Um … about that American Libraries article we wrote

A disappointing report on the influence of corporations in intellectual discourse.

Stewart Varner

As a professional rule, I try to keep things positive. I like to be a cheerleader for all the great people out there and avoid boosting the signal on a bunch of negativity.

However, situations compel me to devote this one post to something totally crappy.

TL;DR: Patricia Hswe and I wrote an article for American Libraries and the editors added some quotes from a vendor talking about their products without telling us. We asked them to fix it and they said no.

Because American Libraries refused to clarify what happened, we decided to clarify it ourselves. What follows is our second (and hopefully happier) attempt at collaborative writing. This little blog does not have quite the reach of that big glossy magazine so please feel free to share as widely as you want. As always, let me know if you have any questions!  ||  @stewartvarner


If you are a member of…

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Gratitude is Bullshit

I agree that we often try to wash away unpleasantness, which keeps us from feeling our full range of emotions and moving through them so we can be not just grateful, but better (whether that means healing of wounds or a more just world).

What Monkeys Think

There is a disturbing trend among liberals to talk about gratitude. Everyone’s encouraged to have gratitude for the abundance in their lives. Everyone’s supposed to be grateful for all their blessings. On the surface, it’s a lovely sentiment. People should be mindful of the fact that they live privileged lives, and use that awareness to inform their interactions with people who are less privileged.

But it never goes that deep. It stops at “be grateful because you have it good.” The new Gratitude encourages insularity – think hard about what you have so that you aren’t thinking about people who don’t have anything. Gratitude is selfish. Being grateful for what you have invites the desire for more – more stuff (more friends, money, recognition) equals more gratitude, right?

This year has been full of horror: while the world was outraged at 12 people killed in attacks on Paris, thousands have died in Nigeria…

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The Scent of Death

The Citron Review

Patrick O’Neil

I’m in a dark, trash-filled alley between tall brick buildings. Two men stand in shadows. I can’t see their faces. I hand one of them money and he gives me a balloon of dope. I look up, there’s a light coming from an open window. I hear music, someone is crying. I’m happy I’m going to get high. I’m in a room stuck facedown between the bed and the wall. I hear someone coming. I want to yell, but I can’t. I’m having trouble breathing. I try to move. Behind me a door creaks open. I can’t turn around. I know they’re standing there. I scream…

Gasping for air I sit up in bed and check to see if I still have the dope in my hand. The room is quiet, the lights are off, the TV is on with the sound turned down. With an annoyed look…

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Women Who Host: Ashley Perez on Hosting a WWS Submission Party

Women Who Submit

AP WWS Submission Party

By Ashley Perez

What a blast it was to host a WWS party at my home on July 11, 2015. I had only been to one WWS meeting before and due to a constant conflicting schedule, I knew the only way I would get to another one would be to host it. I have also had little chance to have people over to my new digs so it served a dual purpose.

The main things I took out of hosting are the two primary words out of this group: WOMEN and SUBMITTING. It felt really good to be among a group of women who are amazingly smart, talented, and funny. It was an amazing atmosphere of solidarity and encouragement.

The second part is submitting. I was working on a huge grant application so I did not submit any stories but a friend of mine who came to the meeting, who…

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Dancing Girl’s Buffy Release

This is a pretty amazing video I wish I made myself.


I’d like for this post to count as two – it’s Day 5 of Lent and I’m a bit behind on posts. But, no! I’ll just have to double up tomorrow. Which is fine. I totally can. Do it.

On Saturday 2/21/15 Book Show, a newly opened book store in Highland Park, CA served as the venue for Lisa Cheby‘s chapbook, “Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer” published through Dancing Girl Press.  It was an Antioch University extravaganza – Seth Fischer handled MC duties, readers Ashley Perez and Tisha Reichle dropped some pretty fantastic prose, and the lady of the hour, Lisa, read from a labor of love that was 5-ish years in the making.

I’m digging readings lately.  For me, they don’t (yet?) have that air of “networking” the way other arts communities/scenes do. It really is just as simple as going to support friends and colleagues…

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The Truth of the Matter Is

The truth of the matter is fleeting.  The truth is I don’t know.  And this why I normally avoid writing that purports to know, like essays and stories.

I just finished an essay I have been working on for about a year. (In writing time, that is not so long.)

Now it is done and undone.

With creative non-fiction it feels as though as soon as it is done it is false.  That slice of moment of the self that was writing it is gone.

This is true for poetry, but somehow poetry seems okay with being an artifact of the moment, like peeling off a layer of skin, maybe from your thumb where you can spare some thickness of skin, and placing it in a collage of other items, framing it for viewing (no glass as the reader needs to be able to touch and smell the objects) and that is all it intends to be … a slice of a moment to remind us to see those slices.

An essay, however, asserts itself, with all those complete sentences and direct tellings and the bravado of saying, “I know something, so listen.”

A poem says, “I don’t know, so try to figure it out with me.”

See, that is already false.  I can already think of one argument of how that is not true: 1. Writing this essay was necessary to work out my own obstacle, as if I needed to be given permission to be freer and more joyful.   Another is:  2.the wonderfully lyrical essays of Jacqui Morton, who is able to transcend form and invite us in to share her figuring out living (she does a damn good job of it).

So, I wrote this essay, which may or may not hold true, but it holds something that is important to me, so tonight, I am going to send it out into the world because maybe it holds something that someone needs to hear.

Sharon Venezio, Guest Blogger: Writing Process Blog Tour

Since I tagged Sharon Venezio in this writing process blog tour when she does not have a blog, I invited her to guest blog here.

First,  a recap of what the writing process blog tour is:

A writer answers a few questions about how and why and what they write, and then they ask a pal or three to do the same, and as the weeks go by, more and more of us share our precious secrets about the creative process, until eventually, probably in like mid-September, we all simultaneously self-actualize.

Here are her answers to the questions.

What are you working on?

Faith. I’m working on having faith that I will find my way back to a writing practice. After my first book came out all of my creative energy disappeared. Poof. It went silent. That might not be entirely true, but any poem that tried to worm through the thick fallowness got stifled by my overcritical internal editor. I didn’t write for many months, perhaps even half a year, and when a poem did finally surface it sounded too familiar and I’d beat myself up over it. I wanted a new voice for the next manuscript. I believe a writer’s voice is fluid, not something we arrive at, yet I still kept getting hung up on the idea of voice within my new poems. I felt I was writing the same poem I’ve been writing for a decade, the same emotion turned over and over, the same book. So writing became a bit of a battle of wills. I often think of Louise Gluck who has long stretches of silence between books, sometimes lasting seven or more years, and Richard Siken, author of Crush, who, in a recent interview, said he turned to painting after his first book because he couldn’t use the medium of words anymore (his second book is forthcoming, ten years later). Ocean Vuong writes about preferring the practice of letting a poem gestate, not pushing his writing into a forced daily practice, letting poems drift within us and surface at will. There are many different ways to approach the practice of writing and I don’t believe it’s one-size-fits-all, though I do believe regular practice is a great way to continually evolve and be a master of the craft, but it’s something I’ve always struggled with. I had many moments where I feared I had nothing left to say, that my first book wrote it all out and there’s nothing left. But I decided to let it go, to simply have faith that things are happening within me, preparing for a new season. Nature always restores me, so I look toward nature to remind me that everything is cyclical, even this. Most all of the poems I’ve written in the past year are likely not going to end up in my second manuscript, but I have a handful that seem to be talking to each other, and this is the thread I am following, still not sure exactly what it is, but I have a sensation of what it is, a soft focus of meaning. I’m not writing daily, but I am trying to get back to a regular practice, and like most people, I have to find the space amongst all the other daily responsibilities. And even though I’m not writing daily, I read poetry regularly and still feel its presence on a daily basis, even if it’s just a nagging voice in the back of my mind. But really I believe poetry goes beyond the writing, too, and we can tap into it in different ways. Perhaps these cycles of non-writing are as essential as the cycles of writing. I suspect that entering into a second manuscript is the difficult part, but once I’m in it, once it’s latched itself inside me, there will be a return of that thing, that pull, that energy. Right now I’m listening and trying to be patient.


How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is a tough question. That’s what we want in poetry, isn’t it, to approach a subject, even a common one, with a unique voice (there’s that word again). For me, it all comes down to language. It’s not so much what we say but how we say it. I don’t know what makes me unique, if anything, but I strive to find a balance between narrative and abstraction and I hope to land in a place that can be a middle ground between these two things. I don’t think language poetry and narrative poetry need to be enemies. My first book had sections that were quite different in tone and style. I also love lyric, and even though it doesn’t seem very popular these days, I can’t help but return to it again and again.


Why do you write what you write?

I write poetry and have never really attempted any other genre. The only other genre I may attempt at some point is the essay, but I don’t imagine venturing anywhere else. I also have a very short attention span. When I was younger I read a ton of literature and philosophy, but I think my brain cells are fading and I no longer have the patience for some of the longer, dense stuff I used to read. But mainly poetry appeals to me because of how it uses language, how I feel when I’ve just read a great poem, the way something shifts inside and the whole world is slightly atilt. I’m always struck by how dramatic people are when they talk about poetry, as if it has the power to alter reality, and sometimes that seems absurd, but other times I know it to be true. When I’ve read a great poem I feel that everything inside has been burst open, sparked. Besides falling in love, there’s not much else that can do that to me. Maybe that’s it – every time I read a great poem, I fall in love. Writing takes me outside of myself (strangely, because it also requires such intense inward focus) and I like things that take me out of my own head.


How does your writing process work?

My writing process is a bit noncompliant. I wish I had it in me to write the way Cherrie Moraga urged women to write – on the bus, while doing laundry, while sweeping the floor, while on the job, to hear the words chanting in the body, but, it seems I do need a room of my own in order to really write, and I’m privileged enough to have that space. I suppose if I didn’t have that I would learn to write in coffee shops or wherever I had a free moment. But I have trouble with distraction and can’t really get deep into writing unless I am alone, even if that just means sitting alone in another room. I do sometimes write with poet friends, but that usually ends up being notes for writing, research, or revision; I rarely get much creative writing done in that context. I really need silence, both external and internal, to write, and when I’m writing in a group I can’t quite access what I need to get deep into a poem. This isn’t always true, but often. I remember writing a poem while at a conference, sitting in a very crowded space, and that poem ended up in my book, so it does happen. What I’ve learned helps me is to link physical movement with writing, so I try to write after doing yoga or other forms of movement that tend to clear my mind and silence all the typical distractions. I believe meditation serves the same purpose, but I’m not a big meditator in the typical sense. After all procrastination has been achieved, I read poems to help me get into the language of poetry and I write on my laptop while at my desk or kitchen table. I do a lot of driving for work so my car is an extension of my home, and I tend to write in my car a lot. Sometimes I will get lines and then sit down to see how they fit together and what they want to say, other times I write a poem straight through in one sitting and return to it over the course of a week for revision, then possibly more revision after getting feedback. I rarely spend more than a few weeks on a poem, for better or worse. Again, I think it has to do with attention. I tend to want to move on. I have friends who awake in the middle of the night with a poem pouring out of them, but my process is much more painstaking and usually involves pliers. It’s an evolving process and I have a long way to go.


Who is next?

Thank you to Lisa Cheby for asking me to take part in this blog tour and for generously posting my reply on her blog.  ​I am tagging Martina Reisz Newberry, a talented writer who recently released a book of poems.