“I Carry It With Me” a poem that is softly spoken and quietly reverent about a personal memory of mine has been named a finalist in the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize by Ruminate Magazine. I write with many tones and can project a variety of personas, but this voice is truest to my own. So…it feels especially validating that this poem has been noticed by others.
Here is something (or perhaps here are somethings) I have learned (rather I haven’t learned but that I keep learning anew over and over again: writers are weird. Writers in all of our weirdness-glory are simultaneously excruciatingly ordinary and singularly misfitted in that “All happy families…” Tolstoy-an kind of way. It’s a matter of perspective and understanding and it’s often a matter of choice for the writer and for the audience-spouse-friends-church-acquaintance-reader-reviewer-editor of the writer.
I was reminded of this recently. It’s not so much that I am clinically manic (I’m not) so much as it is I am constantly butting up against people who aren’t interested in the complications associated with peeling the layers of getting to know the artsy-creative-type. When you write, you specialize in the nurture of listening, really listening. Listening to subjects and eliminating objects of all kinds. Listening to self. To silence.
The act of writing an unshared poem is an act that 100 percent of the time will upset the internal equilibrium of the writer even if the writer is the only person who ever imagines/reads the work. The act of writing a poem and sharing a poem contains every emotional, psychological, creative, political component of revolution (albeit once-removed) whether the poem is political or seemingly refreshingly simple and pastoral. Poems are box-cutters. I wrote my first one at the age of six. I’ve been bouncing out of others’ boxes ever since. This has been my life. I think it is probably everyone’s life, even those unaware of it (which is the majority of people I believe).
Here is why publication of one of my poems matters so much to me. Not the positive affirmations, though pleasant enough. Not the fact that a publication means even four people are ever going to seriously read and consider my poem. Not the money…ahem. Publication validates me as I continue to bust through confining boxes. I can cut the tape, chew the cardboard and spit it out. I can dust off my dirty feet and move on. I can stop listening to what bores me. I can fiercely flee ideas and the speakers of those ideas when the ideas seek to silence my voice. Poetry as an end can’t seek to categorize, rate, demonize or prioritize any experience. Poetry can only re-enact, bring forth a separate and more distant beauty that compares in some intangible way with the emotion of the experience it seeks to render. A poem is word married to wordlessness.
The reader leafs through the pages and sometimes finds the love-child. The writer remembers vividly the conception. Listening, always listening, home is constructed with what might compare to this–the work, the sacrifice, the willingness to hold.
“I Carry It With Me” which was a pivotal poem in my MFA thesis manuscript has been accepted for publication in Ruminate Magazine (Fall 2017) after being named a finalist in the journal’s annual poetry contest.
I have yet to find that writing “sweet-spot” since taking on a teaching job. I find myself so immersed in learning how to become a better teacher of writers that my own Writing Life has been neglected; although, I do believe that every facet and experience works ultimately toward the same end. I just look at the map of my writing journey right now, and I can’t see how all the roads are supposed to fit together. June has been all about Netflix, tennis, physical fitness pursuits, and family time. I have reconnected with my grandsons. I am cooking in my beautiful kitchen again. Life is good. Words are not appearing on a page, which feels unusual for me, but perhaps this month has been a time for filling up. Rest. I plan to resurrect this blog and post some present-tense stuff. Here’s to July. More filling. Some planning for fall semester. Perhaps some writing.
“ECT” and “Here is How” were published in Sept. 2015 in Foothill: a Journal of Poetry. “Here is How” received a Pushcart Nomination.
The metaphor works. I’ve often used it myself as a sort of crutch device to explain the writer’s life to non-writers. I sometimes refer to my finished poems as my babies.
My poems, which are mostly not confessional in the technical, poetic sense of the term, do have my DNA smeared all over them. Poems are “birthed” in a sense. Read Sylvia Plath. When I read her poems I feel I am a midwife-in-training or sometimes a helpless bystander as she spreads and stuns me with words.
But while I totally “get” the metaphor and contribute to its legitimacy myself, I think it is most helpful to me to remember that writing poetry is in many ways NOT the same experience as actual childbirth and parenting. Poetry is not rocket science either. It’s not the cure for actual cancer, just looming invisible cancers of thought perhaps, crises of belief perhaps. For me, poetry is as physically essential as eating and sleeping, yet I think that many of us who are teachers, plumbers, stock brokers, pastors, salesmen could claim the same enrichment in our lives from pursuing the work we were created to pursue.
Poets aren’t special or closer to the birthing experience than other people are. We remember the smells, the sounds, the lights that were too bright, the faded yellow floral print on the rocker-recliner that our husbands slept on. We might have more aptly named the fear we felt as our own bodies lifted out of themselves and delivered a son or a daughter. But we are as tied to the communal nature of most of our actual life experiences as bakers of cupcakes or sweepers of streets are.
And the work that we do, is more like, well, actual work, than it is a mountaintop threshold of pain or joy. It’s a work that teems with insignificance and the ever-dwindling audience. Insignificance is not the same thing as lack of confidence. Through insignificance I find my true attachments in this life, my place. And the rejection slips are easier to stomach, because, these word-wields on the page are not actually me, nor are they actually my children. In a small way they are, yet in a much vaster way they are not. They are poems. Artifacts of work that I choose to do. They don’t feed people or make them happier (except perhaps momentarily). Knowing this frees me up to write, to work. To exist in relationship with myself in a field of interdependence. To determine when I must hit the DELETE button or start over.
Poets blur lines that most people would prefer to just keep in-tact. Sometimes it is healthy to forego the meta-metaphor and search for the less significant but more impactful grit of accurate perspective. Writers, we are people, too. We must remember to keep ourselves complex, complicated, and diversified. Without writing, I don’t feel that I live a complete life, but without a life, I don’t feel I have much to offer the blank page before me. We can, as poets, be just like everyone else. We can think we should have it all….and passionate kisses…as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang….and fleshy babies…who need more than our words.
I always get my writer-feathers ruffled a bit as I read through the posts generated this time of year about time management. I’m a poet. I am in the timelessness business. I consider myself an organized person. My house is almost always ready for company and on a quite regular basis, I’ve been known to throw together a home-cooked meal. True…I live in yoga pants, but when the occasion arises, I clean up nicely. I run errands with the best of them. I also run half marathons.
What is different about poets, I believe, at least it is true of this poet, is that I no longer check off items on a to-do list as though they are life-altering accomplishments. After all, Hamlet never said: To do or not to do…that is the question… Creativity needs nesting time. Sitting still time. Turning off the lights and staring at the Christmas tree time. Quiet time.
I am always amazed at how noisy Christians are when it comes to our hustling and bustling about the proper ways we must observe this holiday. We prize our indwelling, yet we pretend that a holy spirit wants to shout at us, to compete with our restrictions, to channel within the narrow confines of a Daytimer. We ink in our lives in a little square and these self-made appointments become the gospel of this day that the Lord has made. The question I ask is: Is the holy spirit truly glad in it?
As a Christian, as a writer, I find that I am always working toward rest. I am after the Sabbath. If you shake my hand during greeting time and I bombard you with 100 cookie types, or my 101 uses for a homeless person, or the abecederian prayer request pinned on the underside of my Christmas sweater, or the phone pic of me freezing my little Christmas tooshie off caroling off-key to nursing home hostages, be assured, my holy spirit–the part that lives and breathes uniquely through me–is taking a sound nap and I am totally faking it.
Authentically, I don’t really DO Christmas. If I am honest with myself, I never really did. There is one way, among many others, to check your own calling before God. If God gifts you to participate in his work, you will know you are in a place of truth and authenticity because it will feel like play to you. When you show up, sleepy, feet-dragging, you will always feel energized and happy that you did. If someone asked me what has been the hardest work I have ever done, I would answer the raising of my children followed by the writing of my graduate thesis which is a book of poetry. Both of these pursuits contain physical artifacts of the language of my own heart. Both took enormous chunks of time and discipline and commitment on my part and on God’s part. I never worked alone. I never faked it. Looking back, what I see are pictures of beautiful chaos, divine ordering, and play.
I was that mom, years ago, with the curly-headed little Christmas angels whose hair would never stay in place. I would feel so inadequate when the Busy Moms would pull out lip gloss and combs and attempt to tame their hair. Now, years later, I bask in a peace, the total acceptance of Grace and the belief in Christ’s total acceptance of me and my contemplative bent. The amazing thing is the way Grace can pay-it-backwards. Watch in your own life as you mature and grow in Christ, how Grace moves like a sweet-smelling smoke and beautifully colors in the patches of our memories where sin, competition, back-biting, immaturity, our own over-striving have left us washed out and empty. Those places left white are transformed into a mosaic of ALL the colors in God’s own crayon box. He never said to everyone: Thou shalt only color within the lines.
When Christ was tired, he rested. When he had questions, he asked. When he doubted, he embraced himself and the totality of his own being that was God and that was God’s. He never built a temple other than himself. He only tore them down.
We are not all called to be still. To be writers. But we are called to embrace and accept God’s creation. The way that God fashioned you, the way that God molded me…these are good. All good.
My Grownup Christmas List would be that each person could come before the authentic Christ this Christmas and feel authentic in our cookie baking, in our special musical ditties, in our handing out of blankets, in our sipping cocoa, and also, in our not-doing-at-all. That we be a church where the spirit need only whisper.