Tag Archives: poetry

It’s All About Perseverance

24 Oct

I got the oddest (and most welcome) letter in the mail last month in a hand-addressed envelope from the North American Review. It was my original query letter with a lovely handwritten note from the editor, letting me know that they were interested in one of my poems (huzzah!!).

What made it so odd was that it had my old New York address on the query letter, which is strange because I haven’t lived there in almost two years. As I reread the editor’s note, my eyes finally shifted up to the date on my letter – October 12, 2010. Two thousand ten, people! Almost three years from the date that I mailed out my query, I was finally hearing back. Amazing, right?

Two Thousand Friggin' Ten

Two Thousand Friggin’ Ten

I don’t know which is more fantastical, knowing that the NAR’s reading backlog is two plus years long or that they still finally got back to me. I had long given up on those submissions. Heck, I haven’t submitted a poem in almost six months. And yet, here was this little welcome nugget of approval! Even after so much time, they still liked the poem! They still wanted to publish it!

Which gets me to my point: perseverance. You have to keep at it. Day by day. Week by week. Month by month. Even year by year. Because you never know. Someday, somewhere, someone will get your poem. It will speak to them in a way that they’ve never heard before, just as it was speaking to you when you wrote it.

With all that goes on in our busy lives (work, family, friends, hobbies, paying the goddamn bills), it’s easy to get discouraged and stop making the time to write. It’s easy to make excuses for why you’re not writing, not reading, not listening to poetry, not paying attention. There are more pressing, more fun, more rewarding things to do – at least that’s how it feels sometimes. But if you’re anything like me, the most amazing thing you can do is write. To write a really great poem, short story, novel, play. Because only you can do this. Only you.

So don’t give up hope. Get your butt in the chair. Keep writing, keep revising, keep reading, keep submitting, keep working.

Rock on, people.

~ Jho


To Workshop, To Workshop, With My New Poem I Go

19 Jan

One of the great joys of my life now that I’m back in Long Beach is my real-life contact with my writer friends. These are my true peeps – they have sweated and suffered through bad poems with me, we’ve congratulated each other and hidden secret envy over good poems, but we’ve managed to stick together for eleven years now. (I had to do some mental recalculating. Eleven years?!? Really? How did this happen?)

My core ladies, the spitfire Ms. J and mother-lion Ms. K, and our various friends who have joined our workshops when they could, have sustained me as a writer whenever I have questioned why I bother or why any of us bothers. I’m just so proud and thankful to have them in my life, as fellow writers and sister-friends.

Which is why I’m so happy (or at least CityBoy will tell you, so happy for me, by my standards of constant pessimism and that-shit’s-fucked-up-ism) that we’re workshopping on a real, regular basis.

workshop notes, baby!

workshop notes, baby!

Maybe we’re not always all bringing our A game. Sometimes crap is what we’re bringing, real C-level crap, but we’re writing and thinking about writing and talking about writing. By which I mean, we’re telling stories and helping each other find ways to tell them better.  Continue reading

My 101 Things: 5% Done, 95% to Go

24 Jul

Woohoo! There is money in the Money Pot, ladies (and gentlemen).

the Money (Tea) Pot

As part of my 101 Things in 1,001 Days challenge, I pledged to put away $5 for every Thing I completed. We’re now up to a whopping $30 USD, thank you very much, for crossing off such great challenges as:

– Getting a library card (hello, Alamitos Library!)

– Setting up an emergency fund (hello, Istanbul – I am nothing if not single-minded)

– Revising 10 poems

I’m actually super delighted by this last one. As part of my unending list of neuroses, you may remember that I freaked out on Google Docs (or Google Drive, or whatever new madness those wacky Googleites are concocting next) a month or so back, when I couldn’t print any of my poems from my account. Instead of going back to the manual typewriter, as I sometimes dream about (god, remember that beautiful click-clacking of the keys, the jingle bell satisfaction of the return lever), I settled on the next big thing: retyping all my  manuscript poems as good, old-fashioned, single-computer accessible Word documents.  Continue reading

Work in Progress: Boys on the Subway (revised)

10 Oct

It’s the fall again, or at least it will be if this damn weather stops pretending to be summer. It’s my favorite season. Something about back to school and the cooler weather, the leaves changing and the sky darkening earlier and earlier. The air smells of sharpened pencils and wool sweaters (I think I may have stolen this from You’ve Got Mail, which is one of those ridiculous movies that I can’t NOT watch when it’s on TV. I know. You’re thinking, “Meg Ryan? Tom Hanks? Sheesh.” But if you haven’t watched it, do so. You will thank me. Or we’ll discover that we might not become such great friends).

The wedding is finally behind us (or at least it will be after this weekend’s final celebratory dinner with CityBoy’s East Coast family), and we can both breathe a long sigh of relief. We made it. We’re still talking. We still like each other.

Which means that life can get back on track and we can refocus on the things that we love and make us feel human. For me, this means writing again.

CityBoy’s brother gave a beautiful reading at our ceremony, which of course I loved since he purloined some things from my blog as a jumping point to talk about marriage and relationships. I was compelled to admit that I have shamefully ignored this blog and done very little writing this year. Jobs, and proposals, and travel, got in the way.

So I’m recommitting (again). It’s time to get my ass back in the chair and do what I love best: form words into sentences into stories…”the best words, in the best order.”

My writing friends have been instrumental to the “best order” part. It’s amazing what another set of eyes, eyes you value and admire, can do for your own work. I found the idea of starting with a fresh, blank page a little daunting this morning, so I pulled a new poem out of my waiting-to-be-revised batch and I’m quite pleased with the result. You’ll have to let me know what you think.


Work in Progress: Boys on the Subway

19 Nov

I’m always checking people out on the subway, much to CityBoy’s chagrin, who maintains that no eye contact is good eye contact on the train. But I can’t help looking. There’s so much strangeness and vulnerability and drama on the subway.

The other day, I watched this young tough size up the young guy sitting next to me on the train. It was chilling to watch him. I almost felt as if I should escort the guy off the train and make sure he got to his destination alright. This is what came to mind when I was sitting my ass in the chair:


Boys on the Subway

It’s still the schoolyard, the toughs braced
against the chainlink, the outfits the same—
hooded sweatshirt, a shroud of menace
framing thrust-out chins, their just-cinched
pants straining at the nexus of their crotches ,
stubble pressing through their doughy faces—
everything oversized, unlaced, splayed.
They take up too much, spread their knees
wide across the bench seats, the tongues
of their spit-clean sneakers bright white
against a lunar background of logoed
blacks and grays.  Eager as untrained
pups, their eyes lap up every girl, dissect
their figures into breast sizes, hand spans
of waist, the canted arc of their jeans-
encased asses. They let them know
with licks and swipes of their eyes
which they’d take to a dim corner.

Work in Progress: Before Going to the Front, Hungary, 1916

12 Nov

I was at Strand Books the other day, waiting for none other than Andrew McCarthy (yes, that Andrew McCarthy) to read at a food and travel writing event, when I spied this little volume of photos: André Kertész: The Early Years. It’s a really beautiful little book, full of tiny works, about the size of contact photos. I’d never heard of the photographer before (I’m not that well-versed in the art world though I love photography) and I was struck by how clear and precise his images were. He later moved to larger photos (once he could afford it) but there’s something striking about these little pictures, like the cameos that the Victorians carried on their persons of loved ones. Each photo is like a little memorial. I’ve been flipping through it for inspiration.

Here’s one based on the photograph of the same name:


Before Going to the Front, Hungary, 1916

– After André Kertész

The cellist anchors his instrument
in the dirt, its tail spike finding a groove
in the rutted road side, and begins to play,
his finger pads hardened by years of this
action, the alternating bowing and picking, gentle
or savage depending on the piece,
the movement, the wavering pencil work
on his copy of the concerto.

Today he does not need to brush back
his coat tails, wing the twin swallows
of his black-polished tuxedo
before he sits. His soldier’s uniform
is utilitarian olive drab, the buttons
flat discs of wood, his shined boots
the only spangle of ornamentation.

The others, dressed like him,
their knapsacks full of rationed bread,
gather to one side, listen to the rise in his cello’s
open belly, the wild keening he coaxes
stoking their own throats.  Their swallowed
goodbyes blend into the trafficked air.

Submissions Time Again

2 Nov

Supplies at the ready

I just sent out a new batch of submissions the other week. The whole process is time-consuming and not a little tedious, but I’ve been using this new system for a while, which I borrowed from Kelly Russell Agodon, and while it’s not the speediest, it has stopped me from sending the same poem to too many journals. The process is:

Step One:

Identify your publication-worthy poems. These are always still in revision mode, but if I waited until each poem was perfect-perfect, I’d never send anything out. I firmly believe it’s a crap shoot anyways, at least in the beginning stages, until you identify your go-to journals.

Step Two:

Match your poems to journals with open reading periods.


This is the hardest part of the process for me. I’m usually surprised by what journals take which poems, so I’m always just guessing. I try to read up on the journals, see if I can find some sample poems on their websites, and batch together 3-5 poems (the low end of however many the journal says they want) that I think they might like. I’ve found the Creative Writers Opportunities list on Yahoo! Groups (CRWROPPS) indispensable in finding out what journals are currently seeking submissions. The list (moderated by the tireless Allison) also is a great resource for poetry contests, job openings, and other creative-writing related interests.

Step Three:

Send out your submissions. Do not stop at Go. Do not collect $100. Just send them out.

I have all my poems listed on individual 3×5 index cards, one poem per card. As I complete submissions, I update my index cards to show which poem has gone to which journal, along with the date I submitted that poem. I really like this paper process, as it forces me to physically note where each poem has gone.

Step Four:

File your index cards. Poems that have been submitted to a journal go in the “Submitted” section (duh, I know, but you’d be surprised how many times I simultaneously submitted poems unintentionally before this system). Poems that haven’t been submitted go into the “In Progress” section. Keep working this section, poem by poem, until you’re comfortable moving poems into the “To Submit” section. This way, you’re ready with a new batch of poems to send out when you sit down to start this up all over again.

I try to submit a big batch at least every quarter. It’s very time-consuming – it usually takes me about a day and a half to prep five to eight submission packets – but you gotta do it. No one’s ever going to see your work unless you make the effort to share it.

And the joys of getting something accepted, as “Ice Water, Fever” was recently accepted by Cloudbank, is a high like no other.

I also wanted to share this bit of advice from Kelly’s blog: Submit Like a Man. I looked back at all my rejection letters (don’t worry, I’ve only been saving the ones since I moved to NYC) and found several notes to “send us more,” which of course, I never did. Talk about missed opportunities. So I’ve learned my lesson. If you reject me, but you put even one tiny note about having enjoyed my stuff, I’m sending you more. Not in six months or a year. Soon. Very, very soon.

So get out there, my fellow writers-in-arms, and submit. Like a man.

– Jho