Tag Archives: Barbara Hamby

Self-hatred and Self Publishing

19th century illustration of La Fontaine's Fables by Jean Grandville

I have been in the pit of despair, climbed out, and then jumped right back in. Living in Brooklyn, NY I am surrounded by successful writers and artists- some lucky ones are even making their living off their art. I have been writing stories and poems since the age of 9 or 10 and my dream has always been to publish a book. I followed this dream through undergraduate and graduate school. I rang up quite a bit of debt getting my MFA in creative writing at New School University. I thought I’d finish my novel sell it and pay off my grad school loans with the book advance. That didn’t happen. I finished a novel that was the best a twenty-something writer could do but probably wasn’t very good and needless to say didn’t get published. I also didn’t publish my first collection of poems despite publishing a few here and there in various literary magazines. I was so disgruntled I stopped writing for a few years and just played in bands screaming my head off and being angry at the world. Those bands sadly didn’t take off either.

During all of this I started to find my way in a career of dog walking and dog training. At first it was really humbling to see artists around me publishing books and having their bands succeed while I was battling the elements picking up dog doo. In 2007 I found myself a few years out of grad school with nothing to show for it except a lot of debt and bitterness. One of my awesome undergrad poetry professors David Kirby was nominated for a National Book Award around that time. He and Barbara Hamby, my favorite poet and mentor, came up to NYC for the ceremony and I had breakfast with them. I spewed all of my garbage and disappointment at them and they kindly said “Why don’t you write about being a dog walker in Brooklyn?” Thus began the my book of poems “Dogs of Brooklyn.”

I worked on it for 2-3 years carefully crafting and editing poems. I had other friends and writers look over the work, published some poems in various literary magazines, and did some readings. When the book was “finished” (are books every really finished?), I began sending it out to all the first book contests in the back of Poets and Writers Magazine and to lots of different publishers. My then boyfriend, now husband, Dennis Riley photographed the dogs and we thought about making it a photo/poetry book. For a year and a half I spent money and time trying to get other people to publish and approve of my work. I was also writing for BOMB magazine interviewing poets on their work. In combing through the pile of books they get sent for review I definitely saw that while my book wasn’t maybe the best it also wasn’t the worst. I’m constantly amazed by some of the amazing books that get published and some of the ones I cannot believe got published. I felt like while I may not be the best poet out their I certainly am not the worst. But I also came to understand that in the hyper-intellectual world literary world poems about dogs aren’t always accepted.

I realized the people who liked my work weren’t necessarily the literary world, but regular folks who loved animals and Brooklyn. While I could sit around and be bummed that The New Yorker (who’s poetry I rarely enjoy) won’t publish my work, I realized that being yet another disgruntled artist really wasn’t productive. I come from a background of publishing my own zines in high school and being in the DIY punk rock band scene who put out their own records. I decided that even if the literary scene doesn’t believe in me, I do, so I will publish my book.

I’ve been working on it the past few months with a designer and some volunteer editors. I can’t tell you the highs and lows of this experience. There are days where I’m really excited about it and days where I’m filled with so much doubt, despair, and self-hatred I find it hard to function. I’ve received some really lovely feedback from folks in the writing community and some not so nice feedback. The format I’ve decided to publish in probably won’t support photos the best so I may have to publish it without them to keep costs down, and that is disappointing. We are still figuring it out.

There are times where I question why the hell I’m even bothering doing this. I guess overall I’m doing this as a gift to myself. I’ve worked so hard on various writing/ creative projects that haven’t seen the light of day and when you spend years working on something I guess you want something tangible to show for that. Maybe its a huge mistake, maybe I’ll never have a writing career with a faculty position at some college and have the admiration of all my peers (sounds a little like high school right?) But at least I’ll know that I tried my hardest to respect the work I’ve done and time I’ve invested.

It’s funny though in talking to my friends who have “made it” and are having success with their artistic careers they still struggle too particularly with money. It seems odd to me that they have published books and still sometimes have to juggle multiple adjunct jobs etc just to pay the rent. I’ve been really lucky that I have established a career working with dogs and I’ve always been able to pay my bills for the most part and have time to write. It may not be the most prestigious job, but particularly since I started training dogs, I get to really help people and their animals. I guess in this “race” I’m the tortoise and not the hare. I’m slowly getting okay with that.

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Filed under Art, Brooklyn, Dogs, Poetry, Self publishing, Writing

Poughkeepsie Poetry and The Dogs of Brooklyn

Poet's Walk photo by Dennis Riley

Poet's Walk photo by Dennis Riley

Bless me for I’ve sinned, it’s been two weeks since my last blog-session. Things in Brooklyn have been really busy. The weather is changing–dog walking in the cold rain and leaves falling. Winter is on its ominous way, last week four grey days, no sun.

We took a trip up to see Dennis’s friend Ken at Toad Hall in Poughkeepsie or as Ken likes to call it P-Town on Hudson. He manages Locust Grove, a lovely historic estate. I love it up there, its so quiet and full of green. We were there back in July and checked out Poet’s Walk and Opus 40 amongst other things.

opus40

Opus 40 photo by Dennis Riley

I wrote this sonnet:

Poughkeepsie Poem

Toad Hall with its twists and turns, bathrooms opening

into other bathrooms old servants quarters low ceilings,

stairs slope and wind back into the kitchen. Turkeys

and frogs croak in the yard of green, lightning bugs

and dancing mosquitoes buzz. We hike through ticks

and flowered fields of Poet’s Walk, sit in old wooden

gazebos and stare at the Hudson River, shop at grocery

stores that classify Green Tea as “New Age Beverages,”

drive dizzy roads to Opus 40 stones in the Saugerties,

a monument tomb to obsessive sculpture. It’s raining,

steam rises off the hot rocks as if ready for dark-cloaked

druid sacrificing. Locust Grove’s rolling lawns and gardens,

house of servant’s ghosts and carriages, the Young’s pet

cemeteries headstones marked Snappy and Rusty. Back

in the city in coffee shops surrounded by people on cell

(as in jail) phones talking. I’m longing for quiet lakes

and green away from laptops and technology’s electric bars.

This time we stuffed our faces at Babycakes and the Eveready Diner went apple picking and antiquing in New Paltz. Unfortunately, the first night we were there the electricity was out. We made the mistake of going to see Zombieland. Even though its a goofy movie, it does have zombies and we were in this big house in the woods in the dark. It just seemed like a horror movie recipe. Did I mention I spent my childhood terrified of the dark? I’m 31 and I still have a nightlight! Suddenly this quaint little house in the woods with all its “secret” rooms became my own personal chamber of horrors. In bed that night, I stared at the attic door above me in the candlelight and poked Dennis every time he started to fall asleep and snore. Damn nature, this would never happen in the city! (with the exception of blackout 2005)

When we got back to Brooklyn I got my The Dogs of Brooklyn manuscript back with lots of notes from Barbara Hamby my poetry mentor. She’s the most amazing poet I know and has been so supportive and encouraging. After a few weeks of hardcore editing  that actually gave me back pain I’m sending it off to several book contests, fingers crossed.

I also came back to an email from Melissa that Vijay Seshadri agreed to read with us at opening party of The Dogs of Brooklyn Photography and Poetry Show Ozzie’s Coffee, Park Slope (7th Ave & Lincoln Place) Brooklyn, NY November 6th 7pm. I hope everyone can make it. I’m super-excited. I wish the dogs could come make celebrity appearances but it is a food establishment so I doubt they’d be let in.

Finally Dennis and I went to the ridiculous “Meet the Breeds” at the giant Javitz center. It was a weekend event with almost every cat and dog breed imaginable in attendance. Crazy cat ladies  with hand sanitizer, big hair, and too much make up. Dog people dressed up like they were from the country their dog breed was from. Super-white women dressed up in Afghan garb in a tent while their Afghan Hound lay sleeping. King Charles Spaniel owners dressed up as if they were having tea in the English countryside. Wow. It was fun to go around and get free samples of pet food and pet the dogs if the breeders let us!

I was dog sitting for the dogs Charlie, Chloe, Lola and the cats Milo and Sam (yes all one owner!), so we brought them and our own cats some goodies. Lola is an interesting case. A long-haired chihuahua with fear aggression issues. I’ve sat for her before but it takes her a little while to trust again. She usually starts as a barking, biting mess. I always have to lasso her, bribe her with food to get her harness and leash on. I think the biggest mistake owners make with small breeds is they treat them like babies instead of dogs. They pity them because of their size and don’t let them have normal dog experiences and boundaries. When I come along I treat them like big dogs and they seem to appreciate this respect after a little bit of a tantrum. You just have to get through the tantrum. You have to give energy to the behavior you want though praise and correct any behavior you don’t want without giving it a lot of energy, because whatever you give energy to will grow. I usually leave Lola’s leash on and reintroduce her to the house, as my house, not hers. I correct any behavior I don’t like with a chhh and a little tug on the leash. After a little while she’s pretty sweet and follows me around. Sadly I understand her wanting to growl off any potential problems, I’ve been known to occasionally do the same myself. However, living like that you growl off the love too and that’s no way to live.

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Filed under Dogs, Movies, Poetry, Readings, Training, Travel

The Dogs of Brooklyn Poetry Show, BOMBlog Poet Interviews

Indiana & Amelia photo by Dennis Riley

Indiana & Amelia photo by Dennis Riley

I am currently preparing for my first The Dogs of Brooklyn poetry show. The Dogs of Brooklyn is my fresh poetic narrative about my colorful life as a dogwalker accompanied by vibrant photographs of Brooklyn and the dogs by Dennis Riley. The Dogs of Brooklyn is the poetic equivalent to many other bestselling dog-oriented books like Marley and Me, Mark Doty’s Dog Years, and Unleashed: Poems by Writer’s Dogs.

For the month of November 2009 Dennis Riley and I will be hanging his photographs and my poems of/about the dogs and Brooklyn at Ozzie’s on 7th Avenue and Lincoln Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY. We will be having a free opening party/reading on Friday, November 6th at 7pm. I, the fabulous Melissa Febos writer of the memoir Whipsmart and co-host of Mixer reading series, and one other writer TBA will be reading poems and stories about Brooklyn and its “wildlife.” Melissa and I are also discussing the possibility of me joining her on her West Coast book release tour Spring 2010. I plan on doing some guerilla style readings at Dog Runs, Pet Stores, Book Stores etc. More info to come!

As most of you know I’ve been working on a book of interviews with poets for the past year. The interviews were originally featured on BOMBlog. I do love reading these poets’ new books, researching them, and asking them thoughtful questions about their work, and most of them seem to appreciate not getting asked “Who’s your Favorite Poet?”  and “When did you write your first poem?etc. Below are some of my interviews so far:

Denise Duhamel: Reform School Poet

Barbara Hamby and the Abecedarian Corset

Akilah Oliver: Good Grief

The Biographical Helium of Stacy Szymaszek

Matthew Rohrer: Poultry and Poetry?

Campbell McGrath, Survivor: Poetry Edition

Mary Jo Bang: The Bride of Alliteration

Hopefully we will find a publisher for both books soon!

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Filed under Dogs, Interviews, Poetry, Readings, Writing