“Leviathan” by Neil Aitken – Review“Leviathan” by Neil Aitken – Review

Neil Aitken’s “Leviathan” (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2016) has an intriguing focus. This poetry chapbook is about Charles Babbage, considered by many to be the father of the computer for the work he did with his analytical engine. I bought this book because, as a software developer myself, I found the subject interesting, even though I knew relatively little about Babbage. “Leviathan” was a more than pleasant surprise.

Babbage was a scientist and mathematician. He saw the world through his calculations. On the other hand, he loved his wife and children. He outlived his wife and four of his children. The push-pull between an analytical, scientific approach to the universe and the needs of, and desire for, human connection is a struggle that is shown at a deep level. It is a conflict that was strong in Babbage but is not unknown in today. This is from the first poem in the collection, “Cast.”

“Just as the compiler now ponders like a god at judgment, weighing
each line of code with what it means or fails to mean.
How each casting of a thing engenders the creation of another.
Nothing is ever the same after translation, after the name
has been hefted, then posited to the waves. The dark world dimming
in its simple downward trajectory of terms, the endless run of zeroes
widening back to the farthest shores. This melancholy of form.
To be. To become. The shape of nothing, how it is skinned
and laid to rest. In the hour of our words and their departures,
we are captive here to whatever comes, whatever returns,
be it beauty or love, or the unfurled wings of their manifold ruin.”

Aitken touches upon the highlights of Babbage’s life, meeting his wife, her death, and other events, as well as his meeting with Ada Lovelace. Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, was the one to recognize the potential of Babbage’s analytic engine and is considered the first computer programmer. This is from “Babbage Circumnavigating the Room, Encounters Ada, 1833.”

“…And now, three-quarters of the way
around this milling mass, you find Lady Byron again, and the girl who asks
the most remarkable questions. Who stops you with a calculated word.
In her eye, the same fire as yours. The same urgency to be understood.
How is it that the poet’s daughter is so attuned to number, to the secret language
of order, the unheard symphony of the machine you have been composing
in your mind all these years? How is it that you know instantly that in her
beats the same heart of pain, the same proclivity for loss and disaster?”

All of the poems are written in couplets, some with a single line to finish. The lines are relatively long and it seems to give the words room to maneuver, allows the reader time to ponder Babbage and his dream. It’s masterfully done. I highly recommend this chapbook.

You may find “Leviathan” at Hyacinth Girl Press and check out Neil Aitken at his Facebook page.

R.I.P. Ursula K. LeGuinR.I.P. Ursula K. LeGuin

One of the legends of science fiction passed away on Monday, January 22, 2018. Ursula K. LeGuin was a strong pillar of my sci-fi universe. She was not afraid to take the tropes of the field and toss them out the window. To me, her feminism shown through her fiction without hitting anyone over the head with it. I’ve been meaning to reread (again) both “The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand of Darkness,” which posits what happens when a human meets up with a world without gender. I’m also very fond of her translation of the “Tao Te Ching.” She approached that translation as a poet and a student of the Tao and her talent comes through. If you haven’t encountered her writing, treat yourself.

Ursula K. LeGuin obituary

Honoring Your RealityHonoring Your Reality

Gabriela Pereira talks about honoring your reality as a writer (DIY MFA Podcost #47, that is understanding that each person has their own way to be a writer. Sometimes what works for someone else isn’t going to work for you and what worked for you in the past might not work today.

I bounced up against something that made me take an unplanned time out. In August, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, it was stage 0, but I still knew that I would have a bunch of doctor appointments, radiation appointments, and some surgery to deal with. I had been working on a non-fiction project and on poetry. I looked at all that and gave myself a timeout until the new year. Even though my available hours might not change much, and it wasn’t constantly on my mind, I felt like I had a balloon taking up space in my head. When the seed of a poem came to me, I wrote it down in my notebook for use later. By not putting pressure on myself to get writing done, I did still get several first drafts written. I gave myself permission to leave the book alone, and now that I’m past all the big stuff, I anticipate starting back up on it over the next week or so.

I think being gentle with myself was less stressful and gave me maneuvering room when I really needed it. It also means that I don’t see the book as a burden, which might have been the case if I made myself continue when my head was not in the space. So now, onward and upward!

My Writer’s Origin StoryMy Writer’s Origin Story

I joined the DIY-MFA Book Club this month and the first question/prompt is “How did you become a writer?”

I’ve said that my love of poetry comes from a mix of Mother Goose and Edgar Allan Poe. I remember sitting with my big book of Mother Goose poems and reading “The Lion and the Unicorn.” I knew that there was more to the story than what was told in that poem. Many years later, I learned that it referred to England and Scotland, but at the time, I just knew there was more. There were layers, there were symbols, even though I might not have known that word either. This fascinated me. Rhyme and rhythm and meaning all came together.

When I was eight or nine, my mother had a big Royal typewriter. It was on a table in my room. I remember standing there and typing out something, my first poem, although today I couldn’t tell you if I was more in love with the idea of writing a poem or just looking for an excuse to use that big, beautiful piece of machinery. I’m pretty sure the poem wasn’t very good, but also fairly sure that it is in a notebook somewhere in my basement.

In high school, I discovered “The Raven” and, like so many others, fell in love with it. Memorizing that poem helped me solidify my relationship with writing. It showed me the complexities of emotion on the printed page. While I’ve penned fiction and am working on a non-fiction book, poetry is my first love.


You may see a few odd posts, here or on other social media like Twitter, as I am doing some updates to the website and tying some functionality together to make life a bit simpler.

As we move from 2017 to 2018, I hope this finds you well. I have plans to include reviews of chapbooks in the coming year, so keep your eyes open. If you have a chapbook that you would like me to review, PM or email me.

Ghosts of My Own ChoosingGhosts of My Own Choosing

Flutter Press has published my first chapbook, Ghosts of My Own Choosing. I am extremely grateful to Sandy Benitez at Flutter Press for accepting my work and working closely with me this past week to get everything sorted out for publication. Please visit the Flutter Press website and check out the great poetry available there. My chapbook, as well as many others, are available for sale through the website.

Flutter Press
Ghosts of My Own Choosing cover

“Can You Catch My Flow?”“Can You Catch My Flow?”

Lidy Wilks, author of “Can You Catch My Flow?” is celebrating National Poetry Month with a blog tour. For this stop on the tour, I’ll be reviewing her chapbook, and I’d like to thank her for the free PDF copy so I could do this review. I also want to mention her Rafflecopter raffle — see the link at the bottom of this post.

I would say the theme of this chapbook is being a wife and mother and how the roles that are expected of us as adults can be restrictive. I would like to focus on some highlights.

In “Sleepless Nights” there is some wonderful specificity describing the feeling of missing someone:

just to hear your low,
lulling voice 202.41 miles away.
Now 9 months, 10 days, 2 weeks,
3 hours and 45 minutes has gone by
and I still don’t want to say goodnight
because I want to say good morning.

In “An Aging Love,” Lidy describes a couple’s life together in a series of quick snapshots: meeting, marriage, and children, and the future. This excerpt shows both joys and difficulties:

Melded for eight years, we grated and soothed each other
as you instilled in our sons the definition of a man while I enjoyed
my reverse harem of hugs, kisses and your reprimands.

While “An Aging Love” hints at the narrator’s world being less than perfect, rebellion against conformity is the theme of “Follow the Leader.” Here is an excerpt from the middle:

The adults are Einstein,
Cassandra and the Dali Lama,
all rolled up into one.
And us young’uns best
strive to be
just like them.

In some ways, I think the poem “The Identity of Edvard Munch” is a linchpin for the book. This poem’s tone is rather different from the rest of the chapbook. Its lines are short and the persona that speaks is intended as a 19th-century painter rather than a 21st-century wife and mother, and yet there is a similar complaint about “living in a/stale, conformed world.” This is a complaint that can be understood both by viewers of Munch’s paintings as well as readers of contemporary poetry, so this poem has the effect of taking us out of our modern cookie-cutter lives and connecting us with a larger view.

“Can You Catch My Flow?” is available through the following links:

Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
eCreate Store

About the Author:

Ever since she was young, Lidy Wilks was often found completely submerged in the worlds of Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Sweet Valley High, and Nancy Drew. She later went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, from Franklin Pierce University. Where she spent the next four years knee-deep in fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction workshops.

Lidy is the author of Can You Catch My Flow? a poetry chapbook and is a member of Write by the Rails. She currently resides in Virginia with her husband and two children. And an anime, book and manga library, she’s looking to expand, one day adding an Asian drama DVD collection. Lidy continues her pursuit of writing more poetry collections and fantasy novels. All the while eating milk chocolate and sipping a glass of Cabernet. Or Riesling wine.

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Organizing Your WorkOrganizing Your Work

Once you have multiple pieces of writing that you intend to send out into the world (submit to publishers, journals, contests, etc.), you need a good way to keep track of everything. If you have one or two books that you’re sending out, it’s not too difficult. If you’ve got a dozen short stories, it’s going to take more thought. If you’ve got upwards of 100 poems, your complexity goes up significantly.

I thought I’d share a couple of options for keeping track of what is in need of edits vs. what is ready for submission vs. what is out there (hopefully) being reviewed by an editor vs. those pieces that (thankfully) have been published and that you need to not send out again (except possibly as part of a compilation).

I’m going to describe two approaches, one using typical office software and another using some specialized tools. I’m not talking about trying to organize hard copies or using a notebook for tracking, as that way lies madness.

The Office Way

I used to use a word processor to house all my poetry. This was fine for formatting, but it was difficult to find a poem. I kept them in the order they were written, which was good for editing, as I often edited in a batch and poems written about the same time had been left to “breathe” the same amount of time. When it came time to submit, however, I had to scroll through an increasing large file or search.

When I thought something was ready to be submitted, I added it to a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet had the title, date it was written, number of lines, current submission, date of submission, date of response, the response, previous submissions, and other comments. This works fairly well, especially because it is easy to sort a spreadsheet.

On another tab, I kept information on the places where I submitted. This included the name of the journal/website/publisher, the URL, submission method (through email, Submittable, etc.), number of poems to submit, whether simultaneous submissions are okay, whether a previous publication is okay, expected response time, style preferences, and other comments. Again, sorting on a spreadsheet is simple. It’s also easy to add a column when you think of some other piece of information you need.

This method is fine for tracking information. My problem with this came with storing my poems in an easily accessible way. I have a big chunk of “old” poems that I wanted to keep separate from the newer work, in part to make the number of poems in a document more manageable. The problem then became accessing multiple files to get to all my work. I had contemplated having each poem in its own document, but I honestly didn’t remember the title of every poem, so I would wind up opening multiple documents. It was awkward at best.

Scrivener and Duotrope

Scrivener is a tool developed by Literature and Latte (http://www.literatureandlatte.com) that is a complete writing studio. You can organize your poems into binders, similar to different documents in the Office approach, but since everything is maintained together in one project, viewing the documents in a different binder is only one click. There is a bulletin board view that lets you organize your work in any order with a simple click and drag. You can add descriptions, statuses, and other data fields to your documents. My poems have a status to indicate whether it is in progress, done, published, etc. I have fields to show the original creation date, date of the last edit, the date I had it critiqued on Scribophile, and a form if there is one applicable.

You can also create collections and add poems to a collection. You can order the collection independently from the overall project, which is great for playing with the order of poems in a chapbook without messing up the overall project. You can add information on submissions in these extra fields or in the description, but there is a better approach.

Duotrope (http://www.duotrope.com) is a website that has marketing information on more than 5,000 journals and publishers. You can list your pieces for submission, track your submissions, and save your favorite markets. The site also compiles statistics, so you can tell whether to anticipate a response in five days or five months.

While this approach costs a little money (Scrivener is currently $40 and Duotrope is either free or $5 per month, depending on your option), but I find it well worth the money due to the number of pieces you have. A spreadsheet is a totally reasonable way to track your items and submissions. A word processor may work fine for editing and storing your poetry, especially if you are more patient than I am or have a better approach than I did. I would love to hear other methods for organizing your work. Please share in the comments below.