Weird Poetry-Writing Kid Gets Published

Sue 6719HLet’s talk about poetry. Wait! Don’t click away. And for God’s sake, don’t start reciting “Roses are red, violets are blue . . .” That’s the response I get from my brother. When I gave my father a homemade collection of my poems for Christmas a few years ago, he smiled at the dog picture on the cover and set it aside. I suspect the other copies met the same fate. (I have a few more, if you want one).

I do not come from poetry-reading people. Except one. My Grandma Rachel Fagalde, technically my step-grandmother, set me on the poetry path. She wrote poetry herself and fed me books of poetry, inscribed to “my dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. I read Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Shakespeare, and obscure poets whose chapbooks she found at rummage sales. Someday my chapbooks may meet the same fate. I hope somebody else’s grandmother will buy a copy.

I was thrilled to receive those poetry books. I sat around reading them out loud, and I started writing my own poetry. The other kids thought I was weird.

I wrote my first poem, a ditty about Thanksgiving, at 7, got published in various school publications, and got paid for a poem that appeared in something called Valley Views when I was in high school. Poetry was my thing, but you can’t make a living writing poetry, so I majored in journalism at San Jose State and went into the newspaper biz, keeping my poetry on the side. When I finally made it through grad school at age 51, I earned a degree in creative nonfiction, not poetry. Now I write both.

Although my early efforts resembled the nursery rhymes I grew up with, all sing-songy and rhyming, today’s poems are much more conversational. I avoid twisted sentences and words like “ere,” “thou” and “o’er.” I rarely rhyme. So what makes it a poem instead of a short essay cut into lines? First, poems are compact. You can tell a whole story in a three-line haiku.

First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.

– Murakami Kijo

Second, they use imagery. Read “My Mother’s Colander” by Dorianne Laux. See what I mean? I have a colander just like that, by the way. But it’s not just about the colander, is it?

I was a poetry-writing kid who became a poetry-writing grownup who is now a poetry-writing senior citizen. In recent years, I have published quite a few poems in literary magazines [see www.suelick.com for samples]. I love to read my poems to live audiences.

I am excited to report that my first poetry book will be coming out later this year from Finishing Line Press. Called Gravel Road Ahead, it is a chapbook, meaning a little book about 30 pages long, that follows the journey my late husband and I took through Alzheimer’s disease. I have published quite a few books of prose, but this is different. I am very excited. And nervous.

(Pre-orders are being taken through Aug. 16. Click here or email me at sufalick@gmail.com to tell me how many copies you want. )

Right now I’m focusing on Gravel Road Ahead because the pre-publication sales begin next Monday. I hope to show you the cover then and provide info on how to pre-order a copy.

In addition to the book, my poem, “Mustering out,” channeling my father’s voice, was published at www.rattle.com last month. They even paid me. Another poem, “They’ll Have to Order the Parts,” appeared in the Atticus Review on May 29.

Grandma Rachel used to send me copies of her own poems with her illegible letters. I collected some of them after she died. I suspect the people cleaning out the house threw some poems away, not realizing the precious gifts they were. She didn’t publish much. Instead she trained me to start my career with my first copies of Writer’s Digest and all those poetry books. Well, it took a few years, but I’ve done it.

Will I make money at this? No. Real poets have day jobs.

It’s sad when only poets read poetry. Believe me, it’s not all like the stuff your teachers might have made you read in high school. Give it a try.

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What? They didn’t have computers?

18334059 - old fashioned typewriter

Once upon a time, I wrote a short story for a Writer’s Digest correspondence course. The lessons came by mail in those days. The assignments–outlines, character descriptions, scene summaries, etc.–added up to a final story that’s reminiscent of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Eager young worker, horrible boss, boyfriend who doesn’t get it.

The plot revolved around the boss’s refusal to move from typewriters to computers. Our young heroine struggles with the correction tape on her electric typewriter (remember those?) and her boss complains that if she were a better typist, she wouldn’t need so much correction tape. Our girl, Colby, is mired in work and about to get fired because she just can’t keep up. But then, an angry client comes in while her boss is out. He wants his ad changed right now. Colby sneaks onto a co-worker’s new computer (an Apple?) and click, click, click, makes the changes. The client is delighted, Colby is promoted and she gets her own computer. Only in 1988, right?

It’s a terrible story, full of holes and clichés and way too many adjectives. I found it while cleaning out old writing files. I never throw away my work, but this went into the big blue recycle cart, where it is now lost among the boxes, butter tubs, and junk mail. I have also discovered reams of articles about writing from back in the olden days when I and others who taught or wrote about writing urged wannabe writers to get a computer or be left behind. It seems silly now, but I remember . . .

I learned to type on a manual typewriter with a slippery roller. The letters were attached to rods that got tangled up if I typed too fast. In my late teens, I used babysitting money to buy myself a new typewriter, blue plastic. My father couldn’t understand why I would waste my money on such a thing. It wasn’t like I needed it for school or anything else; we all wrote with pens and pencils, but I was determined to be a writer from the time I discovered words. Real writers had typewriters.

I encountered my first electric typewriter in a college typing class required for journalism students. It seemed to have a mind of its own, the keys moving so fast they stuttered out multiple letters if I breathed on them. I actually told the teacher I couldn’t handle this fancy electric typewriter. She basically told me to suck it up. I did. I got good at it, typing over 100 words per minute–if you don’t count mistakes.

On my first newspaper job in the early ‘70s, we used manual typewriters, big heavy Royals, typing on scraps of newsprint with carbon paper to make copies. We edited in pencil before sending the pages to the typesetter. I moved up to IBM Selectric typewriters in 1978 for a PR job. The letters were on ping-pong-sized balls, interchangeable for different typefaces. High tech! But you couldn’t “save” anything. You had exactly one copy, and if it got damaged or destroyed, you had to do the work over again.

Fast forward. Divorce. Temping as a secretary. Another newspaper job working on old Royal typewriters. And then, 1984, a typesetting gig at a print shop in Sunnyvale, California. The file-cabinet sized computer on which I worked used floppy disks that were eight inches square. The operating system was DOS. No Windows. No mouse. If you didn’t know the right sequence of letters and symbols, you were screwed.

Future jobs would take me through the Apple orchard and early PCs, from DOS to Windows, from Compuserve to the World Wide Web, news groups to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now I own a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet and a smart phone, all of which I can use to write, send and receive stories, information, photos, music and almost anything else.

My short story would never work now, even if it were well written. It wouldn’t even make sense. What do you mean her boss wouldn’t let her use a computer? I probably saved that story about Colby and the typewriter on a floppy disk, either 5 ¼ or 3 ½ inch. If I could find the disk, I would have nowhere to plug it in and no program that could read it. What will happen to the stuff I write today?

A Facebook friend recently asked what we’d do if the Internet went away. Well, my blogs would disappear, along with all of my online connections, my ebooks, and any writing I did not save on paper, but when you get to the basics, writing is writing. I drafted this blog in my notebook with my new favorite pen, a Papermate “Inkjoy.” I quadruple back up everything I write and carry a flash drive in my purse, but I also print out everything I value on good old paper.

I don’t know whether to toss all those yellowing articles about prehistoric computer gear or save them as historic artifacts. I have another batch of articles about cameras that used film. I just know a lot has changed.

When I was an editor at the Saratoga News around 1995, a group of Girl Scouts came in to observe real live newspaper people at work. None of the girls knew what a typewriter was. How about you? Any typewriter memories? Or are you wondering what a typewriter is? See the photo; that’s a typewriter, similar to the one I started with. What was your first computer? What would you do without it now? Let’s talk about it.

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Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017. Photo copyright micelecaminati / 123RF Stock Photo