Category Archives: Principles of Belonging

Manuscripts Accepted for Publication

This weekend I received the exciting news that Red Dashboard LLC has selected not one but two manuscripts for publication!

The first is Principles of Belonging and the second is Mera Bharat (“My India”).

Principles of Belonging is a book-length poem based on true stories about my parents and parents-in-law. Mera Bharat is a chapbook with poems about my experiences in India.

We are still in the early stages of scheduling, but Principles of Belonging will most likely be out in early 2014, and Mera Bharat will be available a few months after.

The perplexing Rejection

After sending out poetry submissions for more than a decade, I recently received perhaps the most appalling one to date, one that made me irate. The rejection notice stated:

I really hate saying No to you, but your book didn’t make it to the finals. All the editors found it interesting. But there was also unanimous agreement this was prose, not poetry, despite the use of line and stanza. Why don’t you just redo it as a prose piece?

First off, not only is my manuscript written with line and stanza, but why not also say it is written in meter and rhyme, since it is. Last I checked, definitions that separate poetry from prose include each and every one of these.

Second, if it is written in prose, why would I rewrite it in prose? Isn’t that a little redundant?

Third, two-thirds of my manuscript is written in formal verse, which includes more archaic forms of poetry. The following verse forms appear in my manuscrpt: Anglo-Saxon, Blank, Sanskrit, Sonnets. Last I checked, none of these are considered prose.

Reject my manuscript because it is bad poetry. Reject it because it is too prosaic. But do not reject it because it is prose. It’s not. Robert Frost, arguably the greatest American poet, has some very prosaic passages, such as some lines in “Birches,” but do not tell me his work isn’t poetry.

So, I have to think there are only two explanations to this. Explanation one is that I tell a story that spans 60+ pages. It is by definition a long poem. Perhaps the rejection means they feel like the story disqualifies it as poetry. Poems should be one or two pages long. Anything else isn’t poetry. Okay, but what about The Illiad? What about ThePoem of the Cid? what about Song of Hiawatha? They are long poems written in line and stanza, meter and sometimes rhyme. No, I reject this option.

Explanation two is that the readers are blinded by the MFA programs that produce cookie-cutter poetry. Okay, but what about TS Eliot? Ezra Pound? E.E. Cummings? I don’t even understand some of the things they wrote; I find some of it incomprehensible. But I won’t ever say it isn’t poetry. I reject this explanation too. And so I am back where I started: at a complete loss.

Unfortunately, what this does tell me is that the press doesn’t know poetry when it sees it. It means I won’t be spending money on their books. I no longer have confidence in their enterprise, which is sad and disappointing in part because I love their mission, per their Web site.

As as rule, I am also pretty unwilling to submit to presses with reading fees. But I also see that rules have exceptions, and this press was one of them. I regret making that PalPal transaction.

Meanwhile, this week I received to e-mails. The first one was a rejection from an online poetry journal, but it came with a request to keep submitting. The second one was an invitation to submit to a poetry journal; therefore, when I say I write poetry, I am pretty sure I am not actually writing prose.

I don’t mind rejections; I actually love rejections, but this one…I can’t wrap my mind around.

Close but no cigar

I received an e-mail the other day with mixed emotions. It was a rejection letter from a publishing house. My manuscript was in the “close but not quite there” category; the publisher just did not have the manpower or the finances to publish more titles. She then  said, “let me quickly add that we did enjoy previewing it.”

I am used to rejection slips and have said in the past that rejection slips are positive things, not negative. We as writers can learn from them. They push us forward.

In the era of very few book and chapbook publishers, even fewer publishers that read manuscripts for free, and so many of those publishers looking at a specific market, the rejection slip can slip past you as positive. I was disappointed in that this particular publishing house publishes more titles a year than many, despite the admission that they wished they could publish more. And a book-length poem as manuscript that employs many different forms of poetry has a hard enough time finding a home.

Yet, I WAS almost there. I was close. This is encouraging news. I just have to tighten the bolts. I was thankful the rejection e-mail didn’t say, “You gotta be kiddin’ me!”

In short, a rejected poem is one thing; a rejecting manuscript is quite another. I have to push on, try and figure out what the manuscript is lacking. What can turn a “close” into an acceptance?

I think I need readers. Readers that don’t charge. After all, I make no money — and my wife makes Indian rupees. $20.00 is almost a full day’s budget for a family of four.

The Next Big Thing

Here is an interesting idea. I received this invitation from another poet friend of mine (it’s funny calling her a friend — I have never met her, but we are both from Washington DC, we have worked with the same poetry publishing company, and we follow each other on social media platforms), Bernadette Geyer. She received ten questions from someone she knew and was invited to answer them on her blog, which she did, and sent them to me (and others) to answer on our blog. It’s like a Web letter chain. I like the idea, I am working on a project, and so I chose to participate.

What is your working title of your book (or story)? The Principles of Belonging (Should I keep the “The” in the title or take it out?)

Where did the idea come from for the book? The book’s idea came from my parents and my parents-in-law. They all lived very interesting lives. They were four children whose lives came together despite growing up with large geographical differences (New England, Europe/Singapore, India, Washington DC). One lived through Indian Partition. One had an alcoholic mother. One grew up with an angry father and not only left home for college, but went to a completely different world and culture. One had a father who never spoke to him and a mother who wasn’t there for him. They all in their own ways tried to make sense of their place in the world.

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry, I guess. @Semaphore tells me via Twitter the difference between a book-length poem and a novel in verse is a novel in verse has a word count requirement. I have a book-length poem. I also call it an epic, not in the heroic-kill-them-all way but in the see-their-lives-over-time way.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I of course love thinking about these kinds of things. There are four main characters in the book, and the characters start out as children or teenagers and end up as parents of college students, so it could be tough for all stages of the character’s life to be pulled off by one actor. Also, in all honesty, perhaps complete unknowns would fit the bill. Unknowns can be so much better choices sometimes.  That said, I would say the following:

Rick: Leonardo DiCaprio
Doris: Michelle Williams
Deb: Kate Winslet
Gan: ??? I don’t know enough Indian-American actors. But maybe M. Night Shyamalan, if he can act more than just cameos.

And for the two supporting characters,
Lynne: Renee Zellweger
Booker: Christian Slater

Alternate Actress: Claire Danes
Alternate Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal

Me, "Rick," "Gan" and "Booker." There is a similar photograph of the women, I am pretty sure, but I can't find it.
Me, “Rick,” “Gan” and “Booker.” Circa 1992. There is a similar photograph of the women taken at the same time, I am pretty sure, but I can’t find it.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Four children’s lives connect as they mature into adults, all of them struggling for a sense of belonging.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Hopefully it will find a home with a publisher. No agencies in poetry.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Well, with the way so much of it is written in formal verse, there was really one draft, perfected as it was written. It took me four months of writing, but I had been working on it in my head for fifteen years before I was ready to sit down and commit to the writing.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? The closest thing I have is East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? My parents and in-laws, just by living their amazing lives.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? There are three main parts of the book. In the first part, each of the four main characters has a formal verse style. The styles are Sanskrit, Anglo-Saxon, Blank (Iambic Pentameter) and Cynghanedd (Celtic). The principle for this part is the Gathering Principle. The second part is free verse, some with structure and some with a more unstructured feel. The principle for the second part is The Social Principle. The third part goes back to formal verse — each character gets three sonnets and a sympoe. The principle here is The Reflective Principle. I finally decided to write an epilogue, something I have been tossing back and forth for a year. It is The Culinary Principle, a ballad.

Up next:

Gregory Luce
Cameron Conaway

The Problems and Joys of Sanskrit Prosody

Please note: this was originally published as a note on my Facebook page.

If you read my last note, you would know that I have embarked on an epic journey, and that it involves sanskrit verse (I originally thought vedic verse, but decided that was too strict in structure). One thing important to understand about sanskrit prosody is that it is syllabic in nature and not at all accentual, because sanskrit does not have stresses in the language. What it does have is system of weights.

Instead of long and short syllables, the language has heavy and light syllables. There are several rules to determine whether a syllable is heavy or light but it can be reduced to one basic generality: if the syllable has only one vowel AND it’s a short one  AND it is followed by only one consonant then it’s light. Everything else is heavy.

“But” is light; “butt” is heavy; “boot” is heavy.

This can bring quite a few challenges, because the prosody does not translate well. Writing Sanskrit verse in the English language can be enough to send someone to the halfway house.

1. Some words that we designate as short in accentual-syllabic meter are considered heavy in Sanskrit, and vice-versa. Examples of such heavy words are: and, so, he. Examples of light words are: flag, strut, grin.

2. Neutral words don’t exist in sanskrit, for example, “they” is always heavy.

To keep my sanity intact, because the Sanskrit does not translate super well in English, I have come up with a few rules for myself.

1. Certain vowel sounds are a little harder to determine. “Can” is shorter than “cane” but longer than “cat.” I have considered syllables like “can” to be light.

2.  I have considered the two articles “the” and “a(n)” to be neutral, in that they either count as light or they don’t count. Only scanning the line tells the reader which one applies.

3. The word “to” is heavy by rule but I have made it light.

4. Words with a silent e at the end, such as “there,” or words whose singular construct would normally be light, such as “pans,” I have counted as light.

5. The letter x is made up of a k and an s sound, and so I have counted it as two consonants, making the syllable heavy. I have to admit part of the reason is to allow for proper scansion for a particular word used in the poem.

(As an aside, the words in sanskrit are actually clusters of parts of speech. I only have a shallow understanding of how it works, but basically phrases in English (grammatical groupings of many words) combine to make one long word in sanskrit, From what I can determine, short connection words don’t exist in sanskrit (at, to, or etc.), though it’s possible they are embedded in the words.)

Sanskrit is made up of quatrains called verses. Each quatrain is made up of two couplets, each couplet is made up of two padas, which means “foot,” but is really what we think of as lines. On each pada there are four feet of four syllables each, making 16 on a line. But it doesn’t stop there. Excess is allowed, but only 16 syllables are counted. I have allowed excess on only the fourth pada of each verse, and many have no excess. Also, each verse is end-stopped, which means every thought behind the verse has to stay within its own parameters. This makes it easy for revision, because I can come in between any two verses and and compose. The first pada and the second can be different or identical in scansion, but the general rule seems to be in each verse pada 1 and 3 are identical and pada 2 and 4 are identical.

Finally, as I mentioned each pada is made up of four feet. The most common form and the one I have adopted follows the pattern oooo | LHHo | oooo | LHLo | where o can be light or heavy. In the second foot, the last syllable is usually light; in the fourth foot, the last syllable is usually heavy. The first and third feet have some rules, but I have not abided by any of them because ultimately they have almost complete freedom of scansion as long as there are four syllables; I have only stuck with the strict second and forth feet rules.

Yes, this has been quite the challenge, but it has been so much fun to figure out. Indeed, in my first attempt I completely did the meter all wrong, and I had to redo the entire thing. I am only done with one small section of the first part, but in some ways, it seems like the hardest part is over. There is fun in learning a new meter, and trying to translate it to your own language. As of yet, I have found no other Sanskrit verse written in English, which has been a little frustrating because I have nothing to compare my work to or learn from, but in a way navigating through the uncharted waters that is part of the fun.

Book-length poem

PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE FALL, 2011 — IN REORGANIZING MY SITE, I HAVE COPIED IT OVER INTO MY BLOG.

I started writing my epic poem this week. It’s a story that I have been thinking about for 15 years now. I’ve decided now is as good a time as any to write it, and stop thinking about writing it. I started it once, about 15 years ago, back when I didn’t write poetry. It was going to be a novel, but it was quickly abandoned. I think poetry is the better medium for this particular story anyway.

While this is quite the undertaking, with one small exception I did nothing different in preparing for the writing of it than I normally do: I wrote out my outline of intention as it relates to a dramatic poem, then started to write.

The story is that of my children’s four grandparents, how were reared, how they came together and how they drifted apart. From the standpoint of time, from the beginning of the poem to its end, it really is an epic, not just a book-length poem.

This is basically what the outline of my poem looks like. As time goes on, more detail may be filled in, but I already know the story in my head, so any reason of more detail has more to do with clarifiying the story’s purpose than the story itself.

WORKING TITLE: PRINCIPLES OF BELONGING

Stanza: Quatrains throughout
Theme: Journey of the soul
Topic: Travel
Point of View: Narrator (as opposed to character)

Sections by Character and Chronology:

1947 — Jnanabrata
1952 — Patrick
1957 — Dinah
1962 — Deborah
1977 — Deborah/Jnanabrata | Patrick/Dinah
1987 — Jnanbrata | Patrick | Deborah | Dinah

Sections by Theme:

The Gathering Principle — Quest (four sub-sections): Jnanabrata | Deborah | Dinah | Patrick
The Social Principle — Arrival (two sub-sections): Jnanabrata and Deborah | Dinah and Patrick
The Reflection Principle — Return (one section or four sub-sections): Jnanabrata | Deborah | Dinah | Patrick

QUEST:

JNANABRATA
Topic: Indian partition
Verse: Sankrit
Voice: Melodramatic

PATRICK
Topic: Travel as son of a diplomat
Verse: Blank (Iambic Pentameter)
Voice: Resigned

DINAH
Topic: Vacationing to Ocracoke Island
Verse: Anglo-Saxon
Voice: Cautious

DEBORAH
Topic: Travel to India
Verse: Welsh
Voice: Defiant

**ARRIVAL AND RETURN NOT YET BROKEN OUT**