How to Make a Poetry Collection: Siren Song, by Tawni Waters

Dear readers,

I’ve been working, on and off, for the past several months, on making a book. Now, at last, I can show it to you.

Can I introduce you to Siren Song, by the wonderful poet and novelist, Tawni Waters?

Siren Song is the first book released by Burlesque Press, and it’s Tawni’s second: earlier this year, she published the novel Beauty of the Broken with Simon and Schuster. Tawni has built up a large following in her many essays and poems published on the Burlesque Press Variety Show, as well as with her regularly inspirational meditations on Facebook.

This collection is close to my heart for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the first book I’ve ever designed (I am the unpaid book editor / intern at Burlesque Press.) To create it, I’ve had become much better at cover layout, typography, Adobe InDesign, and publishing with Lightning Source. I recently had a conversation with the Customer Service representative at Lightning Source where we struggled to clarify which of the four possible versions of the colour black she wanted me to use.

Previously, I had always thought that there was only one black–not so in book printing. There are (at least) four, and two are very bad to use.

It’s a great feeling to finally hold the physical proof in my hand.

Secondly, I’ve come to deeply enjoy these poems. Editing a collection is a chance to be the work’s best reader, to become someone who knows the lines almost as well as the writer herself: it’s a great privilege.

I’m going to write a more substantial introduction to the book soon, and link to an NPR interview that Tawni has done on the book and her writing process, but if you’re curious, here’s one of the poems that Burlesque Press previously published online, a love poem, spoken by Mary Magdalene, after death, to the dying, crucified Christ.

This poem is a good introduction to the collection, which ranges over several different religions and mythologies, writing about Persephone and Judas, Isis and Osiris, as well as charting the poet’s own development as an independent, powerful voice, and her travels through Mexico and elsewhere.

The book will be available on Amazon soon. You can pre-order a signed copy on the Burlesque Press GoFundMe, as well as (for a higher fee) earn some very interesting rewards from the press and its writers. I’ll also be introducing the book at the Burlesque Press Literary Festival, where Tawni will be signing copies.

Best wishes to all your creative projects,



Matt Blasi’s “White Sugar Sand” is Nominated for a Push Cart!

My friend and MFA colleague, Matthew Blasi, published this strange, violent, darkly funny story in Drunken Boat magazine, about conquistadors, possums, and herbal drugs. They nominated it for a Push Cart award, Mat’s second.

Take a look!

      Every night Francisco meant to call the men together, the hundred soldiers, and explain. Yes, they were to wait for de Soto. No, they were not to plunge into barbarism. God was watching, looking down from His holy throne and judging. But he never called the meeting. Every night at dusk it seemed too heavy a burden.

When de Soto comes, Francisco thought, he will set them straight. Marvelous, meticulous Hernando de Soto with his black curls, his oiled beard. He looked very fine in his painting—the one in Francisco’s tent: sleek and powerful in his shining breastplate. Ready to command. Ready to conquer. Francisco would be there on the shore when de Soto finally arrived, down on one knee, to welcome such a man properly. They had laid up plenty of beard oil, good smells. The winter would be mild.

Things I’m Grateful For, No.2: My iPad

Does anyone else use an iPad for serious, lengthy writing? I do.

In fact, I’ve got so used to using the iPad as my writing device, that, after many years without a desktop computer, now I’m actually back to working from one, it’s a bit of a mental challenge to get into a composing mood.

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When the iPad first came out, I thought it looked stupid. In fact, I felt disgusted. A computer without a keyboard? It seemed to me a portent of society’s disturbing descent from active creation to passive observation, a regression to cultural childhood. The screen, not the user, would be in control; mankind’s imaginative freedom would be lost.

Additionally, the stripped down nature of iOS seemed a joke. You could only do one thing at a time. You couldn’t even upload files to websites. 

But the iPad continued to get better, and its programs kept looking more enticing. And eventually, when my last laptop broke, I didn’t have much money, and the iPad’s lower price started to make more sense. That was two and a half years ago, and I’m since written, taught from, and read a whole lot of books on that same iPad 3. Now, when I leave for campus, it’s completely natural to put my iPad in a bag along with a wireless (bluetooth) keyboard.

In fact, when I have to carry around a laptop, that’s when I feel uneasy, worried I’m going to break it, constantly checking how it’s sitting in my bag.

Recently, iPad sales have slowed rather drastically, prompting some pundits to predict the device’s demise. But if I’m any guide, one reason for this decline in sales is the thing’s essential durability. Like I mentioned, I’ve owned my iPad for two and a half years, and it basically works as good as new; in that same time period, I’ve seen laptops slow down and become erratic; I’ve watched phones become useless as their batteries die. The iPad, in contrast, shrugs off the passage of time. Perhaps around November 2015, when iOS 9 comes out, I’ll need to upgrade, but by then, I’ll have been using it for a good three and a half years.

I’ve dropped my iPad on the floor and cracked the glass in one corner: it continues to work, unfazed.

And the tablet nature of the iPad has grown on me. It’s a very conducive framework for writing: one screen, one window, one application. What you look at is what you are working on. These days, when I’ve been using a “real” computer for a while, I find myself annoyed by how many windows have piled up on the screen like scattered notes across a messy desk, how it takes a moment’s effort to spot the exposed corner of the program you were just using.

I regularly use three different writing apps on the iPad. Does that sound crazy? It works for me. I use the amazing Drafts app for general note-taking and casual writing; Byword for longer, serious work, and Word to produce the finished product.

In theory, I could start a single piece of writing in Drafts as an idea or outline, export those notes into Byword for drafting, and then finish it in Word to get paragraph indents and page numbers.

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Drafts is an amazing application. The idea is that you start with text, not with its destination. You write something on your iPad in Drafts, and when you’re done, you swipe from the right side of the screen and out pops the right-hand sidebar, containing all the possible “actions” you’ve set up, any number of options for publishing or exporting the data. You might design an action, “Email to my brother,” or “Tweet and post to Facebook,” or “publish to blog by email.” With one click, Drafts will carry it out.

There’s so much more to the app: the review in MacStories may make your head explode.

So far, I’m not quite enamoured of Byword: I use it simply because I need a writing-focused, minimal program that syncs with Dropbox, and the other options in the app store haven’t worked for me.

However, I do plan to buy Byword for the desktop Mac, thus putting my writing in sync across my devices, at which point the love affair may begin.

Word for iOS is pretty great. It’s much better than Apple’s own Pages. I still don’t enjoy creating in it, though. It would feel like cooking dinner in a suit. All those unnecessary buttons and toolbars, none of which have anything to do with the flow of words.

Do you write on your iPad? What program do you use?