Why Writing Poetry is NOT Like Birthing a Real Baby

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.

Coming and Going and Michelangelo-ing

Call me lazy or dull of palate, but I cannot keep up with coffee-trends. I read tonight that Starbucks is planning a bold move to attempt a take-over of the hipster, gourmet, high-end coffee market, which is sort of like the Christ deciding to grind up the anti-Christ (or is it the other way around?).

I live in a small town so by the time Starbucks became “the thing” in our parts, the trend-setting cities like Austin and NYC were already shaking their heads at the “Americano-latte-frappe-with-skim-milk-and-a-dash-of-vanilla-hold-the-whipped-cream-please.” Just when I was learning how to prance into the place and confidently order something. Talk about bursting my beans.

When did life, I mean coffee, get so complicated? Who, like me, wakes up in a blind stupor and needs a drip line of caffeine and wouldn’t be able to maneuver or wait for a French press at 6:30 a.m. until she got herself a tall, hot, strong cup of that nectar that Juan Valdez was having back in the innocent age? Don’t get me wrong. I like good coffee. But in a pinch, first thing in the morning, I will down just about any hot beverage someone wants to pour for me.

For me, there is something nostalgic about bad-diner coffee or convenience-store coffee with those lids that never stay on. Perhaps, I just don’t like coffee enough. Perhaps I only want her and need her–I don’t LOVE her. Not enough to oil and prime my espresso machine nightly. Not enough to enroll in a community art class on the finer techniques of coffee swirl art. Not enough to investigate if the beans are organic, Fair Trade, sustainable, local, natural, vegetarian, humane, low-carbon, small-scale or CSA. None of these activities makes me feel in the least cosmopolitan, even when I am sipping my brew in Seattle.

Don’t misunderstand. I do see the morality in attempting to form consumer habits that do the least amount of damage to the planet and that promote humane working conditions for the men, women, and children who daily pick my coffee beans (even if I don’t always know exactly where they come from). But I see no compelling reason to name-drop about this and to take up entire conversations at dinner parties or entire sermons from pulpits expounding upon the world of coffee as we know it in 2014. I have to ask myself, are the men, women, and children who are picking my coffee daily having these conversations about how back-woods a person is if he doesn’t necessarily want a coffee drink that is more difficult to decipher than his child’s IEP?

My grandmother picked cotton by hand as a child. I can guarantee she wasn’t lamenting the plight of the ignorant souls who didn’t have the where-with-all to sleep on 1,000-count sheets as her fingers bled on the bolls. Aren’t we, in addition to boring the likes of a true intellectual like T.S. Eliot with our gloats about foam, becoming more consumerist by creating some kind of faux-sophistication about the very appetites which will keep those children enslaved in those faraway fields regardless of the informed decisions we make about which brand to buy? Is it not our appetites, fueled by our feverish desire to keep up with our own urban elites, which is at the root of the evil in all industry? Because the cloud in my coffee tells me that when I contribute to strengthening that appetite, which is nothing short of lust, I contribute to mistreatment regardless of my own savvy as a coffee-bean buyer.  Is there not some other kind of slavery being created when we are more affected by the roast of coffee and it’s source than we are captivated by the conversation happening just across our cups? When we begin to judge the intelligence of another person based on their degree of lunacy about a coffee bean? Dostoevsky said it better than me: “What reason can there be for protecting the privacy and freedom of the conscience, or even the franchise, of anyone, if we assume nothing good about those whom we are protecting and enfranchising?”

When my phone alarm begins to chime in the morning, I become a lunatic of a different sort. I must have two to three cups of java every morning first thing or I will suffer from a killer migraine headache, which probably means I am addicted to caffeinated coffee. Coffee I don’t question. Coffee I don’t take the time to learn about. Coffee which sports catalogues full of gadgets I will never, ever attempt to master. For me, there is the Sistine Chapel and there is this hazelnut concoction my barista just manipulated into the shape of a bird. And there is a discernment which must transcend it’s “strut and fret” across the stage. Yes, Coffee:  “I want you. I need you. But there ‘aint no way I’m ever gonna to love you. Now don’t be sad (don’t be sad) ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.”

Dream Team

Sometimes life is just good. I received news that my poetry mentor for my thesis semester is the great poet Angie Estes (my top choice) and this news brings relief because with her guidance I believe I actually have a legitimate shot at getting a book of poems put together by May 1. I have probably close to a thousand drafts of poems in various stages on my hard drive, but these 40 to 60 poems must be “finished.” Angie Estes is not only one of the great poets of our time, she is an incredible teacher. She’s efficient, she brings high expectations to the table and she knows how to assign essays and poems which move her students toward a desired end. I am attempting to take a break from writing to enjoy the holidays and refresh before my thesis semester begins in early January. I say attempting…I can’t seem to keep my eyes out of my folder of possible thesis poems!

Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving. It’s a down day for us because we postpone the big feast until Saturday so all of our married kids can join us. Today is a mixed-up, random kind of day–my favorite kind. A day of bear-naps, and basketball watching and diving into the Christmas greenery. A day of intersection for the Nativity sets and the pumpkins. Christmas music blaring on Pandora.

I see parallels to this kind of a day to my writing process. I can’t neatly and succinctly cram creativity into its own special corner.  I prepare, rest, exercise, eat, argue, console, forgive, clean one room, mess up another. In my mind, Baby Jesus lurks even as the ghost of my maternal grandmother stays watch in my kitchen over the stuffing preparations.

I grow weary of purists who can’t mix their Christmas shopping with their gratitude, who want me to wait until December 26th to sing about pregnant Mary. Advent belongs to me because it was a gift from a Person who has the right to give me whatever gift He wants. It’s my Advent and I’ll watch a John Travolta movie if I want to. Pumpkin pie and peppermint ice cream are holding hands in my freezer just fine.

It’s called life. A Writing Life. A life that each day rises with a sun that owes everything to our Christmas Story which is the source of all Thanksgiving. No segue needed.

Every Community Has a Story

Recently, I had the privilege of writing one woman’s story for our community’s “Facing Project,” which was borne out of a program designed to give a “hand up” to some of our more hidden citizens who suffer from poverty and the many problems which go hand-in-hand with that. Violence, addictions, abuse, hunger, gaps in education, brokenness in relationships…these are a few of those problems.

The woman whose story was entrusted to me told a story which was difficult to hear, difficult to write. Several of our community’s “Facing” stories will be read at a fundraiser for our local Circles Out of Poverty Program. We will all be sitting around a a table with a crisp table cloth, enjoying gourmet coffee and petite desserts in the month of Thankfulness and girth and all things pumpkin, as some of our high school students read these stories, all written in the first-person in order to emphasize the immediacy.

Here is the link to the national Facing Project:

www.facingproject.com

 

Rediscovery of my Blog

Wow, it has been a long time between posts. Here I am in the last semester before my “thesis” semester at Ashland University’s MFA Program, a semester which I would have to label as “Self-Doubt.” It’s the time in the program when after working my poetic tail off, I realize that I have close to 100 poems, all of which need some kind of revision or work before my thesis will be accepted. Opening my blog site and reading through some of my older posts and poems tonight has given me a much-needed boon of confidence. To put it bluntly, I am weary of writing poems, weary of studying about Native American history, and weary of this quest for clarity in my poems which I must achieve before next semester’s thesis mentor is going to give me the “pass” sign. I have learned so much that I am sure I will be blog-processing the ways in which I have grown as a writer for many years to come. I will be sharing poems and poets I have discovered. I will continue to write poems. But right now…I just want to clean and organize my house and cook several decent meals from scratch in a row.

Blurred lines between work and play

With my first semester completed, I am now free to deep-clean my house and stay completely off computer for the next month if I so desire, yet I so do not desire that! The self-discipline of writing for four hours a day has created a writing monster within that constantly beats at my chest to produce more words. I choose to write even when I don’t have to. This makes me incredibly happy.

Today I started an essay which I hope to complete by the end of the week for submission to a contest. I am finding that writing in essay-mode is much easier than revising poems. After months on a steeply-inclined treadmill, I am now feeling the rush of sprinting toward the horizon on flat land.

Last night, just for fun, I sat down and wrote what I believe to be is my strongest poem ever. Time will tell. I am learning to give everything time. Funny, as we age, we have less and less of that precious commodity, yet more and more acceptance of its limitations and graces.

Good things happen to those who write.