Poetry, Official Palace Language of Wow: Another Gem from Thanks Help Wow

IMG_1595On an ice-glazed morning, today’s reading thaws my cockles. Thanks again, Annie L:

When all is said and done, spring is the main reason for Wow. Spring is crazy, being all hope and beauty and glory. She is the resurrection. Spring is Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” 

Buds opening and releasing, mud and cutting winds, bright green grass and blue skies, nests full of baby birds. All of these are deserving of Wow—even though I have said elsewhere that spring is also about deer ticks—and everywhere you look, couples are falling in love, and the air is saturated with the scent of giddiness and doom. Petals are wafting and falling slowly through the air, and there is something so Ravel, languorous, reminding me to revel in the beauty of things wafting.

Only two months to crocuses.


Wrangling An Elusive Essay Form: Mosaic


Collage, fragmented, montage, segmented, lyric, sectioned: a mosaic by any other name was still a thorn in my flesh. The first mosaic I ever tried to write amounted to little more than a clumsy knockoff of a Richard Rodriguez essay assigned in my first MFA nonfiction workshop.


Three years later, I tried again. I picked up the same Rodriguez and works by Montaigne, inventor of the form.


I read and froze.


I re-read Rodriguez. I couldn’t grasp the peculiar features of the form firmly enough to do it myself. Reading Rodriguez did not help.


Stained glass makes sense, the image my professor used to illustrate the mosaic essay. Like stained glass in a church, each paragraph or group of paragraphs a single scene, which viewed with all the other scenes, make sense alone but make the most impact only when the last scene clicks into place.


But my own mosaic attempts continued to be stilted, round-peg-square-hole experiments. Shrinky Dinks in my mother’s oven.


More research. More reading. If I can grasp “the rules,” I can write a mosaic.


Montaigne, On Some Verses of Virgil. I meditate more on Montaigne’s words searching for clues. Of Books: “Let attention be paid not to the matter, but to the shape I give it.”


Nester’s Teaching Blog. Daniel Nester: “What Papa Montaigne means, I think, is that the form of the essay, the way the essay reflects the consciousness of the writer, is just as important, if not more, than what is addressed.”


Ned Stuckey-French lights a candle and guides me toward understanding in his characterization of Rodriguez’s Late Victorians. “(Appearing) as a mosaic personal essay – constructing a solid theme through bits and pieces of different subjects.”


Closer to clarity, I can’t think of a single topic to squeeze into a patchwork prose quilt. Maybe I’m trying too hard to get it.


I scour my public library, the Internet. Ninety-day diet.


I gobble up every mosaic essay I can find. Over three months, I rack up $10 in overdue fines for the convenience of Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies on my bedside table for multiple nighttime readings of the same mosaics.


Magic. Osmosis. Click. Eula Biss breaks through with pure, original mosaic, with only the faintest hints of Montaigne or Rodriguez.


Robin Black grabs me by the throat, her heartfelt essay reflecting the angst of parenting decisions in its own herky-jerky structure and section titles.


Ander Monson’s quieter mosaic offers another, contrasting example of how a fragmented essay can be daring in its structure, through the use of titles, tone and pace.


Dev Hathaway breaks my heart. “North Pole, South Pole, the Sea of Carcinoma” presents medical facts with deft restraint of sentiment.


All my favorites differed from examples left by the inventor of the mosaic and from one another; but they are all indeed mosaics. I immersed myself in these works. I stopped trying to apprehend the concept of mosaic and gave in to the experience of mosaic. And I got it.


The more I tried to comprehend the rules the more I realized that the key to mosaic is its suspension of the usual narrative rules. Nester’s rationale behind Montaigne’s approach to mosaic personal essay was the final tile in the mosaic of my search that made the form clear to me, at long last:

The demands of a narrative, of exposition, of having to explain everything can frustrate the writer who has other things to say. The desire to write a piece of nonfiction that lets other, perhaps nonlinear, factors affect its shape goes back to the origins of the essay itself.

Nester nailed it. I had other things to say. I scanned through my daily writing entries, found one with a topic that had eluded me for ten years, and started riffing. Riffing sans structure freed an essay to collage itself to life. I gave it permission to emerge in tiles that tell a story individually and in the aggregate” with its its content and its form.

Me and Mosaic

In the process of grasping a form I’ve found a new friend, a secret weapon that helps me write about the most complex and slippery subjects from as many different angles as my mind can think to write.

via The Institute for Sacred Architecture
via The Institute for Sacred Architecture


The Traditional Publishing Path: a Midwest Writer’s Workshop agented author shares her wisdom, from how to find a literary agent to what to expect while you’re out on submission

Annie Sullivan celebrates Vietnam
Annie Sullivan celebrates Vietnam

With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, you might be wondering what the next steps are. Here is a handy list you can use to figure out how to query literary agents and to trace your path through the publishing industry.

1. Have a completed, revised manuscript.

This means you didn’t type “The End” and then declare the book ready to be sent to agents. Make sure you have other writers read it first to look for pacing issues, plot errors, etc.

2. Draft a strong, attention grabbing query letter. (See link below.)

3. Thoroughly research the agents you want to query.

Find the best agent for you based on location, how many clients they take on, whether they give editorial feedback, whether they give a lifetime contract or a single book contract, etc.

4. Follow agent submission guidelines as mentioned on their agency website.

5. Treat finding an agent like a business.

Start a spreadsheet of what you’ve sent to each agent and the date you sent it. It can also be helpful to record the date you heard back from them in case you want to query them again later you’ll know when to expect a response.

6. Wait. (And start working on something new!)

7. Revise your query/manuscript based on agent feedback.

8. Get an offer.

9. Inform all other agents that you have an offer.

10. If you receive more than one offer, select the best agent for you and negotiate a contract.*

*If you don’t get an offer with your first book, always write something new and start over again at step 1.

11. Sign contract and celebrate.

12. Revise based on agent’s thoughts.

13. Go out on submission to editors.

14. Wait some more.

15. Either get an offer or get a rejection.

If it’s an offer, celebrate. If it’s a rejection, decide if you should revise, and then submit to more editors.

Why Choose the Traditional Publishing Path?

1. An agent to bounce ideas off of and who knows the market.
2. Direct Access to the “big” New York publishers.
3. More time to write (because you don’t have to deal with the business side of things)!!!
4. Advance Money
5. More marketing and publicity support.

 Helpful links:

1) Literary Rambles
• Great for finding Young Adult and Children’s agents

2) Absolute Write Water Cooler
• Find out what other writers are saying about agents

3) Query Tracker
• Find out what other writers are saying about agents

4) Preditors & Editors
• See if an agent is legitimate

5) Query Shark
• See examples and get advice on query letters

Annie Sullivan graduated in 2012 with her MFA in creative writing from Butler University. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnel’s. Her novel won the Luminis Books Award at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop, and she is currently working with her literary agent to get it published. She lives in Indianapolis and loves traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s working as the Publicity Coordinator at Wiley, a 207-year-old publishing company based Hoboken, NJ.

Connect with Annie Sullivan –
Twitter: @annsulliva

Read Annie’s flash fiction story “Blarney”.

RIP Lou Reed, Poet

"New York" album cover
“New York” album cover

Lyrics aren’t all poetry, but these kill. Rest in peace, Lou Reed

“Romeo Had Juliette”

Caught between the twisted stars
The plotted lines the faulty map
That brought Columbus to New York

Betwixt between the East and West
He calls on her wearing a leather vest
The earth squeals and shudders to a halt

A diamond crucifix in his ear
Is used to help ward off the fear
That he has left his soul in someone’s rented car

Inside his pants he hides a mop
To clean the mess that he has dropped
Into the life of lithesome Juliette Bell

And Romeo wanted Juliette
And Juliette wanted Romeo
And Romeo wanted Juliette
And Juliette wanted Romeo

Romeo Rodriguez squares
His shoulders and curses Jesus
Runs a comb through his black ponytail

He’s thinking of his lonely room
The sink that by his bed gives off a stink
Then smells her perfume in his eyes
And her voice was like a bell

Outside the streets were steaming
The crack dealers were dreaming
Of an Uzi someone had just scored

I betcha I could hit that light
With my one good arm behind my back
Says little Joey Diaz

Brother give me another tote
Those downtown hoods are no damn good
Those Italians need a lesson to be taught

This cop who died in Harlem
You think they’d get the warnin’
I was dancing when I saw his brains run out on the street

And Romeo had Juliette
And Juliette had her Romeo
And Romeo had Juliette
And Juliette had her Romeo

I’ll take Manhattan in a garbage bag
With Latin written on it that says
“It’s hard to give a shit these days”

Manhattan’s sinking like a rock
Into the filthy Hudson what a shock
They wrote a book about it
They said it was like ancient Rome

The perfume burned his eyes
Holding tightly to her thighs
And something flickered for a minute
And then it vanished and was gone


Dear Butler University MFA program, Booth, Hilene Flanzbaum, Rob Stapleton, and Andy Levy,

Thank you. Thank you for sending me to AWP 2013. As an expression of my deep gratitude, I offer this wee token of my affection and appreciation for you and your commitment to your staff and students.

So. Let’s recap.

AWP is to socially awkward people as Jasper-Pulaski is to Sandhill cranes.

Michael Martone may be stalking me.

Eye contact can be excruciating.
Eye contact may be excruciating.

Book fairs bestow upon writers superhuman powers of extroversion, taking the edge off, if only for an hour, the pain of engaging in conversation.

Beer helps.

Poets and writers, they do love their Robert Pinsky.

Permission to use profanity granted by “Christian literary” panelists representing Rock and Sling, Word Farm and Image.

This guy wins Sweetest/Cutest Boy of AWP. (Isaac Fitzgerald, holding hands with his dad in the Copley Place mall—Feels!)

No. Really. Cheryl Strayed is all that.

Roxane Gay is Katherine Hepburn pretty, easier and harder to talk to than you might expect, and has an adorable hint of a lisp that makes you want to pull her up into your lap, give her a peck on the cheek, and read to her the Eric Carle canon.

Craft and talent without empathy is FeS2.

Pixar’s Cars is just like Pride and Prejudice.

Stephen Elliot scares me but probably doesn’t mean to.

If Rick Russo were a toy...
If Rick Russo were a toy…

If Richard Russo were a toy, he’d be a stuffed baby penguin.

The age of thirty is “late in life” to become a writer.

It is possible to stab oneself in the eye repeatedly without losing one’s eyesight.

Michael Martone has clones, all of them engineered with the affability of the original.

It might be too late for me.

You can dance if you want to, you can leave your cares behind.

If the whole writing thing doesn’t work out, Joe Sacksteder should consider a career as an orthodontics model.

Writers are a helluva good time to watch on a dance floor after an hour of open bar.

“Christian” and “literary” aren’t mutually exclusive, necessarily.

It’s the Puritans’ fault.

It’s official: I have reached the age of sexual invisibility to every man but the only man who matters, which ain’t so bad.

Peach Maud Newton has a photographic memory for names and faces.

Binge writing is perfectly acceptable, especially for moms like (Dear) Sugar and me—checking into hotel sans kids strongly recommended.

Some poets may be hot to the touch.

It’s not too late for me.

I can do this thing, but only if I write like a motherfucker.

All my love,

Write like a mofo.Beth

Stretch, Run and Cheer the Murakami and Tudor Way: “If Only Virginia Woolf Had Done Yoga”

Writers, as you know from the first four installments of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to Bridge the Worlds of MFA-Candidate and MFA-Wielding God/Goddess so graciously offered by Butler MFA-wielding goddess Eliza Tudor [this is the summary part with links to the brilliant Tudor tips you missed the first time]:

  1. Lit Mags fuel a writer
  2. Writers submit their work
  3. Writers write
  4. Writers friend and poke, and they make pipe-cleaner puppets.

I trust you’ve benefited from the series and leave you now with Ms. Tudor’s final nuggets of wisdom from beyond the MFA . . .


I think writers should try and fit in a little exercise every day.  It’s a sanity thing.  If only Virginia Woolf had done yoga.  It’s hard—especially for writers.  You think, “I could be spending this time working” (especially if you only have a few minutes to fit everything in).  After I finished the program, I dusted off the yoga mat, I started running more, and it helped.  It’s time to think or not think.  And, if Murakami does it, it has to be good.


Stop thinking about others as competition.  It’s hard sometimes to ignore what others are doing, but nobody’s path is the same.

  • Do your work.
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Try as hard as you can not to look over your shoulder.
  • This is the perfect time to take some new risks in your writing.
  • Ignore the crowd.
  • Applaud others.
  • Do what excites you.

Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart and is scheduled to appear in Annalemma Issue 8.

Thank you, Eliza, for your generosity and for giving us something to hold onto as we press on toward the goal. xo, BB

Moments with Merwin: God Bless America!

The United States has a new Poet Laureate, and his name is W.S. Merwin.

The 17th US Poet Laureate WS Merwin
Photo borrowed from UniVerse

I must admit, as a proser I was unfamiliar with this two-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s work. In fact, I wasn’t aware that the United States even had an official poet. (How cool is that?) Thank you, NPR, for shining the light into my darkness. Listening to this story while sitting in my car, I heard this handsome octogenarian read one of his earlier poems. It has haunted me for days, and now I will share it with you.


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

After I heard him recite this poem, I craved more. So I looked for his work on the shelves of a local bookstore and found only one. I settled into a comfy chair, flipped open to the first poem in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Shadows of Syrius,” and read. As I read, a most unusual thing happened. My eyes welled up. Has that ever happened to you as you’ve read poetry? Poetry has inspired me before, but this was the first time poetry moved me to tears.

I didn’t have the money to purchase the book, so I left it at table near the front of the store and hoped someone else would pick it up and be so moved. When I got home, I surfed for more W.S. Merwin online and found the most marvelous site. UniVerse gives readers access to the most celebrated poets from countries all over the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Their work is a window into their respective cultures.

Representing the United States on UniVerse would be W.S. Merwin. From his home on an old pineapple plantation on Mauai, our country’s 17th Poet Laureate has performed his job as “ambassador of poetry” in the life of this one American. Thank you, Mr. Merwin. And God bless America.

Read the tear-jerking poem, The Nomad Flute.