Here are three poems that were recently published in Anapest: The Paragon Journal.
Here are three poems that were recently published in Anapest: The Paragon Journal.
The Washington Independent Review of Books recently interviewed me regarding my latest book, The Appointment. During the interview, we explored the juncture of poetry and politics as well as the creative process as it relates to both fiction and poetry. The interview, which appears in today’s edition, explores my approach to writing and to creative collaborations.
I want to extend a special thanks to my daughter, Yasmine, for the surreptitious and very apt photo she snapped one day this past summer while my family and I were roaming through Georgetown. And a big thanks to Franco Tartaglia who asked some really good questions and to WIRO for putting this in print.
This essay is the first in an occasional series that addresses topics of interest to poets and writers — topics which are often posed to me. I hope you will find them useful as you pursue your writing career.
People often ask me how to go about publishing their work. Whether it’s a poem, a short story or a novel, writers of all genres want to get their writing in front of an audience. Likewise, they want feedback and, of course, they want to get paid. We’ll leave that last question until last.
For a beginning writer, publishing can seem a daunting endeavor. Where do I start? Where do I find venues that are open to new writers? How do I choose a legitimate publication, either online or in print? And how do I submit?
There are, in fact, many resources out there to assist writers, some of them commercial, such as Writer’s Digest, and others dedicated to those more interested in literary publications. Poets & Writers is by far the most popular and one of the most respected publication in this last arena. P&W has been around for quite a while and, besides offering articles on getting published, finding an agent and other relevant topics, they have a comprehensive listing of journals and other publishing venues that are looking for poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, etc. They also publish an exhaustive listing of literary competitions and grant opportunities. P&W subscriptions are available for about $20 per year, and subscriptions include access to their online databases and as well as their other online resources.
Another useful resource, similar to Poets & Writers, is The Writer’s Chronicle, a publication of The Association of Writers & Writing Program (AWP). Like Poets & Writers, The Writer’s Chronicle publishes articles and interviews with writers as well as calls for submissions and listings of grants and other professional opportunities, all from a more academic point of view. The Writer’s Chronicle is published 6 times per year and is included in the cost of AWP membership which is $75 per year. The magazine is also available as a standalone subscription for $20 per year. (N.B. All costs are of November 2017).
P&W and The Writer’s Chronicle are perhaps the most referenced by both new and experienced poets and fiction writers, as well as those specializing in creative non-fiction.
Of course, writers should not simply search for submission calls and submit their work willy-nilly. One also needs to do some research to make sure that their work fits in with the specific journal’s aesthetics as well as the subject matter of an upcoming issue. A call for submissions might be as broad as “seeking quality poetry and fiction of any style or subject matter” or as specific as “looking for poems by mid-career women addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.” Yet, even when a publication specifies the kind of work and/or subject matter they are looking for, a writer needs to investigate further into what the overall posture of the journal is. This research should involve looking up the journal’s web site or acquiring a sample copy of their print journal. Reading work that a specific journal publishes will give you an idea of the type of writing they are seeking (formal, for example, or experimental) as well as how subject matter is presented. One might also email the editors directly, depending on the journal, with specific questions, but reading what they publish is the best option you have.
In addition, editors will often specify not just what to submit, but how. Some journals will only accept manuscripts via postal mail. Others will, on the other hand, require a submission from an online submission vehicle such as Submittable. If they accept email submissions (and many don’t), they may specify that you should include the text of your poem or story in the body of the email. Others, will specify Word or RTF format. And still others will say what font to use and whether or not to include your name and other personal information in the document. Editors will almost always have a word limit (no more than 4000 words, for example) or a limit on the number of poems to submit. And, more than often, deadlines are specified. Pay attention to these details. If they are not followed as stated, your submission will most likely be returned or rejected without being read.
Once you have done your research and have identified the journal or journals you wish to submit to, it’s time to send your work. Unless otherwise stated, you should include a short note introducing yourself and the work you are submitting as well as mentioning any publications you have had int he past. If this is a simultaneous submission whereby you are sending the same poem or story to various publications at the same time, you should state that as well. But make sure that the publications you are submitting to allow for that and be sure to inform them should your work be accepted somewhere else.
After you send your work, you will need to play the waiting game. Some publications will give an indication of how long they take to respond to submissions. Others may not. Either way, if, after about 3 months, you do not hear back from the editors, send a short, polite email inquiring about the status and asking when you might expect to hear from them. Editors are busy individuals, spending much of their time going through the slush pile, so be patient.
While you’re at it, make sure to keep track of what you are sending and where. A simple spreadsheet might be sufficient. I have found using a database, such as Microsoft Access, is much more efficient.
Feedback is not something you should expect on a regular basis. As stated above, editors are busy reading submissions (and most publications get more submissions than they can handle) and do not have time to give individual feedback. On occasion, however, when an editor spots something that is not quite right for the edition they are working on but sees potential in your work, he or she may compliment you in a written note and encourage your to submit again in the future. Feedback or not, you should be prepared to collect rejection slips.
As for payment: most publications pay their authors in kind, usually with one or two copies of the edition that contains their work. Others may offer a small, nominal payment. Either way, the thrill of being published, especially for new writers, is often payment enough. Eventually, as you build up a publication history and your writing becomes known, you may begin to get larger payments. But do beware of publications that request payment in order to print your work. These outfits (there is no better word for them) should be avoided at all costs.
My next topic will deal exactly with that topic: vanity presses and the pitfalls and possible benefits of using them.
If you should have any questions about this article or wish me to address any question you may have about writing or publishing, please post them in the comments section of this article.
Proud to be part of Grace Cavalieri’s The Poet and the Poem alongside so many fine poets. Tune in to Pacific Radio from between January 10 and June 27, 2018.
Please join me for a special reading from The Appointment to benefit ArtSpace Herndon in downtown Herndon, VA. Tickets are $25 and attendees will receive a signed copy of the book as well as the satisfaction that they have helped sustain a wonderful arts center in the heart of Herndon, VA. Refreshments are available.
Hope to see you there.
Rafael Alvarez’s new book, Basilio Boullosa: Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown, just released this September, explores the lives of 20th Century European immigrants and their descendants during the 1960’s and 70’s in Baltimore and its surroundings. A native Baltimorean, Alvarez draws on his own background and experience to depict a world whose vestiges have disappeared, only to be replaced by the vicissitudes of gentrification.
I asked Alvarez some questions about his life and the influences that came to play in writing the short stories that make up his new book. Below are his responses. You can read my review of Basilio Boullosa: Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown in the Washington Independent Review of Books.
Maggio: Tell me about yourself and your background. What was it like growing up in Baltimore in the 1970’s?
Alvarez: I entered the 9th grade of Mt. St. Joseph, a historic all-boys Catholic school in southwest Baltimore in the fall of 1972, a neighborhood called Irvington, on the “other side of town” from the family home on the eastside. My grandparents were still alive, and my Spanish grandfather had just retired from the shipyard. I wasn’t paying as much attention to the world beyond my desires as I should (shortly I would discover Frank Zappa, begin drinking more than my share of the homemade wine at dinner, start chasing herbal enhancement and girls who reminded me of my cousins in Spain.) I had no way of knowing it was the beginning of the last gasps of industrial Baltimore. If I did, I might have taken notes the way I started sketching Baltimore architecture with words about the same time. When I started high school, the city had 905,00 residents, almost 300,000 more than today and was still a majority white city. It is much smaller in population now and about 70 percent African-American.”
Maggio: You are a lifetime resident of Baltimore. How has it changed over the years? Do you see those changes as being for the better or for the worse? What’s been lost and what has been gained over the years?
Alvarez: All you need to know about this stands at the corner of Clinton street and Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, ground zero of my fictional Holy Land. For seven decades at that location (since 1926) there was a German restaurant at which generations of Baltimoreans from all walks of life celebrated birthdays and graduations and anniversaries, everybody having strawberry cream pie for dessert. The greatest influx of immigrants in Baltimore, by far, were the Germans but they don’t get the dramatic rendering in our histories – outside of H.L. Mencken – that the Italians, Poles, Greeks and Jews do.
The restaurant was called Haussner’s and it was as indelibly Baltimore as a fried soft crab) which they served along with more than 400 other offerings (one of the last places you could get Terrapin stew.) After it closed in 1999 (almost as many tears were shed as when the Baltimore Colts left for a cursed and insignificant midwestern burg in 1984) the building stood vacant for 20 years. No one was interested in reviving the old building (a series of about six rowhouses that expanded the original ‘grocery’ over the years) and it was decided it was too expensive to bring up to code.
So what happened? It moldered and then it was razed and now there’s a very modern “mixed-use” apartment / condo / first floor retail building there. A very nice building mind you, very forward thinking like you might see in Brooklyn, NY these days. But it ain’t Haussner’s. And nothing could be and the Beatles ain’t getting back together and that’s how it goes.
Maggio: In your new book, Basilio Boullosa: Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown, you create a very clear picture of a time gone by: a time when immigrants and their descendants built lives and neighborhoods that were comprised of elements from the old world (Greek restaurants, Italian bakeries, etc.) mixed with popular Americana (Elvis Presley and, later, the Beatles). The scenes you create are vivid and the emotional attachment is poignant. In general, do you think these individuals were happy in their lives or were they disappointed? Which do you think weighed more heavily?
Alvarez: I think we all have secrets and in the old days it was people’s wounds – even those visible for everyone to see – were their secrets. You didn’t talk about it. And I think it is the rare human being in any generation (at least in this country) that goes to his/her grave fulfilled.
I have seen the ego fulfillment of Greek immigrants who became wealthy in this country by standing over a short order grill 18 out of every 24 hours and forfeited a relationship with the very same children for whom they “sacrificed everything.” They not only went to their graves disappointed but bitter and, perhaps worst of all, wondering where they went wrong.
I am blessed to be the son of a kind and gentle man who knew the rewards of a balanced life, a man who said to me the other day (age 83) that he “accomplished everything he wanted in life. By that he meant raising three sons who honor him, want nothing from him but his happiness (as he only wants from us), rising to the top of his profession (chief engineer in the maritime industry), saving for a comfortable retirement (thanks in part to a union pension) and staying married to his high school sweetheart – no matter the bumps in the road – for seven decades. My father never wanted for the shiny things in life, he had the wisdom to be grateful for the things that endured.
In general, I think the typical character that I write about may not be completely happy with their lot in life but even the Greek whose family was in nearly free-fall dysfunction as he relentlessly pursued wealth had it better in this country than the literal starvation experienced in his country of origin. [This is dramatized in the story A Banquet of Onions in the new book.]
I try to portray characters somewhere between the two poles just mentioned (my father, Henry Boullosa in the Holy Land mythology) and the hard-headed Greek who felt good about himself because his kids always wore the latest fashions but those same kids honored him out of obligation not love.
Maggio: Your stories, while rooted in Italian, Spanish and, to some extent, Lithuanian immigrant experiences, seem to have implications for other groups, particularly newer immigrants: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. What lessons, if any, do you think these groups can learn from the experiences of those who came before?
Alvarez: I’m not quite sure. But when I see families that obviously just landed here (mostly Spanish in my part of East Baltimore) and hear them speak their native language – an overburdened Mom pushing that stroller up Eastern Avenue with a kid on each arm and a wagon of laundry behind, I try to imagine that they are my father’s Italian forebears or my mother’s Polish ancestors just getting a footing in the New World – “My mother would iron shirts
for a penny a piece,” an elderly Czech woman said to me a few years ago — and I wonder if at some point it’s all the same process – take’em from anywhere, pushe’em through the red, white and blue funnel, see what pops out the other side in a generation or two – all the same except the language and the food is different for each group.
The biggest thing they will not experience that previous waves of immigrants to Baltimore had access to is good paying factory jobs with (sometimes) union wages and a bit of job security. Be on time and pay attention and you can make a decent living I am not sure that the level of resentment new immigrants face by people who consider themselves “American” is any greater than that faced by preceding immigrants, many of whom now support Trump and his brutal ideas. When my father was young, Italians were considered just half-a-click (if that) above African-Americans by “real” (non-Catholic, white) Americans. That seems to be part of the immigration experience: Get here anyway you can, make good and then – in a generation or two – forget how it happened because you reaped the rewards worked so hard for by those who came before you.
Maggio: Immigrants cling to old world customs and values yet strive, in their own way, to be American. Their children are in-betweeners, accepting both the new and the old while becoming more “American,” often to the distress of their parents. And the third generation seems to want to reject the old ways, though they ultimately come to terms with them. What are your observations regarding this phenomenon?
Alvarez: Growing up, my Spanish grandfather used to tell us not to be “like the Americans.” Which always made me wonder just exactly what we were. Perhaps the “in-betweens” you mentioned earlier. I have seen it time and again — most profoundly within the Greek community in which they strongly urge and sometimes demand their children to marry other Greeks. This is in large part due to wanting the family to remain rooted in the Orthodox Church. In my family, my Spanish-Italian-Catholic father married my Polish Catholic mother and in the 1950s in Baltimore’s ethnic community (Germans marrying Italians, Irish marrying Poles) this was considered a ‘mixed-marriage’ but the bond of Catholicism smoothed things over. Where you will really see tears in the family fabric occurs when the immigrant generation has made a great success and whatever business it was made in gets taken over by the second generation. By the third generation, things often turn to shit with greed and envy. The saddest for me is how the original ethnic foods slowly but surely by the third generation become assimilated into the crap most Americans call dinner.
Maggio: What is your next project? Have you ever thought of making a novel starring Basilio?
Alvarez: I am now at work on a novel about two other characters who dominate my “Holy Land” fiction: the young Greek immigrant beauty Leini (short for Eleni/Helen) traded by her village to America in 1918 for 14 sewing machines and her “American” lover, Orlo Pound, a waterfront salvage king, a man who finds treasure in the debris of other people’s lives. It is called “Orlo the Chicken Necker” and it addresses almost every question you have asked in this interview. I’ll be working on it for about another year. Probably longer.
On Friday, August 4th, I will be interviewed on Empire Radio Now at 4:12 PM EST. I will be discussing The Appointment as well as The Wizard and the White House. The interview can be heard live at https://empireradionow.com/studio3/ or http://tunein.com/radio/Empire-3-s285445/.
Yesterday, I was interviewed by Alan Lohr on his Kong Monster Rock show. It was an especial honor for me since the program is devoted to musicians. The interview involved my poetry and fiction and, most notably, my new novella, The Appointment.
For signed copies of the novella, click the buy now button below.
The interview can be heard live on Kong Monster Rock and will be recorded for social media for future listening on The SpareMin App (AndroidOS: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sparemin.sparemin&hl=en and iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sparemin/id1017089162?mt=8)
Please tune in and spread the word.
On Tuesday, My 23, it was my pleasure to be a guest on Grace Cavalieri’s “The Poet and the Poem.” The program is recorded at the Library of Congress and is broadcast, at a later date, on Pacifica Radio and archived on the library’s website.
Here is a recording of the program:
This recording contains a reading of Lamia Abbas Amara’s “If The Fortune Teller Had Told Me” in both Arabic and English. Apologies to my Arab friends if have mangled their language.
Many thanks to Grace who is one of the most gracious individuals I know.