Sarabande Books Tweets About the "Can You Help Me Get Published" Series

The “Can You Help Me Get Published?” Series has over 6,000 7000 views and counting on the Xtranormal website.  More than 800 people have shared the series on Facebook.  And the YouTube videos are starting to take off too.  Here are links to other blogs, tweets, websites, etc. that have helped make this series go viral (it’s even being discussed in Iceland!):

DUDE! RT @Vasugi “I don’t read other writers… Can you help me get published?” This is AMAZING. 🙂    —

How can I not share these. They are so wonderful. Major applause to whomever made and wrote them. Plus I wanted to have them all in one place.”    —   

“When I saw these two videos, “Can You Help Me Get Published? (parts 1 and 2) on the Xtranormal website, I laughed because they rang true.”    —

It’s funny because, scarily, it’s true. I see these people everywhere. Thanks Rhonda for posting this on FB!    —    (yeah, thanks Rhonda!)

Listed in “Today’s Book News” from the Quill & Quire: Canada’s Magazine of Book News and Reviews    —

“These Xtranormal videos have not gotten old yet: Can You Help Me Get Published?” (Bitter Asides, Links of Interest)    —

All 4 videos listed under “News and Commentary” with the note:  “Thanks to Tom Hunley for alerting me to this” in The Kentucky Literary Newsletter    —  – The Kentucky Literary Newsletter

Under the Title: “Quotable” from pesbo Poetry Journal:  “And Can you help me get published? a funny little animation from xtranormal about a student interacting with a writer-in-residence. [via Facebook]”    —

Erin Keane comments on the We Who Are About to Die website: “I can’t believe I watched all four of these videos and they never revealed the secret to getting published in the Reader’s Digest.”    —-

Multiverse Poet blogs, “This is for all who wonder about becoming a published poet or have been asked to help someone become a published poet.”    —

Listed under “Citizen Journalism” on the Get Published Central website    —-

Review of Ann Fisher-Wirth’s “Carta Marina: A Poem in Three Parts”

I’ve had the great pleasure of reviewing several of Ann Fisher-Wirth’s poetry collections.  Here’s the latest, published in May 2010 by Emprise Review.
CARTA MARINA: A POEM IN THREE PARTS. By Ann Fisher-Wirth. Wings Press, 2009. 81 pp. $16.
Lost to public knowledge for more than three hundred years, Olaus Magnus’ map of the Nordic countries, the Carta Marina, is the basis of Ann Fisher-Wirth’s third full-length collection, Carta Marina: A Poem in Three Parts.   Using a variety of forms and a consistent chronology, Carta Marina is one of those rare book-length poems that so masterfully sustains its narrative, so subtly maintains its urgency, that it cannot be put down once opened until the entire thing has been read – and then we must, absolutely must, turn immediately to the first page and begin all over again.
Beginning in late fall and moving purposefully and urgently to mid-spring, Carta Marina brings multiple worlds – the physical, the emotional, the spiritual, and the intellectual – to light. As both a poet and an academic, Fisher-Wirth displays incredible skill in the crafting of each and every poem, and she leaves her laborious research out in the open – unapologetic – in a move that grounds the emotional highs and lows that bring us as readers to the brink of disaster.
The book opens with a bare facts description of the Carta Marina, situating readers in the historical context of the poem:
The Carta Marina, “the earliest map to present a fairly accurate picture of Sweden and its neighbouring countries,”* was completed after twelve years’ labor by the Swedish historian Olaus Magnus in 1539…Made of nine woodcuts, the map measures 170 X 125 centimeters. 
And then, like the bear of the opening poem, Fisher-Wirth takes her scholarship and “presses it like a lover, / wraps one arm around its neck, sinks [her] teeth // into its shoulder” (3) – until we are lost in the swirl of finely crafted lines and gorgeous images, almost missing entirely the historical and cultural value of the work she’s done. Almost. Early poems in the collection guide us along the wooden contours of the map’s surface. It is a map of a people, to be sure, but the Carta Marina’s history – having been completely lost for a period of time, even to the point where its very existence was questioned – works as a metaphor for the poet’s lost history, for all of our lost histories freshly recalled, painfully remembered and seen again with new eyes.
Fisher-Wirth carves layers of narrative onto the surface of the Carta Marina. Using a diary format that keeps the reader grounded in time, the poem shifts deftly between breathtaking depictions of the Swedish landscape, correspondence between the speaker and her former lover, and anguished reflections on both a life lost and a life that is starkly, beautifully, simplistically steadfast. The tragedy lying in the foreground of the poem is that of the speaker’s child who “shifted and grew, an / elbow, a knee sculpting her side, its small life thrumming in her / bloodstream” (18) and the dawning knowledge of “the smear of blood on the toilet paper, / then at her walking / back to the bed, / still naked, / and everything different forever then” (16).  Under the engraving of this loss lies another, more recent and shadowy loss – that of the speaker’s students, Chuck and Jonathan, who are so subtly woven into the text that the students and lost child blend and meld into the loss of all “the babies, the babies in their gray coffins” (26).
In the crevices of this loss lie the relationships – strewn haphazardly about. The speaker and her former lover exchange emails, ask long silenced questions, and the danger in the fact that he is “In love with me again—or, he says, still—“ (40) hangs precipitously in the air above the others: his family, her husband. And though Carta Marina delves deeply into what it means to be human, to be inconveniently confronted and momentarily lost in what-might-have-been, it is the relationship sitting silently, patiently by that defines this masterful narrative. It is the moment of dawning realization that reminds us not only of our own humanity but of the humanity of those who surround us:
Peter and me naked in virulent color
sprawled on a beach, a sandy hillside, us scarlet,
cobalt, gold, electric—his beautiful burly torso, sharp knees,
cock lying soft against his thigh, beyond him my body naked,
us sloping gently flushed rosy and crimson, this was when I knew
we were married eternally, and I say “Yes, yes,”
to my friend, “that was a good vacation,” while all the while
I’m thinking, What have I done? What have I done?  (43-44)
Carta Marina: A Poem in Three Parts wraps layer upon layer, blends old deaths with fresh ones, ties the steadfast silence to the raging roar, and covers it all under the “Red roofs” of Sweden, of Paris, “this clayey red / as if someone remembered Mississippi” (12). And this is where Fisher-Wirth’s brilliance really shines. Like true emotion and experience, one tragedy molds itself into the next, one great love slides atop another, until we are unable to see where the knife first struck, the individual cuts blur into a spectacular vision of pain and beauty. The Carta Marina lays Sweden bare as Fisher-Wirth’s poem of the same name lays bare the complexities of human loss, the compromises and sacrifices of human relationships, and the power of the human heart, “The split heart– / The heart still split—“.  It is itself a map, whispering the cartographer’s secrets and guiding us always through “All this human love and anguish” (75). 

Mr. Takaji Being Photographed

Since the current trend in publication is to not allow submissions that have already been published (including on blogs), I’ll likely not be posting new poetry here.  I will, however, share recently published poems with you.  Here’s the latest, published in the Summer 2010 issue of the Naugatuck River Review.  This poem was originally written in tercets; however, due to page constraints, I had to shift it to quatrains to avoid publishing it with broken lines.

Mr. Takaji Being Photographed

Mr. Takaji checks in on me from time to time,
from the upstairs office  where he sits  
all night— faded flag on the wall, a letter
from President Clinton in a dusty wooden frame.

The regulars seep in, buy hot coffee, bags of chips,
after the bars have closed. They linger like boys
loitering in halls, carry with them a conversation, angry
talk about the Muslims in our town. George snorts

at headlines: Harassment, vandalism a reality
for Muslim-Americans, draws a finger, slow,
across his throat. Mr. Takaji comes down from his loft, 
holds a picture, in his hand, in the air: 

a young boy stands mug-shot-style in front of a chart,
his name white letters below his chin. Inscribed
on the frame: Tule Lake, 1945—
Do you see this? he asks. Everyone here knows the story:

the dusty, ill-attended Labor Day parade; boys in rows 
saluting behind concertina wire; aging grandparents 
slowly sinking into desert floor.  His voice resonates.  
Their heads nod as if on a single spring.

The fluorescent lights flicker and whirr.  Everything
looks yellow.  His hand shakes.  I turn and look
at the regulars, their faces ashen, awkward. 
They line up, pay for their drinks. The bell jangles

their departure. They leave him standing there,
black and white photo hanging mid-air.  The glass rattles 
in the frame as he drops it, heavy
on the counter, slowly shuffles back up the stairs.

Hang that on the wall, he says from the top, his voice,
a tired whisper.  I turn and look up,
he is wiping his glasses with the bottom of his shirt,
he is wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

The Animals Inside

I had dinner last night with a guy who told me a hilarious story about his daughter and one fateful Easter Sunday morning.  I woke this morning with that story rumbling around in my head, here’s what came out.  


Mike could barely contain his joy while he strategically placed chocolate coins and rabbits wrapped in shiny blue, pink and yellow foil in a line leading from Marysol’s bedroom to the huge Easter basket stashed away behind the couch.  He never would have dreamed seven years ago when his daughter was born and he began making up these little traditions that they would become, in themselves, religious ritual.  Toby padded along next to Mike, sniffing each chocolate and then backing away, obediently, each time his master gently said “No, Toby.  Those aren’t for you.”

When he’d finished, Mike stepped back to inspect his work.  It looked good.  Marysol would be able to find the Easter basket, but not too easily.  Toby took one longing look at the chocolates on the floor and then moved to the back door where he’d found something of greater interest.  He gave his butt a little wiggle and let out a whine to let Mike know that he wanted to go outside.  By the time his master made it to the door, Toby’s excitement was thundering.  Without waiting for the door to swing wide, Toby jammed his body into the opening and went racing through the yard.

“Jesus, Toby!” Mike said a little louder than he’d wanted.  He didn’t want to wake up Marysol before he was ready.  He closed the door against the frigid morning and turned to watch his wife, Isa, enter the room.  Isa hated Easter Sunday.  She headed straight for the coffee pot and then stopped to look around, listening suspiciously.

“Where’s Toby?” she asked, her thick Puerto Rican accent making everything sound like an accusation.

“He’s outside.”

“I hope you made a loud noise first.”

Mike looked at her.  Isa was always making statements filled with riddle and foreboding.  “Why on earth would I make a loud noise?” Mike asked, a bit grumpy that Isa was upsetting his Easter morning planning.

“Because of the animals outside!” Isa said.

Mike opened his mouth to make some sarcastic remark about how, oh yeah, everyone in this little subdivision on Long Island knew about “the animals” lurking out there in the dark, waiting to pounce on Mike’s hundred and ten pound pitbull.  Right.  But before he could formulate just the right jabs, Marysol’s high pitched scream broke his concentration.

“Help me!  HELP!!”  The child was screaming blue bloody murder.  Mike was out of his seat and up the stairs in seconds, scattering and smashing shiny pink footballs under his feet.  For a second, just a split second, Mike stopped outside his daughter’s door, preparing himself for what he was about to see.  He opened the door and within moments gave his daughter’s body a full inspection.  No blood.  No limbs trapped in some contorted position.  The child looked perfectly fine.

She was standing on her bed, her back facing her bedroom door and her father’s flushed and frantic look.  Marysol’s tiny hands were flattened, pressed hard, against the glass of her bedroom window.  She turned her head when her father entered the room, tears flowing freely down her young face, “Toby’s killing the Easter Bunny, papa!  You have to SAVE him!!”

Mike ran to the window.  Sure enough, Toby had a furry mass in his jaws.  He watched, horrified, as Toby snapped his head up and tossed it, twitching and flailing, into the air.  Marysol began screaming again.


Mike was halfway into the back yard before he realized he was only wearing a pair of jockey shorts.  Screw it, he thought.  No way this dog kills the freaking Easter bunny while my little girl watches.  Not today, Toby!  Mike stomped over to the dog who was now lying on the ground, his meaty paws encircling the furry lump.  “Hand him over,” Mike said and then took a startled, stumbling step backward.  The dog turned his head at the sound of Mike’s approach.  His teeth were bared, a low, menacing growl was rising from deep in the dog’s throat.  Mike noticed a single drop of blood fall from the dog’s jowls, staining the snow.

“Shit!” Mike turned and looked up, hoping Isa had grabbed the girl and prevented her from witnessing the crime below.  She hadn’t.  Marysol stood where Mike had left her, palms pressed against the glass, her little body rigid with fear, her eyes wide and aging.   “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!” Mike cursed under his breath.  He turned his back on the dog and raced back inside the house.

Isa was still sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other.  “I told you, you should have made a loud noise,” she said.  Mike brushed past her and headed straight for the refrigerator.  Meat, he thought.  I need meat.  He rummaged around for a moment finally putting his hand on two pounds of all beef hot dogs.  Mike gripped the packages and moved toward the door.  “What are you going to do with those hot dogs?” Isa demanded.  Mike brushed past her again, silent, grabbing the shovel before disappearing back into the snow.

Mike moved slowly toward the dog who was eyeing him suspiciously, the low rumble in his throat a steady warning.  He tore open the first package of hot dogs and started tossing them, one by one, into a pile two or three inches from the dog’s nose.  C’mon, you little bastard, he thought.  Don’t make me use this shovel.  The dog bared its teeth and made a slight lunging motion in Mike’s direction.  Suddenly, a thousand years of instinct flooded Mike’s body.  His muscles tensed, he crouched slightly down, not noticing the burning sensation in his feet and ankles from the icy snow on his bare skin.  Mike’s knuckles grew white around the shovel handle.  From the second story window, Marysol screamed.

Something was wrong with Toby’s master.  Toby’s nostrils were filled with the scent of his prey.  He’d gutted the rabbit and eaten the still warm entrails.  He wanted to bury the remains, to save them in a secret spot for later, but his master had interrupted the ritual.  He’d been in trouble for digging in the yard before.  But this was different.  The hot dogs were just outside of Toby’s reach.  He’d have to risk losing his kill to get to them.  Still, there was something in his master’s eyes that made Toby nervous.  He tucked his tail in submission and inched on his belly, slowly, away from the rabbit and toward the hot dogs.
In seconds, Toby had forgotten all about the rabbit.  He was standing now, tail still tucked, body still tensed to flee, gobbling down one hot dog after another.  Toby watched his master, out of the corner of his eye, lift the bloody carcass with the shovel and toss it over the fence.  It was a shame to lose such a good kill, but Toby’s master was clearly pleased with him again.  Toby wagged his tail and looked up smiling.
“Good dog,” Mike said.  It was barely audible, almost a sigh.  He leaned the shovel against the house, reminding himself to wash it off before Marysol came outside, and looked at Toby who was finishing off the last of the hot dogs.  Man’s best friend, he thought.  Mike let his eyes trail off behind Toby to the bloody stain in the snow where the rabbit had been sacrificed.  He shivered for the first time as the realization of what he was prepared to do, almost did, washed over him.  Toby sniffed the ground to ensure he hadn’t missed any last scraps of hot dog, trotted to the scrubby pine and lifted his leg to relieve himself.  Mike stood locked in the image of his own fists hacking his dog to bits with the blunt end of a shovel.  Toby came to stand near his master, pushing his head against Mike’s hand.  “Let’s go inside, boy,” Mike said quietly.  As they approached the door, Mike turned and looked out into the yard and let out a loud, guttural yelp.  Isa was wrong.  There were no animals out there lurking in wait.  All the animals were inside.

The Sanctity of the Sanctuary

Today I’m in Salamanca, Spain.  The churches here are 13th through 17th century and absolutely amazing.  From the outside.  Now, I’ve been in enough 500 year old churches to have some idea of what’s inside.  Flying buttresses.  Michelangelo-esque paintings on the ceiling.  Spectacularly-sustained stained glass windows.  But I find my attempt to take a peek at history blocked by the inevitable TURISMO NO signs that grace the 40-foot door entrances.  And that has me perplexed.
Even though I’m not a church-going individual, when I think of churches I always think of safety and sanctity – unlocked doors at all hours of the night and a place to run, screaming “SANCTUARY” when being chased by an angry mob or the police.  I think of the one remaining place in the world where all are welcomed, for any reason, at any time.  It appears something has changed.  And for some reason, this saddens me.
Sure, it’s probably a bit uncouth to be snapping pictures in the church sanctuary (an activity I myself am guilty of doing…see above).  But I can’t help but feel that churches of this sort (the hundreds of years old sort) have an obligation to history as well as to God.  And surely more sacrilegious things have been done in and to churches.  I mean, if Maastrict, Netherlands can turn a centuries old cathedral into a bookstore, what’s the harm in allowing tourists to come flocking through with their cameras?  I’ve seen these “evil tourist types” in churches before.  Always quiet.  Always respectful.  Always in awe of the presence which surrounds them.  It’s not like the black-eyelined, leather-boot wearing, pierced and tattooed type are likely to step foot in there.  Myself excluded, of course.  Being just that type.  But even I, marked and jaded, carry a heavy dose of respect and gratitude when entering any sanctuary…500 years old or 1.
I suppose I can see their point.  Churches are a place of worship for those who believe.  They remain a sanctuary for their parishioners.  But one must wonder if the cause of the current trent toward the death of churches isn’t perhaps due, in some part, to the Church’s modern-day exclusivity?  When the Church begins closing its doors to the passersby, eventually passersby will stop coming in.