Archive for May, 2013

Looking back, the one thing everyone could agree on was how normal a day it had been.

In same way that people don’t notice their health until the get sick, no one could remember what it was like when there were shelves of Young Adult novels in the libraries and bookstores. Everyone could clearly visualize the sections as they once were – thick spines of glossy covers, tantalizing one-word titles with the promise of romance or dystopia or both! – outgrowing their allotted shelves and threatening to take over neighboring shelves. The Young Adult books even began to subdivide beneath genre headings never before seen in the world of “adult” fiction. And as they began to take over slots on the various Bestseller’s Lists, forcing the New York Times to consider a separate Book Review section devoted strictly to Young Adults books, something strange happened.

Quietly, the way the light changes when a thin cloud passes briefly, the way you suddenly notice the gradual aging in a loved one’s face, the Rapture came to Young Adult books and they simply disappeared.

Though not entirely.

As with any great societal change, the writers and artists saw it coming and prepared. Those with the most vested in the genre, the writer’s themselves, stopped identifying themselves and their writing as anything other than “fiction.” When called on the change, some even being accused of abandoning the category or of trying to distance themselves from “genre writers” in general, stood their ground with the oldest explanation in the book: they wrote what they wrote, it was up to marketing departments to determine where their books belonged. But in secret they eyed the territories of Middle Grade and Literary Fiction and pivoted their attentions.

Artists, in particular the photographers who filled countless stock photo sites with typical Young Adult images suitable for multiple use on covers, began replacing their old work with new. Topless torsos were supplanted with silhouettes free of distinct racial identifiers, or iconic images of places and things evocative of various moods, replacing figurative images altogether. Designers began cultivating styles reminiscent of eras before they were born, creating books covers with modern versions of retro graphics that lent an air of literary respectability to otherwise cringe-worthy titles. It became difficult to tell whether a book was newly published or a reprint of a contemporary of classic 20th century authors. The resulting confusion deliberately set the stage for the disappearance of Young Adult books as those that were published were confused for adult titles and “mis-shelved” accordingly.

Finally, with the price break in tablet computers making them as affordable as a cell phone, digital book sales by teen readers soared and, while reviving the few remaining old guard publishers, gutted the need for Young Adult print books altogether.

Then one day – an everyday normal day, on that everyone agrees – everyone was suddenly struck with the realization that Young Adult books had vanished overnight. They had a sudden curiosity to scan the shelves and see if there was perhaps something new to discover, only to find empty shelves and reapportioned sections where Young Adult books had been. Even the “classics” in the genre had vacated their roosts. Some were later discovered among the fiction and literature, others had gained new covers and were among those books aimed at the Middle Grade reader, and some (thankfully in far too many cases) apparently disappeared as if they had never been. Rumors that some titles were found hiding in other genres could not be verified, and in the end it was agreed, the Rapture had come to Young Adult fiction.

And the world continued on without incident. Some even said it was a better world than before.

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Well, THAT happened!

Thirty days, thirty poems extracted from “The Stories of John Cheever” as part of the Pulitzer Remix Project. As we hit the final few days it seemed to me as if we all taking a final sprint for home. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of my fellow remixers might have been holding back their one final poem as a sort of send-off. For my part, I knew going in I wanted the last poem to be one of Cheever’s most famous: “The Enormous Radio.”

Here’s how the month ended for me.

April 27: hushed sect

To be honest, the was the sloppiest of all my poems. For the project I preferred to work from photocopies that could travel with me, that I could pick up and toy with while commuting or wherever I happened to have a few moments’ free time. For this particular poem I worked at home, straight from the book, trying to be as spontaneous as possible. I had edited and saved but failed to post this on the day it was due, only realizing it was still in “draft’ form the next day. As for the poem itself, I was intrigued by the portrait that emerged early on and felt determined to make the end line up.

April 28: Oy, Death

This is, I think, the very first found poem I completed back in January. I was looking for patterns in language to play with, repetition that I could bounce off of, and when “over” and its multiple meanings came into play I knew I had found what I was looking for. I had three different ways of formatting the poem in mind before finally deciding on a very measured approach.

April 29: the blow

Outside of dialog, Cheever wrote very little first-person narratives, so when I landed on his (and my) opening line I knew I had to use it. And when you look at that blunt line you realize there’s no flowery prose that you can hide behind; what follows must be equally terse. Again, I take no credit for Cheever’s dark demons.

April 30: hearts unmoored

I walked away from and came back to “The Enormous Radio” several times because I wasn’t able to make found poetic sense of it. Each time I thought I’d found something I could build on, only to have it diverge into a yellow wood and leave me at the fork. Then I realized the two-part structure, the first with its emotions and the second with its repercussions. The word “it” became pivotal and where I had been shying away from the word “love” throughout I realized I had to use it here. In the end it becomes a farewell to the project, a tribute to all who ventured along this journey, and a sad commentary about Cheever himself.

Where I had my fears about committing to so huge a project going in, I’m happy to see those fears we unfound… okay, I freaked out a little half way through. I had some gaps and doubts that I could keep pulling out poems of a decent quality. I was buoyed along by fellow remixers in the comments who, when i was sure I had just posted the worst dreck imaginable, were able to find glimmering facets I hadn’t even noticed. Though I wasn’t part of the facebook group I really felt like we were a solid clan, working the edges of our found efforts from ragged to crystalline. I’m proud to have been a part of such a huge and committed bunch of participants and to whatever comes next.

A chapbook maybe?

So here we are, post-National Poetry Month (or ponapomo, if you will) and as much as I’d like to keep going I do have some other pressing writerly deadlines and project to finish. I hope you’ll take the time to visit not only my links but to check out some of the other 2400+ poems at the Pulitzer Remix site and see what I’ve been talking about.

And in the kidlitosphere, Poetry Friday continues, hosted this week by Elizabeth Steinglass. Plenty of goodness there, probably none of it based on the work of John Cheever.

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How would you like to guarantee stagnant sales from the moment your book dropped in stores?
Do you want your books to have a sameness that will allow them to be lost on table displays?
Are you tired of actually having to pay designers to think?

Why not use this revolutionary new tactic proven to cause book buyers eyes to glaze over in stores all across the country?


That’s right, the most brilliant of colors (or absence of color, depending on whether we’re talking spectral or reflected light), white is the cure-all for all your design woes!

Nothing projects the image of newness like white. Nothing says “this is the future, this is NOW!” quite like white. Nothing focuses the attention on the fact that your book looks like hundreds of other new releases (and ignore the political implications!) like white!


Granted, this has been proven on cover after cover in the non-fiction genres of science and business, but there’s nothing to stop you fiction publishers from trending into white! Start with that hot area of Young Adult fiction and watch your sales plummet like a boulder in a pool full of clear gelatin! Then kill sales of that hot new author and keep yourself from the bestsellers list with a simple serif font (Helvetica, no!) and maybe a splash of wingdings to separate the title from the author.

Nothing says generic, bland, boring, thoughtless and vapid quite like white!


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