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Posts published in July 2018

What is the River Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided to make four streams. The first is named the Pishon, and this winds all through the land of Havilah where there is gold....The second river is named the Gihon, and this winds all through the land of Cush. The third is named the Tigris, and this flows to the east of Ashur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Genesis 2:10-14 New Jerusalem Bible

The title of my book refers to the Pishon, the only river mentioned in the second creation story of Genesis whose location has not been identified. Various theories include the Nile; a now-dry channel running from Medina to Kuwait; and even the Danube, associated with this mosaic in Qatr, Libya, perhaps depicting a thirsty pilgrim, or Adam (©


David Ruekberg 1
Submitting poems to journals is an arduous process, and apparently my way of implementing it makes it more so. I have a personality defect which makes me sometimes take things too seriously, and sometimes not seriously enough, (but that will be the subject of another post). So everything takes a little longer as I consider, evaluate, reflect, reassess, grumble, consider again, and eventually come to a resolution. Or not.
The advent of the paperless world has made submitting poems easier, though electronic vehicles come with their own challenges, as you know. Mostly, though, it's easier. In the old days I had to stuff envelopes and mail them out, a more arduous task than it might sound to those whippersnappers who have only been on the receiving end of an envelope. The first step in submitting work was to research journals that might be a fit for my work. In the 1990s, when I began to seriously engage the mechanics of publication, I consulted a three-inch thick directory of little magazines and small presses called The Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. When I found some I thought sounded interesting, either because of their titles or subject matter (various indices indicated each), if I were responsible I visited the local Borders or independent bookstores (neither of which exist in the Rochester area any more, except Greenwood Books in  Rochester and Lift Bridge books in Brockport), or tried to find them in a library (sometimes I was able to locate a few in the Rochester downtown branch or, rarely, at the University of Rochester). If I were less responsible, I just shot in the dark (against my nature, at least the greater part of it). Having narrowed the field one way or the other, I compiled 3-5 poems in Word document batches according to style or content. Then, usually during school vacations, I filled our large dining room table with the printed-out batches, placed cover letters atop them, folded SASEs for responses and return of manuscripts, and then stuffed stamped envelopes with the lot, and hauled the bundle to the post office. A few months later the rejections rolled in, and I would repeat the process over the next school break. My wife told me she had heard of a poet who kept his batches in a cubby he had inherited from a local post office, and as soon as a rejection came in sent out a new batch, but I never got that organized. In those days, few journals accepted simultaneous submissions, so the cycle was slow. As those of you know, now the process is much easier. Go to the website of the journal you hope will be interested in your work, read a few sample poems to see if it is a good fit, click the "Submit" link, and upload your work. Most sites have some kind of submission manager, such as Submittable, to help you keep track of your submissions. Some use the Ur-submission manager, Devin Emke's "Submission Manager," that all presses accepting work online used to use, and that now only a few, such as Cider Press Review, still do. Maybe they've invested too many of their few dollars and precious time to move over to Submittable, which most journals use, or maybe they're just very nostalgic. Some, such as Diode, still accept work only through email. And some very respectable journals, such as The Southern Review, still rely on the post office, which probably narrows the field to those who are really serious -- or who can't deal with the computer. Though the process is easier, it doesn't necessarily mean one's chances of getting a poem or story published is much greater. There's a proliferation of online poetry journals, and more people seeking publication for poetry than fifty years ago. Presumably the same problem exists now as did then: more people writing poetry than reading it, but at least online publishing makes it easier for people to access creative work, as noted in Stephanie Burt's 2015 article in the New Yorker, "The Persistence of Lit Mags." Regardless of success, I don't write to get published. Several times in my life I've given up on trying to get in print, but after a few depressed weeks of not writing, picked up my fountain pen again and started. Not to get published, but just because I couldn't help it. Of course, being back in the saddle riding towards publication does put a happy pressure on what I write -- or at least what I choose to revise -- to be clearer, wiser, funnier, and altogether more effective as a writer than if I were just fiddling with my navel in a journal. Wish me luck.    

Things I Think About

David Ruekberg 0
Things I think about wander all over the place. Perhaps you are wondering, then, on a site apparently focused on poetry (hence the URL), why I don't narrow them down to my thoughts just about poetry. In fact, I've done a lot of thinking and writing about poetry. For instance, what the difference between poetry and prose is, though after several attempts, I concluded that it was a fruitless inquiry. It's like trying to define the difference between New York and Ohio. Sure, there's a clear difference between New York City and Sandusky, but the closer you get to the border between them, the more you find they have more in common than not. I do have a fifty-page essay written for my MFA program analyzing rhythmic structure in poems by Randall Jarrell and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I also have written a lot of thousand-word annotations for the same program, and I might post some of them someday. But their focus is pretty narrow. I kind of don't think most people would enjoy reading them. As for what I do post, what does it have to do with poetry? Well, maybe not so much, unless you consider that poetry is everything. How? Andy Roberts' poem, "Sometimes I Take Becoming a Monk" (just after my poem "Vespers" in Albatross) says it better than I can: I think of Darwin as a young man crawling through the East Essex marsh on his hands and knees, storing a spotted frog in his mouth because his hands and pockets were already full. Poetry is the taste of the frog. If you object to this generalization as being too smooth, think of it in the way Richard Hugo writes about sound at the end of his essay, "Writing Off the Subject," The fact that 'suicide' sounds like 'cascade' is infinitely more important than what is being said. It isn't of course, but if you think about it that way for the next twenty-five years you could be in pretty good shape. Some of these posts are current, some were written a while ago. Some of them appeared on my previous blog, some never appeared anywhere but my computer. I've edited the posting date to show when they were first composed (as opposed to made public here). I hope that doesn't upset anyone. See the sidebar for past blog posts. Oh yeah, and none of these pieces are poems.

Praise for Where Is the River Called Pishon?

David Ruekberg 0
Where Is the River Called Pishon? is published by Kelsay Books. You can purchase it from Kelsay, Amazon, or from the author directly.
David Ruekberg's poems engage the domestic and natural spheres to encounter the elemental forces that drive us: love, grief, despair and hope. “Dirt and instructions” coalesce and point to answers not given but suggested, offer “somewhere to overnight/before rain, and winter,” promise love as surrender, “and no one asking questions.” Where Is the River Called Pishon? is an irresistible book that asks to be read and read again.Pablo Medina, author of The Floating Island (poems) and Cubop City Blues (a novel), and thirteen other works, including an acclaimed translation of Lorca’s Poet in New York.

David Ruekberg's probing debut collection renders the world for readers, in many senses of the word. His poems distill experience to concrete moments of "magnolia blossom. . .Dutch Catholic schoolgirls. . .traffic's wreathed whine." They also present a world in flux. Past and present, creation and destruction coexist: a "half-world below heaven," where "the species will follow all species…it will die out"; where "The law commands the cells' bloom/in the body, light's intercourse with matter, the ions' banquet/of rust." Ruekberg marvels at it all, even at questions about the meaning of existence: "History is the ultimate act of faith. Plant an atom in darkness/and you sow a cosmos." By turns playful and solemn, the poems are generous invitations to consider the origins of life and its inevitable ends, to remember the fact that, at least sometimes, "everything murmurs and winks, as if holy."

Tracy Youngblom, author of Growing Big and One Bird a Day