixie Richardson! 

I will go into detail about that in another blog post next week--I'm a few minutes away from my first AWP session for the day, and I want to get myself set up in my studio before it begins.

27 February 2021

My 50th birthday, and remembering my second husband.

Today is my 50th birthday, and I'm spending it grading on a Saturday. Certainly the pandemic is to blame for the lack of a celebration, but I'm at the end of Week 8 in a 10-week term, and the AWP conference is next week, so I would like to be caught up, at the very least, on last week's grading before next week begins. 

My second husband died on February 25th last year, so I anticipate that my birthdays moving forward will always have some sense of loss attached to them, at least for a while. I have no desire to rewrite history--things did not end well between us. But, our divorce was final only about four months before his death, and I had hoped we'd eventually salvage a friendship. I absolutely expected to know him longer. His passing does not require that I forgive him, but I am reluctant to hold onto hurt feelings and bitterness and guilt. I won't forget the numerous, valid reasons why I broke up with him, but I still mourn him. There are things that I miss, and things I'm glad are in my past. He was a big personality, and our good times were great. I loved him very much, but as I've said before, I am glad that it is a closed chapter of my life. (And, because I continue to write about him and talk about him, I know the chapter might be closed, but I'm still processing.)

My tax returns arrived--so I have paid off the small balance I was carrying on two of my credit cards, and I bought a few small pieces of furniture for the house. I used a few hundred dollars to buy a handful of books on tattoo history that have been published in the last few years--two of them over a hundred dollars. Those are my birthday gift to myself, and I feel I absolutely deserve them. 

It will likely be a week or two until I'm able to sit down and write another blog post about a tattooed lady, but I'm thinking that it might be Nellie Thornton or Mildred Hull. Millie is my favorite of all, but Nellie has quite a sordid tale. They both lived very colorful lives--Nellie as a traveling circus performer with multiple husbands, and Millie as a drinker and brawler. Millie was also the first female tattooist to set up shop and work out of a barbershop in the Bowery in NYC. This is a photo of Millie. It is difficult to date this photo, as her tattoo work looks less complete here, but the fascinator she's wearing in her hair is also in another tattoo shop photo taken from another angle. In it, she looks older.


I received a rejection letter from The Rumpus this past week . . . they'd held onto my poems since last July, so I thought they had a chance at publication there. Otherwise, everything is in a holding pattern with submissions.

23 February 2021

My research project. And Trixie Richardson.

I've decided to pick up my "tattooed lady research project" notes again. Finally.

A bit of background:

To be specific, I am researching in an attempt to correct and preserve as much of the ever-disappearing history of the early 20th Century tattooed lady in the United States as I can. I started this project during a spring term sabbatical in 2015; I made a trip to Baraboo, Wisconsin, to dig around in the Circus World archive, to help me to plan a collection of poems about circus folk and sideshow performers. Once I was in Baraboo, I realized that the whole project was shifting to some kind of nonfiction work. I'm not really a nonfiction writer, so the concept was both scary and exhilarating. I found a niche--MY niche--but my sabbatical and the following summer were just the start of the project. I thought I might have a book here, but I could tell it would take years to research, and multiple trips to other archives--Sarasota, Winston-Salem, San Francisco, and New York City to start. Holy crap.

Then, at the start of that fall term, after six months of steady work on the project, the shooting at UCC took place. To say that my priorities changed is a vast understatement. I'm still in the process of learning to live with related PTSD, and I've come to realize that my brain rewired itself in some pretty dramatic ways. And then I married and divorced in quick succession. I became buried in never-ending department chair work. In short, a few years were rough for a number of reasons. It's taken me a long time to come back to this project. 

So here we are.

In an attempt to get myself motivated to continue with this project, I brought home my enormous collection of note cards and photocopies from campus in October--and they've actually been sitting in the back seat of my car until today, when I finally felt compelled to bring them into the house, hoping I could force myself to start looking at them. "Baby steps" is a philosophy I've come to embrace.

Then I accessed my online annotated bib for the project this afternoon, and I freaked out, because I think I've lost a few of my online sources. The last time I've had them open was in 2015, and frankly, I don't know yet if I saved screenshots or pdfs of the web-based sources. I should have done that, but my brain was lightly scrambled in 2015--and I don't think I was necessarily thinking about maintaining the integrity of my sources when I unexpectedly put this research on hold. Frankly, of all the things I miss about how my brain used to work, I miss my impeccable organization the most. Even though I am extending myself some grace, I am a little upset about it. A few copies of photographs may have gone missing, too. However, I think I just need to sit with my research and get familiar with all of it again. I might be worried about information that I absolutely backed up. 

I'll find my foothold, and I will plug away with what I have. 

I feel like the project is even more pressing now. In five short years, additional history has disappeared from the internet. I thought I was seeing a surge in interest and writing about tattooed ladies, but that just hasn't been the case. And, these women don't seem important enough to the male tattoo historians who dominate the field.

Because there has never been a truly comprehensive, accurate account of these women's lives and careers, their photos become lost in a jumble of any and all tattooed women from their respective eras--and not all of them were circus sideshow attractions. At times, it's difficult to tell the difference, and there are distinct differences. Books like the excellent Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin just can't do all of the heavy lifting alone. Most other published histories and "encyclopedias" of tattoo don't mention more than a few tattooed ladies by name. Many of them are riddled with errors.

Side note: "Tattooed Lady" is a term that, to me, denotes "a woman who worked as a professional tattooed attraction, pre-1950." In contrast, "tattooed woman" is a more general term that can apply to any woman with tattoos, from any time. I just want to explain that ahead of time, because I'm not a fan of men using the term "lady" or "ladies" as a diminutive term when they mean grown-ass women.

While published tattoo histories don't spend a lot of time on this fact, many of the tattooed women depicted in collectors' photographs from this era who sport a handful of "hidden" or discreet tattoos were sex workers who earned a few extra dollars on the side by posing for partially nude photographs.These photographs were sold to collectors from classified ads in the back of men's magazines by people like Bernard Kobel.

Many of the women in these photographs never worked as tattooed ladies. Other women--those with sketchy tattoo work, or without full body suits, for example--were women who scraped together a living between smaller traveling carnivals and dime museums. To further muddy the water, many of these small-time tattooed ladies worked under catchall names like "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," an attempt to bank on the popularity of the Marx Brothers song. Others worked as the even more generic "The Tattooed Lady," which was probably an effort to keep the sideshow's owners from having to commission new canvas banners whenever a new tattooed lady was hired.

So, there are a good number of vintage and antique photographs of tattooed women floating around on the internet and in private collections, but not all of them were working as tattooed ladies. Those that did work with circuses didn't keep diaries or journals that have been published or archived or otherwise made available. Some have families who were scandalized and shamed--who worked diligently to bury their family's connection to the sideshow. In many cases, the records for now-defunct circuses and sideshows have been lost to time. All of these truths work against the efforts to piece together any history at all for some of these women.

The largely missing story of Trixie Richardson is a prime example of how time can erase almost every trace of these women. 

Trixie Richardson is frequently mentioned in the limited scholarship about tattooed ladies, but virtually nothing is known about her life. Albert Parry's seminal 1933 book Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art identified Trixie as a tattooed lady who also worked as a tattooist, but she warrants little more than a line or two in Parry's book. Parry claimed that she worked as a tattooist at the New Jersey shore in 1925, tattooing several thousand women, so the story goes, in that single season. 

Perry offered no source for that information, and it sounds highly improbable to me. The average woman in the 1920s was not tattooed while on vacation at the shore. Instead, this sounds like a tabloid news story about a tattooed lady that's been told and retold until it became her only history. Trixie Richardson is subsequently mentioned in other sources, but those authors repeatedly cite Parry's book. No one has ever offered any information that helps to prove Trixie was a real person. For a while, I couldn't find any definitive proof that this woman actually existed.

Add to that: there are at least three different tattooed ladies identified in various sources as Trixie Richardson. They all have dyed black, bobbed hair, and they were all working in the 1920s and 1930s. They all passed through New York City--they were all photographed in the same studio with many of the same props and costuming as other tattooed ladies. However, these three Trixies don't have matching tattoos. 

The irony is not lost on me--these women made a living by baring their skin and welcoming the gaze of spectators, but they are also confused with one another regularly because tattoo historians often can't be bothered to look closely enough at their tattoos to differentiate them from one another. I can't tell you how many hours I've logged, zooming in on scans of hundreds of blurry, 100-year old photographs, trying to match arms to arms, chests to chests, for positive identifications on anonymous photos.

I believed for a while that none of these women was the "real" Trixie, becoming increasingly convinced that it may have been a name, like Lydia, that was used by more that one woman. I eventually found a photo of Trixie that was printed with her name on the front of the photo. 

So, I revised my hypothesis, thinking this woman may have been the first to use the name Trixie Richardson, and perhaps she found some fortune and fame. Other women may have been emulated her look in order to cash in on her popularity. 

It's important to note that I can't find evidence of Trixie in any group photographs of circus performers--and larger shows always took a "Congress of Freaks" photo each touring season, to be sold as souvenirs. Because of this, I believed Trixie to be a lower-tier sideshow performer and that it was just dumb luck her name was mentioned in Parry's book at all.

And then I stumbled on a photograph that changed everything, and clarified Trixie's place in tattoo history. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is the woman who is the "real," or the original, Trixie Richardson. When I began this project five years ago, this photo was all over Pinterest and the internet at large, but she was not always identified correctly. Note her chest piece--a rising sun behind a bald eagle, wings spread over two American flags.

 

And this is a badly retouched photograph of the same woman. The sun behind the bald eagle's head is what separated this chest piece from the others, but it's easy to look at the roses on her left shoulder and match those up, too; those are definitely the same tattoos. Her eyes are a giveaway, too. Her tattoos were not complete in the photo below, if you look at the field of blue behind the flags' stars; so, this is an earlier photograph than the one above. Another version of this photo, accompanied by a photo of her back, is labeled with her name, and as having been taken in 1924.

And this is when I stumbled across a bit of serendipity.

The photo below shows Trixie in a photo collage. This collage would have been would have been reproduced and sold as a souvenir "pitch card." The existence of this pitch card allowed me to confirm that Trixie was indeed a legitimate tattooed attraction, making her living in some sort of circus sideshow. 

I'd only seen a copy of this pitch card with most of the writing at the bottom of the photo cropped out. Though I couldn't read it, I knew that because the writing is bright white, it was likely written on the photo's original negative, or on an original print of the photo. This could have happened before the photo was distributed as a souvenir, or before the photo became part of the circus's archive. The style of handwritten block lettering is common on photos of tattooed circus attractions from this era. (I also know that Bernhard Kobel did not label the prints he sold in this manner--he used numbers.)

Then I found the copy below, and I could finally read the caption. She is identified as Miss Trixie Richardson, and she worked with Ringling Bros. in their 1926 or 1928 season. This is huge. Not only was she a circus sideshow attraction, she worked with Ringling. According to multiple sources, Ringling did not have blow-off acts in their sideshows, and they did not tolerate grift or sex work on their tours. They were considered family entertainment, even in the late 1920s. So, at least in 1926 or 1928, Trixie was at the top of her trade.

It's also important to note that this pitch card also has a separate engraved watermark/signature in the lower right corner, stating that Trixie was tattooed by Charles Wagner, the famed NYC tattooist. Because of the props and backdrop used in these photos, and the similarity in handwriting, and the connection to Charlie Wagner, I am willing to believe that the handwritten caption is correct. I will write about Charlie on another day--while not a tattooed lady or circus worker, his story is both sad and fascinating, and he appears as a minor character in many tattooed ladies' stories. While Charlie's reputation was questionable, his body suits were considered some of the finest tattoo work of its time on the sideshow circuit.

The information I was able to glean from this souvenir photo is more detailed than anything that Albert Parry or anyone else has documented about Trixie Richardson. This quest to find any scrap of Trixie's story is exemplary of how these women and their histories are disappearing--it's often because no one has bothered to actually look for their stories. And, I think I'm at a point where it's too late to salvage much.

As I mentioned above, one of the cities I need to visit for research is San Francisco. However, in the five years I've been away from this project, Lyle Tuttle has passed away. While he may not have been willing or able to meet with me, he was the last living link to a lot of history.

I am hoping to make a trip to the Ringling archive in Sarasota, Florida within the next year. I think it will prove to be the key to this project in general, and to learning more about Trixie in particular. I hope Covid-19 vaccinations allow this to happen sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, I need to organize what I have, to make sure I have a detailed list of where to begin when I'm able to travel. 

Even writing this short essay about Trixie feels good. I've missed this project, and I can already feel my excitement and momentum returning. I'm going to start small--writing an essay here and there on this blog,

19 February 2021

A financial misstep, but a good week overall.

This week has been fairly stagnant with submissions; I've not received any rejections or acceptance notices, and I've not sent out any new submissions. 

On a more significant note, I did find out on Wednesday that I've secured professional development funding for the Summer Poetry Workshop at Community of Writers in Squaw Valley, CA--it's a full week of workshops with an amazing handful of poets, and I'll hear in early May whether I made the cut. And if I do, I won't have to pay for the registration out of pocket. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I expect that there will be a great deal of competition . . . this summer's workshop is virtual, which cuts the need for travel, meals, and lodging. I'm crossing my fingers that I might have a shot at a place in the workshop, anyway. 

AWP is coming up on the first weekend in March, so I need to start this coming week to get my online classes ready to run without me for a couple of days. AWP is also virtual this year, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of that to attend more panels and readings. I'll hopefully be able to "attend" recordings of panels during my spring break, too.

I pulled together some rough, rough drafts of some new poems last night--working on lines I've salvaged from my journals, trying to mad-lib my way to something inspired. It's at least some effort.  

30% of the way through *The Overstory*--I love it. I love it in a way that makes me not want to read it too quickly.

So my financial misstep is actually a series of unfortunate events, all at once. I paid 500.00 on a credit card this past week when I meant to pay 50.00. I have tax returns on the way, with which I was planning to pay off the whole balance on that card, but I just made a simple error. Adding to that, I'd ordered a 350.00 bookcase from Wayfair the day before, and I was unable to cancel that order. Then, my friend's husband, a contractor, called me to arrange a small house project. For this week. So, I haven't had the pleasure of being this level of house poor, or hoping I can dodge any bounced checks, since I started living alone--almost two years ago. I'd just sent a check to my therapist, who is holding it until she hears from me, which is what the contractor is also doing. I was able to transfer funds, but it's taking forever to process. Unbelievable. 

On a positive note, the large, noisy, terrible air conditioning that was built into the side of my living room is gone, and the hole is patched on both the outside and the inside of the house. It's already quieter in the house, which makes working from home easier, and I'm in a better place to get a split heat pump system installed this summer. I'm grateful I was able to get that done on such a quick timetable.

16 February 2021

Getting started on a new journal. and new opportunities.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been spending a little time in my studio over the last few days, making monoprints with acrylic paint and a gel plate--I use these papers in my journals, and I burned through my entire stash during 2020, because of lockdown. 

In 2020, I filled four altered books as journals--so much more than usual. However, since the last one was filled, I've not started a 2021 book. I am hoping that part of the hold up is that I don't have pretty art paper to leaf through and add to the substrate of a new book. 

I am about 15% into *The Overstory,* and it's strangely compelling. My kindle is surprisingly heavy (it's an older model), so I need to pull out my book triangle and work out some way that I don't have to hold it. It doesn't help that Tony Cat wants to sit all 16 pounds of himself on my lap and belly every time I sit on the sofa. So I'm trying to balance him, a book, two other cats who are also wanting to be as close as possible, and the fact that I have to pee every 20 minutes. 

I have a therapy appointment this morning via Zoom--my first in a month. I am reluctant to suspend appointments while we're still in the pandemic. I am afraid I'll bottom out or need that outlet as soon as I let it go, so we'll continue with once a month for a few more months. Once spring is fully here, I'll start considering whether I will be able to trade the garden for therapy for a few months. 

And the poetry. 

Getting a new altered book journal started will force me to at least play with found poetry a little bit, which is a tool I often find helpful when I am running low on inspiration. Sometimes, just a two- or three-word phrase, taken from three different pages in a book, can be the start of a strong line of a new poem. And, to paraphrase Robert Hass, it is harder to write a good line than it is to write a good poem. (I think I've mentioned that quote/paraphrase before--it really stuck with me.) Hass writes about the power of a good line in his book, *A Little Book on Form.* That book, incidentally, is on my bedside table, and it's another one that I plan to read in its entirety this winter or spring--for too long, I've read a chapter here, a chapter there . . . truth is, it's full of valuable lessons, and I need to finish it. 

I sent an application to the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, CA last week for their summer poetry workshop. It's a juried application process, and although I'm already using my faculty professional development funds to attend AWP in March, both AWP and the Squaw Valley workshop are virtual this year, meaning that I only have to pay the registration, not meals and lodging and travel. However, I've already told myself that I'll charge the registration fee if I am accepted to the workshop but don't secure funding. 

Susan Olds will be one of the instructors, and Brenda Hillman, Blas Falconer, Kazim Ali, Forrest Gander, and Evie Shockley are the other planned instructors. Robert Hass will be reading. Holy shit. They'll make notifications by May 1, so I'm crossing my fingers that I might have a shot. I'm so unknown, and it's been so long since my writing has been workshopped by others in any formal or informal way--I'm hoping I'm not completely out of touch with what was expected in the writing sample. 

I'm still waiting for word on a fairly tall stack of submissions to journals and magazines . . . and I need to get back to generating new drafts of new poems. I know I've written a lot of poems in the last year, but I worry that if I get out of practice, I'll stop trying.

14 February 2021

Valentine's Day, my book list, and a quiet weekend.

Valentine's Day this year is blissfully quiet--I've been reading on the sofa with the cats for most of the day. I realized it's been over two weeks since I've posted to the blog, so I am taking a break to write this. I'm going to make pasta alfredo (with shrimp!) for dinner for myself. 

I've also been spending a few minutes here and there on monoprinting some new art paper. I spent about a hundred bucks on some newer acrylic paint tubes around Thanksgiving, so I have a half-dozen colors I'd not even played around with. I am finding that if I do a few layers on a few sheets of paper and leave them to dry, and come back an hour or two later, I'm less of a perfectionist and I get less prickly less often. It's going well so far, and I'm glad to be building up my ready supply of papers. 

I also made up a set of four winged hearts--hearts cut from vintage book covers, layered with junk and found poetry--for a friend's mail art swap. It's the first time I've mail art in over a year.

And, I have not been spending as much time on new drafts of new poems as I should be, so I am going to work to change that in the coming week. I need to buy myself a decent office chair for at home--I think I could sit at a desk or table for longer if my ass didn't hurt from my metal kitchen chairs.

Right now, all of my work is out simultaneously at the maximum number of publishers i feel comfortable submitting to . . . so the last two weeks have been a little slow for submissions, because everything is already sent out. I haven't gotten any rejection or acceptance notes in almost a week.

I have, however, been reading--and reading much more than I have over the last few years. I am so excited about that! I feel like I'm starting to train myself to sit still and focus on a book all over again--I've gotten too used to watching a movie and flipping through my phone at the same time, and that's not doing me any good as a writer or an instructor or an artist. Putting down the phone is hard, but I'm working on doing it more frequently.

I am currently on a long weekend for President's Day, and my grading was caught up, so I've had a few days in a row to myself. Happy Valentine's Day to me. It's perfect.

I finished up Mary Karr's *The Art of Memoir* yesterday, and I'm about a third of the way through Matthew Zapruder's "Why Poetry?" as well. This morning, I found RIchard Powers's *The Overstory* on my Kindle, so I began reading that. I have a bad habit of buying novels that are prize winners then not always reading them. 

So far in 2021, I've read the following books:

*The Art of Memoir* by Mary Karr

Karr's voice is worth the price of admission here. I've read all of her books, and her memoir is as wonderful and vivid as her poetry. Some chapters are better than others, but it's all valuable. She ends the book with a kick-ass list of memoirs she teaches from and recommends. 

*The Book of Speculation* by Erika Swyler

A novel about a family with a carnival/circus background? Yes, please. I will basically read any piece of shit that boasts a connection to carnival or circus folk. This one was meh. I found a few elements of the plot pretty hard to believe; I couldn't get past the inconsistency in the main character's actions. Frankly, the protagonist and his sister both destroy items that are the only tangible proof of their family's history, and it just didn't ring true to me.

*Ayiti* by Roxanne Gay

These stories are wonderful--they were quick to read, and entertaining. Gay is enormously talented; I'm glad I have *Difficult Women* in my stack for February.

*Writing Hard Stories* by Melanie Brooks

Meh. I think there were some great revelations in some of Brooks's interviews with well-known memoirists, but too much of the book was spent describing their lunches, their interactions as she set up the interviews . . . Brooks was still in graduate school when writing this book, and perhaps there's just a little too much wide-eyed deferring to the masters. I didn't feel Brooks had enough of her own philosophies and her own ideas about memoir to hold it all together effectively. Most significant to me--I thought the book would offer a lot more about writing trauma-informed memoir. And, some chapters were really repetitive--several authors repeated the same lessons, and I felt it bogged down the book. It seemed obvious to me that she needed every interview she had--because she didn't leave out interviews that overlapped again and again.

*The Dark Dark* by Samantha Hunt

I did not love this book, and the last story in it seemed like a bad MFA workshop piece, which it probably was. I have Hunt's novel *Mr. Splitfoot* on my kindle, half-finished for a couple of years now. I just don't think she's one of my favorites. 

*Carry* by Toni Jensen

Full disclosure: I worked with Jensen at Chatham University where I earned my MFA, and I am briefly mentioned in the book. That being said, I felt that I gained an important lens on our country through this book. I'll write more about it in the next week or so . . . I don't want to shortchange it.

I am shooting for four books per month, for 48 books in 2021. I am hoping to hit 50, just because I'd like the round number. I am making an effort to read more books on the craft of writing, and I am trying to read more BIPOC writers, though I know my list this year is fairly white so far. I have another book of Gay's and Jensen's short fiction collection in the short stack of books that are waiting their turn, and a few more on my kindle. I was really missing the feel of a novel--needed a break from the nonfiction and the short stories.