News Flash! I Have Published a Sonnet in THE MIDWEST QUARTERLY! And I Am Reposting “The Fragility of the Lyric: Sidewalk Poetry in Northfield, MN”

The Midwest Quarterly Cover

I am really happy to have a poem in this publication, one which I plan to read cover to cover. A glance at the table of contents will explain why.

The Midwest Quarterly Contents

Below is the re-posting, (complete with text of the sonnet, “April Exhilaration”, that is now  published in The Midwest Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought.

Recently my community life and my interior life intersected in a way that surprised me. One recent evening, I attended a meeting of Northfield’s City Council as part of the Arts and Culture Commission, to be part of a discussion about Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project, among other things. That same evening, I read a transcript of a very thoughtful lecture, “T. S. Eliot’s Divine Comedy”,  in a marvellous series called The Western Literary Canon in Context by Professor John M. Bowers, published by The Teaching Company. (If you have ever wondered how classic books become classics, this series is a must!)

In addition to putting forward a compelling idea–that Eliot’s three greatest works (“The Waste Land”, the “Ash Wednesday” poems, and Four Quartets) were consciously constructed as parallel responses to Dante’s triune Divine Comedy, Professor Bowers further suggests that Eliot followed Dante’s example in constructing narrative structures for his more lyric reflections in order that they would last, in effect, as a kind of self-conscious canon-building enterprise.

Professor Bowers points out that the western literary tradition tends to be narrative, and that lyrics get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of history and cultural shifts because (in part) strong narratives are easier to recall, retell, and translate. He notes that we have the lyric work of Sappho and Catullus in only fragmentary form; Chaucer’s lyric work (known to have existed) is lost.

I think of my own frustration at being unable to ever to know the lyric accomplishment of Alexander Pushkin, whose work, Russian speakers agree, cannot be adequately translated, not even by such a talented literary master as Nabokov. Simply put, one of the literary forms that means the very most to me, seems (given the evidence of history) to be as fragile and ephemeral as a plucked apple blossom.

Floating Apple Blossom (Photo by Leslie Schultz)

Floating Apple Blossom (Photo by Leslie Schultz)

Perhaps that is why the living tradition of Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry project means so much to me. This project is the catalyst for new work by poets of all ages and embodies the contrast of the short lyric or aphorism–not much longer than the typical electronic tweet–with the lasting solidity of concrete. Others seem to agree.

Capstone Event, Sidewalk Poetry, Bridge Square, Northfield, MN (Photo by Timothy Braulick)

Capstone Event, Sidewalk Poetry, Bridge Square, Northfield, MN (Photo by Timothy Braulick)

 

I admit that Sidewalk Poetry is not changing the canon of western literature. But here, beside the Cannon River, we are creating a small flow in the opposite direction, speaking up, stepping up, and laying down our collective conviction that the lyric is of enduring value, and a living endeavor.

Apple Blossom Cluster (Photo by Leslie Schultz)

Apple Blossom Cluster (Photo by Leslie Schultz)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Please note: Northfield Sidewalk Poetry is funded by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council through the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

Click here to read the Northfield Sidewalk Poems.

(Speaking as a Minnesota citizen, I am very proud of my state for recognizing the importance of caring for the land and the arts, two forms of the creative matrix that sustain all of daily life and commerce. I believe we are pioneers in enlightened funding of things that matter to us all.)

Speaking of new work, Eliot, tradition, and the individual talents all around us, I thought I would share a sonnet I wrote one April in Northfield, at a time when I was rereading Eliot. When I came to the famous line “April is the cruelest month…” I thought that my own understanding of April (different land, different time, very different way of seeing the world) is the polar opposite of Eliot’s.

April Exhilaration
(in praise of Northfield, in response to T. S. Eliot)

Once again, spring has cast her lush magic,
her swaying net of red-gold shoots and tight
buds.  Sleight-of-hand.  Supreme conjurer’s trick,
turning straw lawns wetly green overnight.

The sky goes oyster-grey, the weather wild.
A robin peers at its slick reflection
in a sidewalk pool and cocks its head, beguiled
by beak-flashes of curved, ochre direction.

Whatever is blooming unspools, spilling
colors like ribbons over the granite wall.
Wind crushes the new silk of the tulip, filling
its heart with the cardinal’s scarlet call.

How quickly we forget the winter past!
April is cruel because it will not last.

Leslie Schultz

If you haven’t already enjoyed in them, please find copies of T.S. Eliot’s “light” but enduringly delightful poems in his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, basis for the long-running, acclaimed musical, Cats!

Request for Help!

A reader has suggested a wonderful idea for a post, but I can’t do it alone.

The suggestion is to shine the spotlight on the place that independent book stores hold in our landscape. Now, as they are becoming an endangered species, there is more need than ever to celebrate and support independent book sellers. Do you have a favorite independent book store in your part of the world? Please send me a photo or two, their website link, and a few words (or several paragraphs!) on why they matter to you. (If you are lucky enough to have more than one of this increasingly rare species in your vicinity, feel free to send more than one suggestion.) Thanks!

ASY Author Photo 2013

 

 

Thank you for reading this! 

If you think of someone else who might enjoy it, please forward it to them or post it on facebook. And, if you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe to the Wednesday posts I am sending out each week–it’s easy, it’s free, and I won’t share your address with anyone.

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(Please note: images of T.S. Eliot are in the public domain.)

 

Submitting Your Work. Handling Rejection.

Like any artist, I love to create the work I do, and I love to share it with others through publications, exhibitions, and sales. Below are some photos of artists in Northfield who are proudly standing by copies of their winning entries to the 2013 Sidewalk Public Poetry competition. Acceptance feels terrific!

LeslieSWalkPoetry

Acceptance II

Intellectually, I know that rejection is also part of the process of submitting work, but – let’s be honest – rejection always stings.

Sometimes I’ve let the stings of past rejections prevent me from going to the effort of sending work out. If you are an artist, you know how it goes. To remind myself that my job is to support, even champion my own work—and to cheer you on as you pursue an audience for your own creativity–I am sharing an illustrated version of an essay I wrote a few years ago.

PRE-APPROVED!

Like many writers, what I find most grueling is the labor of sending work out to prospective publishers.  Writing itself is filled with exciting unknowns.  I wonder what an engaging character will say next and when the storyline will twist under my hands like a live thing.  But the submissions process is riddled with the uncertainty of whether “they” will like what I have done.

Rejection I

Frankly, what has stopped me in my tracks all too often is fear:  fear of rejection by the nameless and faceless out there, the editors, contest judges, agents.  As one veteran novelist in my writers’ group said, “It never gets easier.  It’s always donkey work.”  And so, I have slogged along and often bogged down, leaving the manuscript unsent.

 

Locked Box 2006

Last week, I was sorting the mail, scanning for replies to my latest attempts to place my work.  I found one politely-worded rejection letter.  Then I shifted my focus and found something else:  in another marketplace I am assured of approval.  Not literary, but financial.  In the computerized and calculating corporate minds of multinational entities, I am “Pre-approved” for massive cash advances and flights of consumer frolicking.  The interest is guaranteed.  Plus, my identity will be absolutely protected.  Wow!  They must really like me – or at least my FICO score, the credit track record I’ve built up over the past twenty-five years.  Paradoxically, what keeps them coming is my reflexive and steadfast rejection of them.

Blocked Window

This unsolicited approval got me thinking.  On the one hand,  I am offered a Triple Diamond Mastercard for my history of financial solvency.  On the other hand, I also have a history of literary accomplishment, including some small prizes, publications, and public readings.  Why, then, do I so often “pre-reject” myself when it comes to my artistic life, where my real riches lie?

Rejection V

Yet, for me, outside approval of any kind barely registers.  Years ago, as a twenty-something teacher of freshman composition at a state college in the deep South, I had sixty students who ranged from those who were polite, gifted, and articulate to those who were steadfastly disengaged and unable to make subjects and verbs agree.  Of student evaluations at the end of the term, I recall only the negative one, and that verbatim:  “Well, I guess she’s okay as a teacher, but I don’t like the way she dresses.”   Ouch!  A glancing blow, nothing to do with my teaching, but intended to wound and it did draw blood.  The fifty-nine approving evaluations?  I dismissed those as mere politeness.

Rejection VI

I know I am not alone in having rather thin skin when it comes to sending out my poetry, fiction, and personal essays.  There is only the thinnest of boundaries between me and my work.   While tact is important, and I do not need or desire to bare all on the page, nonetheless I find that personal honesty is essential for a powerful piece.  To be happy with my work, I must say what I really think, dwell on what moves me deeply.

Pathway to Acceptance

Work for clients is distinctly different. I have enjoyed the financial rewards I earned from writing for nonprofit organizations for the past two decades (the formative years for my shining FICO score).  I have been privileged to assist fine institutions and inspiring people gain support for their work.  My years as a writing consultant have been wonderfully satisfying on many levels, including freedom and finances, but they have also created a split for me between art and money, between private and public, that I am consciously trying to bridge.  For business writing I have developed a deft touch, even a certain flair, but it is not my own art, and it has come at a cost:  erasing my personality.  Honest but persuasive business writing is essentially ghostwriting, because the personal point of view must be subsumed by the needs and voice of the organization.

Acceptance VI

To compound this, in recent years my artistic subject matter revolves around coming to terms with my family and community in order to understand myself.  To be offering material fraught with the delicate nerve-endings of childhood perplexities and current preoccupations makes me that much more sensitive to the seemingly frosty atmosphere of the submission process.  My habit is to by-pass the deep freeze that might be performed by strangers on my work by placing it immediately in my own cryogenic storage container (that bookshelf near my office door).

Acceptance IV

A few years ago, I became aware of my tendency to deflect praise.  Maybe I thought it was the only way to attract more?  In any case, I assigned myself three new steps.  First, I forced myself to smile and say, “Thank you,” to compliments rather than brush them aside.  Second, I listened and remembered.  Third, I captured the compliments that sounded sincere, writing them down on an index file card and putting them in a file box.  Today, that box is about half full.  The compliments have come from strangers, friends, and family, and they range from the skin-deep to the soulful:  “That jacket is the exact same green as your eyes—so pretty!  (from a visual artist helping me choose art supplies);  “You are a born teacher – I love your voice!”  (from a student in a yoga class I taught); “Your poetry has roots in the unseen world” (from another poet); and – my favorite – “Mom, you are the best mom in the history of the universe, including aliens!” (from my then six-year-old daughter).  I look through this box occasionally, and it is getting a little easier to read good things about myself, to recognize that other people value my life and my work.

Acceptance III

So, today, I’ve decided to extend myself a special, unlimited offer. I am offering it to you, too. It reads like this:

“CONGRATULATIONS!  Because of your excellent history and unparalled possibilities, you have been given a blank page.  Fill it in with any amount of insight.  Share it with those you know.  Then share it with strangers.  Enjoy what they share in return. The exchange rate will fluctuate, but the value of the page will increase.  By accepting this offer of pre-approval, you have lifetime protection from identity theft.  Rather, your identity will be stronger than ever, impossible to fake. Remember: you alone determine the prime interest.

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Other News

FlagLate summer always make me think of daylilies. They aren’t flowers I knew as a girl. The first year I lived in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in an old rented house with overgrown flower beds, I encountered the daylily for the first time.

I had moved to Lake Charles to enter an M.F.A. program in poetry at McNeese State University. That same year, I first read a poem by Adrienne Rich that still resonates with me.  It is titled “I Am in Danger — Sir”, a quote from a letter Emily Dickinson wrote to a respected editor, Thomas Higginson, who had major reservations about her work. In the body of the poem are these lines,

“…gardening the daylily,

wiping the wine glass stem…”

that continue to enchant me. They speak to the daily attention to small things that make a difference, that add up over time, tiny packets of effective effort that carry intention from the realm of wishing into concrete accomplishment. Every morning in its season, the daylily opens a new blossom; the gardener reaches up and removes the spend bloom from the day before. Similarly, to share work, an artist need to be the creative plant and the attentive gardener.

This year, my intention is to tame the submission process by doing just a little bit each day.

Daylily II 2013Daylily III 2013Daylily 2013Daylilies IV