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Happy School Year

Jacquelyn Bengfort

If you have children of a certain age, January 1 is far less meaningful than that certain day in late August when the kids go back to school and you're suddenly in a regular routine again.

So I decided that I would set some new monthly goals to keep me moving forward with intention as poet (it's pretty easy to let freelancing and part-time gig work fill up every scrap of available time) and that I would check in here at the start of each new month to help myself be accountable to myself.

Here are the goals I set out with:

  • read one craft book
  • read two poetry collections or one anthology
  • read one nonfiction book on a topic of interest
  • draft four new poems
  • take three outings
  • attend two readings or classes
  • make three regular submissions and two contest submissions

For September, I wasn't perfect, but I got a start.

  • read one craft book: I started, but have not yet finished, Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio.
  • read two poetry collections or one anthology: I read Let's Not Live on Earth by Sarah Blake and started re-reading Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath. I also spent soem time reading early W.S. Merwin from his selected works.
  • read one nonfiction book on a topic of interest: I completed Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, a book about therapy.
  • draft four new poems: I had this part completed by mid-month! I've begun spending time each morning to read the newspaper and cut out particularly interesting items and pasting them in a spiral notebook, which helps me engage with the world and often prompts new work. I also had a big outpouring of related poems that might be part of a long piece at the end of the month.
  • take three outings: I overdid things in this department. I went to the Freer|Sackler Gallery to hear Malekeh Nayiny speak about her photographs, a part of the My Iran exhibit; I saw the Jones Benally Family Dancers perform at the Library of Congress; I saw Margaret Atwood speak with Rebecca Traister on her new book at the Lincoln Theater; and I went to the launch of Civic Power by K. Sabeel Rahman and Hollie Russon Gilman at New America.
  • attend two readings or classes: again, I overachieved. I took two classes--Art Wellness with Liz Montague at the Lemon Collective, and Telling It Slant: Queer(ing) Form, a MoonLit workshop with Malik K. Thompson, at Loyalty Books. I also went to The Inner Loop's September reading.
  • make three regular submissions and two contest submissions: I fell a bit short here, with two regular submissions and one contest submission.

As I said before--not a perfect month, but I met or exceeded four goals and progressed on the rest. On to October--another chance to balance family, work, and art!

Download my latest chapbook!

Jacquelyn Bengfort

My new chapbook, Suitable for All Methods of Communication, is now available for download from Ghost City Press. It's free! I'll have limited hard copies for sale at a few events later this summer (or send me a note via this website to arrange to receive one by mail if you're not in the DC area). Read it, share it, review it on Goodreads--whatever you're moved to do.

And I would be remiss if I did not encourage you to check out the other offerings from GCP this summer--1/3 of the way in and I've been astonished at these little books that show up in my inbox Monday through Friday.

Bengfort cover 2019 (1).jpg

I'm Funny Now

Jacquelyn Bengfort

Last night, I graduated from a six-week improv class. I have the certificate and everything. It looks Very Official. (Click on the title of this post for Evidence.)

I have been thinking about taking this class for three or four years now. It turned out to be one of the best things I've done in a long time.

In fact, I wish I had done it sooner--learn from that one, kiddos. If there's something you want to try, try it. I mean, within reason. You know what I mean.

Looking Forward

Jacquelyn Bengfort

So many exciting things happening!

On the fellowship front, I was once again honored to receive support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for FY2019. I also recently learned that I received a part-tuition parent-writer fellowship from The Sustainable Arts Foundation to study at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing this summer.

On World Poetry Day, the Rocky Mountain MIRECC (a part of the VA) released a podcast in which I discuss the process of transitioning out of active duty military service and the importance of finding community. You can find a link to listen under the "Appearances & Press" tab. Additionally, I participated in a panel discussion at the church I attend on the topic of faith and the arts. I may be writing up what I shared. It was the first time I ever publicly read "All Saints' Day," one of the first poems I ever had published. I was crying; other people were crying; it was actually great to share that one in that setting.

Finally, I'm in talks to give an introductury-level one-day poetry workshop at an incredibly exciting venue here in Washington, DC, sometime this summer. I can't wait to share more, but as soon as the details and the date are firm, rest assured I'll be promoting the heck out of it.

Happy spring everybody, when "a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" (thanks Alfred!) and when poets can probably be found standing in graveyards, looking up at budding leaves. As we do.

Scratch Paper Poems

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I still find the world of poetry publishing mystifying. Sometimes I write something and I just want it in the world. But trying to find a home for a piece of writing can be a real challenge, especially for someone who has jumped genres as I have.

And so: for the past several months, I have been, on occasion, taking those most urgent poems without homes and publishing them to a public Instagram profile as tiny multimedia art projects: part poem, part collage.

You can visit this project at https://www.instagram.com/scratchpaperpoem/.

First of three panels, “Mad Scientist (The Bucket Poem)”

Coming soon: Navy News Service

Jacquelyn Bengfort

Ghost City Press has selected Navy News Service to be a part of its Summer 2018 micro-chap series. Look for it to be released in early June as a pay-what-you-will downloadable! All sixteen poems in the chapbook were created by redacting portions of press releases I wrote several years ago in order to make tiny poems from serious prose. And I'm using my deployment-honed doodling skills to create the cover artwork.

Readings at New Spire Arts

Jacquelyn Bengfort

On April 13, I was honored to read some of my work at New Spire Arts in Frederick, Maryland. The audience included Yumi Hogan--accomplished painter, arts advocate, and the First Lady of Maryland. In May, I'll be returning to Frederick for another reading. Tickets are available here.

Artomatic 2017

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I'll be reading at Artomatic 2017 this Sunday in Arlington! The story I'll be reading from was published by Viewscreen, a wonderful magazine that is preparing to relaunch later this year and that seeks to explore policy proposals through fiction.

Because of the plans to relaunch, "A Story Told Over Dinner" is not currently accessible through the Viewscreen website. However, you can find the full text here in the interim.

I am a bookmark

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I spent three days this month attending the AWP conference for the first time ever. It was here in DC, so how could I miss? I enjoyed seeing many of my favorite poets and writers read from their work. I was also excited to sneak onto the bookfair floor with a poem in The Writer's Guide and in the form of a bookmark produced by Barnacle Mountain Press.

Will I attend again? Hard "maybe." But I'm glad it came to town.

[INSERT CLICHE ABOUT STOGIES & PROXIMITY HERE]

Jacquelyn Bengfort

On December 8, I got the exciting news that I was a finalist for the 2017 Kathy Fish Fellowship, an annual offering from SmokeLong Quarterly.

This was my second year applying. Last year I made it through the first round of applications--78 of the approximately 300 SmokeLong received that and every year--so I decided to give it another shot this past fall.

While I didn't win, making it into the final 13 this time around was nevertheless quite a boost. (The winner will be announced in a day or two.) And, because the application included both published and unpublished work, I can tell you where to find some of my close-but-no-cigar stories. Surprisingly for this digital age, all of them came out in print/e-book format--not on websites!

"The Gun Season," Midwestern Gothic

"A Spell for Salvation," Candlesticks and Daggers

"The Swing Set," Unrequited

In fact, because "A Spell for Salvation" was picked up while my application for the KFF was out, only one piece from the application remains unpublished! I'll be sure to update you if it finds a home, though it could be a while--it is, by far, the oddest of the quartet.

Forthcoming publications!

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I've had a run of good luck in the game of submissions! Just as my "forthcoming" section was down to one last item, I was pleased to receive several pieces of exciting news:

My poem/prose hybrid titled "A Spell for Salvation" will be published in Candlesticks & Daggers: An Anthology of Mixed-Genre Mysteries in late 2016. This will by my fourth appearance in one of Kelly Ann Jacobson's anthologies, and I couldn't be happier to get the chance to work with her again!

A short story, "Fruits," will soon appear in matchbook. Guys, matchbook pays, which is such a rarity, especially among online journals. Will I get rich from "Fruits"? No. But I will be able to buy fancy coffees for a week on the basis of a weird little story about produce, and that is pretty exciting.

"Dear Mr. Bortle," an open-letter-style essay, will appear in the fourth edition of Politics and Prose's District Lines. After appearing in the first two volumes and striking out with my submission to number three, I'm so excited to be back in these pages. District Lines launches are amazing events! Crossing my fingers that I'll get to read from my piece...

Another short story, "The Underdeveloped Character She's Been Spending Time As," is slated for publication in HOOT. If you don't know this magazine, they send out tiny stories on postcards and also publish them to their website. I have had a subscription for just over a year--it's a total delight.

Update: the streak continues. My poem "A Day or Two Before" was acceped for the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of The Writer's Guide, published by The Writer's Center of Bethesda, MD. The issue will be available at AWP this February.

I can't wait to share these pieces with you! Follow me on Twitter @jacib--that's likely to be the first place you'll find the links to read online or buy a hard copy!

My Latest Obsession: Librivox

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I'm firmly of my own time period. I don't really long for a simpler time; I don't think any time has been simple, and I'm a champion worrier, so I think I'd be fairly anxious in any given historic period.

But I do sometimes regret living in an age when people don't read aloud, much. Sure, I get to read plenty to the small fry in my life (and I'm not afraid to read chapter books to preschoolers, or Jane Austen to napping babies), but people over the age of five or six don't really sit around reading long books to each other, chapter by chapter, do they? It's faster to read silently, and easier to just flip on the telly.

That may be why I've suddenly become an avid amateur audiobook reader. Librivox is an all-volunteer operation, recording books in the public domain and making them freely available to listeners on the Internet.

Ok, so it's not sitting next to a fire reading Dickens of an evening, but it's good fun. It's the equivalent activity for our time. It's sharing a literary experience...only the living room is a lot bigger.

You can find my page of the Librivox catalog here.

Happy listening!

The Story Behind "Countdown (My Dear One)"

Jacquelyn Bengfort

If you've been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I spent Thanksgiving weekend live-tweeting my reading of Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction. This new collection, edited by the talented Kelly Ann Jacobson, features 19 scifi shorts unified by their epistolary nature.

My story "Countdown (My Dear One)" is one of them!

Most often (at least in my experience) writers write things and then try to find a home for them. This story came about quite differently. I saw Kelly's call for submissions for Dear Robot and wrote the story in response. And to my happy relief, she accepted it.

I knew right away that I wanted to echo the countdown that signals the launch of a spacecraft. I also knew that the duration of a flight to Mars is roughly ten months, because I have written other stories about Mars missions (you can read another example here). It's also roughly the length of time it takes to gestate a human, something I recently did for the second time. I put all these things together, and the tale of Ethan Reisender, doomed astronaut, came out.

Initially I wrote it moving chronologically through time, but reversing the time structure was always my intention. I did, however, scrap the romantic notion that he was writing letters by hand and jetissoning them into space; my scifi-loving husband helped me kill that darling, and a quick conversation with him led to the memo that opens the story. And I got to fold in some authentic memories of my time in the Navy, which was also great fun (even if the resulting story is far from what most people would categorize as "fun").

For a chance to win a copy of Dear Robot and read it for yourself, comment on this or any other Dear Robot blog post by my fellow contributors or Kelly herself by midnight on Friday. Include your email address in the post (deconstructed as, for example, dearrobot (at) gmail dot com to thwart the spambots!). You can also check out Goodreads for another chance to win. Or just go ahead and buy a copy; it works out to less than fifty cents per story!

A Shade of Difference

Jacquelyn Bengfort

Political intrigue. Civil rights. Ethnic clothing. This is A Shade of Difference by Allen Drury.

"I believe in giving his head to an opponent who's riding for a fall," the President said. "It makes the tumble that much more emphatic."

The state of the project: If you're still with me and the New York Times Bestseller Project, I have two things to say to you: why? and...thanks, maybe? This review is not only well overdue, being that I finished reading this book a couple of months ago, it's also not the one I promised would come next. 1962 was apparently the year of my reading bete noir: the character list. Two of the three bestsellers that year are absolute bricks of books populated with so many characters that their respective authors mapped the whole lineage out up front. I've always been intimidated opening a book to a character list and am doubly consternated when I'm reading on my fairly old-school version of the Kindle e-reader, making "flipping back" for a refreshing peek all the more difficult. At this point, I have been pulled in so many directions with my reading list (speculative fiction! book club picks! manuals on housekeeping! meditation primers! everything Mo Willems has ever done! I have kids, after all) that I'm just hoping to get in the balance of '62 before the end of '15 and then start fresh in '72 in the next new year.

How I got the book: I purchased a Kindle e-copy.

The writer: Allen Drury was a political reporter turned successful novelist. Check out his Wikipedia page for a full profile.

The book: A Shade of Difference is the sequel to Drury's best-selling,Pulitzer-Prize-winning Advise and Consent, and here we come to an unforseen issue introduced by my way of approaching this particular set of books in this skip-hop way: had I just worked my way chronologically through the bestsellers, starting in 1942 and then following it with 1943 and 1944 and so on, instead of skipping from '42 to '52 to '62 with the intention of circling back to '43 after completing '82, then I would have read Advise and Consent first. You know, as Drury intended.

Anyway.

I was lucky that it was not strictly necessary to read the first book in the series first, although having read the second one first will certainly remove an element of suspense since the events of Advise and Consent are discussed in A Shade of Difference. (Then again, it will be years before I make it back to 1959's best sellers.)

This book's dual centers are the United Nations in New York City and the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government in Washington, DC. "Terrible Terry," the prince of a small fictional British colony in Africa, has come to the UN to force a vote for immediate independence for his country, and while in the United States inserts himself into the school desegration battle and the broader fight for civil rights for African Americans.

If you are a fan of political novels (not a subgenre I frequently traverse, myself), you will immediately see why Drury is still considered one of the finest American novelists in this arena. The book is filled with vividly-rendered wheeling-and-dealing that gripped me despite my relative lack of interest in the sausage-making side of politics. The novel is also a rich portrait not only of race relations but also midcentury gender roles, with the wives of the powerful wielding tenaciously the soft power of gossip and gatherings while the system as a whole is underpinned by an army of mostly undifferentiated female phone-answerers and nurses and typists.

And given Drury's previous career as a political journalist, the reporters are there in force, identified only by their newspaper or magazine (Washington Post says this, Ebony says that) and functioning in some way like a Greek chorus, providing an overlay of commentary and judgement throughout the novel.

What I couldn't get over, though, was how familiar it all seemed. Sure, the racism and sexism were more blatant and the concerns were Cold War-era, not asymmetrical Global War on Terror stuff, but it was all there. Even just the sheer noisiness of it all. They didn't have the twenty-four-hour news cycle in the sixties, but they did have morning and evening editions of the newspaper and those pages had to be filled. We haven't come a long way, baby.

Next up: I will attempt, for the third or fourth time, to take Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter out of the harbor. I have a Kindle e-copy and a hard copy out from the library in an attempt to deal with my inability to mentally juggle all the characters/toggle back and forth electronically between the novel and the character list that prefaces the book.

Rx: Prompt, Deadline

Jacquelyn Bengfort

You can read my short story "All That's Left of Cuba" on Midwestern Gothic's website. It's a finalist in round 1 of their summer flash contest!

The story grew out of a bunch of childhood memories, though it is, ultimately, fiction. What it really grew out of, though, was the magic combination of a prompt (provided by the magazine) and a deadline. When you have a 2.5-month-old and a 2.5-year-old, that kind of motivation can't be bought.

Write Enough Of These Things And You'll Have A Book

Jacquelyn Bengfort

I'm excited to share that I recently received an honorable mention in Easy Street's "Great American Sentence" contest. This result is officially the best I've ever had in any writing contest ever, so suffice it to say I'm jazzed. You can read my sentence, along with the other honorable mentions, finalists, and winners, here.

Now I just need to come up with [x] many more sentences and string them all together in just the right way...