Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

Three quick things—and requests for your input!

1. Thank You, Gordon Square Review

I don’t have a lot of submissions out right now, but there are a few I’m waiting to hear about. Including a few poems that I sent to Gordon Square Review on [checks Submittable] February 1.

It’s not my first try with this publication, and I’d love to receive good news from them. But regardless of the outcome, I’m just grateful that they posted this update Monday night.

Don’t you wish that every journal would share similarly generous updates? (If you can think offhand of those that do, please give them a shoutout in the comments section. Let’s applaud them!)

2. From the Department of Poetry-Book Preparation: Birthright Update, Part A

Over coffee last Thursday, a friend and I were chatting about my forthcoming poetry collection, and the topic of “Notes” came up. As in: Will my book include a “Notes” section, with explanations that might help guide readers through some of the poems in the book?

So far, I’ve haven’t been planning to include a notes section—but after this conversation with my friend, I’m reconsidering. What do you think about those sections (or their absence) in poetry books? (I’m interested in hearing from those sharing perspectives as readers as well as from other poets who have decided to include/omit notes sections in their own collections.)

3. Birthright Update, Part B

I’m taking the occasion of the new book’s publication to refresh this here website. Which means that I’m currently completing a survey document for my web designer, and I could use your help.

Could you please tell me what you most like/dislike about this site as it is? What has been most helpful to you here? What could you do without? And what’s missing?

Thank you all, in advance, for your input!

24 thoughts on “Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

  1. Paul Rousseau Rousseau says:

    I appreciate it very much when there is a Notes section or a Note with each poem. It allows me to discover, and perhaps understand, the poet’s thoughts.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thank you for the comment. Do you prefer to have the note right there on the page or are you okay with going to the back of the book for those explanations?

  2. On the subject of “notes”: I am a poet and memoirist, and I was always taught that a poem should stand on its own and not require any explanation or notes. Even in a public reading, extensive explanation is frowned upon. Then I thought of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, which was a standard teaching tool when I was a young English major in college. It was jam-packed with footnotes, to an extreme, providing historical as well as linguistic context.

    Somewhere in the middle, there must be a place where an explanation or background may be helpful. I thought of a poem I wrote while living in Mexico that made a reference to the Virgin of Loreto — a well known figure in Mexico, but the allusion might be obscure to others. For the first and only time, I included a footnote in a poem.

    If I am like most readers, I doubt notes will be of anything more than academic value. But on occasion, it may help to lay bare an otherwise obscure reference that the poet considered important enough to include.

    Catherine Marenghi

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Catherine, thank you for this considered comment. I’m beginning to think that I’m going to need to try to hit that middle position, when it comes to the moments in my ms that resemble the one you’ve pinpointed in yours.

  3. R.L. Maizes says:

    Erika, This is such a useful and wonderful site. I’ve always found what I needed on it. A refresh of the look would be lovely.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Please tell me more! The look is definitely going to change in certain ways–for example, the current emphasis on my first book won’t remain. But do you have specific thoughts about font, color, layout, etc.? Thank you!

      1. R.L. Maizes says:

        A bit more color and designed with mobile version in mind.

  4. Lorri McDole says:

    I’m “one of those prose writers who’s afraid of poetry” (as I heard someone describe it at AWP), but I do enjoy trying to read poetry. I subscribe to Poem-a-Day and always read the About This Poem section at the end. They seem pretty light-handed to me, and maybe that’s key. I love to hear what image captured the writer in the first place or what frame of mind they were in, but I don’t want the poem’s meaning explained.

    I think you would please the most readers with putting all notes at the back. Those who are interested will take the time to look for them.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks so much, Lorri. It’s intriguing for me to receive (here and privately) takes from people who seem interested in learning about the poem’s background/inspiration via notes. I guess what I have more in mind is offering an explanation of any potentially unknown references that might be integral to the reader being able to understand the poem. I don’t think that this comes up TOO often in the work, but there may be a few occasions that merit a note.

  5. diana rosen says:

    RE: Notes
    I generally don’t like them as I believe the poem should stand on its own, however, I’ve been reminded frequently that cultural references that are quite familiar to one person are totally unknown to another, so add as appropriate, but do it in the BACK of the book, not as footnotes which are visually distracting.

    I love your website as I love touches of red. Perhaps the skyline image could be darker or amped up somehow, but the only thing I would really change is that the “about” column be moved to the left and the content moved to the right (so long as the photo of you “looks into” the content.)
    I suspect I’m just heavily right-everything and that is where my eye goes to first on anyone’s page.

    Enjoy the web site a lot and always get some info that’s useable immediately. Thank you so much for all your work!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Diana, yes, I’m thinking about the cultural references, and I will remember your preference for back-of-the-book placement.

      Thank you also for the helpful comments on the site!

  6. A note on Notes: I have been schooled in the same tradition as my good friend Catherine Marenghi: if a ‘note’ or, heaven forbid, a footnote is required, then the poem is missing a critical element and needs further revision. Trust the poem. Trust the reader.

    But to check myself, I went to my stacks to randomly inspect a dozen or so chapbooks by poets ranging from Billy Collins to Ross Gay. While back-of-book acknowledgments are standard, notes appear in about 30% of my random and unscientific sample. When they do appear, they are tight and limited references to such things as references to lyrics, a quoted line, or to clarify a colloquial phrase, etc. None of the poets use the opportunity to explain themselves, their inspiration, or add an “about this poem” narrative.

    A preference for me: I expect to see the limited examples mentioned above if needed, and in most cases, I would be put off by a poet’s use of bottom-of-page footnotes or back-of-book notes for personal narrative explanations.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Bonnie, I suspect that I’d find similar results were I to conduct a parallel survey based on my bookshelves. Thank you so much for chiming in.

  7. Erika,

    I like everything about the website. I think the most helpful part to me is the “Resources” section. But I do enjoy and appreciate every section. I like the site’s design and don’t have any suggestions for that.

    As for notes with poems, I would have to agree with the comments of Catherine Marenghi. However, I have published two books of poems but not included notes in either. I’ll definitely consider it for any future publications.

    Speaking of book publication, my second book, Seasons of a Sojourner, was accepted and is forthcoming by Silver Bow Publishing, of Canada. The e-book is already on Amazon, and the print version will be available in a few days. I’m excited about it!

    Oh, and Erika, thanks to your resources and some I have found elsewhere, I have had 42 poems published in 20 different journals since October, 2018.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks so much for all of the kind words–and congratulations on your book and that amazing # of publications over the past six months!

  8. Sandy Soli says:

    Erika, I agree with the responder who suggested endnotes rsther than on the poem pages. Sometimes a reference to history etc. offers extra insight–Tracy K. Smith offers several examples in her recent books. It was wonderful to hear her and meet her at last week’s Scissortail festival in Ada, Oklahoma. She was very gracious and spent much time popping up and down from her seat to allow us to have our photo taken with her.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks so much for this, Sandy. (I feel as though I know Tracy K. Smith although we’ve never met–simply because I listen to her voice via her podcast every weekday morning!)

  9. HL Carpenter says:

    Erika, on the notes, and commenting as a reader, the added bit of insight from the author such as the inspiration for the poem or the specific meaning to the author always adds “story” to the story and makes the poem much more accessible. Speaking strictly as a reader, the first read is to grasp the gist of the poem. The notes supply richness so that on the second, slower read, another layer is added. Plus it feels as though the reader is getting to know the author.

    On the website, expansiveness, larger font, and a white background would look fresh, as would adding more color to the header and making your name the focal point instead of the city background. The tagline is good and of course the information you provide is always excellent.

    One more comment on the site–if you could prepopulate your sharing boxes, such as twitter, with your handle, you would automatically be notified when someone shares and then could not only thank that person but reshare as well. We’ve done this on our site and it is so useful!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Such a comprehensive response. Thank you!

  10. Gita Baack says:

    I wrote an introduction to my poetry book “Poems of Angst and Awe” that talks about my writing process and the rationale for the organization. I agree with the Trust the Reader and anyway notes belong in academic books.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks, Gita!

  11. Hi!
    Really enjoying your content.
    It’s remarkable how most writers experience the same things.
    It can seem at times like we are islands out there on our own.
    For me, reading that other writers are submitting, getting acceptances, on hold, getting rejections, networking and generally riding the writing wave is encouraging.
    As a published writer for tv, stage, music recordings, books, articles with an emphasis on poems, prose and short stories now, finding gems in my email is very welcome!!
    Thanks again!!


    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Appreciate the comment.

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