Hellos and Goodbyes

October was gone in an instant and November already has one foot out the door. Instead of writing and reading, I was very busy studying for the GRE and applying to MFA programs. I hadn’t done geometry since high school, and hopefully that was the very last time I’ll have to study math again. I had to seek out professors I hadn’t talked to in over a decade for letters of recommendation. I had to refresh their memory of who I was, what I did in their classes, and what I’ve been working on since then. Somehow, I put together a portfolio of my best short fiction. It’s very difficult selecting “the best” of anything. I crafted a statement of purpose, which includes what I write, why I write, what I want out of an MFA, and what I can possibly contribute. These posts by Carmen Maria Machado and Cady Vishniac were essential in figuring all of this out. Thank goodness for gracious writers like them.

I’ve also become an assistant editor at The Review Review. Their site is an invaluable resource to both new and veteran writers alike. I’ve previously written reviews for them. Now I’m coordinating all the interviews with literary magazine editors for the site. It’s become my mission to highlight new journals that seek to publish underrepresented voices, alongside the old journals who have been around for decades.

I received my contributor copies of the Lascaux Prize 2017 anthology. My poem, “Heathens at Thanksgiving,” was a finalist and was included in its pages. You can order a print or digital copy.

Unfortunately, some of the hellos I’ve gotten to say lately have come with goodbyes. This week, we lost my grandma on my dad’s side. Grandma had just celebrated her 90th birthday this year. It is a very unreal feeling when someone you’ve known your whole life is suddenly no longer a part of it. I remember watching The Price Is Right with her when I was little. I remember her excessive cheek kisses and her dance moves at parties. I remember all her Italian-isms: bicciuridu (my little baby), stunad (idiot), gifu? (what’s wrong?). Lots of mangia, of course. How she always cooked huge Italian meals for Christmas, every kind of chicken and pasta, the scungille (shellfish) and bruppu (octopus). How all my little cousins loved the octopus and how I didn’t trust it. I will miss Grandma, but I’m very glad she lived a long life. I’ve got some good genes.


Finding (My) Voice

"Speak Up" by Kyle Thompson

This isn’t about writing style like you might think, or about carving out my own identity in the literary landscape. This is about actual voice and how I’m trying to change it.

I’ve always been soft-spoken. You’d think by now I’d be used to being talked over, interrupted, and not allowed to finish a thought. But just like the role of the wallflower, you never really get used to it. We like to believe we do, but we never do. The periphery is both comfortable and convenient when you wish to avoid any attention, but that also means people will relegate you to the shadows. It’s difficult when you desire recognition without the spotlight.

I never wished to disturb the universe. I wouldn’t dare, Mr. Eliot. I like harmony and dislike confrontation. I never wish to be an intrusion upon anyone, so I shrug in towards myself. I’ve always kept my head down and concentrated on the sidewalk, never daring to meet a stranger’s gaze.

Friends have noticed how I add “I guess” or “I think” to the end of most sentences, even when I’m a hundred percent certain about something. This is just like how I used to say I’m sorry all the time, even when there was absolutely no reason for me to apologize. Sometimes I’d even apologize when it was clearly someone else’s fault. It was only when I was made cognizant of it that I was able to change this behavior, and even then, it took some practice.

It’s going to take much more practice to free myself of this deep rooted self-doubt. Over years and years, it has become both my vocabulary and my voice. It’s kind of hilarious being a writer who doesn’t believe in the value of his own words.

I’ve been trying to teach myself that my contributions are worthwhile. I’ve been trying to teach myself how to raise my voice so you can clearly hear what I’m saying. It has become a matter of necessity now, especially since it has been brought to foreground by my work life. My editorial job requires me to tell people when they’ve made mistakes, even when I don’t want the confrontation. It requires me to voice confidence when I know I’m right and someone else isn’t–which, as it turns out, is often.

So I lied. I said this wasn’t going to be about writing. But if it’s about voice, then it’s going to be about writing too.

I received this rejection letter:

Dear Joseph Dante,

Thank you so much for sending us this. We love the nuance and patience of this story and the delicacy of this relationship. Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t quite fit the tone we’re developing for Issue 6, but I would love to read more of your work in the future.

We wish you the very best of luck placing this story elsewhere.

I couldn’t help but think, if only it were louder. If only softness wasn’t such a problem. If only we didn’t expect the writing to grab you by the throat.

I’m still learning how to turn up the volume.


On Prose Poetry

Not too long ago, I didn’t know exactly what prose poems were, but I suspected I’d been writing them for a while. I just assumed they were hybrid poems that emphasized the narrative over the lyrical. Apparently I was both right and wrong. In order to better understand what I was doing or what I could do, I read A Field Guide to Prose Poetry, published by Rose Metal Press. As it turns out, I still don’t know exactly what prose poetry is, but that may be the point–this is a kind of literature that resists category. The book is a good starting point nonetheless, as it introduced me to writers who were doing it their own way. One thing that did surprise me here: prose poems tend to be unlineated. They tend to be poems that look like prose on the page, and not vice versa. Many cite Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud as early experimenters. I also went away loving Nin Andrews’ writing, and now I have to get my hands on her books too.

Writing that stretches and defies category has always interested me. Lyrical flashes, collaged fragments, memoir disguised as theory, criticism in poetry. It’s often brave and full of surprises. It dismantles and disrupts. It’s inherently queer. Intertextuality as identity, as a reflection of real life.

After reading, I wanted to find more related texts that could expand the possibilities. I searched online for journals that seek to publish prose poetry, which I will share with you here:

Unbroken Journal
Elsewhere
Pithead Chapel
Threadcount
Ghost Ocean
Contemporary Haibun Online

There used to be more, like Sentence, Double Room, and Prose Poem: An International Journal, but all these seem to be defunct now. Let me know if you have any other suggested readings to contribute.


South Florida Poetry Reading

Starting the year off, a longer poem of mine has been published in the newest issue of the South Florida Poetry Journal. There’s also an audio recording if you’d like to hear it aloud and follow along. The editors invited me to do a reading – my very first reading anywhere – at the Broward County Library. I don’t like public speaking and I was nervous, but I think it went well. I met poet Denise Duhamel and she signed my copy of her latest book. She was funny and full of infectious energy. She teaches poetry at my alma mater and was trying to convince me to pursue an MFA. I still think about it from time to time.

More good news: I was recently named a finalist for the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Poetry. My poem will be published in an upcoming anthology alongside the other finalists and winner. The poem was inspired by “A Chinese Banquet” by Kitty Tsui. Please do yourself a favor and read her work. Her poems are coming back into print soon, which I’m very excited about.

I’m working towards a full-length collection and have figured out its structure. It’s helping to push me forward, along with a fresh spreadsheet keeping track of all my rejections/acceptances. I’m hoping these neuroses turn into something I can eventually hold in my hands and hug to my chest.


Writing in Real Life

For the very first time, writing has been brought to the forefront of my “real life” career. It’s odd – the workweek tedium is suddenly being broken by…stretches of writing? I am not used to this. I’m now helping my company revamp all of the writing across their websites, as well as coming up with ideas for blogs. I am appreciated and getting paid for my contributions. It’s a nice place to be in.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend the AWP conference this year. I was invited to give readings and help man Conium Review‘s booth, but I’m unable to make the time and take a trip to Los Angeles. I wonder if there will ever be one in Florida?

In order to remain an active participant in the literary community (other than just writing and tweeting quietly sometimes), I’ve accepted a position at The Review Review to review literary journals and occasionally conduct interviews with editors.

Here’s an issue of a journal that you should probably read:

rattle51

It’s Rattle‘s feminist issue, featuring an interview with Maggie Nelson. Now you know I’m all about that.

I’ve also started a blog where we can all share our favorite poems with each other. My goal is to highlight a wide range of poets from all kinds of backgrounds, especially those that may have been overlooked. Feel free to submit, follow, and share.