The Twelve Opossums

My creative nonfiction piece “The Twelve Opossums,” which I discussed earlier this month, is now up at Ellipsis Zine. Thanks to editor Steve Campbell for publishing it.

Ellipsis Zine has only been around for a short time, but they’ve been killing it, so it’s quite an honor to have a piece published at this site. So if you’re looking for something to read, there’s plenty of great stuff there.

http://www.ellipsiszine.com/the-twelve-opossums-by-christopher-iacono/

Stranger Than Fiction

Last month, I was excited to receive two acceptances. The first was from Hi Vis Press for a poem titled “Yahoo, I’ve Been Hacked.” It will be appearing in the inaugural issue of Hi Vis Press’ new magazine, Low Light, in September. Hi Vis Press is run by the same good folks who used to edit Hand Job Zine, which published a couple of my poems last summer.

The second was from a new online journal, Ellipsis Zine, for a short creative nonfiction (or CNF) piece titled “The Twelve Opossums.”

I’ll talk about the poem and the somewhat unusual inspiration for it in a future post, but today I’d like to talk about writing “The Twelve Opossums.”

If you glance at the tabs on my website, you’ll notice “About,” “Fiction and Poetry” and “Book Reviews.” There’s nothing about nonfiction or CNF. (By the way, I guess once “The Twelve Opossums” is published, I’m going to have to change the name of that second tab.) Not to say that I have never written nonfiction at all—I had a brief career as a journalist back in the nineties, and I’ve chronicled my writing (mis)adventures in this blog—but this is the first time I’ve written a nonfiction piece specifically written for a literary magazine audience.

Also, for the first time, the main character of a work is, well, me. Sure, I’ve written about myself in the blog posts (probably more than I should), but this time, I’ve become a character (although some people already think I’m quite a character). Of course, this character is obviously one I know very well, but still, it feels strange to be looking at yourself from the point of view of a creator.

As other writers do, I mine my experiences for my fiction and poetry, but I’ve never written anything I would consider autobiographical (“Against the Waves” was close, but the main story was a synthesis of different events that had taken place over years, and some of the characters were also conglomerates). The reason I hadn’t tackled CNF in the past is quite simply because I didn’t think any of my life experiences were that interesting. If Haruki Murakami thinks his life story could only fit on one page, I think mine would fit on a quarter of a page.

In fact, the event that inspired the piece was not earth-shattering; to be honest, it’s really nothing more a humorous anecdote. But I wanted to at least try turning that anecdote into something else. Doing that required me to not only relive that moment but dig deeper into it. Why do I want to tell this story? What can readers get out of it besides a few laughs? Also, while I’ve recounted this anecdote to many people over the years, I’ve never really considered the details, which is what I had to do for this piece. (Considering that the event took place thirty-four years ago, I’m surprised how much of it I remembered.)

At first, I was going to make it a straight memoir piece, but then I decided to really the put the C in CNF by borrowing techniques from experimental fiction. Doing this helped me to look at the event from a different angle, and I think it adds a different layer to the story. Using these techniques may not work for all CNF pieces I write going forward, but I think they worked for this particular story. I hope you will feel the same way when the piece is published later this month.

In the meantime, have you written/published any CNF pieces? If so, please feel free to talk about them and provide links in the comments.

Nonsensically Challenged

So I’m quite excited to announce that my tiny prose piece “Anthony Burned a Hole in the Rain” is in a new anthology, Nonsensically Challenged Vol. 1.

The anthology, which includes 100 stories by as many authors, is being published on Amazon by writer/musician Christopher Fielden and is available in either print or Kindle format. Profits from sales of the book go to the Daisy Garland. The book is pretty cheap (£2.49 in the UK and $3.21 in the US for the Kindle edition, and £6.99 and $8.49 for the print), so not only is it a good deal for 100 stories, but you’ll be helping children with epilepsy.

Fielden is a pretty prolific author, but he also dedicates a lot of time to his website, which is a great resource for writers. He also offers challenges (such as the one I participated in, Lesley’s Nifty Nib-Nibbling Nonsensical Narrative Writing Challenge) and publishes most of the entries. In fact, right now, Fielden is looking for pieces for Vol. 2 of Nonsensically Challenged, so if you’re interested, you should check it out. There are some other challenges as well, so if nonsense isn’t your thing, there might be something else to interest you, so definitely take a look. Who knows? You may end up in a future anthology.

One more thing: If you do buy the anthology, two things: First of all, thank you. Second of all, if you like it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. As I mentioned, not only would you be supporting the efforts of Christopher Fielden and the writers involved, but you will be helping a good cause as well.

Life, the Universe, and Poetry

In last month’s post, I mentioned I was going to participate in this year’s National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). My goal was to write 30 poems in 30 days.

Well, I exceeded that goal: I wrote 41 poems in 23 days! This was quite a surprise, considering that last year, I only wrote about 16 poems during the month of April.

I was going to stop at 41, but then my friend Corrie Haldane suggested that I write one more, which would bring me up to 42. She also suggested doing a “meaning of life” poem. (For those who’ve never read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books and don’t know the connection between the number 42 and “life, the universe, and everything,” watch the video below.)

I loved the idea, but what kind of “meaning of life” poem should I write? A sonnet? A haiku? An elevenie?

Then while I was spending too much time on Facebook, playing too many “I’ve seen 10 artists but one of them is a lie” games, I decided to have a little fun. I composed a found poem using text from various memes that showed up in my Facebook news feed over a few days.

So without further adieu, here is my poem about life, the universe, and everything. It’s not exactly a prize-winner, but it’s always fun to put something like this together.

 

Wanted:

a personal idyll,

a special place

free from the

surplus of evil

we have already.

 

A place where one day

the sadness will end

and you don’t wake up

fighting a battle

you know nothing about.

 

When happiness

is just a thought away,

you bring a smile

to your face and say,

This is my life now.

 

Source: Various memes found on Facebook, April 25-28, 2017.

 

National Poetry Writing Month

As some of you may know, April is National Poetry Writing Month (or NaPoWriMo). For the next thirty days, writers (including myself) will try to write one poem a day (or at least, they will try to write a total of thirty for the month).

Last year, I only managed to write sixteen poems. In the middle of the month, my family and I went to Walt Disney World. (Even though Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, it’s not the best place to write poetry.)

Also, April tends to be a busy time of year at my day job, and this year is no exception. Oh yes, and my son’s birthday is also during that month.

Still, some of the poems I wrote during NaPoWriMo ended up getting published, including “First Love,” “Tomatoes and Radio Wires,” and one of my personal favorites, “The Price Tower.” And heavily revised version of my Prince tribute, “TPOTCB,” ended up in a print anthology.

So even though I’m gearing up for another busy April, I’m going to really try to write thirty poems this year. My family and I did this year’s Disney trip in February, so that won’t get in the way of my goal.

Although I’m hoping to write thirty poems this year, I don’t expect many of them to be ready to submit for publication. (If I’m lucky and have a few good days, maybe I’ll be able to submit two or three. Maybe.) But I am hoping that about five or six of them have enough potential to workshop them on Scribophile.

I don’t really have a strategy this year. I was originally going to use a series of architectural photos as prompts, but I decided to nix that idea. (Even though “The Price Tower” and “Iconic” were both inspired by architectural photos, I realized that using them for a whole month might get boring.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of places to find ideas. There’s the official NaPoWriMo website, which offers prompts each month. Using the #napowrimo on social media will also help poets find prompts. (Speaking of social media, lately I’ve been inspired by the Brooklyn-based Yes, Poetry’s prompts on Twitter. You can follow them at @yespoetry.)

Are you participating in NaPoWriMo? What are you using for prompts? Tell me about them in the comments.

A Little Help from My Friends

One day during the summer, while listening to the Beatles, I decided I was going to write a poem called “The Final Chord of ‘A Day in the Life.’”

For those unfamiliar with the song, it’s the final track from the Beatles’ 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a record that still casts a large shadow over pop music today. One of the earliest examples of “progressive rock,” the song begins with John Lennon singing over a simple acoustic melody and climaxes with loud, swirling psychedelia. It ends with an E chord that’s played on several pianos and slowly fades for roughly a minute. In order for the listener to hear the chord’s vibration for that long, engineer Geoff Emerick had to turn up the recording levels really high, so the song basically ends with a loud crash before a long, slow fade.

I was always fascinated by the fact that the Beatles (as well as Emerick and producer George Martin) chose to end such an epic song in that way. To me, it was the antithesis of the album’s beginning, which announced the arrival of the titular band on stage. That final chord in “A Day in the Life,” on the other hand, was the exhausted audience trudging to the parking lot after the show.

So I decided to write my poem about that. But a couple of things happened to my piece along the way.

First, one of the lines from the song (“Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”) kept playing over and over in my head. I eventually incorporated it into the piece, so it was no longer inspired by just that final chord. For this reason, I gave it a new title: “Holes.” (By the way, the revised piece also quotes a Bob Dylan song.)

Second, after I wrote the rough draft, I thought it was, well, boring. Considering that I was using such an adventurous recording for my inspiration, I felt my piece should reflect that same spirit. So I decided to take a different approach: Instead of writing a poem, I wrote a flash using stream-of-consciousness. While I had read some works that employed stream-of-consciousness (notably James Joyce’s Ulysses, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), I had never tried writing it myself. But I decided to give it a shot. After all, what did I have to lose?

It took me a little while to get this into shape, but fortunately I got a lot of help from seven of my writing friends (both on and off Scribophile). Sure, it sounds like a lot of people were involved in what ended up being a very short piece (under 800 words), but it’s a good idea to hear from different people about a work-in-progress, especially if you’re trying out a new form.

Some people may be familiar with it and know what to look for in that type of piece. For example, a few people suggested that for “Holes,” I break some grammar rules. I’ve done that for poems, but I would have never thought about doing it for a flash, or at least not to the extent I did it in mine. Of course, others may not be as familiar with the form, so they may judge it based on a completely different set of criteria. Still, one should consider all opinions, even from those readers who may not “get it.” After all, they may see something in a piece that others never noticed, so their feedback is just as valuable as everyone else’s.

Overall, this experience was a positive one for a couple of reasons. First, “Holes” was accepted for the inaugural issue of Tape Hiss, which will probably be out in the next month or so. But also, writing the piece and sharing it with a writing community have inspired me to go on more literary adventures, which I will write about in future posts.

Have you tried experimenting with your writing recently? If so, did you share your work-in-progress with writing friends? Please feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

Lost and Found

So late last month, I got my first acceptance of the year. It was for a found poem that will be appearing in Unlost Journal in April.

After receiving the acceptance, I thought, Why not write a post about found poetry?

Since there are plenty of resources about found poetry on the web, I won’t try to define what found poetry is. (Besides Unlost, you should check out Poets.org and the Found Poetry Review.) Instead, my goal here today is to inspire you to try writing found poetry since it is fun to do.

Now, by no means am I a found poetry expert. I still have yet to try an erasure or a cento, but I have had a few pieces published.

Also, there are people who can make a poem out of anything. I’m not one of those people (at least not yet).

However, I did manage to craft a poem using text from a copywriting book. That poem, “Wisdom,” was published in Five 2 One’s #thesideshow.

To create that poem, I picked a random chapter in Joseph Sugarman’s The Adweek Copywriting Handbook (in this case, Chapter 17), and started circling words (or parts of words) and phrases. Some of them were just prepositions (e.g., of, into) that by themselves do not have poetic value but are needed for the poem as a whole. Along the way, I also found some phrases that might be good in a poem; for example, here’s a paragraph from page 103 of Mr. Sugarman’s book (I hope he doesn’t mind if I borrow it):

With less copy, your ad will look less imposing to the prospect and he or she will be more likely to read it. The second advantage is that you are making the slippery slide even more slippery by making it shorter. Your prospect will get to the bottom of the slide much faster, yet still get the full impact on your sales message.

From this, I ended up circling the slippery slide, get to the bottom, and impact. If you read “Wisdom,” you may have noticed that I used all three of these. However, you may have noticed that they’re used with other words that do not appear in the paragraph. These words were taken from other pages in the chapter (e.g., environment, which appears in the next paragraph). Sometimes I add a few words not in the source, but in this case, I only used words from the text. When I do add words, I try to add as few as possible since the idea of found poetry, after all, is to create something new from something already published.

So are you interested in found poetry? Do you have any additional resources you would like to share? Do you have any favorite found poetry books? Let me know in the comments.