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Thursday, July 28, 2005

She's not here (she's at the NCCAT blog)

My "other" blog--one that I've set up for this summer's NCCAT seminar in the short story--is eating up all my "news blog" time, so visit me there. Members are welcome; visitors of all stripes are welcome. There are quite a few things of interest to novice and professional writers.

Already up are:

a greeting featuring "hard work and joy," from Philip Lee Williams, Georgia author of twelve books, mostly fiction;

a response from Phil to a question about teaching creative writing and how to get students to "focus on their work";

Marjorie Hudson on place, shifting from "creative nonfiction" to fiction, the line between "making up" and "being accurate," and other interesting matters;

a tongue-in-cheek piece from Corey Mesler about writing his novel-in-dialogue, Talk;

a greeting from Ron Rash;

Ingrid Hill talking about how she chased down a WalMart trucker to do research for Ursula, Under.

Coming up:

Carole Fungaroli Sargent on--well, I've forgotten, we talked about so many possiblities--and more!

Check at

* * *

Oh, and I'm going to extend the book giveaway for ten days, mainly because I was lazy and only listed it at Bookloons. See the May 20 post in archives for how-to-do--

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Wilmington Star review of "Ingledove"

"Curse of the Raven Mocker (2003) felt as fresh as a mountain breeze. . . Ingledove, her latest, is even better… even adults fantasy fans should find it enthralling, especially if they’re fans of Sharyn McCrumb."
--Ben Steelman, Books Editor, The Wilmington Star-News 8 May 2005

I was glad to see this one at last. And it's very good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 review of "Ingledove"

Daniel Eskridge has published a review of Ingledove at It's good; anything that ends "I heartily recommend it" is fine with me!

He also has clips from other reviews and links at

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Palace Storeroom: Teachers Who Write


January 2005: This is drawn from a web page of, originally made in August 2004. It is now being retired to the Palace Storerooms. No doubt some things have changed since then...

Update, July 2005: I'm revising and adding to this collection for my 2005 students. This time I'll leave it up as a post for a while.

Questions from Teachers Who Write
From teachers at my 2004 writing seminar
at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching

This class is rather a rarity for me, as I long ago decided that teaching and my writing did not go together. I don't object to anyone else combining the two, and this seminar is especially for people who want to work in the public school system and also do some writing. As the mother of three, my summer hats are all off to them.

The week’s seminar takes place in my North Carolina home, Cullowhee, and it is a prize and reward for state elementary and high school teachers. I like the idea of spending a little time with the teachers who work with our children.

Here is the place where I answer questions that we didn’t cover in seminar.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Q: Once I’ve written my book, how do I find an agent? ---C. T.

A: Word-of-mouth is a good source. I suggest looking for books that feel kindred to your own, then “googling” the web to find their agents. Cautionary site: You might try or, the site that made the industry mad!

Q: If I want to quote a copyrighted source, such as song lyrics, how do I get permission to use them? --C. T.

A: Let your editor-to-come help you with that one, but remember that song lyrics not in the public domain can be expensive.

Q: What is your “writing journey”? --E. B.

A: Hmm. I think all writers worth their salt start out as rabid readers. That’s more important than almost anything else. I was a poet first. I started writing fiction during a depressed time when I couldn’t seem to write a poem. Now I write stories, poems, novels, and children’s books—the latter a result of having children who asked for fantasy.

Q: What comments do you have about so many writers who have been involved with substance abuse, isolated lifestyles, serial marriages, etc.? I ask this question because my high school students notice this pattern, and some of them seem to believe a writer must be somewhat neurotic in order to be successful. I believe that is the wrong message for teenagers. Sober, sane, family people also make good writers—right? --E. B.

A: Wild and tormented souls have made hot copy for reporters, and they have received more attention than the contented ones. Often a writer’s manic depression or disorder or injured child or some other sad element becomes a hook by which a publisher will attract attention to a new publication. I don’t like this mode, but there are a number of things about publishing that I don’t particularly care for.

A great many writers turn for refuge to the world of books in childhood, often because of some deep and unhappy accident or wound to family or self. These are the grains of sand around which the pearl of a writer’s self may be created.

Such injuries may also lead to darker realms as well. In addition, there are the difficult facts of rejection, the lone nature of the art, and the possible lack of recognition; that’s hard—too hard for some.

Q: How do you organize the “skeleton” of your novel? --D. D.

A: I’ve published quite a few books without ever establishing the sort of outline your question suggests. Being whimsical, I may try one next time around! I do often keep a list of where I’ve been—I jot down ages and dates as I write, just so I have a record and don't get confused.

Q: How do you get started on a piece? --A. K.

A: Here are a few things that have started me dreaming on my way to a story or poem in the past few months: an anecdote about an upper crust luncheon; the northern lights hung like spears over the lake behind my house; a painting of an old house with wispy ghosts in the yard; a tiny house with a ceiling with plaster pomegranates and lions; a broken Tiffany window; three hypnogogic dreams; a dare from writer Howard Bahr; the malign machinations of Rufus Griswold, Poe’s executor.

My family homes in Collins and Lexsy, Georgia have been a great resource to me; they are touchstone places that draw me back to childhood. The mountains of North Carolina, where I attended high school and still spend time every year, have a similar pull.

Q: I’d like to know more about framing a story—what are some methods for finding a workable structure? --A. S.

A: You can find oodles of books that will give you advice on building stronger plots; there are also plenty of resources on the web. The other day I bumped into a website that uses a snowflake fractal as a model for organizing a novel. Most sources tend to build the traditional pyramid, moving from inciting force to rising action to crisis and climax, ending in resolution.

Being perverse, I have not done any of these interesting geometric patterns but have rambled as I pleased, then cut and tightened and organized. This is a highly wasteful mode of proceeding which involves much ruthless slashing; I do not recommend it, though it is my own.

I’m still thinking of repenting and attempting to be organized. I’m also still thinking about the need to pick up my office . . .

Q: How much time do you typically spend on your novels? --A. H.

A: I’m afraid that I draft quickly, because while I am reasonably sane and sober (see prior questions!), I am obsessive. I get a lot of joy from writing and have a hard time letting go at the end of a bout of writing. I also like the tinkering that comes after a draft.

Q: Do you revise your poetry or do you usually do one draft only? --A. H.

A: While I draft in a swoop, I often revise for many years. Some of the poems in my collection, Claire, were revised over decades. I suppose that I’ll quit fooling with them now that they’re in a book, although the three typos are still bugging me!

Q: Do you ever have to get over a “hump” of feeling as if a story isn’t yours to take a thread somewhere new? --M. B. B.

A: No, because I tend to make almost everything up. That eliminates a lot of problems!

Right now I’m thinking about using one historical figure, but already in my dreams he is becoming something else entirely . . . I did pilfer and use Edward Taylor, Puritan preacher and poet, in Catherwood, but nobody noticed that he existed on both sides of the looking-glass.

Q: I was so moved by your “orange” story from The Wolf Pit, I think because it was so mindful, which is something I’m interested in and working on. How do you balance fantasy, imagination, creation, and invention with the practice of mindfulness? --M. B. B.

A: I’m not sure that I know the answer to this question, because I haven’t thought about making stories from this angle. (Again, I believe that the “way” you proceed doesn’t matter—just that it’s right for you.)

Perhaps it’s simply that when one reaches the fount from which new things pour, they already possess their own rightful details.

Q: How do I tell a story without getting too emotionally involved in my memories, which could get in the way of my writing? --S. D.

A: Sometimes the patina of time is needed, I suppose, to separate us from the original scene. While I sometimes use fragments of reality, I tend to dream about them until they have changed and appear far from the details and events of my life: this makes another kind of distance.

Q: How do I fit writing into my busy life as a counselor? --S. D.

A: It is hard to weave time to write into a busy day. I wrote The Wolf Pit at night because I had no time without young children, but I don’t recommend that method. An ability to concentrate and to jump into dream whenever one has free moments is helpful; that can mean that breaks and lunch and doing dishes and drive time become useful, though you may appear a tad dotty to colleagues and family. I’ve often started a poem just after dropping my three children at their various schools.

Another thing that has helped me is developing my ability to do more than one thing at a time, so that I can talk to children who burst into my room, say, while I write. If you can't do this, don't worry about it; I think that I do have an ability to concentrate beyond the norm, a quality that is terribly irritating to other people!

It’s helpful to remember the simple fact that if you can only average one page a day, you will have 365 in a year.

Q: How do I know when a piece is completed? --L. P.

A: Keep putting it away and taking it out to read again: time tells! If you don’t want to wait, a circle of trusted readers is a benefit.

Q: How do I develop character? --L. P.

A: Ms. L. P. already has a ton of character; she must be talking about the paper kind . . .

When new characters appear, I find that they are already themselves and “full,” though I may not understand them completely at first. However, I know perfectly well that some of my friends who write don’t feel this way but go about building a character—they make charts with lists that detail the physical, mental, and spiritual traits of a person, the family background, the childhood trials, etc. I suppose that they plot cross-relationships between characters. Lee Smith is somebody who makes charts, and it works well for her.

I have a more mystical sense that it’s all there, but I don’t grasp it all immediately. This tendency may clash with my attempt to portray myself as “sane” and “sober.”

Again, I don’t think that one way of proceeding is superior to another.

Q: What would be the best steps or process for getting my writings read and possibly published? --L. P.

A: It’s lovely to have a group of peers whose opinion you trust, whether you have an official writing group or not. While you are sharing your work and getting helpful criticism, you might keep lists of books that you find congenial with your own.

My first book was published after I read a strange, wonderful piece of prose called Salar the Salmon. The thought came to me that the narrative was--in some subterranean way--kindred to mine. Knowing nothing but how poets published poems, I stuck my manuscript in a manila envelope and mailed it to David R. Godine, Publisher. That led to Little Jordan, my beginning in book publication, and I think it is an innocent, old-fashioned start that should be encouraging to a beginning writer.

Q: I’ve read so many Serial Romances that have errors; do they hire folks as readers who would check for errors? --L. A.

A: They should! The sort of thing that you’re talking about is in the domain of the copy editor, and a good one is a prize. When books are treated as “product,” some of the niceties of editing are neglected, especially in mass-market imprints.

Q: How do you get the average 7th grader beyond the fact that right now writing is somewhat just preparation for the March writing test, but that it can and should be a lifelong skill, love, and outlet?

A: I have a rising 7th grader at home; she’s the one who begged me into writing some fantasy. She liked to sit in my lap with a book as a baby, and she saw early on that books were building blocks of the world around her—that they were an essential part, important and capable of giving deep pleasure.

What can you do with a child who missed all that? Focus on reading. Let children see and meet adults for whom books and writing—journalists, travel diarists, journal keepers, family historians, etc.—are important. I’m a big fan of memorization; two years back I made a little anthology of poems for my daughter’s teacher, and her class memorized a surprising number of poems by Shakespeare, Kathleen Raine, Blake, and others. The reading that resulted thrilled them all.

Find out what sort of writing appeals to each child. I have a friend at Princeton Seminary who works on rap with troubled black teenagers. My daughter writes fantasy and is drawing and writing a manga story; my oldest son has created an imaginary empire with hundreds of pages of notes, stories, and drawings. (Then there’s the youngest, who is not convinced that he likes school! 2005 update: That child is now 8 and reading more, but I have definitely thought about the "Guys Read" lists and programs. Right now he's reading Roald Dahl and Jon Scieska.)

That’s just common sense advice; I don’t know what else to say. My years as a mother of schoolchildren have taught me the value of a good teacher—a being above price.

Q: Do you work on multiple projects at a time or work on one until you’re done? --L. A.

A: Oh, I like to have a number of things rolling about at once. Right now I have a revision on a novella to do, plus I’m doodling about with a new idea for a novel; I have new poems I want to redo as well. And I just wrote a picture book text for my editor. (2005 update: I guess I'm not a picture book writer! I've been asked to turn that one into a novel.)

Once you start publishing, you’re automatically doing a lot of different things, because comments or galleys will appear and break into what you’re doing.

Q: Do you need to send proposals out—or send manuscripts? I’ve heard that some editors accept both, but prefer proposals. –L. A.

A: When you are a big fat cat with a large audience for your novels, you may send a tiny proposal. If you have a magazine article idea, you may send a short proposal. If you have ideas for a nonfiction book, you may also send a proposal. Otherwise, you need to have a complete manuscript before you send, even though an agent or editor only wants to see a query and then a summary plus a few chapters at first.

Q: Any suggestions for good quality short plays for children I could read? –L. A.

A: Try,,

Q: How can I prime the pump if I enjoy writing and can “go with the flow” once I get started, but only occasionally feel that I have something I want to say? --G. A.

A: Never wait for something to say! If I waited until I had “something to say,” I might get creaky in the joints before I found a subject. Describe your Aunt Lil’s Sunday outfit, the home place, a puppet show: anything! Just start moving your hand and push the words around . . .

Q: What might I think of doing for a newspaper or magazine? --K. B.

A: What about starting with book reviews in your area of interest and training? Then see if you can come up with some feature proposals to do with local education, since you’re a teacher. Look into your regional magazines—mags like Adirondack Life or Carolina Gardener—and propose some topics. Why not?

Q: Did you feel the need to write just for yourself? --P. P.

A: It all started with a rage to read.

Q: How important is quiet time to your creativity, or can you work among chaos? –-P. P.

A: I like quiet time but don’t get all that much. It’s important to me to be able to write anywhere, anytime. I want to be ready to write whenever I stumble into a chair. Yes, chaos is acceptable. As a mother of three rambunctious children, I don’t have the luxury of retreating to some tastefully-appointed haven at the same hour every morning—a thing I heard a writer (male) describe on NPR yesterday. Would I like quiet? Yes. Do I expect it? No. Will I get it? When my children all are grown, perhaps; then I’ll think it too calm and dreary, no doubt.

Q: How do you deal with rejections or negative comments concerning your work? --P. P.

A: Google-eyed twits is a good epithet. P. G. Wodehouse, I believe. Great steaming radish ditto. Shakespeare and other dramatists are full of grand curses and putdowns. I have a list of allowable Shakespearean epithets which my children find useful. Sighs and shrugs are also helpful. Occasionally one learns something from comments, so it’s good to take them with more than a grain of salt. Sometimes.

It's also good to consider the source. (2005 update: Here's an example. I have one forthcoming review that I dislike and reject, but I have many others of my new book that I see as stellar or very good. I felt just as bad when I saw that one lousy review as if Harold Bloom had flown down in the guise of a bad fairy and tapped me on the shoulder to say that I was lacking. But should I give this one review more weight--it's by a young librarian--than others by longtime books editors and by writers whose books I respect? No, I don't think so. Yet I have to remind myself of that little fact.)

Q: I was thinking of publishing my first children’s book through Apex printing, after having had the book rejected by a number of agents? $2000. Is there another way? How do I distribute my book? Could I teach and work on the distribution or is there so much involved—would it be like having a second job? --S. M.

A: Distribution is a hideous burden for an author. Go not that way! Yes, it would be a second job. Find some publishers who publish books “like” yours, check to see if they accept submissions without an agent, and send. They should pay you.

(2005 update: Some of my writers from last year have fallen into the PublishAmerica net. Always google your publishers! You'll find a mountain of warnings about PA on the worldwide web.)

Q: How does a teacher bring out the best writing in an elementary 4th grade student? --S. H.

A: Try some enjoyable oral tales. Have them tell stories after planning out the order of events.

Children that age adore making up and telling riddles, which demand cleverness and engagement with words. (My older ones still like it.)

Dig up the counting-out rhymes and sidewalk songs of your youth—our children don’t get the free outdoor play that was once a normal part of childhood. (My husband does a lot of these things with Cub Scouts, and they love it.)

Make written collections of what is done first orally. (Oh, I don’t know—I’m not a 4th grade teacher! But these are things that work for me.)

Q: What can a teacher emphasize to parents of 4th grad students to help them be successful writers? --S. H.

A: Check for passers-by before chucking the t. v. and Nintendo and such out of the second-story window? I have those pernicious items at my house, but they are controlled. Actually I don't have television reception, so the t.v. is just for movies.

Ask parents to limit screen time, read to children, have their children read aloud, and listen and respond as the children tell imaginary stories or stories about what happened at school. It's surprising how many parents don't bother to listen.



Here's the list; I've added a lot since last year. I've checked them, but send me a note if you find a broken link. Of course, many more things could be added, but a number of the sites mentioned--Beatrice, Mumpsimus, and others--have comprehensive lists of links.

Favorite useful sites for writers of children’s books: Harold Underdown’s “The Purple Crayon,”; (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators); (Diana Wynne Jones);

Favorite site for young writers: Look for listings of web zines and magazines, contests, artists’ sites, resources for teachers, etc.

Favorite editorial checklist for writers: “10 Mistakes List for Writers,” at Repeats, flatness, adverbs, dialogue, suffixes, etc.

Favorite very rude advice to writers list: Topics such as “There is always someone less talented than you making more money as a writer” and “Did I mention life’s not fair?”

Favorite way to get questions answered for a writer who is interested in genre: The genre mags like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction all have their own web sites and include bulletin boards that are active and give lots of advice.

Favorite writers’ links collections:;;

Favorite agent and editor sites:;;;

Favorite 2005 tell-all agent's site: Miss Snark, at

Favorite 2005 tell-all editor's site: Agent 007, at

Favorite writer-bookseller sites: the G. O. B. at;
Fresh Eyes: A Bookseller's Journal at

Favorite places to start:

Favorite for self-publishing: I don’t know a lot about this area, but I have a friend who archives any unsold manuscript with, and he thinks they’re the best.
Favorite poll for young readers: (from Sharyn November, an editor at Vintage)

Favorite place to search for chickens and the meaning of life:

Favorite book marketing and PR sites: Susan Raab’s (children’s books); Robert Sawyer’s (scifi but useful to all); John Kremer’s (‘100 Best’ Lists)

Favorite formal poetry site: (Look for my name under the Contemporary Poets section if you want to see some of my poems from Claire.

Favorite “mythic arts” site: (lovely); (best fairy tale source);; (encyclopedia of myth)

Favorite art news sites:; (Arts & Letters); (“Poets & Writers”)

Favorite review & dour essay site: Alex Good’s

Favorite commentator teetering back and forth between literary fiction and fantasy: Matt Cheney has a great links list for people interested in sites literary or speculative.

Favorite over-stuffed literary blog:

Favorite academic writer’s blog: Dan Green’s “the reading experience,” (Smart and demanding and often against the grain of received opinion.)

Favorite essay links:,

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Book recommendations

Recently Binghamton's Chapters Book Club, sponsored by the Press & Sun-Bulletin, asked writers who have been featured in the newspaper's book club--a six-week event involving articles, visits with readers, and a reading at Barnes & Noble of Binghamton--to write something about their reading during the preceeding year. You can see my comments, plus recommendations by Robert Morgan, Frederick Busch, and more at

Friday, July 08, 2005

The London bombings

"Fragments" to be "shored" against "ruin"

My friend Q.'s response to my note yesterday was a very British jewel: "Yes, tin helmet firmly affixed on bean, sandbags at the door, sticky tape on the windows, but the kettle is on and we'll soon have steaming mugs of sweet tea to hand. Don't panic!"

Q. was chiding me for my note--and I took that as proof of absolute well-being. In his words we find a self-deprecating pride, a gentle mocking of the "Mrs. Miniver" approach that got Britons through the Blitz--and, by golly, was going to see them through this brush with Islamist lunatics.


The secret of British composure is that Britons really do feel proud of their civilization. On the whole, they apologize for very little, which is as it should be. Their message to terrorists is always likely to be straight and robust: "How dare you! I'm British!"

--Tunku Varadarajan, "Take Courage," The Wall Street Journal

* * *

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

--from Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"

* * *

"Oh! thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have
mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men
that have no bowels to feel fear!"

--from Herman Melville, Moby Dick

* * *

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face;
And Love, the human form divine;
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine:
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew.
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.

--from William Blake, "Divine Image"

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Well & the Flying Trapeze

I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that it’s a rocky time for books—that the creation of international mega-corporations who own many houses has meant the simultaneous proliferation of books and the restriction of choices for readers because so few books are visible in a culture that promotes only lead books.

This puts a new obligation on the writer to be not only a writer, but to be an ingenious marketer. One has the choice of refusing to participate or joining in the fray—or being, as most are, somewhere in between. I have a lot of sympathy for Dan Green’s arguments that one should avoid the conflict entirely and let the book find the readers that are “right” for it. Even that simple-sounding process risks, however, nigh-complete invisibility. The distant splash in the well that signals most book launches does not mean that readers, bubbling down there under the water, will catch a book, even when dropped by golden houses and presses with esteemed and established lists.

On the other hand, I have a kind of observer's fascination with those who fling off their clothes, dodge whirling daggers, and set themselves on fire, all to promote a book. That may be metaphorical, but it’s getting close. We have writers who allow absurdly sexy photographs of themselves to be shot and slathered across the jacket, a writer who renames himself and goes “incognito” and speaks to editors through a voice scrambler (the secret that snags the news!), celebrity ‘writers’ who lend their blinking marquee names to books, writers who hunt for fresh blasphemies and dazzling violations to attract the media to their plots, dead writers who keep spinning in the grave.

Spinning stories, I mean. No doubt there are others who just plain spin, and with good reason.

The most ingenious of those who do join the melee must be M. J. Rose, author of five very commercial novels and of books and web sites about “buzz” and “hype.” With a background in the ad world, she is equipped to promote far more than the usual writer. Her latest effort to knock over readers like ninepins is an “innovative new online campaign that aims to connect readers with a good cause and a great summer read.” This push asks for 500 bloggers to mention The Halo Effect—a “sexy thriller”--and the short animated film for the novel( With each post, five dollars goes to the nonprofit literary organization Reading is Fundamental.

I suppose there is a halo in the campaign as well. The book is literally "Halo." Doing good suggest "halo." The glow of 500 blogs is a kind of halo for the launch.

$2500 is cheap publicity for 500 blogs, I’d say. Even a beginner blog like mine elicits private letters from writers and, occasionally, a books editor or so.

I’m torn between feeling mournful for the state of things and feeling a kind of dazzled astonishment at how daring Ms. Rose the acrobat is, whipping around on her flying trapeze.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Writing Blog

Some days ago I set up a blog for the NCCAT (North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching) seminar in writing: this year's class will stress short fiction. Linda Kinnear has named it People, Places, & Plots. Or maybe that's Places, People, & Plots. Or . . . Anyway, I'm looking forward to working with her and with Carrie Gates. Ron Rash and Brian Railsback are dropping in as well.

Most of my time on line will be spent over there during the next month. Today I posted a note from Philip Lee Williams, and other interesting things will pop up in the coming days.

While the members of the class will be North Carolina teachers who write, there should be much to interest novice writers from any place as the weeks go by. Bookmark

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Time travel in the village of Templeton

Last Friday I noticed another weird thing about Templeton. It's not enough that we have three castles (one in the lake, one in the woods, and one that's invisible), a patron lady, a confusion between past and present, and fictional places that are regarded as spots where important things have happened. No, there is more.

After dinner at our new restaurant, The Yum-Yum Shack-- we arrived only to discover that half the village had piled in to see what the food was like--we stopped by Pop's for the basic Yankee soft ice cream in a medium twist. On the window was a printed poster advertising Ichabob's [sic--yes, his name is Bob] Conveyance. This local business peddles "historic" stagecoach and sleigh rides to the tourists, and I frequently hear "Ichabob's" horses clopping by on our street.

The ad began, Step back in time about half an hour . . .

It's not much, but it's a start.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Scam, Spam, Jolly FlimFlam

I should have been rushing about, demanding that doctors sign camp forms. I should have been rummaging up tiny containers of soap and shampoo and many to-be-lost flashlights. I should have been marking undies with a Sharpie.

But instead, I was reading splendidly awful poetry by Teresa Nielsen Hayden and her fans, written about a scam and for an anti-scam: as she says, "I can’t believe I keep forgetting to mention this, but some months ago I actually managed to come up with a poem so bad that the International Library of Poetry, to which I submitted it, neither declared it to be a semifinalist in one of their contests, nor offered to publish it in one of their pricey yet unreadable anthologies."

That was what I was doing instead of what I should have been doing. Things done and left undone. Mea culpa. And you can do the same time-wasting thing by hurtling forward into Yo, Wocky Jivvy, Wergle Flomp— at If you have heard from Mrs. Miriam Abacha of Nigeria as often as I have--sometimes she has given me her friendly epistolary attentions two or three times in a single day--you will enjoy the spam poems as well as the heartfelt letters from the dear importunate unfortunate.

It's interesting that the Abachan clerihew and villanelle and sonnet and the others are far more engaging than most of the free verse I bump into. Even the free verse Abachans are about more than most free verse poems these days: tragedy, collapse, risk, danger, money. When NPR's Writer's Almanac spouts out a contemporary poem that begins with a cup of coffee, a dog, or a newspaper, I cartwheel from the room, shrieking all the way. Occasionally one of the poems has all three.

Miriam Abacha,
Widow of former
Nigerian chief,

Seeks your assistance to
Hold thirty mil for her
Family's relief.


Tiel Jackson ::: ::: July 01, 2005, 12:23 PM:
How about a villanelle?
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.
I am a widow, under house arrest.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

Before our family fortunes cruelly sank,
My husband was a general, powerful, the best.
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.

My son's arrested. They will make him walk the plank.
I assure you this is truth and not a jest.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

My daughter left, 'fore all the loopholes shrank
She'll come to meet you, whene'er we think is best.
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.

Your account number here___ Fill in the blank.
The money I will transfer, egg to nest.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

You may think that I am crook or crank,
But heed the family Abacha's sincere request!
There's 30 million dollars in my bank.
Take 10 percent with all my grateful thanks.

And if you're like me, still avoiding digging up the sun block and last year's water shoes, you can hold your nose and leap to and read some more: "See our Wretched Poems the National Library of Poetry deemed Semi-Finalist Worthy."