by Peggy Miller
Beyond the religious definition, a litany is a recitation using a repeated phrase, and can indeed be a poem. Write a litany whose repetition is “I believe” or ” Tonight I will” or “I am” or “It happens like…” This is not to be a poem of your religious beliefs. Rather make statements like “I believe in the skitter of my brain in every direction at once.” A litany can be poem of human nature: this is an opportunity to be especially imaginative.
One thing that makes a litany pleasant to read is variation. For example, you need not say exactly “I believe” every time. You might say ‘I trust, or I hold to, or I follow,’ etc. You might also make a pleasant jumble of various content in your poem, a sequence that surprises. Another variation is the length of the statement that follows. So for instance,
“I believe in stone.
I thank the rain for apples which
upon their ripening, if unpicked too long
throw themselves to the ground in request.” pm
Maxine Kumin’s litany in this vein is “Credo” from Looking for Luck.
This week’s exercise is to write a poem that includes the elements of a litany.
Peggy Miller, an editor with The Comstock Review, has an MFA from American University. She has conducted poetry workshops for over 15 years. Her collections include What the Blood Knows was published in 2007 and Stone Being in 2009, both from Custom Words. Peggy has published a chapbook, Martha Contemplates the Universe, Frith Press, and a Greatest Hits chapbook from Pudding House. Visit her on Facebook.
Each year, the Florida Writers Conference attracts hundreds of people to the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary for three uninterrupted days of learning about their craft and business. That’s three days of a captive audience for any product or service aimed at writers, including–potentially–yours! The conference offers many options for bringing your business to the attention of hundreds of potential customers. (I know, I keep repeating that, but it’s an important number).
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From the first day I met Catherine, I wondered what she looked like with no clothes on.
It wasn’t sexual. Okay, I’m a guy. Show me a lug wrench and my thoughts turn to, well, you know.
But Catherine Burke is something different. There’s an air about her, an aura, something that says “I’m gonna kick your ass if I want to and when we’re done, I dare you to hate me for it.”
A lot of people do. But they still listen to her, because she forces you to. Not by any coercive means, but because a presence of that size has a magnetic effect. And because she works hard at being beautiful. She says she has to because women who look fifty don’t work in radio.
And because when you think you have her figured out, she’ll flummox you because that’s what she does.
Catherine once ran a marathon on consecutive weekends because she’d already signed up for one and a friend begged her to be running buddies for the other. I ran ten miles last week and moved like I needed a walker for two days.
But it wasn’t the shape she stayed in and how her body must look like a piece of art, painstakingly chiseled over countless Florida afternoons on the running trail.
I wanted to see if Catherine would be vulnerable.
Outside of my marriage–the marriage I used to have–Catherine Burke was my closest friend in the world. In the sixteen years I’d worked with her, I’d seen her hurt, angry, shocked, and even devastated exactly twice. But I’d never seen her vulnerable. She didn’t do vulnerable.
Now my marriage was gone, ripped away by the cancer. My career was circling the drain. My reputation looked like the morning after the last frat party of the year.
And I didn’t have to push any of that away from my thoughts because I was about to see Catherine Burke in the most personal way possible.
She smiled at me, and blushed. I wished I hadn’t had the fifth beer, except that the beer was necessary for me to get to this point. For her, it was the wine. Maybe it was the wine that made her blush.
“You have to be nice about it,” she said.
“Nice about what?”
She didn’t look me in the eye, which surprised me. Catherine was the difficult discussion taken head-on, unblinking. She was the opposite of subterfuge and misdirection. No one needed to translate for her.
Her cheeks turned scarlet. “Jesus, Jim, I’m about to show you my whole body.”
The thoughts came in a rush that I couldn’t sort out. “Cath…I mean…we have listeners in part because guys would crawl through a field of broken glass to see–”
I thought her cheeks had turned scarlet. It turned out they hadn’t until I said that. She put her hand up.
“Jim, no schtick, please.”
I shrugged, kind of. The way a sixteen-year-old boy might his first time.
The blouse clung to her, which was nice. Rain in Florida is a pain. Three steps outside and you might as well have jumped in a pool.
The slacks were baggy, almost bohemian. Wendy–that was my wife–picked them out when they went shopping together.
“Most people would just cut their fingers a little and mix their blood together when making a pact,” she said. I was thinking almost the same thing, but I couldn’t say that. Catherine was more than a pact, or should have been.
She took a breath in like she was about to jump off a high diving board, then unbuttoned her blouse in one smooth downward motion, somehow managing to undo each button without breaking the motion. She wore a navy-blue bra without lace or other frills and her stomach looked like it belonged on a twenty-year-old. She turned away from me and reached behind her back, as women do, and undid her bra.
“Turn out the lights,” she said.
I stammered and my feet disobeyed the half-hearted order to move and do as she said.
“Jim.” Her use of my name wasn’t snarky or angry, but almost imploring, as if it were vital that I not see her.
I wanted to object. If Adonis were a woman, she would pale next to Catherine. But after sixteen years of being a person’s closest friend, you pick things up. I turned the light off and only the lightning in the distance lit things, an ill-timed strobe light that didn’t allow enough time to really see.
Still, she turned and when the lightning played across her, I gasped.
“Jim,” she said, either annoyed or worried.
“It’s okay,” my voice said. It was stronger than I expected it to be.
She stood by the foot of her bed, looking down at whatever the false reality was that made her want the lights off.
I’m pretty sure she blushed again.
“I’m cold,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper.
I held out my arms and she moved until she melted into me. She shuddered and I held her tighter. She was soft and felt smaller than I thought she would and she clung to me as much as I clung to her.
“You’re shaking,” I said and she nodded.
I brushed her left breast as I reached between us to unbutton my wet shirt. When I did, she took in a quick breath. While I undid the buttons, I paid attention to the back of my hand, to what she felt like. She cupped the back of my head and moved her mouth to mine. Somehow, she’d managed to get a breath mint or mouthwash and her mouth tasted clean and new, like a promise.
I went to a Catholic high school, where each year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition mysteriously got lost in the mail on the way to the library–at least that’s what the Sister who ran the library said. I’m not married to Catherine. My wife hadn’t yet been cremated. I know what we were doing wasn’t holy in even the most tortured definition of the word.
But what we did that night seemed solemn. Everything else had been stripped away. The only thing left was her and me and for some reason, it felt like we needed to do this to formalize our union.
There was no sweaty conflagration of limbs or urgent grabbing and thrusting. No one ran their fingernails down anyone else’s back. No deity’s name was shouted. It was just her and me and there may as well have not been anyone else in the world.
And when we finished, she lay on top of me, her forehead tucked between my neck and shoulder, her arms drawn up between us, my arms draped across her back.
“Was this the right thing?” she said. Her voice sounded different this close up.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I didn’t know what to say to her. “I don’t know.”
I noticed that the lightning hadn’t flashed in a while. And that her ceiling fan had four big paddles that looked like spades from a deck of cards.
She nodded. “Yeah.” Then a few heartbeats of silence. “Can you hold me?”
I nodded back.
“It’s gonna be different tomorrow.” Her voice almost sounded a girl version of her.
“Let’s don’t go there now.”
I tightened my arms around her and she burrowed into me.
For the first time in weeks, I wanted to stay awake. And for the first time in weeks, I failed.
When I woke the next morning, sun violated her room and made me blink a few times before my eyes adjusted. She stood between me and the window wearing a white cotton dress shirt and jeans. Her hair was damp and her make-up was on and she held a cup of coffee in front of her.
“Coffee’s on,” she said. “Your clothes are almost dry.”
“Hi,” I said. “I slept great, thanks for asking.”
She sat in the armchair in front of the window, put the coffee down, and pulled on one of the black sneakers she’d pulled from among the throng of other footware that dominated her closet.
“Sleeping’s for wusses. I’m hungry. Get up.”
Florida’s hot in the summer, but it’s really not the heat. It really is the humidity. She wore a long-sleeved shirt with a paisley vest, each button fastened, up to about three inches below the collar. I followed her to Chik-Fil-A where she inhaled two chicken biscuits and a Diet Coke while I nursed a coffee.
When she finished, she crumpled up one of the wrappers, raised it over her head, and threw a perfect arc to the garbage pale the guy had pulled out to empty. It landed in the geographic center and she pointed downward with two fingers.
When she looked back at me, her normal sly, sardonic smile faltered and I saw the eyes of the person who wanted the lights out the previous night. Then she looked down at her Coke, drained it, got up and said she had to go.
I ran ten miles this morning and–
Okay, not another exercise metaphor for writing, please. PLEASE.
Relax. It’s not.
I ran ten miles this morning. Running’s a great way to let the mind go on autopilot. You fall into a sort of trance where there’s just you and the trail and, sometimes, the realization that it’s four miles back to the car and you got to cover that space to get there.
It was someplace between mile six and eight that I had a great idea–an awesome idea for a blog post. It was potentially the best idea ever for the best blog post ever. I was excited about it. Then I passed the mile marker that said I only had a mile and a half to go and my mind wandered off to other things. And I forgot that I’d even had an idea until I sat down the computer.
I’m not the first one this has happened to. My grandfather kept having these amazing dreams, but he’d forget what they were. So my grandmother told him to put a pad of paper and pencil by the bed so he could write it down when he first woke up. So he went to bed and had the dream, then woke up and wrote it down and went back to sleep. When he woke up the next morning, the pad was blank. He dreamed that he had the dream and wrote it down.
I’ve had ideas before when it’s not handy to write them down. It’s kind of hard to keep a pad of paper in the shower. And if you’re in the throes of passion and an idea pops into your head it’s bad form to ask your partner to wait a second while you write down the thought you just had.
Same thing if you’re about to receive communion.
“The body of Christ.”
“Hold on Father, I just got an idea that’s going to fix my plot problem.”
For the record, my cell phone has a voice recording feature, which I will use next time. That handles the running thing. The rest, I’ll just have to live with.
Do you have any tricks for remembering great ideas that come to you at inopportune times.
It’s hard to keep up with all the services the Florida Writers Association offers its members. Our nonprofit organization takes its motto—Writers Helping Writers—very, very seriously.
For instance, take our annual conference. Here you have three days of continuous activities targeted solely for your writing benefit. Some activities occur in big groups. Some are more intimate. Faculty interviews are private. We offer five interview options.
- Manuscript critiques. If you’d like an expert to give you confidential feedback on your work, schedule a manuscript critique. Simply download a critique form (there’s a link on the conference page of the FWA website), and the form will instruct you how to send your work to your chosen critiquer. During the conference, you’ll meet with your critiquer one on one. Actual critique time during the conference ranges from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on your choice of faculty. See http://shop.floridawriters.net/category.sc?categoryId=37.
- Special consultations. This is an interview with Bobbie Christmas, professional book coach and editor. Bobbie also heads FWA’s Editors Helping Writers editing service for members. Bobbie can assist with all genres: See http://shop.floridawriters.net/category.sc?categoryId=38.
- Faculty consultations. Anything goes here—well, almost. You may ask the faculty member of your choice how they got published, what advice they have about writing or publication, what they think of something you’ve written, or anything else on your mind. You’ll notice that our cadre of Featured Faculty covers a wide range of expertise, including medical, legal, genre writing, editing, marketing, and more. See http://www.floridawriters.net/uploads/Faculty_bios_workshops_2013_05_09.pdf.
- Pitch practice sessions. If you ever plan to pitch your work, we suggest you book an interview with Chantelle Osman. Although Chantelle’s company specializes in screenplays, she’s qualified and willing to coach writers of all genres. You may purchase sessions of 15 or 30 minutes. News flash: Chantelle is also offering a three-hour workshop on pitching the day before the conference: Thursday, October 17. See http://shop.floridawriters.net/category.sc?categoryId=36.
- Interview with agent, publisher, or acquisition editor. Here you’ll have ten minutes to pitch your work. These agents and publishers are actively seeking clients, so if you pitch them, we suggest you be prepared! Many resources offer tips, including our own FWA blog: http://floridawriters.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/pitching-and-querying-words-from-an-agent/, http://floridawriters.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/pitching-at-the-conference-start-preparing-now/. It’s important also to research your target agent or publisher to understand what they want. See http://shop.floridawriters.net/category.sc?categoryId=32.
In future posts, we’ll spotlight particular faculty and opportunities. The conference, BTW, runs from October 18-20, 2013, at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary. Check the FWA website, www.floridawriters.net, for details.
Do you want meet with a faculty member? What questions would you ask about writing or publishing? What tips would you like?
Industry news: Librarian threatened with billion-dollar suit; the DOJ doesn’t like Apple; kids more likely to read electronically
Publisher threatens librarian with a billion-dollar lawsuit
OMICS Publishing Group has threatened to sue University of Colorado research librarian Jeffrey Beall, for one billion dollars over blog posts in which Beall called them predatory. According to Beall, OMICS charges professors trying to publish their work a handling fee that requires them to pay thousands of dollars if their work is published. OMICS is an Indian-based publisher, and the legal threat came from an Indian law firm. According to The New York Times, OMICS charges authors as much as $2,700 to publish a paper.
What this means to Jeffrey Beall: According to the threat, he could get arrested if he ever goes to India. It also gives him a chance to work on his Dr. Evil imitation (with a slight adjustment).
What this means to you: It’s further proof that you need to beware and read the fine print of any contract you consider signing with anyone in this industry. The drive to publish in academia is at least as strong as the drive we face to publish. That means desperation, which means predatory business practices. And there’s always the Dr. Evil thing.
Apple, DOJ (surprise!) disagree in filings before lawsuit filing
In a shocking development (you should be shocked, I tell you), Apple and the Department of Justice have filed substantially different versions of the events that led to the adoption of the agency model for e-book pricing. According to the DOJ, Apple was the ringleader in the collusion, pushing the publishers (who’ve settled with the DOJ) to accept the new pricing model. The DOJ brief included references to Apple’s alleged attempts to push HarperCollins, Random House, and Penguin to the agency model. According the Apple’s brief, the publishers had already decided to end the heavy discount of e-books before Apple approached them. The trial is slated to begin on June 3.
What this means to you: Overall, it doesn’t mean much. It’s a filing before the trial. Given that the publishers have settled already, the after-effects of the trial are probably limited. The pricing approach for e-books doesn’t seem to have shifted a lot, though. The ultimate outcome of the trial, however, could affect Amazon’s long-term influence over e-book pricing.
For the first time, kids dig e-books more than hard copy
In the Star Trek universe, the Borg are formerly humans, assimilated into an computer-organic collective. Resistance, the Borg say, is futile. A recent study of 8-to-16-year-olds in the UK indicates that the Borg encroaching on us in the real world, as well. The study has found that for the first time, kids who use read with electronic devices outnumber kids using physical books, 39 to 28 percent. However, the kids who read physical books are nearly twice as likely to be above-average readers than those using e-books. Kids who read physical books are nearly four times more likely to say they enjoy reading as those using electronic means.
What this means to you: Based on our family’s experience, your mileage may vary. The first book my son (14 at the time) got for his Nook was Moneyball, not something below-average readers his age would embrace. Assuming it doesn’t vary, it could mean that you need to follow what the National Literacy Trust, which ran the survey, suggests and work with your kids to read more physical books. But it also re-enforces a point that’s been made about a gazillion times about the digital revolution and attention spans, for all ages. As our lives become more digital and faster paced, what we digest has gotten shorter and less complex.
From long before the time I wrote the first post on this high-quality Internet product, I have held to the fundamental truths that I’m not good at revisions and that I’m horrible at proofreading my own work.
I was wrong.
And if you hold to those “truths,” odds are very good that you’re wrong, too. It took writing professionally to figure this out.
I’m actually bad at a lot of things. I can’t hit a curveball worth a damn. Or throw one. I can’t do scrimshaw very well and I’m absolutely horrible at painting pictures. My long game stinks and my short game is actually worse. And if you listened to me try to play the piano, you’d double your respect for Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap.
All of these things have one very important thing in common–hitting a baseball, scrimshaw, painting, and golfing aren’t things I’ve worked at. There are people who can do all those things, and while many of them are blessed with talent in those areas, they also work at them. A lot.
Take a look at guys who play baseball for a living. They’ve practices for tens of thousand of hours. They wear out the nets they’re hitting baseballs into. They go through hundreds of balls and maybe dozens of bats. They’re the kids whose mothers call them in because it’s too late, or too cold, or raining to hard. They work at it harder than anyone thinks is reasonable and appropriate. And then when they finish that, they work on it some more.
It’s the same with revisions and proofreading. The reason I suck at revisions and proofreading is that I do what’s reasonable and I move onto the next thing. I don’t do the equivalent of hitting while it’s too late or too cold or raining too hard.
It’s quite simple. The way you do revisions is that you do it, and then you do it again. And then you do it again. And you make notes as you go through, where you call out things that might not fit with other things. Then you do compare those things. And then you fix them and read it again. And then you read it again and look for other things that might not fit together and resolve them. And then you do it again and again and again and again.
You do it until it’s as close to perfect as you can possibly get it.
And to be honest, I haven’t done those things. I guess I’ve been lazy. Or misinformed. Or naive.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what I’ve been. It matters what I know now and what I do with it.
How about you? Are you doing everything you should for revisions? Proofing? Writing?
If not, why not?
Because if you’re going to make it, you’ve got to be that kid down the street with blisters on his hands and a mom who thinks he’s nuts to be standing out in the rain hitting a baseball for the 43 millionth time.